Private Eyes … Are Watching You

Facial Recognition and Identification InitiativesBy Judy Berman

“Listen? Do you want to know a secret? Do you promise not to tell?”

Those innocent lyrics by The Beatles take on a whole different meaning when you realize just how much is out there about you.

According to documents leaked by former NSA (National Security Agency) systems analyst, Edward Snowden, “the government has been collecting Americans’ phone records in bulk, and scooping up their emails, browsing history and social-media activity,” PBS Frontline stated in August. Their actions have heightened concerns about online privacy.

NSA says it’s doing so for our protection to prevent terrorism. Any invasion into my personal life bugs me as much as a snoopy store clerk, aka “The World Almanac of Misinformation,” did when I was a teen.

But are we stressing about the government learning too much about us when we already provide so much personal information on our social media sites?

Our personal space - lines that should not be crossed
Our personal space – lines that should not be crossed

I wasn’t concerned until I recalled the drama, “Enemy of the State” (1998). The movie played on our fears on how much the government can find out about us. It’s not just the government we should be wary of, however, if we want to keep our private lives … private.

Face recognition on social networks is just one creepy intrusion. Want to know where someone has lived in the past 15 to 20 years?  You might be surprised to learn how much information is available for public consumption.

For just one thin Washington – or, maybe $3  – some websites promise to reveal much more about you. And, they promise not to tell the person that you’re seeking information about. Yeah, I feel so secure.

Many of us make it easy for them because we post our plans on social media. Planning an exotic vacation abroad? Renovating your home? Or, buying a flat-screen TV? Information is currency to the “friends of your friends” who, sometimes, are not friends at all.

No need to post a map to your residence. Google and MapQuest can provide that for whoever wants to visit while you’re gone.

This summer, I did something I rarely do. I posted photos of my family on Facebook. Before I could name the people in the photo, I realized Facebook had already identified two of them. FB got the info from photos I tagged in my own profile.

Surveillance equipment

That rattled my smugness about security. It made me think of Robert Clayton Dean (Will Smith) in “Enemy of the State.” He plays an attorney who is in a lingerie shop looking for a gift for his wife when he bumps into an old friend, Daniel Zavitz (Jason Lee).

Zavitz, who is being pursued by NSA agents, drops a video cartridge of a politically motivated murder into Dean’s shopping bag – without Dean’s knowledge – and flees. Zavitz doesn’t get far. He’s struck and killed by a fire truck.

NSA agents don’t find the evidence on Zavitz, but they zero in on Dean when they find the attorney’s card in Zavitz’s pocket. By a click of a surveillance tape, NSA identifies Dean. They try to get the “sensitive material” from Dean who has no idea what they’re talking about. Then his life is turned upside down.

Dean’s reputation is smeared. He is fired from his law firm. His wife has kicked him out and he discovers his credit cards have been stolen.

As Dean quickly discovers, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.

Private Eyes are watching you. They see your every move. A scary notion. That song by Hall & Oates should be a cautionary tale. Don’t post anything on social media that you wouldn’t want the whole world to know.

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-15. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider,, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

:Video: Movie Trailer of “Enemy of the State” (1998) – Will Smith and Gene Hackman http// 

Photo: Facial Recognition and Identification Initiatives – Author:  Vorder Bruegge

Photo: Surveillance – Swiss European surveillance: facial recognition and vehicle make, model, color and license plate reader. In Germany and Switzerland you cannot drive anywhere without the “authorities” tracking you and logging your movement for future reference. Taken Jan. 7, 2008.  Original uploader was Maraparacc at en.wikipedia

Music Video: Daryl Hall & John Oates – “Private Eyes” (1981)

Photo – Area 51 – restricted area – Author: Ivank888, July 2, 2013

  1. Well, that’s a scary start to the day. If the FBI wants to read my emails, they can “have at ’em.” I am one of the most boring people around. Somehow either my background or my profession has taught me to keep my private thoughts private. That means don’t write it down and don’t say it because someone is always listening. Of course I put out for my blog — coffee addiction, too many cats, dislike of crazy (or most) people, etc. I must have some crazy profile.

    1. We are kindred spirits, Kate. Long before I became a reporter, I had the same m.o. (modus operandi). I do not say or write anything that I would not tell my folks, my church, or a court of law. 🙂

  2. Excellent post, Judy. Timely and scary. Would the NSA have to pay to use the Beatles’ song as their theme song, or is it in public domain?
    When I was in Ft. Scott, KS with my mom last week, I saw two 30-somethings wearing T-shirts with these messages: “NSA–the only government agency that REALLY listens” and “NSA–think of us as the new Santa Claus…We Know When You’ve Been Bad or Good…”
    Signs of the times, wearable art with a warning.

    1. That’s hysterical, Marilyn. (The T-shirt messages, that is, not the invasive, prying eyes into our private business.)

      I’m not sure if the NSA should use The Beatles tune or Hall & Oates “Private Eyes Are Watching You” as their theme song.

  3. I am actually more concerned with what companies are collecting in terms of information about me. I know the government must have some “stuff” on me, but I’m not convinced they would ever be with it enough to piece anything together. However, companies are much more efficient and motivated and therefore more of a threat I think.

    1. I agree, Amy. It is disturbing when I see ads targeted to me because advertisers are aware of my purchases and/or recent visits to certain sites.

      My life story, on the other hand, if put in pill form would put the sleeping pill manufacturers out of business. Nothing exciting there for the government to see. 🙂

      1. Exactly, I really like my life but some poor government worker would just about be banging his head on his desk to stay awake.

