Friday, February 8, 2008

The Surveillance-Industrial Complex: Corporations Spy on Citizens for the FBI

Both The Progressive and the ACLU have stories up over on their sites about how the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have recruited tens of thousands of members of corporate America to be the "eyes and ears" of the government. In return, they receive secret briefing on terrorism. The program is called InfraGard, and from The Progressive story:
The members of this rapidly growing group, called InfraGard, receive secret warnings of terrorist threats before the public does—and, at least on one occasion, before elected officials. In return, they provide information to the government, which alarms the ACLU. But there may be more to it than that. One business executive, who showed me his InfraGard card, told me they have permission to “shoot to kill” in the event of martial law.

InfraGard is “a child of the FBI,” says Michael Hershman, the chairman of the advisory board of the InfraGard National Members Alliance and CEO of the Fairfax Group, an international consulting firm.
Much of this information is contained in a 38-page ACLU report, "The Surveillance-Industrial Complex: How the American Government is Conscripting Businesses and Individuals in the Construction of a Surveillance Society." Of course, one can go and check out InfraGard's own website:
InfraGard is an information sharing and analysis effort serving the interests and combining the knowledge base of a wide range of members. At its most basic level, InfraGard is a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the private sector. InfraGard is an association of businesses, academic institutions, state and local law enforcement agencies, and other participants dedicated to sharing information and intelligence to prevent hostile acts against the United States. InfraGard Chapters are geographically linked with FBI Field Office territories.

This is all very scary stuff, as Daily Kos writer Sick of It notes in his essay on the subject (and a hat tip to him/her for bringing this to my attention). I highly recommend checking out all the links provided here, and especially the ACLU report. As they describe it themselves, the report covers:
Recruiting Individuals. Documents how individuals are being recruited to serve as "eyes and ears" for the authorities even after Congress rejected the infamous TIPS (Terrorism Information and Prevention System) program that would have recruited workers like cable repairmen to spy on their customers.
Recruiting Companies. Examines how companies are pressured to voluntarily provide consumer information to the government; the many ways security agencies can force companies to turn over sensitive information under federal laws such as the Patriot Act; how the government is forcing companies to participate in watchlist programs and in systems for the automatic scrutiny of individuals' financial transactions.
Mass Data Use, Public and Private. Focuses on the government's use of private data on a mass scale, either through data mining programs like the MATRIX state information-sharing program, or the purchase of information from private-sector data aggregators.
Pro-Surveillance Lobbying. Looks at the flip side of the issue: how some companies are pushing the government to adopt surveillance technologies and programs based on private-sector data.
The Progressive article details more how closely the FBI works with its new corporate associates:
FBI Director Robert Mueller addressed an InfraGard convention on August 9, 2005. At that time, the group had less than half as many members as it does today. “To date, there are more than 11,000 members of InfraGard,” he said. “From our perspective that amounts to 11,000 contacts . . . and 11,000 partners in our mission to protect America.” He added a little later, “Those of you in the private sector are the first line of defense.”

He urged InfraGard members to contact the FBI if they “note suspicious activity or an unusual event.” And he said they could sic the FBI on “disgruntled employees who will use knowledge gained on the job against their employers.”
It is necessary to fight back against this ominious threat against our civil liberties. The ACLU is asking people
to contact prominent companies - such as drugstore chains, insurance companies and retailers - to ask them to take a "no-spy pledge" to defend their customers' privacy against government intrusion. A list of suggested companies for consumers to contact is available online at

1 comment:

Steven Josselson said...

This is an excellent, albeit troubling summary. I have written a fair amount on the surveillance-industrial complex at my blog, and it's rewarding to see some other fellow progressives touching on the issues.

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