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"Leaving no trace [of our daily lives] is nearly impossible."
February 16, 2008 12:14 AM   Subscribe

The Anonymity Experiment. Is it possible to hide in plain sight? Privacy-minded people have long warned of a world in which an individual’s every action leaves a trace, in which corporations and governments can peer at will into your life with a few keystrokes on a computer. Now one of the people in charge of information-gathering for the U.S. government says, essentially, that such a world has arrived.
posted by amyms (44 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
Great article. Deeply disturbing.

(quietly closes blinds, Googles self)
posted by Locative at 1:27 AM on February 16, 2008


Fantastic stuff. RFID really worries me, especially as mentioned in the article the future tagging of everything . . . at least in first-world countries. I'm glad I've got a chip-free passport, at least for the next 8 1/2 years, and chip-free debit cards, at least for another three.

As for everything else, well, yikes. To think that even what we say here can be rounded up and connected to our real selves, fairly easily in most cases, gives me serious pause.

I was on the other side of the equation briefly last year, as I searched for a couple roommates who skipped out of their last month without paying rent. The information I was able to dig up, even as a rank amateur and without spending money or doing anything more than use google and myspace, was disturbing.

Who's for moving to Brazil with me?

(I'm not actually going to Brazil. But I'm not announcing where I'm headed out here in the open!)
posted by po at 1:39 AM on February 16, 2008


Wow, it's like Sun's Scott McNealy said[1]...but 9 years later.

Of course, you might decide that your ability to use credit cards and be lent money for a house at lower rates because of credit scoring have some value. You might also like the fact that people can track who is in a hit and run due to licence plate databases. Also that you can gather information on companies to decide who to trade with.

All trade-offs of the database state.

But to do this - get paid in cash, pay in cash, and travel by bicycle. Encrypt communications and connect via tor or freenet. Or just use a laptop with a Linux live CD and no hard disk (hence stateless at boot), randomly spoof your MAC address, and only use this on free/cracked wifi. Live in a rural area with no cameras, preferably in a far-right, virulently anti-government area such as the Ozark Mountains where none of the residents will tolerate cameras, information sharing, or cooperation with law enforcement. Neo-Nazis should be good for that, as many will already have warrants against them and a social pressure for privacy should therefore exist. It's also rural and fairly self-dependent, and so relatively few large company databases should exist. Your chosen level of insanity is up to you, but it can be done.

If living without a trace within the US were truly impossible, the FBI (and the access to all databases that their status would imply) would have very few problems locating suspects when they reside within the US. They do. QED.

[1] http://www.wired.com/politics/law/news/1999/01/17538
posted by jaduncan at 1:39 AM on February 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


All that information and power accessible only to the government and huge corporations is a huge threat to democracy.

I try to keep my data to myself as much as possible, but in the end I realise that I'm fighting a losing battle. The only real solution is information freedom. If all of this information were freely available to everyone then we'd be back to a level playing field. It would be a strange world, but at least it would be fair.
posted by mr. strange at 1:49 AM on February 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


Newsweek: Friends Under The Microscope -- “The Spokeo Web site promises to find things about your friends' online lives 'that you never knew about, guaranteed.'”

Newsweek: Google Yourself—And Enjoy It – “A host of new companies are offering to polish and shine reputations online.”
posted by ericb at 2:03 AM on February 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


few quick things:

RFID is currently far from being a risk, as there are no standards, or nearly none. That is, all the RFID chips & scanners are proprietary. The tag in my library book cannot be read by the scanners in the supermarket that are set up to look for the tags on expensive razor blades & batteries, for example.

My real name is 99.9% certain to be unique in the entire world (not that it's particularly weird or inventive; just that my ethnic mix is uncommon). This would make me easily googlable. However, ego-googles show only two records, and the second appeared only last thursday. That's just a result of never using my real name anywhere where it's not necessary. If things somehow get too bad, I'll just change my name to John Smith by deed poll.

