Sunday, March 15, 2015

Plasticene Porters

When you’re talking about police and soldiers, you’re essentially talking about a lot of guys who like to play Call Of Duty and Halo. It is difficult to appreciate the level of hypocrisy they confront and the depth of compartmentalization that this requires. Most of us at some fundamental level believe that there is some equitability or justice that plays its way out. This deep human desire is one of the foundations of religion.  Whether it is reincarnation, heaven, rapture, eventual human development, fatalism or just the naïve joy at seeing the downfall of the wicked and horror at the victimization of the innocent, we all want the world to confirm our human perception of right and wrong. Justice, as any other ideal, is found as common or as rare and beautiful as your perception of it.   The police dilemma is more extreme than the accommodations that we all make.  Because of their situation, they stare into this moral disjoint every day and it can drive them mad. A good day for a police officer might be five driving under the influence arrests.  They may have saved lives, or ruined someone’s career, pondering leads to folly.
They are essentially a clerk with a gun, collecting data for their bosses spread sheet and power point presentation. As Mayor Richard J. Daley said:
-The police are not here to create disorder; they’re here to preserve dis order.
We are all in the vise between judgment and obedience. Usually the consequences are not as extreme.
Normally police are about making the case.  Once they have identified a crime and a perpetrator, they gather, secure and present the evidence for the purpose of conviction and sentencing. It gets trickier when they attempt to be preemptive.
People dismiss the National Security Agency PRISM operation because they do not consider the implications of surveillance.  Imagine, for whatever reason, that you have become worthy.  It could be your actions, your associations, or error, but for whatever reason, you have made the list.  Your surveillance is not inexpensive; at the very least it involves administration, audit and review.  At some point it becomes cheaper to send around a person.
That person writes a report.  That individual is now an informant. You are their subject.  Their activity may be as innocuous as calling to see if you are at the same address.  They may strike up an acquaintance with you. They may be a friend or business associate.  They may be a date.  They may be family.
A business may hire you. This is perhaps the most effective and efficient means of surveillance.  Your employer has the right to all your personal records.  They can account for all your activity during your work time. Conversely employment, or promotion, may be denied you. Obviously your academic career can also be determined for you.  If you want to know about someone you can’t passively watch them.  You have to be involved in their life.
Do you have a life?  Have you made any decisions?  Have you dated? Quantitative change leads to qualitative change.  Defenses against paranoia collapse against multibillion budgets.  As to intent, consider COINTELPRO, the FBI program descended from Elliot Ness who learned his tricks from Irish policemen.  Since the data is there it would be silly not to collect it.  Once you have the intelligence it would be irresponsible not to use it. Perhaps this errant young person needs a job, or perhaps they should lose one.  Maybe a little match making would distract them.  Maybe if these groups fought each other, it would take some of the piss out of them. The example of Linus Pauling being denied a visa to visit England, preventing his participation in DNA research comes to mind.
Imagine you were the one charged with tracking a group of subjects, your very own Sims.  What lives would you choose for them? Forget big brother, this is big mother. Do you want to increase your budget by provoking radicalism? Or demonstrate your efficiency by frustrating it?
I can see all the wealthy, influential, famous or even attractive readers raising their two fingers in sarcastic violin bow serenades. Deceit and swindle is of course common. It is human nature to be manipulative. Even ownership of a digital device can make you fair game. There are many with black marks on their permanent record: DUI, sex offender, felony conviction, bankrupt. Why should subversives get legal dispensation even if they have yet to be convicted of a crime?  Whether they have alerted some data mining analyst through their multiple degrees of separation, patterns of consumption, ill-considered observations, or mean spirited informants, they share many companions amongst those who have lost their privacy and legal protection.
The difference is one of scale.  People Magazine and Equifax, for all their spite, do not have the resources of the National Security Agency, although they may share them. More to your self-interest, how do you know that you are not one of the subversives?  It was asked how many American citizens are under surveillance.  The question was refused as classified.  The correct answer is, of course, all.
How do you build democratic controls on a totalitarian process? It is difficult for Americans to have an ideology, although it may occur implicitly. We have rounded up various groups in our history: Japanese, union organizers, Native Americans, Confederate sympathizers, runaway slaves, Tories. Cost cutting is a possibility. At some point it may occur to the committees that it is cheaper to remove all these irritants rather than follow them.  The metadata allows for more efficient scrubbing.
More likely, eventually some practical person will make the point that crime and corruption are far more dangerous to our nation than mere terrorism. When analysts are able to find obvious criminal activity, perhaps in some cases aiding and abetting terrorism or in the enormous grey areas of overseas business activity, for instance, it would be a shame not to tip off investigators. Could NSA be of use in a kidnapping or murder investigation? Can they cross reference IRS data? Comparing reported income to expenditure comes to mind. In general the trend has been to ignore constitutional niceties in the aid of effective prosecution.
 When I first wrote this, the DEA use of PRISM was not known.  The DEA very practically came up with parallel construction in order to conceal their information source.  I now predict some prosecutor is going to subpoena PRISM data, probably from a phone company, for a local investigation. Once you realize that phone companies use bit compression to transmit conversations then it becomes obvious that all these conversations could be saved.  If they can do it, then they have done it.
Could we at last have accurate financial models?

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