Surviving the Surveillance State.
by Rose C.
Portland ranks among the Top 10 Most Surveilled U.S. Cities, according to Cybernews. Atlanta tops the list.
We live in a world where surveillance is a fact of life. Any encrypted software product may be backdoored, and even if it is not, you have no guarantee that the person on the other end does not have spyware such as keystroke monitoring or screen video capture running on their system. Encryption enthusiasts and amateur hackers, no matter how valiant, simply cannot compete with a nation-state in this game. Cf Pegasus.
Sneak and Peek, or “No Knock,” Warrants have been around since the Patriot Act was passed in 2001, but they receive scant attention from the media. What they mean is that you may have your home searched, and items removed from your home, without any official notice from law enforcement. Ditto for electronic files. If you file a FOIA request and the investigation in which you are named is still ongoing, you will not receive any confirmation that a warrant exists. (Pat Eddington, Cato Institute)
The most frightening aspect of these warrants is the potential for planting false evidence. The second most frightening aspect is the potential for planting surveillance devices for tracking and listening — as if cell phones were not effective enough.
“Nothing to Hide?”
Like roughly 2/3 of the U.S. population, I reside within the 100-mile “border zone” where Border Patrol agents are granted additional authorities and the Constitutional protections of the Fourth Amendment no longer apply. You may think all of this is irrelevant if you are a law-abiding citizen.
The problem is that who you know can get you put on a list. It can also make you a target. To put it another way, we all know somebody who has a cousin who is a drug dealer.
Laws in this country are changing, and not (in my opinion) for the better. Roe v. Wade is gone, and civil rights for gays and lesbians may soon disappear as this country takes a hard shift right. Remember ICE? Children in cages? Forced sterilizations?
Come 2024, they may all be back.
If you don’t feel like being a freedom fighter, if your first priority is keeping your family safe and saving for your children’s college tuition, I am not here to judge. Just remember that in a world where power rules in place of law, abuse of that power is an inevitable consequence.
Get in a traffic accident with somebody employed by the surveillance state? What if one of them rapes your daughter? Or your son? When a large class of individuals are above the law, nothing good will come of it. This is especially true when the same individuals fear consequences from their actions. They tend to lash out and do everything they can to harm and intimidate witnesses and injured parties.
I am not an America-hater. Far from it. The country I grew up in gave me 40+ years of freedom in its purest form: freedom to explore, to create, to love and befriend those I chose, to work as much or as little as I liked. Freedom to just be. I am a GenXer. I don’t mean to talk like a crusty old-timer, but I believe I’ve seen this nation at its absolute best.
Or maybe the best is yet to come.
Nothing is fixed. Nothing is certain.
The combined 2022 budget of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, and the 17 different United States spying agencies (of which CIA and NSA are only two) is over $150 billion. For comparison, that is roughly one fifth of the Department of Defense 2022 budget of $742B. But remember, the DOD budget covers submarines, fighter jets, aircraft carriers, helicopters, tanks, nuclear weapons, and anti-missile defense systems, not to mention an active network of bases around the world. That’s a lot of people and hardware.
What exactly are we paying for? This remains largely unclear. Marijuana is now legal in 19 out of 50 states, but the DEA’s funding continues to grow. If you were an officer monitoring wiretaps and running undercover operations in Colorado or Washington State, where and to what were you reassigned? And as far as truly terrifying threats to health and safety, the surveillance state could be doing a much better job. We read about mass shootings in the news practically every week. It failed to prevent the violent attempted coup at our nation’s capitol on January 6, 2021.
Your tax dollars at work, my friends.
Government salaries range from $20K (GS-1) to $147K(GS-15) — much less than the equivalent in the private sector. If we assume that wages (including benefits) average $100,000 per year, we would expect that the surveillance states employs as many as 1.5 million people in the United States. Keeping in mind, that is not accounting for slush funds to be distributed overseas, or James Bond style gadgetry, server space, or the cost of buildings and operations. But if we slash that number in half, that is still one federal domestic spy for every 440 U.S. citizens.
