Back to News & Commentary

Making Surveillance for the FBI Easy

Share This Page
May 8, 2008

Last night, Hasan Elahi, an artist and San Jose State professor, was a guest on The Colbert Report. In all his bleach-blond glory, Elahi describes for Colbert the experience of being stopped in a Detroit airport and questioned by the FBI in 2002. (The FBI never confirmed that Elahi’s name is on the terrorist watch list…but being stopped and questioned at an airport gives a pretty good indication that he was.) After being cleared of any suspicion, he was told that he had to “check in” with the FBI periodically. He did the FBI one better by creating, in which he surveils himself in real time-his current location is always available at the website. He also takes hundreds of pictures of his whereabouts and uploads them to the site, so if the FBI wants to know what he had to eat (the man consumes a lot of meat), where he went to the bathroom, or his credit card expenses, it’s all online-easy breezy for the FBI to keep track of him!


Privacy statement. This embed will serve content from

Please note that by playing this clip, which is hosted by Comedy Central, Comedy Central will place a long-term cookie on your computer. View Comedy Central’s privacy statement on their website. View the ACLU’s privacy statement.

Elahi was the ACLU’s guest last week for ‘Something to Hide: Artists and Writers Against the Surveillance State, an evening of readings at Joe’s Pub during PEN World Voices. Check back here for postings of audio and video from that event.

Today, Noam Biale of our Technology and Liberty Project blogged on TPM Cafe about the ever-growing watch list, which, as we mentioned before, still includes Nelson Mandela. Noam writes:

[T]he Watch List continues to grow by 20,000 new names per month, a rate at which we will reach a million names sometime in July. No one believes there are a million terrorists out there; if there were, I’d be writing this from a bomb shelter. So what we have is a list of mostly innocent people, who not only pose no threat to this country, but may be distracting us from the real dangers.

An intervention is long past due. Congress needs trim the fat, and put the ever-growing Watch List on a diet.