Sunday, December 22, 2013

Do We Have the NSA on the Run, or is a Much Worse Surveillance State in the Making?

Earlier this week, Obama's hand-picked panel charged with reviewing the nation's surveillance state issued a set of recommendations that includes limiting the indiscriminate mass collection of telephone records and other reforms. This came right after a decision by U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon issued a preliminary injunction barring NSA metadata collection related to a conservative activist (he later stayed the order to allow for an appeal).

However, while it may look like the NSA and surveillance state are on the run -- it's too soon to break out the applause. The White House panel's recomendations also included the suggestion that data collected on individuals should be held by telecommunications providers or a private third party. There is a threat that this surveillance state may simply reconstitute itself into an increasingly privatized apparatus that the government can access through fees and subpoenas.

VICE's Megan Neal reports that so-called “data brokers” – firms that spy on Americans' behavior and then sell that information to businesses looking to profit off of it – have become a $156 billion industry. Neal notes that the Senate Commerce Committee recently published a report looking into how these data marketers spy on Americans – the report shows how these firms label Americans under various categories depending on their financial security and other demographic categories, including “Ethnic Second-City Strugglers” and “X-tra Needy.”

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