There are other strategies for hiding in plain sight. One is to fuck up the signal to noise ratio, so that real facts are hard to find amidst all the crap. This strategy was suggested in an AskMe recently, when somebody had been posting malicious lies about the asker or their friend or something. One very good response was to go to all kinds of web forums, on crocheting, nascar, dog breeding, whatever, and type the name into comments there, as appopriate ("remember when UbuRoivas won second prize in the flounder spearfishing contest?"). The slanders will simply get lost in the noise.

Finally, just lie, obfuscate & contradict continually. At a whim, you can be straight, gay, married, divorced, any age, of any employment...your actual friends should already know whatever part of the truth that's within their need-to-know scope, and snoopers can be led up blind alleys. This is not unlike the signal-to-noise point above.

And a post-final point: limit the interconnections between your various sites. I actually have too much connectivity between here, flickr (an account i only use in a photobucket manner), librarything (no activity, and hey, it's just a list of some of my books) and facebook, but you'd have to look a bit harder than a simple "also active on:" list in my profile. Plus, I don't care all that much, other than keeping my real name out of it.

Hm, that wasn't quick at all.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:28 AM on February 16, 2008 [5 favorites]


It would be a strange world, but at least it would be fair.

She: I'm not sleeping with you, you have crabs.

He: [hangs head] Background check, huh?

She: Yes, and a lousy credit rating.

He: That's okay, because I happen to know you had sex with half the football team in high school.

She: They kept records on that?

He: Sure, why else did you think I was interested?


A strange world, indeed, Mr. Strange.
posted by bwg at 2:29 AM on February 16, 2008 [5 favorites]


(ps - the basic fact is that nobody actually cares enough about us special snowflakes to bother following all our traces. the police, just maybe, but you'd have to do some serious shit to warrant that attention. for the rest, if you can avoid casual snooping by workmates etc as far as possible, that's about the maximum benefit you'd get. if it's more than a few clicks or page three of google results, they'll most likely give up, because it's just not that important to them)
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:31 AM on February 16, 2008


If all of this information were freely available to everyone then we'd be back to a level playing field.

I've thought about this many times before, and the only conclusion I ever come to is: no, we wouldn't be on a level playing field at all.

Assume you had access to all the currently secret reams of information about everyone in the United States—buying patterns, credit reports, records of employment, tax returns, phone records, everything. Tell me how you're going to make sense of it all. If you had to find out about one person, maybe you'd have the time and resources to sit there and examine that person's data closely. Try to draw trends, though? Or connect that person's activities with someone else's? Figure out what groups that person associated with, and investigate those groups to find out their memberships?

When all information becomes free, the people who profit are the ones with the data mining equipment. And that kind of stuff doesn't come cheap. Google may be well positioned to profit from such a future, but you almost certainly won't.

P.S. I don't know a whole lot about privacy, so I may be completely wrong about this, but I've always thought Neal Stephenson had some very interesting things to say about the subject during his dinner keynote lecture at the Computers, Freedom and Privacy conference in 2000. (There's a link to the full audio of his talk at that page, but it's only in RealPlayer format. ugh. Absolutely worth listening to anyways.)
posted by chrominance at 3:17 AM on February 16, 2008 [5 favorites]


All the anonimity and crypto and tor as sweet and good and welcome , but these seem to be reactions to an assumption : you can't stop people from obtaining information on you, but you can make the data collection a lot more expensive, so discouraging its abuse.

Yet if there is one way to get to know something, there may be another. You can crypt the LoC , you still will be required to carry an ID or suggested to use credit card (which are by definition a number) for your convenience , or with another pretense of protecting you from improbable (but not impossible) dangers. An easy enough prediction is that tracking devices will become even more substle and uncospicuous, but without a big fuss , a panopticon, an orwellinan nightmare. Similarly, few expect a return of fascism and nazism with the same symbols, images and superficial form, but that's what most people associate with danger ; so no swastika, no nazi. No evident tracking, no tracking.


UbuRoivas writes "One is to fuck up the signal to noise ratio, so that real facts are hard to find amidst all the crap."

That's one very good approach, but it requires some effort and the assumption that you know which data is to be poisoned ; for instance, if the relevant information is your preference for salty of sugary foods, the contradictions is easily built, but more sophisticated information methods may require more sophisticated countermeasures.

