You are being watched. The government is listening to your phone calls. Your e-mail is being read. Personal details about you are zipping through cyberspace. The National Security Agency, the FBI’s Carnivore Internet surveillance system, ChoicePoint and the city of Tampa all received the dubious “Big Brother” awards from Privacy International for their Internet informational handling shadyness. The “Orwell” statutes were presented to the government agencies, companies and initiatives which have done most to invade personal privacy.
You are being watched. The government is listening to your phone calls. Your e-mail is being read. Personal details about you are zipping through cyberspace.
So says Privacy International, a Washington-based coalition of privacy experts and human rights organizations. And it is with those notions in mind that the nonprofit group has chosen winners of the 2001 Big Brother Awards â€” tongue-in-cheek prizes symbolized by statues of a man’s head under the heel of a boot.
This year’s winners, announced earlier this month, included two federal agencies, a city and its police force, and a private corporation that collects personal data.
“The common theme [among the four winners] is that they have â€¦ had programs or proposals or activities that deliberately invaded privacy,” said Dave Banisar, Privacy International’s deputy director. “Each of them has a particularly appalling characteristic.”
The National Security Agency took top “honors” for the “Lifetime Menace Award,” despite Privacy International’s David Banisar’s assertion that in the past five years “they’ve gotten happy and friendly.” He noted that this latest trend of NSA user-friendliness has amounted to a general attempt not to stop invading citizen’s privacy, but to focus attention away from it. The notorious spy agency has not abandoned practices such as Echelon that invade Americans’ privacy.
The once-known-as-Carnivore Internet snooping project run by the FBI won the award for “Most Heinous Project,” according to Banisar, for, as he said, “Bringing Echelon to the ISP level.”
The city of Tampa, Fla., meanwhile, took the honors for “Worst Government Official/Agency” for the by now notorious Super Bowl Sunday surveillance project in which video cameras taped the faces of fans, and then matched them up against a criminal recognition program.
ChoicePoint, a company that sold consumer data in Transportation Department records, and also supplied Texas-based felon lists to the state of Florida so it could invalidate certain potential voters then living in that state during the 2001 presidential election, took the prize for “Greatest Corporate Invader.”
Other contenders for the lifetime menace award included IBM for, among other things, its continuing lobbying push on Capitol Hill against privacy laws, and the Direct Marketing Association for “making sure junk mail is officially delivered,” Banisar said.
Nortel Networks and VeriSign’s Network Solutions were runners-up for “Greatest Corporate Invader,” with Network Solutions receiving a special raspberry for selling its WHOIS database to direct marketers.
The Justice Department and three Pennsylvania school districts – Tussey Mountain, Penn Cambria and Lower Merion – took honors for the Cybercrime.gov project and a local school district initiative to link a biometrics program for individual students to their school lunch programs.
The Clinton administration’s medical privacy regulations, under the Department of Health & Human Services, took flak from Privacy International for its pretense of protecting personal patient data, but in reality, PI said, for allowing the selling of that data on a widespread basis.
Few Proud of Winning
The Big Brother award is one few groups want to win. No recipient claimed the winner’s statue in the awards’ first two years, and none seemed to savor the distinction this year, either.
An FBI spokesman had no comment on the choice of the bureau’s “carnivore” system, which monitors Internet activity, as the “Most Invasive Proposal.”
The media office of the National Security Agency, a federal agency Banisar claims is to the nation’s phone system what carnivore is to the Internet, did not return a call. The NSA won a “Lifetime Menace” award for, “50 years of spying” on Americans and others.
“The NSA is listening in on people’s phone calls every day, just randomly trolling for phone calls,” Banisar said.
News Service: TheExperiment Network