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Reasonable security measures or invasion of privacy?
November 25, 2002 2:05 PM   Subscribe

This article is about new border crossing security measures that are supposedly in the works. Cross the U.S. border in a few years, and a hidden camera may zero in on you from 150 metres away, able to recognize you by the shape of your face, perhaps by the telltale markings of your eyeball or even in the way you walk past the border guard. In milliseconds, a supercomputer would sift through a massive "data warehouse," able to dip into your life: Credit-card purchases, travel patterns, health and banking records would all be scanned. Your old telephone conversations -- in any language -- would be instantly available, along with e-mails that you sent years ago. Perhaps they'll even be able to read your MetaFilter posts.
posted by orange swan (36 comments total)

 
On the off chance that they will be able to read my Mefi posts, then let me be the first to say I am TOTALLY ON BOARD WITH THIS, AND WOULD NEVER SPEAK OUT AGAINST SUCH A SYSTEM.
posted by jonson at 2:12 PM on November 25, 2002


Terrorists will still blow things up in the USA, but at least the military contractors will make a good buck at this farce.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:25 PM on November 25, 2002


I, for one, welcome our new data-base-using overlords.

However, reading this:

A system is being planned to instantly translate telephone conversations in foreign languages -- Arabic and Mandarin are singled out as priorities -- that will produce transcripts that could be analyzed by the computer"

makes me pray they have something better than Babblefish to "instantly" translate conversations.
posted by risenc at 2:43 PM on November 25, 2002


It looks like even the sci-fi stories with worst outlook on technolgy, the future, and security aren't even going to come close to where we are going.

gulp.
posted by tomplus2 at 2:48 PM on November 25, 2002


Terrorists will still blow things up in the USA, but at least the military contractors will make a good buck at this farce.

Lucy: "this will ensure safety for all"

Peppermint Patty: "quite right sir"

Fresh Five Fish: " uomnp-pa- uonmp-uomnp-uomnp"


In more recent news, random traffic stops, with-in 25 miles of the boarder, are enforce in Michigan as per an "obscure but long-standing federal law".
posted by clavdivs at 2:50 PM on November 25, 2002


'Fresh Five Fishs' name has been changed to conceal his identity
posted by clavdivs at 2:52 PM on November 25, 2002


Some other links about Total Information Awareness:

The DARPA Information Awareness Office (Scientia Est Potentia).

The Electronic Privacy Information Center's Total Information Awareness page.

A trio of New York Times articles (reg. req'd):
And, a pentagon press briefing from November 20th. Scroll down about halfway to this question:
Q: Can you help us to better understand what Admiral Poindexter's operation is all about, and how far along he is in developing his program or plan or — (inaudible)?
There was also a plan to reconfigure the internet as part of this operation... (again, NY Times)
posted by bragadocchio at 3:19 PM on November 25, 2002


Yeah, this sounds likely... For all of the alleged tech-savviness of the general MeFi community, I find it laughable that half-baked, Battlestar Galactica-class ideas such as this are given credence. And let me guess, Larry Ellison's donating the superdooper ultra-secret software to make it happen, right?

Oh, please. They'll spend multiple millions of dollars and it still won't work any better, faster or accurately than the Tom Swift Fantasy Homeland Security data warehouse we heard about last week. Good God, what do you people do for a living that you fall for this crap every time?
posted by JollyWanker at 3:21 PM on November 25, 2002


Good God, what do you people do for a living that you fall for this crap every time?

I design classified database software for our new Information Overlords.
posted by password at 3:26 PM on November 25, 2002


OK, jollywanker. It's not like DARPA ever got involved in a research project with a payoff which transformed society. There was that internet project they were working on. I wonder how that went.
posted by bragadocchio at 3:29 PM on November 25, 2002


Oh, please. They'll spend multiple millions of dollars and it still won't work any better, faster or accurately than the Tom Swift Fantasy Homeland Security data warehouse we heard about last week. Good God, what do you people do for a living that you fall for this crap every time?

the problem, jollywanker, is that what we do for a living is observe technical idiots with political agendas abuse the systems we build without regard for parameters. its all fine and well for you to sit there and smugly point out that the database will be crap, full of bad data and crossed indexes, and none of that matters. it WILL spit out names, goon squads WILL arrest those names, constitutional rights WILL be violated. you act as if something doesn't work well, it won't be used. here is a one word response to that fantasy - microsoft.
posted by quonsar at 3:40 PM on November 25, 2002


I can guarantee that "Joe American" won't be recognized by anything, period... it's unaffordable. But, if you're a member of Greenpeace, or maybe you read conspiracy theory books, you're an Arab or Muslim or have any stereotypical qualities of either, or even worse, you're an anti-war protestor (terrorist), then you'll probably get tracked.