I'd rather somehow attack the use of collected information , also because it could contain significant errors .

For instance, say that a database contains info on you that make you a bad candidate for credit ; who validates this information ? Who can effectively deny false statements that are believed to be true ? It's the negative effect on the person that should be stopped, even if the action itself are merely suggestive. And such a system shouldn optimally not rely on law , as laws are too often bought and sold.
posted by elpapacito at 3:44 AM on February 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Is it possible to hide in plain sight?

Sure, all you need is a SEP field.
posted by sour cream at 3:57 AM on February 16, 2008 [3 favorites]


I had some friends in high school, two beautiful blond sisters who wouldn't give me the time of day, and their younger brother. Their dad was a forward-thinking guy who worked for some un-revealed intelligence organization. And so, when these kids were born, they never got social security numbers. They still didn't have them in high school to my knowledge and I'm guessing they probably still don't. They had a few hang ups now and again, but seriously - think about never existing in the system in the first place.

I work for one of the companies that's spearheading RFID technology implementations (among all kinds of other crazy tech stuff - take our big Minority Report-esque interface in the A terminal at Chicago Ohare, for instance). In fact, I worked on a roll-out for one of those projects for a Yard Management System for an un-named organization that technically is not part of the US government and is in the same line of work as UPS and Fed-Ex, only they've been around a lot longer.

Here's what I've learned in working with RFID and other technologies to boot (GPS, UWB) - we're only at the beginning, people. Think of the internet 20 years ago, it basically didn't exist in most people's minds. Tracking and tracing technology is RIGHT where the internet was 20 years ago, right now. Its got a ton of money behind it, and we're only beginning to discover the ways it can be used and manipulated, and the technologies and techniques we can use to do that. RFID will be outdated in under 10 years.

There's a mall in my parent's hometown where the local cops started patrolling the parking garage with cameras mounted on the roofs of their cars that automatically scan each plate they pass in the garage and then run its record. If they find something they want to talk with you about, they have an undercover unit park near you and wait for you to get back to your car.

THINK about that. Think about where that's going. Think about a van pulling up next to you walking down the street, and you disappear for interrogation because of something you wrote on a website. Think about the interrogation techniques that our government is using right now. Do the math.

I don't doubt that in my lifetime there will be cameras that can automatically scan the retinas, or maybe even finger-prints, of everyone who passes within their range. The natural conclusion is that nothing will be private in the future. NOTHING.

That's going to be the price that you'll have to decide whether or not you want to pay in exchange for living in the first world.

And they'll be tracking that consumer decision as well.
posted by allkindsoftime at 4:08 AM on February 16, 2008 [15 favorites]


one other thing: i forget the guy's name, but he's a biggish name in technology / futurist theory, and he came up with a pithy quote along the lines that "when data doubles, information is halved, knowledge is halved again, and wisdom halved once more."

doing the math on "something i wrote on a website", i'd be thinking that there's more & more & more raw data out there, but who's going to turn it into information, knowledge or wisdom? some kind of sophisticated scraper could raise a warning flag that i mention "osama" significantly more than average, but it would take a human to work out that, say, that's not my uncle's name, or that i'm not a fanatically patriotic al-qaeda hater. ok, the technology would be more sophisticated than that, but in the end it would come down to some guy trawling through some or all of my *checks* 5000+ comments on mefi alone, to make a call as to whether i am a threat or not.

this is pretty much why the vast majority of organisations that collect your data are at this stage only really interested in it at a summary level, whereby you are just an insignificant drop in the ocean of "63% of people who bought coke also bought corn chips, of which 42% also bought dip, which is broken down into 18% habanero delite, 11% sweet chilli & anchovy (etc)"
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:26 AM on February 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's a sad sad world when people who carry large amounts of cash, many to combat this issue, have it stolen by the government to help fund the thugs continuing the war on drugs.
posted by evilelvis at 4:28 AM on February 16, 2008


i agree, evilelvis. in fact, the federal government itself is an assault against individual freedom, what with their taxes & laws restricting my right to own a RPG launcher or marry my daughter.

i suggest we load up a truck with fertiliser & seek out the nearest federal building to teach them a lesson!
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:38 AM on February 16, 2008


the basic fact is that nobody actually cares enough about us special snowflakes to bother following all our traces. the police, just maybe, but you'd have to do some serious shit to warrant that attention.

