The US Government Today Has More Data On The Average American Than The Stasi Did On East Germans

from the surveillance-society dept

We’ve written plenty about how the US government has been quite aggressive in spying on Americans. It has been helped along by a court system that doesn’t seem particularly concerned about the 4th Amendment and by the growing ability of private companies to have our data and to then share it with the government at will. Either way, in a radio interview, Wall Street Journal reporter Julia Angwin (who’s been one of the best at covering the surveillance state in the US) made a simple observation that puts much of this into context: the US surveillance regime has more data on the average American than the Stasi ever did on East Germans. And, of course, as we’ve already seen, much of that data seems to be collected illegally with little oversight… and with absolutely no security benefit.

To be fair, part of the reason for why this is happening is purely technical/practical. While the Stasi likely wanted more info and would have loved to have been able to tap into a digitally connected world like we have today, that just wasn’t possible. The fact that we have so much data about us in connected computers makes it an entirely different world. So, from a practical level, there’s a big difference.

That said, it still should be terrifying. Even if there are legitimate technical reasons for why the government has so much more data on us, it doesn’t change the simple fact (true both then and now) that such data is wide open to abuse, which inevitably happens. The ability of government officials to abuse access to information about you for questionable purposes is something that we should all be worried about. Even those who sometimes have the best of intentions seem to fall prey to the temptation to use such access in ways that strip away civil liberties and basic expectations of privacy. Unfortunately, the courts seem to have very little recognition of the scope of the issue, and there’s almost no incentive for Congress (and certainly the executive branch) to do anything at all to fix this.

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Comments on “The US Government Today Has More Data On The Average American Than The Stasi Did On East Germans”

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59 Comments
Zakida Paul says:

Re:

“On the other hand, I don’t see a way to stop it that doesn’t involve some kind of uprising, and I don’t like the thought of that either.”

If that’s what it takes, that’s what it takes. I don’t fear it.

I imagine GCHQ here in the UK has a rather large file on me considering some of the things I write online. Hello GCHQ, ya bag of shite.

weneedhelp (profile) says:

Hell....

I saw this shit coming from the un-patriot act I, then II. People don’t care. When you tell the lemmings about this crap you see their eyes static over like an off channel. Everyone thinks, well that doesn’t effect me.

I realized long ago that trying to convince ppl to look at the anomalies of 911 was a lost cause and focused my attention on laws that were being written in reaction to 911 was more productive. Well here we are. No public outcry. Just blind acceptance the the Gov is our friend and is looking out for our “safety.”

It will get worse. Much worse.

Cynical? Absolutely.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

CBPA – Criminal Behavior Predictive Analysis
Using the increasing amount of data on you the law can predict when and where you will commit a crime.

CBPA = Criminal Behavior Preventative Action
Base on the above information it is now possible to predict that you will commit a crime at a certain time in the future therefore, we will arrest you now for the crime you are going to commit.

3am, a knock at the door…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

mentioning the nazi’s or the stasi in itself is a godwin?
whether or not it is an actual fallacy?
condemning veggies because Hitler was a veggie is a fallacy.
I think the above story isn’t.

The more information is gathered about the more people, the higher the chance that that information will be abused and the worse that abuse will be.

There should be a name for this law if it isn’t an existing law already.

Ed C. says:

Re:

When you have expansive laws and selective enforcement, technically everyone at some point or another will end up committing an illegal act. Either officials decide that it isn’t worth perusing at that time, or you don’t get caught. However, that information is still out there, and if at some point in the future you’re deemed a threat, they will use any information they can against you. Of course, those officials are just as likely as anyone else to break the laws they are supposed to enforce, but they obviously have little incentive to enforce those laws upon themselves. They effectively get a free pass.

But that’s just the laws that are ultimately decided in court, that doesn’t include those such as the “anti-terrorism” laws where the executive branch is effectively allowed to interpret the law in both enforcement and judgement.

Digitari says:

Re:

I’d love to find out what they know about me, I have no facebook,twitter,yahoo or google accounts.

Hell I don’t even have my OWN name on MY PC anywhere. My father had i his Identity stolen some 6 years ago..and my credit is no where near as good as his

I have Never had ANY personal info ( about myself) on any PC I have connected to the net (I’ve been online for 16 years or so now)

anonymous says:

Re: Re:

Well, lets put it this way. You may not be putting out the information, but your computer is. If it is connected to the internet, your IP address is 100% out there. All it takes now is the ISP you have to connect your home IP address, to your IRL house address. You now have all your searches, e-mails, IMs, facebook profiles etc connected to you and your home. You don’t have to make anything public at all, your ISP just has to sell it to the government (which they definitely do, and not just federal, also state).

