Domestic Surveillance: Spy vs. Spy, American vs. American

Spy technology continues to become ever more sophisticated-and deadly too. That's sparked a major debate about how domestic spying should be limited to ensure constitutional safeguards of US citizens.
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Spy technology continues to become ever more sophisticated-and deadly too. That's sparked a major debate about how domestic spying should be limited to ensure constitutional safeguards of US citizens.

And while it is indeed a very important discussion to be had in terms of limiting a fresh wave of unrestrained government intrusion into our private lives, Congress may want to also start talking about how far American citizens should be allowed to spy on each other too.

There's been a corresponding boom surge in the use of cheap, technological spying equipment that Americans buy and use to tract and gather information on one another.

You don't need a drone. For a few hundred dollars, you can now buy sophisticated surveillance tools to gather information you once paid thousands a day to private investigators to spy on targeted individuals.

We've become a nation where every movement we make and every communication we engage in can be easily tracked by the government, the cell phone provider-and each other.

We walk Main Streets and drive thoroughfares that are monitored by cameras and speed passes. We work at computer terminals that allow our bosses to monitor our behavior and work productivity, minute by minute-and we use social media and search engines that can track our usage and establish personality profiles to sell and share.

And we now also routinely spy on our families and one another too in our homes, businesses, and elsewhere, simply be clandestinely hiding spy cameras or affixing and monitoring GPS monitors to phones, computers, vehicles or possessions.

"It's truly a case of spy vs. spy when parents keep tract of kids, neighbors can keep tabs on the goings on around their home and spouses can detect infidelity with a spy cam or GPS tracker," says Dan Iacono, who owns DynaSpy Security, Inc., which sells an array of sophisticated spying equipment at two very busy stores in Long Island and Fort Lauderdale. He describes his business as "booming."

Recently, the use of sophisticated spy equipment has mainly centered on the use of unmanned drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), on US soil by both the military and police agencies alike.

US Department of Homeland Security recently was reported to have customized Predator drones to carry out such home surveillance tasks such as identifying American citizens who are carrying guns and tracking their cell phones. In response, the House of Representatives passed legislation this month demanding that the Department of Defense disclose whether in fact military drones are tracking US citizens on American soil.

And of course, there was Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, standing on his feet for 13 hours in the Senate, filibustering the nomination of John Brennan as director of the CIA, arguing that due process rights of Americans were at stake if Brennan and the Obama Administration were allowed to use such drones to kill on US soil American citizens alleged to be traitors-like Anwar al-Awlaki, the American who was droned in Yemen in September, 2011.

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, who was the only Democrat to join the Kentucky senator know for his libertarian views in his filibuster, stated last week that the Paul filibuster may have been decisive moment on the drone issue and due process concerns as well and that a new, bipartisan "checks and balances" caucus would be forming in Congress.

But those "checks and balances" need to be formulated not in terms of due process and drone killings, but also to deal ensuring that American's can have some semblance of privacy in all aspects of their lives in a digital age that promotes and encompasses the collection of personal information by more than the government, some of which should be just plain personally secret.

The right and necessity of secrecy is just not within the purview of government, but is an elementary privacy right that our founding fathers recognized as an important tenet of a democratic society that allows Americans to safeguard mistakes, beliefs, and errant behavior from not from Washington, but from one another.

Practically speaking, we are in the midst of a new age of privacy deprivation, where it's almost impossible to run away and hide, to gain total solitude, or even attain basic privacy from the outside world.

Even if Paul and others in Congress push for new safeguards are established to limit the executive branch's reach into the personal lives of Americans, such "checks and balances" need to apply too to limiting our personal use of spying equipment against one another too.

Steven Kurlander is an attorney and communications specialist in Monticello, New York. He blogs at Kurly's Kommentary, the Huffington Post, and the Florida Squeeze. He can be emailed at

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