Tax dollars at work...
posted by zekinskia at 3:53 PM on November 25, 2002


As much as I'm against this kind of surveillance, there is a part of me that is deeply sympathetic. No matter how zippy and whizbang the computer sifter is, eventually some poor sap's going to have to sit there and *read* those phone conversations, e-mails, metafilter posts, etc. And that person is going to be terribly, terribly bored.
posted by JanetLand at 4:03 PM on November 25, 2002


I'm buying stamps and fancy stationery, and from herein will just send letters to people. Or I'll use a courier to send my letters if I'm in a hurry. And I'll use cash to pay for it all, not my cards. Can you say "loopholes"? My understanding has always been that crossing the border into another country isn't a right by any means. I remember we used to hop into the states all the time, and you'd hear about people getting their cars stripped bare, with no recompense due, by the border guards.

But from now on all my mefi posts will be in code:
12TE2M{}qQ, I say, 12TE2M{}qQ!!!!!
posted by Salmonberry at 4:10 PM on November 25, 2002


Good God, what do you people do for a living that you fall for this crap every time?

I used to serve at the feet of major record company executives, then I worked at the Teen Marketing Division of Marlborogh, then I was the cheif safety tester for Subaru, then I wiped the blood of small software vendors off my combat boots at Microsoft, then I was a legal advisor for Gary Condit, then I ran inter-department communications and data sharing for the Pentagon, INS and FBI, then I was a floor trader at Enron, then I was the nanny for Michael Jackson's kid. Now I'm applying for a job DARPA (keeping my fingers crossed!!).

I guess I don't see your point...
posted by victors at 4:14 PM on November 25, 2002


Do any of the techs out there have the same kind of pessimism I do about getting all of these diverse databases to communicate and aggregate information from such different sources and data formats? I'm guessing that just shoe-horning the collective drivers license databases of the fifty states would be an immense effort (though I'm sure everyone's selling that XML will make it easy as pie) - and then trying to cross reference it on transaction databasese from all the major credit cards and then unite databases on telecom usage and then email logs as well - and finding a way to funnel pictures and fingerprints... all the while using social security number as the primary key - but isn't it awfully ambitious to say this is all going to be done in the next couple of years? Any dbase admins out there care to comment? Or is it all going to be alright because they're going to use Microsoft servers? And once all of this data is aggregated - do they really expect every one in the national law enforcement community - at the local, state and federal levels - to be able to keep all of this data secure and intact? Just the hurdle of training an entire nation's police force seems like an IT/HR nightmare. Shouldn't be too hard to hack when it has to be open enough for so many different groups to access it.
posted by ao4047 at 4:26 PM on November 25, 2002


All in the name of freedom, though exactly what that will be in the face of initiatives like this is questionable.
posted by holycola at 4:26 PM on November 25, 2002


So let's say, just for the sake of argument, that I was interested in cooking up a few fake identities and credit histories that I could alternate back and forth with. How would I go about doing that?
posted by willnot at 4:50 PM on November 25, 2002


as a DBA, I can tell you that those who say integrating this monstrosity of data will be a Royal pain in the ass are right. However, there has been huge progress over the last 10 years (and 5 in particular) with regards to mining massive datasets (major telcos generate trillions of K per day internally).

In the next year, they may only integrate 5% of the records from 1% of the databases available to them, looking towards the "riskiest" profiles. With high speed networks, the queries may even be distributed to let things scale much better and let another 5% of the databases in on the loop.

While there may be some security on the data, most likely with a data mining effort of this size, none of the source info would remain-- basically the data warehouse would have a row per person with a "score" for various attributes (travels a lot, reads subversive materials, politically active, etc). The average hacker wouldn't be able to say "oh, J Q Random likes pancakes", but they would be able to get the 'scores'

So maybe they dont track your MeFi posts with the automated system, but they certainly have the legal authorization now to follow up on investigating 'high risk' people manually, without a search warrant.

but this is just from the technical side. I've worked in government offices, and let me tell you, getting the schema to their database is months of effort, needless to say access to the actual data.
posted by fiz at 4:55 PM on November 25, 2002


However, there has been huge progress over the last 10 years (and 5 in particular) with regards to mining massive datasets

massive and diversive, mainly driven by waves of merger mania among financial and other huge institutions over the last 10+ years.
posted by victors at 5:04 PM on November 25, 2002


Good God, what do you people do for a living that you fall for this crap every time?