And that’s a lot.
Regarding terminology, “federal domestic spy” includes FBI informers, often recruited under duress or experiencing economic hardship. It does not include state or local police forces.
I am an extremely law-abiding citizen. That has protected me to some extent, but not completely. Somebody who has cheated on their taxes or who runs a warez server with their friends is at high risk of being “turned” and pressured by law enforcement to inform on others and further widen the surveillance network.
If you wish to minimize the risk that a conversation will be overheard, consider the New Yorker Protocol.
The New Yorker protocol consists of three simple steps:
- Assume good intent. I am not interested in contact with people for purposes of criminal profiteering (drugs or other contraband) or with groups that instigate violence. My philosophy is nonviolence except in the case of self-defense. I am only interested in working with people who share these values.
- Confirm receipt as soon as possible. If somebody emails you asking to meet for coffee, say, “Hey, I got your email. Swamped right now! Will be back in touch to coordinate a time.” If somebody you know leaves a signed, sealed note taped to your front door with instructions to communicate only by dropping messages in yonder hollow tree, then by all means, drop them a note asking, “Did I get the right tree?”
- Allow up to 90 days when making a major decision. Depending on the stakes involved, this might be anything from agreeing to meet somebody for the first time for coffee to participating in civil disobedience or leaking a story to the news media. If you feel certain of your course of action sooner than that, of course it is ok to let the other person know. Likewise, if you know you are not down for whatever the person is asking, don’t feel that you need to respond at all. The basic courtesy of acknowledging receipt (Step 2) is enough.
Two of these three steps come directly from the New Yorker writer’s guidelines for submitting unsolicited short fiction manuscripts. I was so taken with these guidelines (in particular, their clarity and brevity) that I submitted a short story almost on the spot. I don’t expect that it will get published, but I do appreciate that 90 days after sending it in I am free to re-submit wherever I like. I also appreciate that immediately after emailing my story as an attachment, I received an auto-responder email acknowledging receipt.
The New Yorker protocol should by no means be restricted to clandestine activities. I consider it an effective strategy for social and business networking as well.
Creating an expectation to observe and respect these simple guidelines is an essential first step to initiate an effective communications process that is platform- and technology-independent and minimizes surveillance risk.
November 26, 2022. By Rose C.
I am concerned because while I was in Phoenix, AZ earlier this month I encountered a dangerous piece of malware allowing an outside entity to take control of a phone.
The thing that complicated matters was that my cell phone locked up on me. Nobody ever touched it — I hadn’t clicked on any links recently or installed any new apps. It just went dark, with a tiny bit of purple visible. Occasionally it would come back to life, but not reliably.
The source of this vulnerability is almost certainly Bluetooth. I recommend turning off Bluetooth on your phones as a precautionary measure.
Did you know domestic violence is the leading cause of homelessness for women? Rose Haven is a trauma-informed day shelter for women, children, and marginalized genders. Its new space opened on March 8, 2022, after nearly two years of operating from tents in the COVID era.
PDX Local interviews Liz Starke, Development Director for Rosehaven.org.
As a day shelter, what services do you offer?
Rose Haven is a safe place designed with a trauma informed lens where you can go during the hours when many overnight shelters are closed. We offer a secure mailing address, access to meals, showers, restrooms, clothing, first aid, financial assistance and one-on-one advocacy for our guests. Most importantly, we offer community and dignity to a population facing extreme stigma and isolation. Currently, Oregon has the second highest rate of literally unsheltered people in the country- that is our neighbors living outside, in cars or in tents. All of the night shelters are full with wait lists, so we play an important role by bridging the gaps in services and offering help to all those folks not lucky enough to get a shelter bed. For example, if we had 40 beds that would mean we could help 40 people, in our model we are able to serve thousands of women and children a year.
What is the story of Rose Haven? How did it get started?
