The panopticon economy

By | June 30, 2009

The panopticon economy

Surrounded by barbwire fencing, the anonymous yet massive building on West Military Drive near San Antonio’s Loop 410 freeway looms mysteriously with no identifying signs of any kind. Surveillance is tight, with security cameras surrounding the under-construction building. Readers are advised not to take any photos unless you care to be detained for at least a 45-minute interrogation by the National Security Agency, as this reporter was.

There’s a strangely blurry line during such an interrogation. After viewing the five photos I’d taken of the NSA’s new Texas Cryptology Center, the NSA officer asked if I would delete them. When I asked if he was ordering me to do so, he said no; he was asking as a personal favor. I declined and was eventually released.

America’s top spy agency has taken over the former Sony microchip plant and is transforming it into a new data-mining headquarters — oddly positioned directly across the street from a 24-hour Walmart — where billions of electronic communications will be sifted in the agency’s mission to identify terrorist threats.

“No longer able to store all the intercepted phone calls and e-mail in its secret city, the agency has now built a new data warehouse in San Antonio, Texas,†writes author James Bamford in the Shadow Factory, his third book about the NSA. “Costing, with renovations, upwards of $130 million, the 470,000-square-foot facility will be almost the size of the Alamodome. Considering how much data can now be squeezed onto a small flash drive, the new NSA building may eventually be able to hold all the information in the world.â€

Bamford’s book focuses on the NSA’s transformation since 9/11, with the impetus for the new facility being a direct ramification of those attacks. At the time, the NSA had only about 7 percent of its facilities outside the Washington D.C./Baltimore area. But the realization that additional attacks could virtually wipe out the agency catalyzed a regional expansion. [See “Secret Agency Man,†November 5, 2008.]

The new facility is a potential boon to the local economy since it’s reportedly going to employ around 1,500 people, but questions remain about whether there will be adequate oversight to prevent civil-rights violations like Uncle Sam’s recent notorious warrantless wiretapping program. The NSA would suggest the facility’s ability to sort through surveillance data is one of America’s top defenses against terrorist threats, but the NSA’s presence comes with concerns that abuse of its secretive power could see the agency become akin to the “Thought Police†of 1984, George Orwell’s classic novel depicting the nightmare of a total surveillance society — and all for nothing. Even as the facility is completed, a new government-backed report has concluded that data surveillance is an ineffective method for identifying potential terrorists or preventing attacks. …

via SA Current – NEWS+FEATURES: The panopticon economy.

Ah. So everything I ever type on this blog will be archived forever in some secret underground government computer… and based on what I have written, the computer can determine what I will and will not do.  It would be nice if they would provide some added service to ordinary citizens. … like fortunes, or advice:  “Based on your profile, the NSA Superbrain recommends that you stop eating walnuts and buy a large screen TV in October.”

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