The OffNow campaign primarily focuses on action against federal surveillance programs. But with the line between federal, state and local law enforcement becoming increasingly blurred, Americans also need to pay attention to local actions to see and understand the big picture.
Take for example a new program law enforcement agencies in Grand Rapids, Mich. recently implemented. According to a MLive/The Grand Rapids Press report, downtown businesses now offer the Grand Rapids Police and Kent County Sheriff’s Department live access to their outdoor surveillance cameras.
The two agencies are tapping into private video feeds from existing cameras mounted on the exterior of private commercial buildings downtown, the Kent County emergency management coordinator said.
Previously, police would request video from private feeds during the course of a criminal investigation. Now, police will be able to monitor the feeds in real time from county and city dispatch centers.
According to the report, local officials plan to pursue Department of Homeland Security grants to “expand the surveillance capability downtown with new and upgraded equipment.”
Obviously, this raises serious privacy concerns for residents of Grand Rapids, but how does it tie into the larger surveillance state?
With the rapid evolution of information sharing between local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, locally gathered information won’t remain “local” for very long. Fusion centers already exist across the United States. As the Department of Homeland Security describes them, “State and major urban area fusion centers (fusion centers) serve as focal points within the state and local environment for the receipt, analysis, gathering, and sharing of threat-related information between the federal government and state, local, tribal, territorial (SLTT) and private sector partners.”
Fusion centers make up part of the Information Sharing Environment (ISE) a consortium that includes the NSA, FBI, Department of Defense and many others. The ISE facilitates information sharing, officially for “national defense.” But we know through leaked Snowden documents that federal agencies share large amounts of illegally gathered information with state and local law enforcement. and it has no connection with national defense at all. State and local law enforcement also share information “upstream” to these federal agencies.
Simply put, when local governments seize the power to watch you, that information will ultimately end up in the hands of federal agencies most certainly trying to monitor the actions, communications and movement of virtually every person on earth.
Add to this an FBI facial recognition program coming online this year and you have an Orwellian nightmare scenario. As the technology improves and facial recognition”learns” to identify more people, federal agencies will gain the capability to track your every movement, in real time, through networks of cameras like the ones in Grand Rapids.
The evolution will likely progress something like this.
1. Local businesses install cameras.
2. Local police gain access for “emergency” situations only.
3. Local police expand the definition of emergency.
4. Federal agencies provide funding and information sharing becomes a tacit part of the agreement.
5. Federal agencies have unlimited access to locally gathered data.
Essentially, the federal government can create a surveillance web across the country using state and local law enforcement to maintain and run the system.
To thwart the surveillance state, you need to not only watch the goings-on in Washington D.C., you must also pay close attention to your state capitol and city hall.