Why Personal Privacy is Now Public Enemy #1

Reporting from Buenos Aires, Argentina…

Yes…he’s probably listening…

We’d prefer to invite you to a quieter place, Fellow Reckoner… somewhere we could talk in private. A speakeasy, perhaps. Somewhere off the radar. Alas, that’s becoming increasingly difficult.

In fact, according to recruitment propaganda handed out by the FBI and the Department of Justice to Internet cafe owners across the country, a person may be considered “suspicious” if they “are overly concerned about privacy” or if he/she “attempts to shield the screen from view of others.”

Other “Potential Indicators of Terrorist Activities Related to Internet Café,” according to this particular flyer, include, “paying with cash,” traveling an “illogical distance to use [the] Internet Café,” acting “nervous” or exhibiting “suspicious behaviour inconsistent with activities.”

What constitutes an “illogical distance,” we wonder? Two miles? Five? Twenty? What about visiting a cafe while on vacation? Is that an “illogical distance” from a person’s home? Come to think of it, what does an “illogical distance” even mean? Negative three miles? Minus six miles? Moreover, how would one even know the distance a person travelled to email grandma or fill out online job applications? Should we be spying on them?

Well… Yes, say the Feds.

If a fellow citizen arouses your suspicion – based on what must surely be the vaguest criterion imaginable – the federal agencies encourage you to “be part of the solution.” How? Well, they’d like you to…

“Gather information about individuals without drawing attention to yourself. Identify license plates, vehicle description, names used, languages spoken, ethnicity, etc.”

They’d like to recruit you, in other words. Just imagine, a whole community of spooks, moles, informants, sleuths and…

Wait…who WOULDN’T be nervous in an Internet Café in the USA these days?

And that’s not all. The Fed’s cheerfully-titled “Communities Against Terrorism” flyer series identifies 25 “threat areas” where you might encounter suspicious persons. These include such notorious ne’er-do- well hangouts as:

  • Dive/boat shops
  • Martial arts centres/Paintball
  • Hobby shops
  • Farm supply stores
  • Financial institutions
  • Electronics stores
  • Shopping malls
  • Hotels/Motels and, just to be on the safe side,
  • The General Public

In each of these “threat areas,” the Feds helpfully outline a suggested course of action for those who wish to be part of their “solution.” Again, snitching, spying and behaviour generally bordering on paranoia and harassment seem to capture the general gist of it.

For example, if you are out and about in the “General Public” one weekend and you happen to notice “people over dressed for the weather,” the Feds would like you to embark on a snooping mission, maybe even involving following “Mr. Tight-Knit-Cashmere-Cardigan-on- a-Late-Summer-Day” to his car. And don’t be scant on the details. Explains the flyer:

“Providing a detailed description of persons or vehicles is imperative for a successful follow up by law enforcement personnel.”

We’ll come back to exactly what a “successful follow up” means in just a second, but before we get to that…

What to do if your suspected, inappropriate fibre for the season-wearing, possible perp-to-be notices that you are on their tail? And what if, after being stalked through a public place by someone they don’t know, this sketchy individual becomes nervous and departs quickly when you approach them?

Well, they’re only digging themselves deeper. According to the Potential Indicators of Terrorist Activities Related to the General Public flyer, “departing quickly when seen or approached” could be grounds for further suspicion. It says so right there, in the section helpfully titled, “What Should I Consider Suspicious?”

Also in this section: “Questions regarding sensitive information such as security procedures or systems,” “Vehicles that appear to be overloaded,” and, again, just to be safe, “People acting suspiciously.”

But back to the “successful follow up” for a second. What, exactly, would that look like? What sinister plots and stratagems might all this covert invigilation and spying on each other help foil?

Well, now there’s the case of telecommunications sales manager Saad Allami, a man who knows a thing or two about living in a…eh…”watchful” community.

Mr Allami was arrested last month while picking up his 7 year-old son from school in Quebec. During the next 24 hours, while he was being detained, a team of police officers (heroes/patriots/national treasures) stormed Mr. Allami’s home, telling his wife she was “married to a terrorist.” Meanwhile, Mr. Allami’s colleagues, who were on their way to a conference in the Big Apple were also detained at the US border for hours due to their “connection” with Mr. Allami.

And what had Mr. Allami done to deserve this, the swift hand of justice? The Canadian Press provides the shocking details of his master plan:

On Jan. 21, 2011, Allami sent a text message to colleagues urging them to “blow away” the competition at a trade show in New York City.

According to Mr. Allami’s lawsuit, “The treatment of the plaintiff and his wife was cavalier, illegal, aggressive, accusatory, and in violation of their most fundamental rights.”

Exactly as you’d expect, in other words.

Like we said, we’d love to have spoken to you in private, away from the prying eyes and ears of Big Brother…and his thousands of officious little goose-stepping generals on the ground.

But, as you can see, we can’t. He is everywhere. He is everyone and anyone. We know he is listening. And now, so do you.

Act accordingly.

Joel Bowman
for Markets and Money

Joel Bowman is the Managing Editor of Markets and Money USA.

This article first appeared in Markets and Money USA.

Joel Bowman
Joel Bowman is managing editor of Markets and Money. After completing his degree in media communications and journalism in his home country of Australia, Joel moved to Baltimore to join the Agora Financial team. His keen interest in travel and macroeconomics first took him to New York where he regularly reported from Wall Street, and he now writes from and lives all over the world.

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3 Comments on "Why Personal Privacy is Now Public Enemy #1"

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Er!! Joel, your kidding right, surely what you describe doesn’t happen in the “land of the free, land of the brave”? If so i am glad i live in, “That green and Pleasant Land” where there are maybe lots of cctv cameras, but half of them don’t work, and the rest don’t have film or whatever they use, in them. Besides, the criminals and vandals know how to beat that, that’s why they all go around with hoods up, even in the hottest whether. I wonder what those people that think up these crazy ideas would do if their private… Read more »

Say isn’t Quebec in Canada? I don’t thing the FBI or Homeland Security have jurisdiction there. Shouldn’t that have been some Canadian organization like Weapon X?

It seems our friends to the North have caught the same malady Bob, rampant paranoia. When is all this nonsense going to stop ?. I’m sick of being treated like a criminal every time I fly. For the uninitiated, Check in, through to passport control, to the lounge, coffee and biscuits, short nap, tap on the shoulder, “Time to board, sir” to the aircraft, then, up, up, and away. Those were the days. Keep an overnight bag handy Joel, you might need it, and a good pair of running shoes of course…… Hello, i hear footsteps on the stairs, they… Read more »
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