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Another Cycle of Debt Ceiling Hysteria

This week the U.S. government reached its 31.4 trillion dollars borrowing limit, better known as the “debt ceiling.” This led to a showdown among House Republicans, President Biden, and congressional Democrats.

House Republicans are demanding that President Biden and Senate Democrats agree to include spending cuts with the debt ceiling increase. However, President Biden and the congressional Democrats are refusing to negotiate with Republicans. Rather, they and their allies in the mainstream media are lambasting Republicans for their “irresponsibility” in seeking to include spending cuts with an increase in the debt ceiling.

America’s national debt is approximately 122 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP), meaning the government owes more than the population produces. Interest payments on the national debt follow in size behind other federal budget big spending areas of Social Security, Medicare, and “defense.” While interest payments are made, the national debt continues to grow each year.

Government spending steals resources from the private sector. Thus, there is less capital available for private businesses to grow and create new jobs. Government spending also contributes to price inflation and the declining value of the dollar as the Federal Reserve monetizes the debt. One reason the Fed cannot allow interest rates to rise anywhere near where they would be in a free market is that it would cause the federal government’s interest payments to rise to unsustainable levels. Considering these facts, it should be clear that the irresponsible ones are those who think the government should increase its credit limit without cutting spending.

This is not to say that establishment Republicans like House Speaker Kevin McCarthy are heroes of fiscal restraint. Rather, McCarthy, like most Republicans, objected neither to increased spending nor to debt ceiling suspensions when Donald Trump was president. Further, any Republican spending plan will likely continue increasing spending on the military-industrial complex while refusing to address the looming cost problems with Social Security and Medicare.

While some Republicans are willing to discuss reforms to Social Security and Medicare, most are still too afraid of the “senior lobby” to support any changes in the programs—even if such changes will not harm current beneficiaries. Consequently, it is unlikely Congress will pass meaningful entitlement reform—at least until it is forced to do so because the Medicare and Social Security Trust Funds run out of money. Insolvency is projected for the Medicare Trust Fund in five years and for the Social Security Trust Fund in 12 years. Of course, Congress may be able to avoid making tough choices since the Federal Reserve will likely cut government benefits, along with workers’ wages and the value of savings, via the inflation tax.

Following early reports that the House Republican leadership was open to supporting cuts in military spending, there arose a predictable cry from Republican hawks that any reduction in spending would leave the U.S. and its allies vulnerable to our enemies. The limited cuts considered, though, would still keep America with a military budget exceeding the combined military budgets of the next nine biggest spending countries. After some pressure from the military-industrial complex’s loyalists and propagandists, most Republicans retreated from supporting defense cuts.

A problem with many fiscal conservatives is they accept the premise of the welfare-warfare statists. Thus, they are unable to make consistent principled arguments supporting spending cuts and opposing spending increases. The key to restoring a free society is for a critical mass of individuals to reject statism.

This article was originally featured at the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity and is republished with permission.

Davos’ Damndest Delusion: FBI As Good Guys?

You can judge an audience by how much bullshit they accept from the podium. By that standard, the World Economic Forum attendees in Davos, Switzerland last week were either depraved or craven. Why else would FBI chief Christopher Wray not get hooted down for portraying his agency as “good guys?”

Why was the FBI boss even making an appearance at a conference chockful of political weasels, billionaires, and depraved activists like former Vice President Al Gore? Actually, Wray was part of a panel on national security that included luminaries such as Ukrainian Vice-Prime Minister Yulia Svyrydenko, who could have offered insights from her government’s perpetual failed war against pervasive corruption. Wray boasted that “the level of collaboration between the private sector and the government, especially the FBI has, I think, made significant strides.”

