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.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 3rd, 2012 @ 1:18pm

    I don't really know what to do with this information.

    On the one hand, I really really don't like it.

    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.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Oct 3rd, 2012 @ 1:37pm

      Re:

      The data being collected makes the uprising more difficult to organise successfully. It could make it difficult to organise alternative political parties to address the expansion of nominally democratic states.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      •  
        identicon
        Ed C., Oct 3rd, 2012 @ 2:44pm

        Re: 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.

         

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        •  
          identicon
          Anonymous, Oct 3rd, 2012 @ 4:56pm

          Re: Re: 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

           

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          •  
            icon
            That Anonymous Coward (profile), Oct 4th, 2012 @ 2:29am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            You mean those soldiers who are paid like crap and put their lives on the line because a bunch of rich old men who piss away more than a military family makes in a month on dinner and get better medical care than they could hope to get tell them to open fire on regular people?

             

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      icon
      Zakida Paul (profile), Oct 3rd, 2012 @ 1:38pm

      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.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Oct 3rd, 2012 @ 2:29pm

      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...

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      DHS IP Monitor, Oct 3rd, 2012 @ 2:31pm

      Re:

      All Comments are being tracked, and backtracked.

      Thank you for posting about your disapproval of our Glorious Government.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      •  
        icon
        el_segfaulto (profile), Oct 3rd, 2012 @ 2:48pm

        Re: Re:

        I welcome our nosy overlords! All glory to the United States government, the freedomest, safest, and above all most freedom loving nation in the world. May death come quickly to its enemies.

         

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      Voidkom, Oct 4th, 2012 @ 1:24pm

      Re:

      That's what their counting on.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Nov 9th, 2012 @ 7:59am

      Re:

      no decent person likes the thought of an uprising, but it appears it will soon become a necessary reality.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 3rd, 2012 @ 1:30pm

    Did Mike just Godwin his blog?


    :)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      icon
      :Lobo Santo (profile), Oct 3rd, 2012 @ 1:32pm

      Re:

      I thought Godwin's Law applied only to the comments section...

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      •  
        icon
        The eejit (profile), Oct 3rd, 2012 @ 1:35pm

        Re: Re:

        Technically, it applies to all debate?

         

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      •  
        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, Oct 3rd, 2012 @ 7:38pm

        Re: Re:

        Godwin law is used when you're trying to exaggerate a point...but in this case FACTS are proving that US is indeed becoming more like the old Germany. Maybe not 100% there, but still on a scary trend.

         

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Oct 3rd, 2012 @ 1:39pm

      Re:

      Stasi != Nazi

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Oct 3rd, 2012 @ 2:44pm

      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.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      •  
        icon
        John Fenderson (profile), Oct 3rd, 2012 @ 3:28pm

        Re: Re:

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


        I think SNAFU applies reasonably well.

         

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      •  
        icon
        The Groove Tiger (profile), Oct 3rd, 2012 @ 7:06pm

        Re: 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.

         

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Oct 3rd, 2012 @ 4:20pm

      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.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      •  
        icon
        The Groove Tiger (profile), Oct 3rd, 2012 @ 7:11pm

        Re: 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.

         

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    Zakida Paul (profile), Oct 3rd, 2012 @ 1:34pm

    You mean the American gov are not the Stasi?

    Holy shit, I did not see that coming.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    Zakida Paul (profile), Oct 3rd, 2012 @ 1:44pm

    I must say, the day social networking was invented should be celebrated as an international day for intelligence gathering.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    Yakko Warner (profile), Oct 3rd, 2012 @ 1:55pm

    File this under "Well, duh"

    The average person publishes more of their own information to the public internet than the Stasi had on East Europeans.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      icon
      Dixon Steele (profile), Oct 3rd, 2012 @ 2:13pm

      Re: File this under "Well, duh"

      I was going to say the same thing. Seems likely that with about 5 minutes on the internet, I could have more info on the average American than the Stasi had on East Germans.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    weneedhelp (profile), Oct 3rd, 2012 @ 2:27pm

    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.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    Suzanne Lainson (profile), Oct 3rd, 2012 @ 3:42pm

    Private companies also have more data on Americans than the Stasi

    I'm all for limiting what is collected about us. But if private companies continue to do it, then the problem isn't solved even if governments stay out of it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      icon
      That Anonymous Coward (profile), Oct 4th, 2012 @ 2:35am

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

      and one of the larger purchasers of the data is the Government, it lets them avoid those few pesky laws that somehow they manage to pretend to follow.