Rose Haven has been an important resource for women and children experiencing trauma in Portland for 25 years. We were founded in 1997 as a program of Catholic Charities after our founding director, Sr. Cathie Boerboom conducted a survey where she walked the streets of Portland and asked women what they needed. The overwhelming response was a safe place to go during the day, where they could take their children and access resources. Twenty-five years later we are still offering programs based off of our guests’ self-defined needs; offering a low-barrier and accessible community resource center where women can meet physical and emotional needs, access social services and find community. Although not a religious organization, Rose Haven operates under the Good Shepherd value system which embodies “Compassion”, “Individual Worth”, “Reconciliation” and “Zeal”.
What special challenges do women and children face when they are homeless?
For women, it is especially dangerous to live outside and constantly be exposed. Women are sometimes referred to as “the hidden homeless”, because they go to great lengths to stay out of sight and not look vulnerable in order to stay safe. Domestic violence is the leading cause of homelessness for women, and unfortunately once they are outside they are even more likely to experience violence. This is why a sanctuary specifically for people marginalized by their gender is so important, because otherwise these women have to face their predators just to receive help in a co-ed space.
How have your mission and service offerings changed in the era of COVID?
COVID made our jobs really hard, but ultimately forced us to move into our dream home. Prior to the pandemic, we were functioning out of a very cozy ( some might call it cramped) church basement…where we were serving about 3,700 people a year- about 100 people a day! Needless to say we couldn’t socially distance in that space – so we had to make the really hard choice to push supply distribution to the sidewalk in order to keep our guests safe. For nearly two years we served up meals and clothing on the sidewalk, even doing first aid under a tent. Our guests only came inside to use the restroom, take a shower or meet one on one with a social worker – and for many this was their only opportunity to come indoors at all, as many agencies closed entirely during the lockdown. We knew Rose Haven was needed now more than ever before, and we had to expand. We launched a grassroots fundraising campaign and with the support of the community we opened our new home for the haven on March 8th 2022. We now have a beautiful 10k square ft facility that was designed with a trauma informed lens so our guests can feel at ease and heal when they are here. The visibility of our new location has brought attention to the issues our guests are facing and given them a home they can feel proud of.
What is the number one thing that people in Portland can do to make life better for our neighbors without homes?
Be compassionate. The most dangerous thing our guests face is stigma and isolation. They tell me they feel invisible and on display at the same time. It is so much easier to walk right past a person that is starving in front of you if you think of them as “other” than yourself. For example when you think of someone who is going through a hard time as a homeless person, rather than your neighbor that does something on a subconscious level to separate you from them. Unfortunately as more people are displaced, more of us know someone in our personal circle who has fallen on hard times, but we are not defined by our worst moments. I think the more we can do to bust myths (such as the magnet myth- which is the idea that people move out here to become homeless, when the truth is more than 80% of chronically homeless folks in Multnomah county went to high school here) and humanize our houseless neighbors, the better off we will all be. Just be kind to each other, and don’t be afraid of people if they are sick or hungry. Sometimes a smile can really change someone’s day, especially for someone who is used to being ignored or having people cross the street to avoid them.
Still pretty femme here.
This post first appeared on Medium on January 3, 2017. It has been edited from the original version.
Gender nonconforming while a Scorpio
by Rose C.
I went to a queer support group here in Portland and, for the first time ever, asked the people in the group to call me Jack.
And they did!
And I was blown away. It kind of made my night. I was inwardly beaming. Having trouble paying attention to others’ heart-rending stories, I was so inwardly thrilled to be recognized as Jack.
Me, a large-breasted girl with painted fingernails, longish hair, full lips, and a sweet, heart-shaped face. I was Jack! I had claimed some essence of my masculine self, and people had listened.
Not sure what to do about pronouns and the rest of it. Genderfluid and trans. “They/them” works nicely, for those that bother to ask. I’m not getting tied up in knots about this. I mean, I still carry a purse.