A month before Wray’s appearance, Americans learned that “collaboration” meant the FBI massively censoring Twitter in recent years. As journalist Matt Taibbi revealed, “As the election approached in 2020, the FBI overwhelmed Twitter with requests, sending spreadsheets with hundreds of accounts.” The official browbeating continued until very recently. In an internal email from November 5, 2022, the FBI’s National Election Command Post sent the FBI San Francisco field office (which dealt directly with Twitter) “a long list of accounts that ‘may warrant additional action’”—i.e., suppression. The FBI pressured Twitter to torpedo parody accounts that only idiots or federal agents would not recognize as humor. Taibbi wrote, “The master-canine quality of the FBI’s relationship to Twitter comes through in this November 2022 email, in which ‘FBI San Francisco is notifying you’ it wants action on four accounts.”

The FBI condemned the TwitterFiles as “conspiracy theorists…feeding the American public misinformation with the sole purpose of attempting to discredit the agency.” But Taibbi and his colleagues didn’t fabricate the emails the FBI sent to Twitter.

On that Davos panel last week, Wray dramatically placed both hands on his chest and declared, “The good guys are constrained by the rule of law and international norms. The bad guys aren’t.” But that self-evident truth is tricky to reconcile with the history of FBI surveillance crime sprees.

In October 2001, the Patriot Act gave the FBI a green light to cannibalize the nation’s email with its Carnivore email wiretapping system.  Carnivore was contained in a black box that the FBI compelled Internet service providers to attach to their operating system. Though Carnivore might be authorized for a single person, Carnivore could automatically impound the email of all the customers using that service. The ACLU’s Barry Steinhardt observed, “Carnivore is roughly equivalent to a wiretap capable of accessing the contents of the conversations of all of the phone company’s customers, with the ‘assurance’ that the FBI will record only conversations of the specified target.”

The Patriot Act authorized life sentences in prison for computer hackers who maliciously spread viruses but federal agents were exempt from the law. The FBI created a special program to send emails to individuals to infect their computers with malware that enabled keystroke monitoring and automatic detection of all passwords. Norton, McAfee, and other computer security firms secretly agreed to leave a backdoor for the FBI to exploit with no warning to computer users. James Dempsey of the Center for Democracy and Technology observed, “In order for the government to seize your diary or read your letters, they have to knock on your door with a search warrant. But [FBI malware] would allow them to seize these without notice.” The FBI also developed malware permitting it to covertly turn on a computer’s camcorder “without triggering the light that lets users know it is recording,” as The Washington Post reported in 2013.

The Patriot Act made it far easier for FBI agents to snatch personal data via National Security Letters (NSLs). These subpoenas compel individuals, businesses, and other institutions to surrender confidential or proprietary information that the FBI claims is related to a national security investigation. NSLs enable the FBI to seize records that reveal “where a person makes and spends money, with whom he lives and lived before, how much he gambles, what he buys online, what he pawns and borrows, where he travels, how he invests, what he searches for and reads on the Web, and who telephones or e-mails him at home and at work,” The Washington Post noted in 2005.

The number of NSLs increased by a hundredfold after 9/11. There is no judicial oversight of this power, and each FBI field office is entitled to dictate its own NSLs. Almost every NSL was accompanied by a gag order: Anyone who discloses that their data had been raided by the FBI could be sent to prison for five years.

By 2006, the FBI was issuing 50,000 NSLs a year. A single NSL can lasso thousands of people’s records, including all the clients of public libraries or book store customers. In 2007, an Inspector General report revealed that more than 10,000 NSLs  may have violated federal law. Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-IL), declared that the IG report “confirms the American people’s worst fears about the Patriot Act.” Rather than arresting FBI agents who brazenly broke the law, FBI chief Robert Mueller created a new FBI Office of Integrity and Compliance.

But the FBI was just getting warmed up. In 1978, Congress passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to outlaw political spying (such as the FBI had committed) on American citizens. FISA created a secret court to oversee federal surveillance of suspected foreign agents within the U.S., permitting a much more lenient standard for wiretaps than the Constitution permitted for American citizens.

