People often split surveillance into public and private. Public surveillance is perform directly by the State and is headed by agencies such as the National Security Agency (NSA), Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Private surveillance is performed by corporations such as Harris Corporation, Facebook, and AT&T. Some libertarians and neoconservatives like to express a great deal of concern over the former because it’s being performed by the State but are mostly accepting of the latter because they believe private entities should be free to do as they please. However, the divide between public and private surveillance isn’t so clean cut. Private surveillance can become public surveillance with a simple court order. Even worse though is that private surveillance often voluntarily becomes public surveillance for a price:
Investigators long suspected Charles Merritt in the family’s disappearance, interviewing him days after they went missing. Merritt was McStay’s business partner and the last person known to see him alive. Merritt had also borrowed $30,000 from McStay to cover a gambling debt, a mutual business partner told police. None of it was enough to make an arrest.
Even after the gravesite was discovered and McStay’s DNA was found inside Merritt’s vehicle, police were far from pinning the quadruple homicide on him.
Until they turned to Project Hemisphere.
Hemisphere is a secretive program run by AT&T that searches trillions of call records and analyzes cellular data to determine where a target is located, with whom he speaks, and potentially why.
n 2013, Hemisphere was revealed by The New York Times and described only within a Powerpoint presentation made by the Drug Enforcement Administration. The Times described it as a “partnership” between AT&T and the U.S. government; the Justice Department said it was an essential, and prudently deployed, counter-narcotics tool.
Before you decide to switch from AT&T to Verizon it’s important to note that every major cellular provider likely has a similar program but they haven’t been caught yet. We know, for example, that Sprint has a web portal to make law enforcement access to customer data quick and easy and Verizon has a dedicated team for providing customer information to law enforcers. Those are likely just the tips of the icebergs though because providing surveillance services to the State is lucrative and most large companies are likely unwilling to leave that kind of money on the table.
At one time I made a distinction between public in private surveillance insofar as to note that private surveillance doesn’t lead to men with guns kicking down my door at oh dark thirty. It was an admittedly naive attitude because it didn’t figure how private surveillance becomes public surveillance into the equation. Now I make no distinction because realistically there isn’t a distinction and other libertarians should stop making the distinction as well (neoconservatives should also stop making the distinction but most of them are beyond my ability to help).