more Big Brother Awards

USA 2002

Haven't you heard yet? Privacy International (PI) has already presented the "Big Brother Awards" for the United States in 2002! The ceremony, which was the fourth one PI has held in America since 1999, took place at the Cathedral Hill Hotel in San Francisco, California, on 18 April 2002, during the 2002 conference on "Computers, Freedom, and Privacy Conference."

As per usual, several "Orwell Statues" (boots stamping on human faces) were awarded to "the government agencies, companies and initiatives which have done most to invade personal privacy"; a "Lifetime Menace" was named; and several "Brandeis Awards" (named after Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis) were presented to champions of privacy. Again, as per usual, the winners of these awards were selected by "a judging panel made up of lawyers, academics, consultants, journalists and civil rights activists based on nominees made by the public and experts." According to these judges,

--the "Most Invasive Proposal" made in America during 2002 was "The Expanded Computer Assisted Passenger Screening Program to spy on and profile all travellers by the people who screwed up Enron and your credit reports." (The runners-up in this category were "the Washington DC video surveillance system for turning the national mall into J. Edgar Hoover park," and "the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators scheme to turn your driver's license into a national ID card.")
--the "Greatest Corporate Invader" was "Larry Ellison, CEO of Oracle for championing a national ID card using his software." (The runners-up were "Quest Communications for placing everyone in telemarketer hell and opposing laws on keeping phone records private," and "the Financial Services Coordinating Council for fighting against bank privacy in every state.")
--the "Worst Public Official" was "Attorney General John Ashcroft for attacking privacy and freedom of information." (The runners-up were "Cal. Governor Grey Davis for vetoing three workplace privacy bills, sabotaging financial privacy and proposing a Cal-Patriot Act so bad that his own counsel said it was illegal," and "HHS Secretary Thommy Thompson for gutting the HIIPA Medical privacy regulations to allow drug companies to have everyone's medical records without permission.")
--a "Lifetime Menace" award needed to be presented to "Admiral John Poindexter for NSDD-145, 'Sensitive but Unclassified' and the new Office of Information Awareness to spy on everyone just in case you are a terrorist." (The runners-up were "Booze Allen & Hamilton, for providing the FBI with CALEA, Carnivore, Magic Lantern and lots more surveillance toys that we don't know about (yet)," and the "Direct Marketing Association, for ensuring that your junk mail is correctly delivered to you.")
--the winners of the "Brandeis Awards" were State Senator Jackie Speier, "for leading the fight for Financial Privacy and consumer rights in California"; Warren Leach, "for exposing the dirty deads of the credit bureaus for over 30 years"; and the SF Chronicle Editorial page, "for opposing efforts by Governer Grey Davis to limit privacy in California."

Not bad, all in all, but inevitably there will be problems when you hold your annual awards ceremony in April, only one-third of the way through the year, and not at the end of it, which is when most people assemble their year-in-summary lists (!). No one remembers the PI "Big Brother" awards ceremony at the end of the year and, when they are reminded of it, they can't help but find it dated because, "through no fault of its own," it has failed to take account of two-thirds of the year's events.

No, the "Most Invasive Proposal" of the year wasn't any one of those cited by PI's judges, who in this category selected now-obscure proposals in every single case. Instead, it (obviously) was "Operation TIPS," which was a snitch-on-your-neighbor proposal so patently offensive that it's explicitly prohibited by the bill creating the Homeland Security Department. The runner-ups would certainly have to include the Homeland Security Department itself; the "Total Information Awareness" program, proposed by "Lifetime Menace" award-winner John Poindexter; and the installation of face-recognizing computerized surveillance cameras at the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, locations that are even more sensitive than the national mall in Washington, DC.

As far as the "Greatest Corporate Invader," it could only be defense contractor Lockheed Martin, which not only makes red-light cameras but electronic toll collection systems as well. Runners up would have to include Visionics and Viisage, the biggest makers of face recognition software.

"Worst Public Official": here PI's judges got it right. But giving John Ashcroft a run for his money in 2002 were Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfield (the defender of the Office of Strategic Influence) and ex-CIA agent and current NYPD Intelligence Commissioner David Cohen (the man behind the efforts to repeal the Handschu Consent Decree, which prohibits "Red Squad"-style surveillance of political dissidents).

Poindexter certainly deserves a "Lifetime Menace" award, as does John Ashcroft. But let us not forget about Henry Kissinger, who was actually nominated to lead the "independent" investigation into the September 11th terrorist attacks (he later withdrew his name).

"Brandeis Awards" should definitely be presented to the Institute for Applied Autonomy, for their "iSee" software; now-retired Senator Dick Armey, who teamed up with the ACLU to fight face recognition software and red-light cameras; and the unionized construction workers in Canada who walked off their jobs in a "wildcat" action rather than be surveilled by video cameras.

(Offered by the New York Surveillance Camera Players, 21 December 2002.)

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