Hawa Allan| Longreads | September 2017 | 3580 words (15 minutes)
“Big Brother” has become shorthand for the inescapable gaze of governmental authority, first defined by George Orwell in his novel 1984. Everywhere yet nowhere, Big Brother is all-seeing and all-knowing, surveilling not just every person’s movement, but every thought. Where Orwell referred to illicit states of mind as “thoughtcrimes,” Philip K. Dick called them “precrimes” in his 1956 short story “The Minority Report,” in which a futuristic police force arrests subjects for crimes long before they are committed. While Big Brother has become common parlance, the precrime unit illustrated by Dick is a more apt portrayal of the tools authorities have at hand to enforce the law, and commercial entities use to market their goods, in our digital age.
I reached out to Nathan Wessler, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project for a sober assessment of how the current state of governmental surveillance compares to the dystopian futures imagined by Orwell and Dick. When Target can determine if teenager is pregnant before her parents know, does the end of our anonymity as consumers mean the end of our rights to privacy as citizens?
“Out of the Darkness” is not an easy story to read. It chronicles how two psychologists who had previously devoted their careers to training US troops to resist abusive interrogation tactics teamed up with the CIA to devise a torture program and experiment on human beings. The story is a torrent of information artfully webbed into a fluid narrative, fleshed out with specific, vivid details. It has all the elements we’ve come to expect from strong investigative longform journalism, albeit from an unlikely outlet: The American Civil Liberties Union.
One doesn’t typically think of the ACLU as a journalism outlet, so I reached out to the story’s author, Noa Yachot, to hear more about how the piece came about, and the ACLU’s role as publisher (the story was also syndicated on Medium). Yachot is a communications strategist at the ACLU, and she spoke to Longreads via email. Read more…
“You build a prison, and then you’ve got to find someone to put in them,” said Texas state Sen. John Whitmire, who has seen five of the 13 Criminal Alien Requirement (CAR) prisons built in his state. “So they widen the net and find additional undocumented folks to fill them up.”
Most of the roughly 23,000 immigrants held each night in CAR prisons have committed immigration infractions — crimes that a decade ago would have resulted in little more than a bus trip back home. And now, some of the very same officials who oversaw agencies that created and fueled the system have gone on to work for the private prison companies that benefited most.
The low-security facilities are often squalid, rife with abuse, and use solitary confinement excessively, according to advocates.