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The "Golden Shield" is Watching

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October 2, 2008

Well, this sounds familiar:

A group of Canadian human-rights activists and computer security researchers has discovered a huge surveillance system in China that monitors and archives certain Internet text conversations that include politically charged words.

The surveillance is being conducted on users of Tom-Skype, a text messaging network owned by eBay and a Chinese wireless operator. Some of the words that are being flagged: “Falun Gong,” “earthquake,” and “democracy.”

According to the article, China has approximately 30,000 “Internet police” charged with monitoring Internet content in a program called the “Golden Shield Project.”

But this wholesale vacuuming up and warehousing of users’ information based on keywords sounds vaguely…American. Is the Chinese government borrowing a page from the NSA playbook to spy on its citizens?

Perhaps. After all, according to Privacy International, China is a fellow “endemic surveillance society.” Heck, Congress even recently legalized our dragnet, warrantless and suspicionless surveillance program.

Well, the ACLU is doing something about it. Our lawsuit against the FISA Amendments Act is proceeding along in federal court; in fact, a few weeks ago, we filed a brief explaining why the law is unconstitutional.

The ACLU is trying to make America a little less like China, and a little more like what our founding fathers envisioned when they wrote the Constitution. Letting the government vacuum up all of our international communications with no real restrictions, no real court oversight, and without any suspicion whatsoever, is not what the framers had in mind.

In fact, it was the British practice of issuing “general warrants” that gave government officials unrestricted power to search and seize colonists’ property, books, and papers. It’s this kind of behavior that sparked the American revolution, and was the inspiration behind the Fourth Amendment.

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