FISA warrants authorize the FBI to “conduct, simultaneous telephone, microphone, cell phone, e-mail and computer surveillance of the U.S. person target’s home, workplace and vehicles. Similar breadth is accorded the FBI in physical searches of the target’s residence, office, vehicles, computer, safe deposit box and U.S. mails,” a court decision noted. People surveilled under FISA orders rarely learn the feds have been intruding unless they are arrested as a result. And the FISA court rubberstamps 99.9% of all FBI search warrant requests.

The FISA court “created a secret body of law giving the National Security Agency the power to amass vast collections of data on Americans,” The New York Times reported in 2013 after Edward Snowden leaked court decisions. The court rubber-stamped FBI requests that bizarrely claimed that the telephone records of all Americans were “relevant” to a terrorism investigation under the Patriot Act, thereby enabling N.S.A. data seizures later denounced by a federal judge as “almost Orwellian.” In 2017, a FISA court decision included a 10-page litany of FBI violations, which “ranged from illegally sharing raw intelligence with unauthorized third parties to accessing intercepted attorney-client privileged communications without proper oversight.”

After the 2016 election, FBI officials devoted themselves to crippling Trump’s presidency with fabricated evidence on Russia collusion. Kevin Clinesmith, a top FBI lawyer, was convicted for falsifying evidence to secure a FISA warrant to unjustifiably target Trump campaign officials. A 2019 Inspector General report concluded that FBI officials made 17 “significant inaccuracies and omissions” in its application to the FISA court to spy on former Trump advisor Carter Page. The FBI withheld details from the court that would have crippled the credibility of the warrant request.

In 2021, a FISA court report revealed that the FBI has conducted warrantless searches of a massive data trove compiled by the National Security Agency for “public corruption and bribery,” “health care fraud,” and other targets—including people who notified the FBI of crimes and even repairmen entering FBI offices. Even people who volunteered for the FBI “Citizens Academy” program were illegally tracked by the FBI. In 2019, an FBI agent conducted an unjustified database search “using the identifiers of about 16,000 people, even though only seven of them had connections to an investigation,” The New York Times reported. In 2021, the FBI carried out more than 3 million warrantless searches on U.S. persons, according to data revealed in early 2022.

Maybe FBI boss Wray believes that the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition of unreasonable warrantless searches doesn’t apply to “good guys.” The audience in Switzerland might have cheered him for making that assertion. Has the World Economic Forum ever seen a government surveillance scheme that it didn’t like?

Instead of swallowing Wray’s piffle, Americans should heed former FBI chief James Comey. In 2015, Comey told a congressional committee: “You should not trust me…because you cannot trust people with power.” President Trump followed that advice and fired Comey two years later. But Comey’s point remains a better lodestar for judging the FBI than the hokum currently prevailing in the mainstream media, on Capitol Hill, or at scheming Swiss confabs.

‘Defend the Guard’ Receives Outstanding Committee Hearing in New Hampshire

“I didn’t know a lot about the Guard problem until I got involved in this, and the folks from Bring Our Troops Home sent me this very, extremely informative booklet on defending the Guard. And it’s now called the Defend the Guard bill.”

That’s how State Rep. John Potucek, a ret. U.S. Air Force staff sergeant and Vietnam veteran, introduced H.B. 229 at a hearing in front of the New Hampshire House of Representatives. The Defend the Guard Act would keep our National Guard out of unconstitutional wars and restore accountability over war and peace to our government.

We’re grateful for the credit. Bring Our Troops Home is the only organization in the country that works with legislators on Defend the Guard bills, prepares for committee hearings, and gathers testimonials from veterans.

That’s where all of your contributions go. When you become a member of our supporters’ group, the Ten Seven Club, your dollars go to getting bill numbers, finding co-sponsors, and making a show of force in front of committees.

That’s exactly what we did in New Hampshire.