Not so. Plenty of people who have not done serious shit have had the bad luck to discover that their innocence simply isn't relevant in the face of the incompetence of those seeking evidence against them, and the lack of common sense applied to the information by same. (And that's not even touching on activities that are legal and right, but which some people in some position of authority bitterly dislike you doing. Talk to some activists, I don't think real-world examples are thin on the ground).

"Nobody cares about us special snowflakes" only works until someone does care. Then you're screwed. What YOU do and the choices YOU make do not determine if and when and why someone takes an interest in you. And that's the crux of it - it's not up to you.
posted by -harlequin- at 4:54 AM on February 16, 2008 [5 favorites]


well, i was leaving aside the possibility of crazy stalkers, but hadn't thought of activists. what happens to them, exactly?

also, it is actually quite possible that if i pulled a stunt like 90dayJane & an army of internet sleuths tried to find me - as they have with various YouTube "celebrities", for example - they'd probably be able to track me down reasonably quickly. but, y'know, i don't even bother making my social nerdwanking profiles "friends only" so i've given them a leg-up to begin with.

however, as with your activists, i probably would have to do something to make people care enough to take that kind of interest in me. that would be kinda flattering, i suppose, even if they could destroy me for life for any number of things, like the time i decided to play devil's advocate for the NAMBLA, just to give my rhetorical muscles a workout. taken out of context, that wouldn't exactly make me look like a model citizen.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:13 AM on February 16, 2008


And so, when these kids were born, they never got social security numbers. They still didn't have them in high school to my knowledge and I'm guessing they probably still don't. They had a few hang ups now and again, but seriously - think about never existing in the system in the first place.

How do you know that the twins and their brother were "off-the-grid?" without SS#'s, etc.?

There's a mall in my parent's hometown where the local cops started patrolling the parking garage with cameras mounted on the roofs of their cars that automatically scan each plate they pass in the garage and then run its record

See: How Do They Know Where I Parked at [Boston's] Logan Airport?
posted by ericb at 5:52 AM on February 16, 2008


great. now sudasana's stalking me.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:01 AM on February 16, 2008


UbuRoivas: Remember COINTELPRO? Imagine what J. Edgar Hoover would do if he were alive today.
posted by wtdoor at 6:10 AM on February 16, 2008


...the basic fact is that nobody actually cares enough about us special snowflakes to bother following all our traces.

Wow. That's so wrong. Corporations care enough to be investing enormous piles of cash into just this sort of total data acquisition of consumer information. It's not necessarily governments you have to worry about with this stuff. You think the underwriting department at UnitedHealthcare wouldn't love to know how often you get a large double-cheese from Dominos? Or how often you actually check-in at the gym? Or that the waist-size of the pants you buy have gone up 3 inches over the past 5 years? Such information can mean the difference between paying $300/mo for insurance and paying $600/mo...or not getting insured at all.

Those sorts of little data-points are gold to the right buyer. That's why just such data-mining is a rapidly-growing business. There's no legal restraint on the private sector from acquiring whatever information it can on you, no matter how seemingly innocuous. There's always a buyer for information.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:23 AM on February 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


Datamining is a statistical exercise. Summary data, trends, regression analysis. Nobody is specifically looking me up individually.

Except for insurance companies. They're apparently totally fucking evil, in their snooping. And in everything else they do.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:34 AM on February 16, 2008


Google unto others as you would have them google unto you.

(you've probably heard that before, I just think it bears repeating)
posted by proj08 at 7:54 AM on February 16, 2008


In 2006, David Holtzman decided to do an experiment.... he was able to discover...the fact that he was circumcised...

Geez, I would have thought that info might have been gleaned from earlier experiments.

