Fathi did manage to get a letter from the government clearing his name. "But as far as I can tell that process has made no difference whatsoever. And I still get stopped with about the same frequency as I did before," he said.
In this and other cases, the government seems like it can't get its information straight. According to its own analysis, the Department of Homeland Security has failed to merge 12 separate terrorist watch lists currently being used by nine federal agencies.
People who fear that Americans will lose all their privacy often cite George Orwell's novel "1984" -- about a society led by Big Brother, who ultimately censors everyone's behavior and even their thoughts.
In recent years, the federal government has launched more than 100 separate data analysis systems in 52 federal agencies -- giving the government the ability to know more about its citizens than ever before. There are not many rules about how the government can use private sector data in these systems.
One of those systems, created by the Defense Department, so alarmed members of Congress that they ultimately refused to fund it. The system, called "Total Information Awareness," was an ambitious research project designed to look for ways to predict future attacks by sifting for signs of terrorist activity in oceans of data all over the world. The project's symbol was an all-seeing eye, and its motto in Latin was, "Knowledge Is Power." Its critics believed it was science fiction run amok.
Joseph Atick, the founder and chief executive officer of identity verification company Identix Corp., said we still have to "keep reminding ourselves we are humans. We are not just numbers. We have to treat people with enormous respect and enormous recourse -- give them the ability to challenge the systems and not be subjugated by them."
"Nobody here is aiming to create a surveillance society," O'Harrow said. "But it's hard to deny the fact that that's where we're headed, and that as all this technology converges, and as the laws make it easier to collect and analyze information, it's happening in a sense despite our best wishes and our best intentions."