      Now if we could get them to pass a law to make sure the data was accurate.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      Michael, Oct 4th, 2012 @ 4:49am

      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.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      •  
        icon
        Suzanne Lainson (profile), Oct 4th, 2012 @ 9:11am

        Re: 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.

         

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Digitari, Oct 3rd, 2012 @ 3:48pm

    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)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Oct 3rd, 2012 @ 4:26pm

      Re: Re:

      Do you use a cell phone, credit card, library card, drive a car (license plate readers), fly, walk in public (CCTV) or have friends or family with social media accounts?

      If not, don't worry, they will begin collecting info on you once they get those drones overhead for our security.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      Michael, Oct 4th, 2012 @ 4:52am

      Re: Re:

      I find just using some guys dad's ID keeps me off the radar of government pretty well.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      anonymous, Oct 4th, 2012 @ 3:11pm

      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).

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      icon
      Overand (profile), Oct 10th, 2012 @ 11:31am

      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.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Mar 1st, 2013 @ 6:57am

      Re: Re:

      You would like to think that, wouldn't you?

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 3rd, 2012 @ 6:03pm

    "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.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      icon
      Suzanne Lainson (profile), Oct 3rd, 2012 @ 6:26pm

      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.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      •  
        icon
        That Anonymous Coward (profile), Oct 4th, 2012 @ 2:37am

        Re: Re:

        "I trust the government more than private enterprise."

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

         

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        •  
          icon
          Suzanne Lainson (profile), Oct 4th, 2012 @ 9:17am

          Re: 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."

           

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Oct 3rd, 2012 @ 9:52pm

      Re:

      When you have no argument except "but it was already bad!!!!" you should probably just crawl away in shame.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      icon
      Antsan (profile), Oct 4th, 2012 @ 3:10am

      Re:

      That's funny, because the GDR collapsed only 23 years ago. The Stasi also knew where you worked (was even more a given in the GDR as you were basically employed by the government) and all the related data, and basically anything you mentioned here.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Michael, Oct 4th, 2012 @ 5:10am

    I'm the *real* Michael that posts here on a regular basis, not the *fake* one that uses his dad's ID. Accept no imitations.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    ASTROBOI, Oct 4th, 2012 @ 5:34am

    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.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    SW, Oct 6th, 2012 @ 2:07am

    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.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Duane, Oct 6th, 2012 @ 3:44am

    STASI in America

    W-rong Bush HIRED the former Head of the East German STASI to help "design" TSA. God knows who else he had working where.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    sally, Oct 7th, 2012 @ 7:48pm

    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.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    Suzanne Lainson (profile), Oct 8th, 2012 @ 8:53am

    Would you have a problem with this if government was doing it?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    sam, Dec 5th, 2012 @ 9:53am

    Zionists

    This is not really americans spying on americans but zionists installed entities in the government spying on americans.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    escapefromobamastan, Dec 5th, 2012 @ 7:04pm

    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.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Fred, Dec 8th, 2012 @ 11:45am

    The US Government collecting so much data on every American is not a good policy, if America is too remain a land where liberty is very important. Our freedom is slowly slipping away and the American people do not know it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Save me a cookie
  • Note: A CRLF will be replaced by a break tag (<br>), all other allowable HTML will remain intact
  • Allowed HTML Tags: <b> <i> <a> <em> <br> <strong> <blockquote> <hr> <tt>
Follow Techdirt
A word from our sponsors...
Essential Reading
Techdirt Reading List
Techdirt Insider Chat
A word from our sponsors...
Recent Stories
A word from our sponsors...

Close

Email This