/making light of scary situation
posted by GrammarMoses at 8:47 AM on February 16, 2008


Given that most of the people who are worried about all this stuff are a different sub-group than the rich and powerful people who are perpetrating it, I think the 'upping the noise ratio' approach is the most sensible, because it's cheap and relatively easy. Whenever you're going somewhere that you might leave a hair to be found by some snooping fascist freak, go to your local hairdresser's beforehand and grab a couple of handfuls of hair. Sprinkle it around.
Flood the internet with your name and everyone else's name that you can think of.
Apply for insurance, passports, and i.d. of all kinds under false names with really bad health records. Tell them you're going to die any minute.
Call telemarketers and keep them on the phone for as long as you possibly can, trying to convert them to Zoroastrianism.
Have sex in front of security cameras so the lamebrains who are being paid $4.25 an hour to watch them confuse security with the porn they're watching on the other monitor.
Breed 1,000,000 flies in a suitcase and release them in Monsanto's corporate headquarters.
Spam corporations. Act in ways that don't compute. Fuck 'em. Bring the whole system down.
posted by arcadia at 9:17 AM on February 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


I recently drove the wrong way into a parking lot of the headquarters of a multinational corporation and then parked went inside and had my appointment. An older man knocks on the door of the room I'm meeting in and tells me the next time I come for a visit to please observe the traffic signs. At first I couldn't believe that they had tracked me down for such a minor offense then I was amazed that they had the capability to track me anywhere I went in the building. This wasn't a defense contractor it was a hotel chain. The person at the front desk didn't know where I went but the control room guy followed me with his ubiquitous video cameras until he had a fix on my destination.

Now this is a private company and they can do what they want when I enter their building but when the government gets in bed with these guys I have a big problem. People need to remember why the Bill of Rights were created in the first place - so we individual citizens can plot to overthrow a corrupt government. You see, way back when the colonists had a hell of a time getting out from under the dictatorial heel of King George and they saw to it that their new country would have laws that would restrict the government's power over its citizens to control their own destiny. It boggles my mind when I read articles or listen to interviews of so-called Constitutional scholars that don't understand why these rights were enumerated.
posted by any major dude at 9:19 AM on February 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Or you could simply move to Europe.
posted by sour cream at 10:44 AM on February 16, 2008


Of course, you might decide that your ability to use credit cards and be lent money for a house at lower rates because of credit scoring have some value. You might also like the fact that people can track who is in a hit and run due to licence plate databases. Also that you can gather information on companies to decide who to trade with.

All trade-offs of the database state.


The database society has many benefits; the database state less so. I believe it's possible and desirable to distinguish between the two.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 11:57 AM on February 16, 2008


This sort of invasiveness disturbs me greatly and I'm not sure what to do about it. The article was interesting but I feel like the author was too busy being paranoid to be rational about his privacy. The truth is that you can't just drop off the grid for a single week, and that you would probably have to make some fundamental lifestyle choices in order to make it work.

The first thing is cameras - it's true that they can be used to track you, but many many of the cameras you encounter in a day are simply dumb ones that aren't being actively monitored and whose tapes won't necessarily be kept. If you ever watch those "extreme video footage" shows you know how bad the picture quality can be on those things. Wearing disguising clothing indoors is more likely to get you flagged as a shoplifter and followed than it is to help you disappear.

Secondly, he talked about cash, but he wasn't specific. $20 dollar bills are universal currency. Credit cards, checks, and larger denominations aren't accepted everywhere, but I'd be hard pressed to think of a place that won't take your twenty.

Third, cell phones. You don't need them. I live just fine without a cellphone, and so did generations before me. Assuming you've got your internet privacy up to snuff, most things can be arranged by e-mail these days. The author went to great trouble to get a prepaid cellphone, when really he should have just skipped that whole step.

I could keep going I suppose, though what I'd have to say would boil down to "live a very simple life," but even if you did everything right, kept a low profile and were an upstanding citizen, if the government, the local police, or even your insurance company decides to fuck with you, well there really isn't much to stop them from it and they'll do a fine job of it in spite of your precautions. That's the real problem being presented here, that individual citizens (who aren't rich) have very little power or recourse in the face of the larger social forces at play in their lives and that the system is less and less interested in protecting them as time goes on. As long as the government favors business over the citizenry there is no reason for them to try to protect your privacy and it will continue to erode.
posted by CheshireCat at 12:45 PM on February 16, 2008


"Or you could simply move to Europe."