Fourteen people testified in favor of H.B. 229. Six of them were members of the New Hampshire House of Representatives. And the amazing thing was, not all of them are bill sponsors. But they felt compelled in their hearts to show up—unprompted—and speak in favor of Defend the Guard.

Ten of them have served in either National Guard or some branch of the U.S. Armed Forces. A majority of them have seen combat firsthand. They showed up because soldiers, more than anyone, understand the oath we take to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. We put our lives at risk for the country we love.

So when we see politicians and desk-job generals breaking the law, subverting our representative government, and flippantly risking the lives of our brothers and sisters in uniform…well, that doesn’t sit right with us.

We had a lot of great testimonials in the Granite State. Each person gave their reasons for being there, why Defend the Guard was so important to pass, and the argument that most resonated with them. You can watch the entire hearing yourself on our YouTube channel.

I’d like to quote from one person specifically, Mr. Joshua Holmes. He told the House committee:

“I was born and raised in Manchester [New Hampshire]. I enlisted in the Army when I was 18. I fought in Iraq when I was 19, and again when I was 21. I have watched American soldiers bleed to death while our medics worked on them. I have been a first responder to a mass casualty suicide bombing at an Iraqi police station. I have personally been in a vehicle that was hit by a suicide car bomb and was saved by the grace of God and heavy armor. If we are going to ask our young men and women to give their lives in service of our Constitution, we have to follow it, or else you should drop the pretense.”

That was his entire testimony. He didn’t need to say more than that.

I believe that’s a perfect encapsulation of the Bring Our Troops Home mission.

We are veterans of the Global War on Terror who saw the direct impact of our country’s criminal wars of choice.

And we demand that our Constitution be followed, or discarded by the DC empire. At least then they’ll stop disrespecting our oath, and be honest enough to say they wage these endless wars for their own profit and power.

More than ever, I believe Defend the Guard is how we accomplish our goals.

We’re only three weeks into the new year. New Hampshire was only the first hearing of 2023.

We have a lot more states coming up. My team has already started laying the groundwork in states like Texas, Maine, Arizona, Idaho, and North Carolina. The committee hearing for Wyoming’s Defend the Guard Act (S.B. 119) is right around the corner.

I want each time Defend the Guard gets the spotlight to be as successful as New Hampshire was.

I want dozens of witness testimonies, from local legislators to concerned citizens to courageous veterans.

To get involved in the Defend the Guard movement, visit DefendTheGuard.US. See whether your state has a bill sponsor yet, and sign up there to learn more and begin receiving our excellent, informational newsletter.

Bring Our Troops Home has big plans for the new year. And they start with you getting involved.

The Idea of Making a ‘Trillion Dollar Coin’ Is Still Dumb

Here we go again. Every few years in Congress there is a purely political battle over the debt ceiling. We’re supposed to be horrified and worried that the U.S. might default on some of its debt. Some commentators will insist the U.S. has never defaulted, and that default be a disaster. (That’s wrong, by the way. The U.S. has defaulted before.)

But these debt ceiling debates always end the same way. Congress ends up increasing the debt ceiling and the U.S.’s national debt continues to spiral upward.

During all the theatrics over the debt ceiling, however, many strange ideas are put forward as a supposed means to avoiding a shutdown. One of these is the “trillion-dollar coin” idea. The general premise is that the government can do an end run around the debt ceiling altogether if it can find a way to raise revenue without borrowing. Thus, the scheme goes more or less like this, as explained by Yale law professor Jack Balkin back in 2011:

Are there other ways for the president to raise money besides borrowing?

Sovereign governments such as the United States can print new money. However, there’s a statutory limit to the amount of paper currency that can be in circulation at any one time.

Ironically, there’s no similar limit on the amount of coinage. A little-known statute gives the secretary of the Treasury the authority to issue platinum coins in any denomination. So some commentators have suggested that the Treasury create two $1 trillion coins, deposit them in its account in the Federal Reserve and write checks on the proceeds….