Overand (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Here’s the problem with this thinking:

With many posts you make online, the site (techdirt.com, etc) keep track of your IP address. Your internet provider – whose bills you pay – certainly has your name. A quick call from any federal agency, and most ISPs readily hand over “this person had this IP at this time” information.

Additionally, if they *really* want to track you, all they have to do is actually request your ISP capture packets. So, basically- yeah, if they want to know who ‘Digitari’ is, assuming they can’t infer it from your posts, there *are* technical ways to find out.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

No, Godwin’s law applies to making comparisons to the Nazis, because it is almost always assumed that no matter what someone does, they could never reach the level of brutality and/or security that the nazis, did, not taking into account the numbers of people they killed.

The Stasi on the other hand, were East German Police during the Cold War who were reputed to be everywhere because of the amount of information they had on everybody. Godwin’s Law does not apply either to this thread, or the subject of this article.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

Actually, the courts have been coming down more on the side of “The Executive branch does not have carte-blanch” when these things are taken to court.

However, the problem is that the executive branch has the Armed Forces to push their interpretations by ‘force of arms’ so…. what can we do?

Personally, I’m more worried about some asshole in government disliking what I am saying/doing/trying to make legal and imprisoning me extra-judically than I am about a terrorist trying to kill me

Anonymous Coward says:

“That said, it still should be terrifying. “

Considering that the US government before any police / spy agency already has more information that was collected in the past, it’s a given. It should be terrifying that you think your readers are so simply minded.

Just look at the IRS. They know where you work, when you work, how much you got paid, and pretty much every other financial issue in your life. They know if you are married, single, a parent, paying child support, etc. They know when you get fired, they know when you get hired, they have your job history for a decade or more, etc.

That is already more than was collected 70 odd years ago.

Don’t even get started on drivers licenses, license plates on cars, tickets, accidents, loans, your credit score… all normal things. Our connected society means that US government or it’s proxies have all of that, and they can pretty much figure you out.

All that, and you haven’t touched the FBI, CIA, HS, or any other major group.

Mike, this is just pure FUD. It really is terrifying that you think your readers, after 15 years, are that simple minded.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re:

They know where you work, when you work, how much you got paid, and pretty much every other financial issue in your life. They know if you are married, single, a parent, paying child support, etc. They know when you get fired, they know when you get hired, they have your job history for a decade or more, etc.

That is already more than was collected 70 odd years ago.

Don’t even get started on drivers licenses, license plates on cars, tickets, accidents, loans, your credit score… all normal things. Our connected society means that US government or it’s proxies have all of that, and they can pretty much figure you out.

Private companies know all of that, too, and I am more concerned with what they are gathering on me than the government. I trust the government more than private enterprise. Has to do with the fact that my father was career military. Private enterprise, for example, links personal info from a broad range of places to how much you pay for certain services or whether you can even get them. The government isn’t interested in linking every detail of your life to every other detail of your life to the extent that private enterprise is.

The Groove Tiger (profile) says:

Re:

A Godwin says nothing about the validity of the arguments.

Godwin’s Law is not a type of fallacy. It’s merely an observation, that the longer a conversation thread goes, the chance of Hitlers or the Nazis being mentioned approaches 100%.

It’s like saying that once your toast falls with the buttered side down, you’ve lost the debate because Murphy’s Law was invoked.

Also, East Germany = pinko commies, not Nazis. No relation to Godwin’s.

The Groove Tiger (profile) says:

Re:

Not exactly.

“Godwin’s law (also known as Godwin’s Rule of Nazi Analogies or Godwin’s Law of Nazi Analogies) is an argument made by Mike Godwin in 1990 that has become an Internet adage. It states: “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.” In other words, Godwin observed that, given enough time, in any online discussion?regardless of topic or scope?someone inevitably makes a comparison to Hitler and the Nazis.”

“…The rule does not make any statement about whether any particular reference or comparison to Adolf Hitler or the Nazis might be appropriate, but only asserts that the likelihood of such a reference or comparison arising increases as the discussion progresses, irrespective of whether it is appropriate or not. Precisely because such a comparison or reference may sometimes be appropriate, Godwin has argued that overuse of Nazi and Hitler comparisons should be avoided, because it robs the valid comparisons of their impact.”

Source: Wikipedia

Sometimes the comparison can be appropriate. It just talks about overuse of those analogies.

And yeah, applying Godwin to East Germany is ridiculous.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Well that might be a mistake, you can mistrust them equally it is allowed.

That’s my point here. If you complain about government data collection and monitoring but don’t complain about private enterprise data collection and monitoring, you’re missing a lot of what is being collected about you. And from what I know about both entities, the amount of data being collected about you and closely followed and actually used against you is far greater by private companies than by government.

