I have recently returned from a trip to Budapest, where the shadow of the old Iron Curtain actually illuminated my perspective of the emerging US surveillance state.
Sitting in a Starbucks in the Heart of Europe, I started talking politics with a fellow-coffee drinker, a woman in her thirties who worked for one of the major American firms in the City. Right now, the Hungarian Government, led by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, is trying to push the Country back towards Russia. Mr. Orbán has tried to tax the Internet and is now asking for mandatory drug tests for journalists; in short, he is doing whatever he can to control the dissemination of information within the borders and throughout the World. As I sipped my chai, expressed my support for the protests happening throughout the City, and calmly criticized the PM, a pall was cast over my new friend. She explained that if we were having this conversation twenty-five years ago, a car would have pulled up, we would have been taken, and our bodies would (maybe) be found in a field somewhere.
While my friend was clearly enjoying her capitalist coffee and the economic prosperity that came with working for an American company, she lamented the erosion of close family relationships that had been fostered by living in a constant state of fear: when strangers in a coffee shop, or even your close friends, could be State informants, the only people you could truly trust, the only people who were not likely to turn you in for speaking against the Government, were your parents, who would be endangered themselves for raising a dissident child. So families were close. They had to be. If there was silver lining to constantly having to guard your thoughts and opinions in the 1980s, this was it.
Fast forward to 2002: the same little “Reagan-ites” who believe that their trickle-down economics won the Cold War instituted a system of statewide 24/7 surveillance in the United States that does not rely on human intel. Our phones and computers provide a mechanism of data gathering that would have sent the KGB and its satellite agencies into raptures: the NSA can listen in on your family dinner by remotely operating your cell phone; everything you have said on the phone or typed on the Internet since 2008 is recorded and searchable in the NSA’s databases. Worse still, the NSA has all of the metadata from these communications too, so they can construct whatever narrative they want out of your activities. While the old-school Soviet surveillance may have facilitated more intimate familial relationships, the NSA’s programs force families to keep their phones in the fridge during dinner.
Although I am no longer sitting in a coffee shop in the former Eastern Bloc, I am nevertheless still sitting under the ever-watchful stare of the government. Right now, our Firm is fighting the warrantless collection and retention of private data by the State: Indiana has the complete genetic profile of some 2 Million Plus people born after 1991. See our Complaint about this unauthorized hoarding of newborns’ DNA here.