When at the end of 2005 The New York Times reported that the National Security Agency had been spying on the telephone calls and Internet traffic of American citizens under direct authorization of President Bush, without a court order, it reminded me of the hit television series, 24, where federal agent Jack Bauer ignores the law and the Constitutional rights of his targets to advance his own agenda.
I have personally experienced the power of the government to ignore statutory laws and the U.S. Constitution. Over a decade ago, I was held in solitary confinement and detained for nearly a year – and denied a bail hearing to which all arrested persons are entitled – in large part because government prosecutors claimed I could start a nuclear war from a payphone.
Based on this personal experience, I have no degree of trust that our government leaders won’t abuse their power whenever it serves their purposes, legitimate or otherwise.
In fact, I believe that our experience of warrantless surveillance to date is just the tip of the iceberg.
The current political and business environments foster this belief. Far from censuring the president, most of Congress seems completely unconcerned by the issue of warrantless surveillance. And telecom companies are quite happy to actively participate in warrantless surveillance. (Any idiot could see the program violated the Constitutional rights of their customers, yet only one provider – Qwest – reportedly refused government demands, citing serious concerns about the legality of the program.)
More importantly, as technology advances, so does the potential for that technology to be abused by authority.
A clue to what the future may hold in this regard can be found in the pallid attempt by some in the current administration to defend wireless surveillance by saying that the telephone calls and Internet traffic were not being monitored by human listeners. Instead, the monitoring was being done by computers running artificial intelligence software.
Have you been reading the stories predicting what the breakthroughs in the field of robotics and artificial intelligence will make possible in the years ahead? Today we have intelligent vacuum cleaners; tomorrow, artificial entities who understand our needs and shower us with the warmth of affection, concern, and caring.
Let me go out on a limb and make some bold predictions. First: Within two decades a President or his/her designees will legitimize the warrantless search of private property, using a robot instead of human beings to conduct the search. (It’s not a search and seizure, banned by the Constitution, because it’s not being done by a human – right?). Second: By 2040, advances in nanotechnology will allow swarms of nanobots (or "nanoids") to perform these activities in a virtually undetectable way.
My concern is the future of telecommunications and the Internet. If the President of the United States can today unilaterally decide to wiretap any U.S. citizen without court authority and without any oversight, with the breakthroughs in technology that are undoubtedly coming, what does the future hold for us?
— Kevin Mitnick, Information security consultant, lecturer, and author