The “jumbo coin” [strategy works] because modern central banks don’t have to print bills or float debt to create new money; they just add money to their customers’ checking accounts.

Put another way, by minting a trillion-dollar coin, Congress could simply deposit the coin at its bank account at the Federal Reserve and then start spending money from the account which now has a trillion-dollar (or even larger) credit. Or, the Fed could purchase the coin from the Treasury with dollars and add the coin the Fed’s assets, thus supplying  the Treasury with a trillion dollars.

But here’s the rub: in no version of this scheme is the trillion-dollar coin actually made with a trillion-dollars-worth of platinum. Were that the case, the “coin” would be huge and weigh millions of pounds. Rather, the coin we’re talking about in this scheme would just have a face value of $1 trillion. It would be a commemorative or numismatic coin. The coin would be nothing more than a kind of legal fiction that’s used to credit the Treasury with a trillion dollars without going deeper into debt.

So, there’s really no reason for there to be any platinum in the coin at all, except for the legal (and perhaps political) advantages of calling it a platinum coin. From an economic standpoint, the coin might as well be a paperclip, as explained by Robert Murphy:

The Federal Reserve has the power to buy whatever assets it wants at whatever price it wants. In principle, [the Treasury Secretary] could sell a paperclip to the Fed for $2 trillion. The Fed would simply write a check made out to the Treasury, drawn on the Fed itself.

When the Treasury deposited this check with its own bank—which just so happens to be the Fed—then its own “checking account” balance would go up by $2 trillion. This money wouldn’t come from anywhere in the sense that some other account would need to be debited $2 trillion. On the contrary, the system’s total reserves (and what is called the “monetary base”) would have swelled by $2 trillion. The Treasury would be free to start paying bills by writing checks on the $2 trillion in its account.

It seems absurd, but the difference between the paperclip idea and the trillion-dollar coin scheme is one merely of degree. Both are ways of depositing something of relatively small value into a bank account and then withdrawing sums of money far exceeding the value of what was deposited.

Two Ways of Taxing the Public

But what is the difference between the usual raise-the-debt-ceiling option and the paperclip/coin idea? Perhaps the most meaningful difference between them is the way in which the taxpayers are exploited to pay for more government spending. Were the government to simply go more deeply into debt, the government would sell bonds and get cash in return. The bonds would be added to the national debt, formally increasing both the future and present obligations of the taxpayers. Taxpayers would be on the hook for paying off the bonds at the maturity date at some point in the future, but would also be on the hook in the near term for paying interest on the new debt.

In the case of the trillion-dollar coin, however, the taxpayer is exploited via the inflation tax. The coin scheme essentially forces the Federal Reverse to credit the Treasury with money and resources that doesn’t exist. The scheme ends, as Murphy notes above, by expanding the money supply—i.e., “printing” money.

The result of this inflating the money supply is either rising asset prices or rising consumer prices, or both. For example, we’re already living with 40-year highs in price inflation which is the consequence of the massive amounts of monetary inflation that occurred since 2008—and especially since 2020.

Admittedly, the trillion-dollar coin idea is good for the government itself. It provides the regime with yet another option for quickly accessing and spending even more money. But for taxpayers, there’s nothing beneficial or special about the coin scheme. It’s just a different way of ripping us off.

This article was originally featured at the Ludwig von Mises Institute and is republished with permission.

Surveillance, Both Public and Private

We live in a surveillance state founded on a partnership between government and the technology industry.”— Law Professor Avidan Y. Cover

In this age of ubiquitous surveillance, there are no private lives: everything is public.

Surveillance cameras mounted on utility poles, traffic lights, businesses, and homes. License plate readers. Ring doorbells. GPS devices. Dash cameras. Drones. Store security cameras. Geofencing and geotracking. FitBits. Alexa. Internet-connected devices.

There are roughly one billion surveillance cameras worldwide and that number continues to grow, thanks to their wholehearted adoption by governments (especially law enforcement and military agencies), businesses, and individual consumers.

