We The Exploited: The U.S. Government Buys And Sells Its Citizens Data For Profit
By John & Nisha Whitehead
November 23, 2023
Americans have become easy prey for hackers, scammers, snitches, spies, and con artists. But don’t be fooled into thinking the government is protecting you. To the contrary, the U.S. Government is selling us (or rather, our data) to the highest bidders.
By the way, those highest bidders also include America’s political class and the politicians aspiring to get elected or re-elected. As the Los Angeles Times reports, “If you have been to a political rally, a town hall, or just fit a demographic a campaign is after, chances are good your movements are being tracked with unnerving accuracy by data vendors on the payroll of campaigns.”
Your phones, televisions and digital devices are selling you out to politicians who want your vote.
In this way, “We The People” have been reduced to economic units to be bought, bartered and sold by all and sundry.
On a daily basis, Americans have been made to relinquish the most intimate details of who we are—our biological makeup, our genetic blueprints, and our biometrics (facial characteristics and structure, fingerprints, iris scans, etc.)—in order to navigate an increasingly technologically-enabled world.
Those intimate details, in turn, have become the building blocks of massive databases accessed by the government and its corporate partners in crime, vulnerable to data breaches by hackers, cyberattacks and espionage.
For years now, and with little real oversight or restrictions, the government has been compiling massive databases of all manner of sensitive information on the citizenry.
Biographical information. Biometric information. Criminal backgrounds. Travel records.
There is not a single person in the U.S. who is not in some government database or another, and these databases are increasingly being shared between agencies, fusion centers, and the police.
The government has also, with little oversight and few guidelines, been adding to its massive trove of data on Americans by buying commercially available information (CAI) from third-party sources.
In other words, this is the diabolically sneaky way in which the government is attempting to sidestep the Fourth Amendment, which requires that government agents have probable cause and a warrant before spying on Americans or searching and seizing their private property.
It’s bad enough that the government is building massive databases of our personal information without our knowledge or consent, but then they get hacked and we suffer for it.
Earlier this year, for instance, several federal agencies, state governments and universities were targeted in a global cyberattack that compromised the sensitive data of millions of Americans.
Did that stop the government’s quest to keep building these databases which compromise our privacy and security? Of course not.
In fact, the government has also been selling our private information, with state DMVs raking in millions by selling driver data (names, dates of birth, addresses, and the cars they own) to third parties.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way, and the government has become a master at finding loopholes that allow it to exploit the citizenry.
This is just a small part of how the government buys and sells its citizens to the highest bidders.
The why is always the same: for profit and power, of course.
Welcome to the age of surveillance capitalism.
Have you shopped at Whole Foods? Tested out target practice at a gun range? Sipped coffee at Starbucks while surfing the web? Visited an abortion clinic? Watched FOX News or MSNBC? Played Candy Crush on your phone? Walked through a mall? Walked past a government building?
That’s all it takes for your data to be hoovered up, sold and used to target you.
Incredibly, once you’ve been identified and tracked, data brokers can travel back in time, digitally speaking, to discover where you’ve been, who you’ve been with, what you’ve been doing, and what you’ve been reading, viewing, buying, etc.
Once you’ve been identified in this way, you can be tracked endlessly.
No one is spared.
In this regard, we are all equals: equally suffering the indignity of having every shred of privacy stripped away and the most intimate details of one’s life turned into fodder for marketers and data profiteers.
Think about it.
Every move you make is being monitored, mined for data, crunched, and tabulated in order to form a picture of who you are, what makes you tick, and how best to influence and/or control you.
With every smartphone we buy, every GPS device we install, every Twitter, Facebook, and Google account we open, every frequent buyer card we use for purchases—whether at the grocer’s, the yogurt shop, the airlines or the department store—and every credit and debit card we use to pay for our transactions, we’re helping Corporate America build a dossier for its government counterparts on who we know, what we think, how we spend our money, and how we spend our time.
The technology has advanced so far that marketers (political campaigns are among the worst offenders) can actually build “digital fences” around your homes, workplaces, friends and family’s homes and other places you visit in order to bombard you with specially crafted messages aimed at achieving a particular outcome.
If anyone else stalked us in this way—tailing us wherever we go, tapping into our calls, reading our correspondence, ferreting out our secrets, profiling and targeting us based on our interests and activities—we’d call the cops.
Unfortunately, the cops (equipped with Stingray devices and other Peeping Tom technologies) are also in on this particular scam.
It’s not just the surveillance and the buying and selling of your data that is worrisome.
As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People and in its fictional counterpart The Erik Blair Diaries, the ramifications of a government—any government—having this much unregulated, unaccountable power to target, track, round up and detain its citizens is beyond chilling.
Imagine what a totalitarian regime such as Nazi Germany could have done with this kind of unadulterated power.
Imagine what the next police state to follow in Germany’s footsteps will do with this kind of power.
Surveillance, digital stalking and the data mining of the American people—weapons of compliance and control in the government’s hands, especially when the government can listen in on your phone calls, monitor your driving habits, track your movements, scrutinize your purchases and peer through the walls of your home—add up to a society in which there’s little room for indiscretions, imperfections, or acts of independence.
What we desperately lack and urgently need is an Electronic Bill of Rights that protects “we the people” from predatory surveillance and data-mining business practices.
Editor’s Note: John Whitehead is an Attorney and Author who has written, debated and practiced widely in the area of Constitutional Law, Human Rights and Popular Culture. John Whitehead's Commentary are his views and he is open for discussion, he can be contacted at: email@example.com. Information about The Rutherford Institute is available at: www.rutherford.org