Amazon uses Alexa to gather intel inside the privacy of one’s home. Apple’s Siri is an aural voyeuristic stalker presumably listening in on bedroom antics. Smart televisions and cell phones, social media platforms and big tech mine data on their users and sell that information to the highest bidder. And Americans have allowed this breach of security – inviting this intrusion into their lives — for the newest shiny widget.
But recent news reports of the federal government spying on regular citizens is a blatant and dangerous swipe against the basic American right to privacy. And, frankly, no one invited them into our private lives.
The Defense Department (DOD) commissioned the tests in mid-July, and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) granted temporary permission to aerospace company Sierra Nevada Corporation to fly experimental high-altitude balloons for national security reasons. The FCC stated:
“Purpose Of Operation: Conduct high altitude MESH networking tests over South Dakota to provide a persistent surveillance system to locate and deter narcotic trafficking and homeland security threats.”
This raises a few questions. Have the officials chosen the right part of the United States to search for illegal drug trafficking? Is there evidence the Canadians have taken a serious turn into illicit drug trade? Sure, the DOD project is just in a testing phase, and less populated areas are an easier proving ground. But since no one really wants to be spied on, why pick on the folks in a – no pun intended – flyover state?
How They Work
MESH is a type of communications network. In the case of high-altitude balloons, currently floating over several Midwestern states, the DOD gathers this intel and combines it with data collected on its own, ironically private network.
The Pentagon is in the throes of a 25-plus balloon reconnoiter on citizens, launched mid-July from a private site in rural South Dakota, and is now happily spying on the good folks in Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Missouri.
Each drone balloon unit can drift aloft upward of 65,000 feet — which protects it from the Bible-clutching, gun-loving populace who would be only too happy to shoot it out of the sky. And each voyeur vessel is equipped with a complex radar system able to follow multiple vehicles or individuals simultaneously over a 25-mile-wide area. They are outfitted with the latest bells and whistles that would make Apple, Google, and Amazon breathe heavier than usual, including wide-area nine-camera systems that take and record panoramic views of entire cities. If, by chance, an event such as the 66 people in Chicago being shot from 6 p.m. on Friday to midnight on Sunday was captured by a lurking drone, perhaps arrests could be made. And your everyday surveillance geek in the hallowed halls of the Pentagon no doubt would want to hover a balloon over Baltimore.
Once the balloons are full of random, invasive, private, shared, and shareable information, they are called back to mother earth to land in rural Illinois and be collected.
ACLU, Snowden, and Midwesterners Finally Agree on Something
Jay Stanley, a policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union, is none too happy with what the US government is pulling in the name of national security.
“We do not think that American cities should be subject to wide-area surveillance in which every vehicle could be tracked wherever they go. Even in tests, they’re still collecting a lot of data on Americans: who’s driving to the union house, the church, the mosque, the Alzheimer’s clinic.”
Not to be left out of the discussion, raising his head from distant shores, even fugitive whistleblower Edward Snowden (remember the leaker of the National Security Agency’s super-spy intel?) had his say on Twitter:
“They always tell us the tools of mass surveillance are intended for use only against the faraway Other; the foreign enemy, the terrorist, the criminal. And then, just a few years later, we realize precisely the same system secretly surrounds us at home.”
But we don’t seem to care. No one looks up from his or her smart phone to hold a conversation in real time at a restaurant these days, let alone search the sky for prying eyes. Show of hands: How many folks are removing their Apple watch while consulting with their doctor or having sex in their own homes?
Is this a disturbing development? Of course. Will such surveillance protect our nation? The jury is still out. But it will collect information, track your every move, and report back to the federal government. And really, it shouldn’t be a surprise considering our Department of Justice spied on a candidate for president on falsified information.
If the US government insists that these balloons are all in the name of protecting Americans from “narcotic trafficking and homeland security threats” – and perhaps its intent is genuine – then the corn and bean fields of Iowa aren’t the place to be. Might I suggest a test program in southernmost California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas to see if the program will in fact deter “drug trafficking,” or simply just get up in everyone’s business. Nevertheless, there is a gold mine of information to be collected on our southern border.
Regardless, until September the airborne infiltrators directed by the people’s government are hovering over the Midwest doing what they do best: destroying any sense of privacy Americans once believed they had a right to enjoy.