Since surveillance is easy, do it for us – US Government

It seems that more and more the US government is surveilling (is that a word?) and controlling the public by ever increasing leaps and bounds. Traffic cameras, the Patriot Act, TSA, domestic wiretaps, internet tracking, etc.

There are more cameras watching you in a day than you know. Heck, if you are a member of MySpace or Facebook, you provide the government with more information about your life and networking than you realize. The best ‘feature’ added so far is the ‘tagging’ of photos. drag a square around friends’ faces and then put in their name. Facial recognition anyone?

Yes, that is pretty far out there, but so were electric cars.

Back to task – All of these things and more make surveillance extremely easy for anyone, especially a powerful and ominous force like the government. I don’t think things are as bad as the crazy conspiracy theorists do, but the  opportunities are there.

Unfortunately, the government has realized that the opportunity is there as well, and now they are asking companies to help them right along. Here is a snippet from the Senate summary:

Payment Card and Third Party Network Information Reporting. The proposal requires information reporting on payment card and third party network transactions. Payment settlement entities, including merchant acquiring banks and third party settlement organizations, or third party payment facilitators acting on their behalf, will be required to report the annual gross amount of reportable transactions to the IRS and to the participating payee. Reportable transactions include any payment card transaction and any third party network transaction. Participating payees include persons who accept a payment card as payment and third party networks who accept payment from a third party settlement organization in settlement of transactions. A payment card means any card issued pursuant to an agreement or arrangement which provides for standards and mechanisms for settling the transactions. Use of an account number or other indicia associated with a payment card will be treated in the same manner as a payment card. A de minimis exception for transactions of $10,000 or less and 200 transactions or less applies to payments by third party settlement organizations. The proposal applies to returns for calendar years beginning after December 31, 2010. Back-up withholding provisions apply to amounts paid after December 31, 2011. This proposal is estimated to raise $9.802 billion over ten years.

The guise and even perhaps legitimate purpose of this legislation is to keep Americans honest about taxes and such. The scary reality is that the government will know when you use your credit or debit card, PayPal account, or anything else to give money to the EFF, Jaycees, Libertarian Party, United Way, or when you go buy fireworks for the 4th of July.

Most of the time, this is no big deal. I don’t do illegal things, and so I don’t care if the government knows when I buy ribeyes and Maxim. The real problem lies in a more philosophical sense – what happens when the government becomes out of control and John Doe writes something anti-government, a senator gets pissed, and they pull his records? The senator sees he buys KY, then when the man rails against the senator in the next election, the senator pulls out his CC records and claims that John Doe is gay. John Doe is discredited and the senator is clean to run amok.

Yes, it’s a far-flung example, but it’s just one possibility of what could happen. On a far more realistic note, how will the government keep this information secure in-transit? How about in storage? How long will they keep this information on file?

Think about it.

Thanks to Dave for the link to this article at FreedomWorks. I had heard about this, but couldn’t find much information about it.