        The ads on the other hand; I feel like I have to constantly be wary of them, where they came from and why I have been targeted.

        comment from earthrider to Photography Journal:
        Amy, you made me laugh just visualizing that government worker. 😆

  4. It looks like 1948 has finally arrived. You talk about social media, Judy, but it’s not social at all as I’ve always known it (and you, judging by your age). The better the technology (yest, I know I’m sounding like a luddite again) the more we distance ourselves from our humanity. Pretty soon, it’s not going to bother us if Big Brother is watching. And I wouldn’t limit myself to the US. I’d say the US is the most benign of all the brothers so far. Good, if scary post, Judy, but I don’t appreciate your stuffing up the Beatles’ song for me. 🙂

    1. In general, I’m opposed to providing any personal information to outside sources. Facebook is still bugging me for info on where I graduated from high school. Really? It’s not enough that you know where I got my Master’s degree or where I work? Would they want to know where I went to kindergarten? Where does the search for info stop? And who do they pass it on to?

      Sorry about The Beatles’ tune. But, how do you think Hall & Oates feel? (I have a link to their song.) 🙂

  5. Because of all this, I seriously avoided the internet and social networking for years. But it made me feel like a weird hermit. I finally decided to take the plunge and bear the consequences of going public with my private life, because so many of the people I really care about are not in close geographical range. Online is our neighborhood. It’s as dangerous as any neighborhood, I guess, that has terrorists, government spies, private investigators, creeps and thieves lurking in it. Most places on earth unfortunately have all those bad elements mingled in with the nice friends and family I want to interact with.

    I always remember that I’m talking in public. I try not to “say” things I wouldn’t want overheard by people who might have a perverse motive to use my personal information to hurt me or the people I love.

    1. This sums up how I feel, Tracy. As a former radio reporter, I always remember that the “mic” might always be on. So be careful what you say. I also held off taking part in social media. Like you, I caved in because my family and many friends live far away. Still, I try to limit what I say about my personal life. Even when blogging. 🙂

  6. I share the same fears and concern. Nothing is private anymore. If they can see our house via satellite, I bet they have a way tracking us. Cellphones, computer, even social media…oops! Let’s just hope and pray our govt is still for the people. Thanks.

    1. Actually, IT, I admire how you write about family and, yet, you still protect your family’s privacy. I try to do the same. I have mixed feelings about the GPS tracking device on my cell phone, advertisers who know my buying preferences even when I haven’t been in their stores or on their web sites, and social media sites that want my personal history back to the Stone Age. 🙂

  7. I have one child who gives the world whatever information is going on in her world; the other two don’t touch Facebook at all. I am thinking, with my book about my experience with breast cancer about to be published, that Facebook might be a good way to publicize it. Why not use these tools to our advantage?

    1. There’s plenty of positive things to come out of Facebook and other social media. Below, the Island Traveler, talks about the typhoon that has devastated the Philippines where his family and many live. Social media has helped spread the word about where to contribute to help folks there. Facebook also is a great way to get word out about your book on your experience with breast cancer.

      Where I become concerned is when personal information is exploited and misused by others via social media, and when well-meaning people contribute to causes that are scams on social media.

  8. Thanks for the recent visit. We live in a world where nothing seems to be a secret anymore. Sometimes it could be a good thing for others to know there are parts of the world suffering from all sorts of pain. Through social media, social media, the world responded with generous kindness. Thank you for praying for the Philippines.

    1. Island Traveler, see my comment above to Ronnie of Morristownmemos. Social media does let the world know of events throughout the world … and people do respond generously. That is a wonderful thing as we are all connected.

      You, your family and others in the Philippines are in my thoughts and prayers.

  9. It’s good to have a reminder of this Judy, how the internet world really works! 🙂 I’ve been under the impression for some years now that the internet was to some extent created to track and analyse the nations. Creepy as that sounds, I don’t think it’s scary fiction! 😦 Governments have always had a need to be ahead of the thinking of the people – that’s how they manoeuvre – manipulate. It’s what they’ve always done in one way or another, and they always will!

    On one hand it does annoy me that I could be being scrutinized, especially on emails, but I’m not too bothered because I know I’m a difficult person to manipulate. For example, if adverts are thrown at me on You Tube based on searches I’ve done in Google a little earlier – I just ignore it. I’m not easily sold to! 🙂 And anyway, if ‘they’ are absorbing information from social media and emails – or Google searches, people are not always honest about who they are when presenting themselves to others – how real will that information be? I’m not convinced that surveys are very honest either, some people will say one thing one day and the complete opposite the next. So how accurate will spying on people become!?

    I agree with being cautious on what you choose to post in public. It isn’t sensible or necessary to put up every picture ever taken of you, or where you’re going on holiday and when! I try to be as honest as I can on my blog, but I still choose to keep a lot of myself to myself. It just requires a little thought about how to do that – but perhaps some don’t do a lot of thinking! 😉

    1. Suzy, what comes to mind about putting something in writing that you might regret later is a song my Mom told me about when I was a kid. The lyrics of the song by Jimmy Durante went something like this: “Say it with flowers, say it with mink, say it with diamonds, say it with drink. But, whatever you do, don’t say it with ink.”

      Sometimes, people innocently reveal too much on social media just when they’re playing games … info such as date of birth, place of birth. But, other times, I’m just astonished at what personal info is posted. Like you, I try to err on the cautious side. 🙂

  10. How right you are Judy! it spooks me out, when I find ads for hotels in a particular destinations plastered all over, and on every page I visit on the net, soon after I research that destination for a trip!!

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