With every new surveillance device we welcome into our lives, the government gains yet another toehold into our private worlds.

Indeed, empowered by advances in surveillance technology and emboldened by rapidly expanding public-private partnerships between law enforcement, the Intelligence Community, and the private sector, police have become particularly adept at sidestepping the Fourth Amendment.

As law professor Avidan Y. Cover explains:

A key feature of the surveillance state is the cooperative relationship between the private sector and the government. The private sector’s role is vital to the surveillance both practically and legally. The private sector, of course, provides the infrastructure and tools for the surveillance… The private sector is also critical to the surveillance state’s legality. Under the third-party doctrine, the Fourth Amendment is not implicated when the government acquires information that people provide to corporations, because they voluntarily provide their information to another entity and assume the risk that the entity will disclose the information to the government. Therefore, people do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their calling data, or potentially even their emails. As a result, the government does not normally need a warrant to obtain information transmitted electronically. But the Fourth Amendment is not only a source of protection for individual privacy; it also limits government excess and abuse through challenges by the people. The third-party doctrine removes this vital and populist check on government overreach.

Critical to this end run around the Fourth Amendment’s prohibitions against unreasonable searches and seizures by government agents is a pass play that allows police to avoid public transparency requirements (open bids, public meetings, installation protocols) by having private companies and individuals do the upfront heavy lifting, leaving police to harvest the intel on the back end.

Stingray devices, facial recognition technology, body cameras, automated license plate readers, gunshot detection, predictive policing software, AI-enhanced video analytics, real-time crime centers, fusion centers: all of these technologies and surveillance programs rely on public-private partnerships that together create a sticky spiderweb from which there is no escape.

As the cost of these technologies becomes more affordable for the average consumer, an effort underwritten by the tech industry and encouraged by law enforcement agencies and local governing boards, which in turn benefit from access to surveillance they don’t need to include in their budgets, big cities, small towns, urban, suburban and rural communities alike are adding themselves to the surveillance state’s interconnected grid.

What this adds up to for government agencies (that is, FBI, NSA, DHS agents, etc., as well as local police) is a surveillance map that allows them to track someone’s movements over time and space, hopscotching from doorbell camera feeds and business security cameras to public cameras on utility poles, license plate readers, traffic cameras, drones, etc.

It has all but eliminated the notion of privacy and radically re-drawn the line of demarcation between our public and private selves.

Over the past 50 years, surveillance has brought about a series of revolutions in how governments govern and populations are policed to the detriment of us all. Cybersecurity expert Adam Scott Wandt has identified three such revolutions.

The first surveillance revolution came about as a result of government video cameras being installed in public areas. There were a reported 51 million surveillance cameras blanketing the United States in 2022. It’s estimated that Americans are caught on camera an average of 238 times every week (160 times per week while driving; 40 times per week at work; 24 times per week while out running errands and shopping; and 14 times per week through various other channels and activities). That doesn’t even touch on the coverage by surveillance drones, which remain a relatively covert part of police spying operations.

The second revolution occurred when law enforcement agencies started forging public-private partnerships with commercial establishments like banks and drug stores and parking lots in order to gain access to their live surveillance feeds. The use of automatic license plate readers (manufactured and distributed by the likes of Flock Safety), once deployed exclusively by police and now spreading to home owners associations and gated communities, extends the reach of the surveillance state that much further afield. It’s a win-win for police budgets and local legislatures when they can persuade businesses and residential communities to shoulder the costs of the equipment and share the footage, and they can conscript the citizenry to spy on each other through crowdsourced surveillance.

The third revolution was ushered in with the growing popularity of doorbell cameras such as Ring, Amazon’s video surveillance doorbell, and Google’s Nest Cam.

