The Spy Who Taxed Me

Everyone is a spy now. The state has always spied on its citizens, but the lens is turning the other way. For that, we are indebted to Julian Assange, Wikileaks, and the sources passing along military and diplomatic documents. This turnabout redresses the balance between government and public to a small extent, but the state’s resources still outweigh ours. After all, the state uses our money to spy on us, and it has longer experience in keeping tabs on us. This vicious habit dates at least to the Espionage Act of 1917 that Woodrow Wilson used to watch and prosecute anyone who opposed his war in France’s trenches.

Did the Espionage Act, which some politicians and journalists want to use to prosecute Julian Assange, uncover the Kaiser’s spy network in the United States? Not exactly. The government used it to incarcerate socialists Eugene Debs and Kate Richards O’Hare and a film maker named Robert Goldstein, whose crime was to depict British atrocities against American colonists in his subversively titled 1917 epic The Spirit of ’76. Government spying on American citizens went berserk with the post-war Red Scare and Palmer Raids. It expanded during World War II and the Cold War, when J. Edgar Hoover dispatched second-story men to ransack the tiny Socialist Workers Party’s offices, follow journalists such as I. F. Stone, and plant microphones under Martin Luther King’s bed. This led, lest we forget, to 1966’s Freedom of Information Act and ostensible limits on what the Central Intelligence Agency could do within America’s borders. Thanks to a loss of trust in government following Watergate, the Church and Pike Committees allowed the public to learn how domestic-surveillance programs such as COINTELPRO had violated their constitutional rights. But such “transparency” wouldn’t last long.
Thanks to the investment of your taxes into modern electronic eavesdropping, the FBI’s gumshoes don’t have to get their hats wet to know what you are doing. Most of it is done from computer keyboards. The latest government program to keep an eye on you is “Hotwatch,” which tracks your credit-card purchases and frequent-flyer miles in the way Wikileaks revealed the State Department was asking American diplomats to do to their colleagues at the UN. Hotwatch does not require any judge to issue a court order – as the Constitution requires – to invade your financial privacy. It can even check, via supermarket loyalty cards, which vegetables and condoms you buy.
Read the rest of this article in Taki’s Magazine.