To add another voice to the list: I'm a Ph.D. student here, where plenty of relevant technologies are being developed (actually, the last link is a different department, but still relevant).

The project in the first link apparently got a sizeable funding boost after 9/11. In general, there's a lot of DARPA money here, as there is at all large, research-driven CS departments across the nation.

Regardless of whether application is feasible now, the technology is under development.
posted by tss at 5:20 PM on November 25, 2002


Perhaps they'll even be able to read your MetaFilter posts.

Well, I'm fucked. Not that I intend to go anywhere near America in the forseeable future, other than flying over it occasionally on my way to somewhere less scary.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:35 PM on November 25, 2002


clavdivs:
It's Marcie who says "sir," not Peppermint Patty. You damned dusky foreigner terrorist!
posted by mookieproof at 5:39 PM on November 25, 2002


quite right MP BUT, in my Peanuts world, Patty and Lucy have come out of the closet and proclaimed there nationalistic tendencies. Marcie is now stumping for the Green party and working pro bono for Martha Stewart.
posted by clavdivs at 5:51 PM on November 25, 2002


FFF is still an adult though
posted by clavdivs at 5:52 PM on November 25, 2002


Hah! No one's calling me paranoid anymore!

Doesn't feel like I won, though...

Could some people with more technical knowledge help me out, but wouldn't such a large system, with a nature such as that almost anyone in law enforcement or FBI or some such could access it... wouldn't that make it incredibly easy for someone to steal someone's password or whatever is applicable (With that many users you're sure to find plenty of idiots), and, if they were so inclined, screw up the entire system?

Saying that "they" have probably already thought of this.
posted by Dillonlikescookies at 6:58 PM on November 25, 2002


Man... this is the kind of stuff my parents warned me about. Especially that eye within the pyramid...

Soon they will be extraditing many, many people...
posted by spidre at 7:26 PM on November 25, 2002


Everybody scroll back up and reread quonsar's post again. Maybe a couple of times.</cheerlead>
posted by ook at 7:45 PM on November 25, 2002


I agree with ook who agrees with quonsar.

Plus I think the people who openly admitted to smoking pot daily on another thread here should start being more cautious. Sheesh.
posted by beth at 7:55 PM on November 25, 2002


Plus I think the people who openly admitted to smoking pot daily on another thread here should start being more cautious.

translate- i hate the oppresive "aparat-checks" but be careful, you will get in trouble.

smokepotsmokepoteverybodysmokepot....
posted by clavdivs at 8:12 PM on November 25, 2002


[again. as the thread i added this to was deleted]

it *does not matter* that this technology will not work. it only matters that this technology will be useful to those in charge of it.
posted by lescour at 9:13 PM on November 25, 2002


Well, I'm fucked.

Not necessarily. I think that Slate has a pretty good take on this in their article Silicon Valley vs. K Street: Why computer geeks should give up on politics.
posted by bragadocchio at 10:09 PM on November 25, 2002


Ah, I see - it's OK to build a Gundam for the All-Seeing Eye (codename: Mason PlunderBot), because, in all probability, the contraption won't work. Holly Jolly, pass the hot cocoa, I'm very sleepy now.
posted by Opus Dark at 11:05 PM on November 25, 2002


To any border guards that might read this at some point in the future - nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah nyaaaahhhhh!!!
posted by orange swan at 6:39 AM on November 26, 2002


So let's say, just for the sake of argument, that I was interested in cooking up a few fake identities and credit histories that I could alternate back and forth with. How would I go about doing that?

I can't tell you that, but I can recommend reading "How to Be Invisible" by J.J. Luna. I haven't enacted his stuff yet -- I'll need a new address before I do -- but I intend to.

I also try not to let my names on online message boards become too readily identifiable with my real life name.
posted by namespan at 8:29 AM on November 26, 2002


Just some reading I'd suggest, not that I'm paranoid or anything.

How to Create a New Identity by Anonymous

Modern Identity Changer : How To Create And Use A New Identity For Privacy And Personal Freedom by Sheldon Charrett

Hide Your Assets and Disappear: A Step-by-Step Guide to Vanishing Without a Trace by Edmund J. Pankau

Advanced Fugitive : Running, Hiding, Surviving And Thriving Forever by Kenn Abaygo

How to disapear completely and never be found by Doug Richmond

I came across that last title looking for Radiohead mp3s. Oh, and I wouldn't suggest buying any of these titles online with your creditcard.
posted by elwoodwiles at 7:35 PM on November 26, 2002


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