Amazon has been particularly aggressive in its pursuit of a relationship with police, enlisting them in its marketing efforts, and going so far as to hosting parties for police, providing free Ring doorbells and deep discounts, sharing “active camera” maps of Ring owners, allowing access to the Law Enforcement Neighborhood Portal, which enables police to directly contact owners for access to their footage, and coaching police on how to obtain footage without a warrant.

Ring currently partners with upwards of 2,161 law enforcement agencies and 455 fire departments, and that number grows exponentially every year. As Vice reports, “Ring has also heavily pursued city discount programs and private alliances with neighborhood watch groups. When cities provide free or discounted Ring cameras, they sometimes create camera registries, and police sometimes order people to aim Ring cameras at their neighbors, or only give cameras to people surveilled by neighborhood watches.”

In November 2022, San Francisco police gained access to the live footage of privately owned internet cameras as opposed to merely being able to access recorded footage. No longer do police even have to request permission of homeowners for such access: increasingly, corporations have given police access to footage as part of their so-called criminal investigations with or without court orders.

We would suggest a fourth revolutionary shift to be the use of facial recognition software and artificial intelligence-powered programs that can track people by their biometrics, clothing, behavior and car, thereby synthesizing the many strands of surveillance video footage into one cohesive narrative, which privacy advocates refer to as 360 degree surveillance.

Finally, Wandt sees autonomous cars equipped with cameras that record everything around them as yet another revolutionary expansion of surveillance to be tapped by police.

Yet in the present moment, it’s those public-private partnerships that signify a watershed moment in the transition from a police state to a surveillance state and sound a death knoll for our privacy rights. This fusion of government power and private power is also at the heart of the surveillance state’s growing stranglehold on the populace.

As always, these intrusions into our personal lives are justified in the name of national security and fighting crime. Yet while the price to be paid for having the government’s so-called protection is nothing less than our right to privacy, the guarantee of safety remains dubious, at best.

As a study on camera surveillance by researchers at City University of New York concluded, the presence of cameras were somewhat effective as a deterrent for crimes such as car burglaries and property theft, but they had no significant effect on violent crimes.

On the other hand, when you combine overcriminalization with wall-to-wall surveillance monitored by police in pursuit of crimes, the resulting suspect society inevitably gives way to a nation of criminals. In such a society, we are all guilty of some crime or other.

The predatory effect of these surveillance cameras has also yet to be fully addressed, but they are vulnerable to being hacked by third parties and abused by corporate and government employees.

After all, power corrupts. We’ve seen this abuse of power recur time and time again throughout history. For instance, as an in-depth investigative report by the Associated Press concludes, the very same mass surveillance technologies that were supposedly so necessary to fight the spread of COVID-19 are now being used to stifle dissent, persecute activists, harass marginalized communities, and link people’s health information to other surveillance and law enforcement tools. As the AP reports, federal officials have also been looking into how to add “‘identifiable patient data,’ such as mental health, substance use and behavioral health information from group homes, shelters, jails, detox facilities and schools,” to its surveillance toolkit.

These cameras—and the public-private eyes peering at us through them—are re-engineering a society structured around the aesthetic of fear and, in the process, empowering “people to not just watch their neighborhood, but to organize as watchers,” creating not just digital neighborhood watches but digital gated communities.

Finally, there is a repressive, suppressive effect to surveillance that not only acts as a potentially small deterrent on crime but serves to monitor and chill lawful First Amendment activity. As Matthew Feeney warns in the New York Times, “In the past, Communists, civil rights leaders, feminists, Quakers, folk singers, war protesters and others have been on the receiving end of law enforcement surveillance. No one knows who the next target will be.

No one knows, but it’s a pretty good bet that the surveillance state will be keeping a close watch on anyone seen as a threat to the government’s chokehold on power.

It’s George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four on a global scale.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People and in its fictional counterpart The Erik Blair Diaries, Orwell’s dystopian nightmare has become our looming reality.

This article was originally featured at the Rutherford Institute and is republished with permission.

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