As part of an ongoing effort to create a Stasi-like surveillance grid in America, the Bureau of Justice Assistance, in association with the International Association of Chiefs of Police, has produced a video to assist in the training of officers as they go about detecting what the federal government considers to be suspicious activity. It is part of the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative (NSI).
The video instructs officers to consider photographers as possible terrorists who should be singled out for additional interrogation.
According to the video, street photography and photography of public buildings provides “justification for further analysis,” although the video emphasizes that photography “and other similar activities are protected activities unless connected to other suspicious activities that would indicate potential terrorism. This may cause the officer to conduct additional observation or gather additional information – again taking into account the totality of circumstances.”
“Photography, observation, or surveillance of facilities, buildings, or critical infrastructure and key resources beyond casual, tourism, or artistic interest, to include facility access points, staff or occupants, or security measures,” the video instructs.
The “acquisition or storage of unusual quantities of materials,” including cell phones and pagers, is considered to be a suspicious behavior.
While the NSI attempts to be politically correct – stating it does not profile individuals on the basis of race or religion – and also pays lip-service to privacy, it is the largest and most technologically sophisticated surveillance program in the nation’s history (a fact noted by none other than the Washington Post). It “collects, stores and analyzes information about thousands of U.S. citizens and residents, many of whom have not been accused of any wrongdoing,” the Post notes.
“The unprecedented network involves local police, state and military authorities feeding a growing database on thousands of US citizens and residents, even though many have never been charged with breaking the law,” AFP reported in 2010. “The apparatus breaks new ground in the United States — where domestic security measures traditionally have faced legal limits — and raises questions about safeguards for privacy and civil liberties.”
In fact, this is a fallacy – the government has surveilled and collected data on millions of Americans for decades.
Beginning with Operation Shamrock, the NSA has spied on Americans since the end of the Second World War. Operation Shamrock violated the Communications Act and the Fourth Amendment. In 2005, it was revealed that the NSA has continued to illegally monitor Americans by working with transnational telecoms to copy all email and web browsing in the United States and internationally.
The NSA is not alone. The FBI (most notoriously under COINTELPRO) and the CIA (Operation CHAOS) have long track records in not only surveilling Americans, but also disrupting – the FBI called it neutralizing – the legal political activities of countless Americans.
The NSI is part of a long and disreputable tradition in violation of the Constitution. Street photographers can expect to be singled out and considered members of al-Qaeda and other largely mythical terrorist fabrications.
The drift is unmistakeable. East Germany’s Stasi began by creating dossiers on its citizens and ended by imprisoning people for trying to leave the country, or telling political jokes. Secret executions and the deliberate irradiation of political prisoners with x-ray machines in an attempt to give them cancer was routine.