What I hear from private companies collecting data is this: “Tell the government to stay out of our way so we can collect even more data. And so citizens won’t pay attention to what we are doing, we’ll tell you the problem is government and not us.”

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: Private companies also have more data on Americans than the Stasi

It will stop if you stop giving up the information to begin with.

There’s a lot of stuff I won’t do because I don’t trust how the info is being used. And I’m sure there are others like me. The more private companies try to monitor us, the less we use their services, or the greater lengths we go to block their monitoring.

ASTROBOI says:

So...what shall we do?

Being retired, I’ve heard this stuff a lot longer than most people. Twenty, thirty years ago it was the same thing. PBS made a documentary called “We Know Where You Live” BEFORE the internet was implemented and featured visuals of mainframes with big old reel to reel tape drives supposedly spying on everybody. DO you really think “five minutes on the internet” exposes a persons life? Try it. You will find old addresses, obsolete stuff you could get out of the white pages and the standard request for $$$ to view “the good stuff”. Look up an old schoolmate or somebody you worked with ten years ago. Maybe after an hour you will get a picture of his house. Or not.

Yet the Greek chorus goes on about how our apathy is leading us to destruction because we don’t “do something” and I ask; what should we do? It’s not like electing a new pres is going to stop data gathering. Want to vote the evil ones out of office? Well, you will be voting just about everyone out. And replacing them with mostly identical clones. Pass some new laws? Because that worked so well in the past! If the tech exists it is going to be used one way or another. And maybe it’s just as well. They have tried really hard to end prostitution, sex, “teh gay”, porn, booze, tobacco, guns, comic books, religion, atheism, fast cars, movies, copying movies, rock ‘n’ roll, and now “data mining” and all those things are still with us. Things that are easy to do and hard to prevent are not going away. Efforts to live with what we have rather than changing the world might yield a better life. Would you really want some group of people to be able to “turn off” the ability to collect data? Stop and think of the consequences. THink of the additional spying needed to catch the original spies! One day everyone will know everything about everyone. No more secrets. That includes the govt busybodies who will be just as exposed as the rest. And most of the info will be deadly dull.

SW says:

Citing Godwin's law

Any one who cites Godwin’s law should reexamine their understanding of National Socialism, a phenomenon which is now widely documented. The notion that the first to cite National Socialism in a debate about government loses the argument based on this silly “referee” call shows their inability to further debate. National Socialism like Soviet Socialism and Sino-Socialism have decades of history which can inform, and to wave a false “law” as method to disallow references to lessons already learned in the history of the last century into any discussion show often how apt such citations might be, as well as how damaging properly identifying totalitarian phenomena are to political debates. May we come to see that those employing Godwin’s law to shut down debate and somehow declare themselves the winner thereby have palmed the ace, dealt from the bottom of their deck — or plainly — cheated.

sally says:

old acquaintances

Recently, I checked a sex offender online site for offenders in our area (to see how “safe” our neighborhood is for our granddaughter). Turns out one sex offender listed, with picture and all, works where I do. He has a 1st degree rape conviction from 1997. Apparently rape of 1st degree is when they rape a child of 12 or younger. I would never have thought of him as a danger to anyone.

escapefromobamastan says:

Snitch Society

Dual citizen Michael Chertoff (who released the dancing Israelis who were high fiving, celebrating and filming the 9/11 attack on the towers as it occurred-which indicates foreknowledge), while head of Dept. of Homeland Security hired zionist EX-EAST GERMAN STASI (head of the General Intelligence Administration, the foreign intelligence division of East Germany’s Ministry for State Security [Stasi]), Marcus Wofe (now dead and burning in hell), and EX-SOVIET COMMUNIST KGB, CHIEF OF THE INTELLIGENCE SERVICE, Gen. Yevegeny Maksimovich Primakov, to set up the internal security/intelligence for the communist Department of “Homeland” Security. If any citizen of this former supposedly representative republic thinks our Constitution is still in effect had better think again. We are living in a post-constitutional communist/facist (both created by zionism) technocratic police state and they, along with the bankers who fund them, have picked the meat totally off the bones of this country. All based on a false flag attack on 9/11. And both parties are two heads on one snake with the same goals.

April says:

Re:Uprising

Look at what is happening in Missouri… do you think there will be an uprising? They are building fear and self-censure into our hearts with the consistent use of police violence and the killing of protestors. The militarization of the police and the lack of accountability means that we have a lot to fear. Protestors will be less and less inclined to stand up knowing they can be shot down, unarmed, in the street by police. And not just protestors. Look at what’s happening across the country. We are not allowed to stand up for what we believe anymore.

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