Where this goes next, I have no idea. But here is a bit of backstory.
Last Monday night I decided to try an experiment. There was this young dude (30, great body, worked out all the time) who had expressed an interest in me that was more than purely professional. About a month and a half ago we ended up making out past 2 AM in some downtown bar whose name I don’t even remember. We took an Uber to his place but stopped just short of having sex.
I wanted to think through my current relationship, long distance and already polyamorous in theory, and decide whether I really wanted to open it up to somebody new. I also figured I should get re-tested for STDs, just to be safe.
The answer I came to was emphatically, yes. So last week I sent Young Dude a text to see if he wanted to catch the Warhol exhibit in town. Four hours later, we ended up eating vegan mozzarella at a punk rock dive bar, then singing karaoke (my performance was unimaginably bad), then back to my place. The night was comically ill-timed (the smell of burning rubber alerted us that the tea lights were melting the blinds, even though not directly in contact) and a cold shower almost gave my date hypothermia.
The interesting part of the experience was that even though I knew I might be getting laid that night, I made no special effort to femme it up. Legs remained unshaven. I wore out the same bulky black hoodie that I wear everywhere. This was intentional (even though I did clean up the apartment some, with the thought that somebody might be coming back).
I decided, just that once, to act like a man — which is to say, just be me.
No special outfit, very little makeup.
This is me at 40, folks. I wanted to not apologize for it or cover it up. I wanted to see what would happen. No regrets.
Face it: my body will probably never look the same in lingerie as it did five years ago. I lost a lot of weight after my divorce — got to experience about seven years of having pretty much my ideal body. But then one day, metabolism and time catches up with you. You start to wonder, what exactly does the future hold in store for average looking women in their forties and fifties who don’t have kids?
I am viewing this unavoidable process of aging as an excuse to explore my more masculine side. Which is weird, because I really love my body. I can’t imagine having chest surgery. I could fantasize about a deeper voice, chest hair, all the other effects of “T”. (And yes, I’ve done the research about transitioning in midlife.)
I have no idea how other people experience gender. I just know that I almost never feel like a girl. Even when I did femme it up, it felt like a costume, or a video game avatar. A really fun and sexy costume, but something contrived and separate from the essence of who I was.
I know that I’m also a very nurturing and empathic person, and that those traits put me in the bucket of “feminine.”
But then… this is also me. Leader. Builder of things. Entrepreneur. Somebody who prefers to call shit like it is and isn’t afraid of conflict. Somebody with an unflagging code of loyalty to my peeps, even when they don’t return the same. Somebody whose idea of a perfect evening is just having two beers with a buddy. Really. That’s it.
Interests: comics, rock and roll music, computers, science fiction.
I think about why I have so many more guy friends than female friends, and it’s easy to just chalk it up to women being busy with children and partners, or women’s internalized jealousy and mistrust of other women.
But sometimes I wonder. Maybe something is clicking for me on a deeper level. I’ve never been a tomboy, never been super butch although I did shave my head in my early 20s. I’ve only ever been with two women in my life.
I feel dorky for embarking on this “voyage of self discovery” at the cusp of middle age. But I also feel like to try and fit a mold I outgrew sometime in the last few years might be literally dangerous to my health.
I had plenty of years to play the “cute girlfriend.” Am I now going to be the “less cute girlfriend?”
I guess for me the essence of masculinity is being perceived for my talent, strength, and ability rather than for how I look or my relationship to others. It has very little to do with having a penis or chest hair. And yet, projecting this self while outwardly feminine can be threatening to some.
I have thought about this shit for years, but never expressed it publicly before. I don’t know where it will lead. At this point in my life I am used to feeling like an outcast, even while deftly maneuvering professional and social situations and keeping casual acquaintances at arm’s length. Adapting a less traditional gender presentation might change that. It might make me, finally, a bit less closeted in my multifaceted “otherness.”
And honestly, that might be a change I am looking for.