!?!?

I live in the UK, which if I'm not mistaken has the highest CCTV camera to human being ratio in the world. Don't know what it's like in the rest of Europe, but it aint so free here!!
posted by arcadia at 1:43 PM on February 16, 2008


The first thing is cameras - it's true that they can be used to track you, but many many of the cameras you encounter in a day are simply dumb ones that aren't being actively monitored and whose tapes won't necessarily be kept.

this is really very true. i once committed an activist oriented crime (defacing a billboard) right in front of one, and we were never caught or pursued. either the camera wasn't real, or the police didn't even think to go check it out. i know my face would have been visible--but we took a gamble, being willing to be arrested in the long run if it turned out that way.

in any case, i think the main thing in this article is the insistence on using all the accoutrements of the middle class: when i was making 25 bucks a day cash, didn't have a bank account, no cell, no car, lived with a roommate whose name was on all bills, and only used anonymous emails at a friend's net café, i was pretty damn near invisible. (not totally, i am sure--but i wasn't even trying.) this was especially so because i had quite suddenly moved to a new state. to any possible observer, it probably looked like i dropped off the face of the earth.

i'm sure there are plenty of people who live in the edges of society who make this a matter of purpose and do quite well--at being disappeared. it's just that you can't *live well*.
posted by RedEmma at 2:38 PM on February 16, 2008


arcadia: I live in the UK, which if I'm not mistaken has the highest CCTV camera to human being ratio in the world. Don't know what it's like in the rest of Europe, but it aint so free here!!

Somehow, I believe that the UK has a lower danger of turning into a police state than the US. Maybe it's all those friendly bobbies and the lack of harassment when trying to enter the country.

BTW, the best way to determine which of two countries is "freer" is to ask yourself in which country you would rather be in prison. Given the choice of US and UK, I'd pick the UK any minute.
posted by sour cream at 5:01 PM on February 16, 2008


I was recently stopped when trying to enter the UK. The immigration guy noticed that I'd visited a few times a year for about 10 years and when I said I was visiting my boyfriend, he decided that *this* was the time I was going to overstay and try to marry him for free health care or something.

When said bf didn't respond to the page, they just let me go-- but I was really surprised. Perhaps the guy just wanted to hassle an American?

I know going the other way it's insane because they ask if you've ever used drugs (not been convicted or even arrested, but ever used period!), if you are a terrorist, if you have committed a crime of moral turpitude (which it actually takes 50 pages of case law to decide-- they include things like "oral sexual perversion") on this ridiculous form. Any yes answer and you can't enter the country.

The privacy stuff is frightening...
posted by Maias at 5:43 PM on February 16, 2008


nobody actually cares enough about us special snowflakes

1. Corporations and governments care. We know this is true because we see them spending so much money building this stuff.

2. Criminals care. We know this is true because we see lots of ID theft and phishing attempts.

3. Crazy people care. We know this is true because we see them commenting in Something Awful forums and/or Wikipedia project pages.

Gov't goons, mafia goons, and SA goons all take interest in you, because you're a special snowflake made of votes, money, and lulz.
posted by ryanrs at 7:47 PM on February 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


You know those two line excerpts Google includes with each search result? The presence of those text snippets pretty much proves that Google keeps the full text of every page in RAM, not on disk. That's in addition to whatever phrase occurrence indexes they need.

Just a reminder of what state-of-the-art data mining looks like these days. It's pretty amazing.
posted by ryanrs at 8:44 PM on February 16, 2008


Sinfest breaks this all down for you today.
posted by digitalprimate at 7:33 AM on February 17, 2008


Also (sorry, forget to add it), on the semi-beneficent side, here's what all that data looks like on the the street. Found by Gibson, of course.
posted by digitalprimate at 7:39 AM on February 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


The presence of those text snippets pretty much proves that Google keeps the full text of every page in RAM, not on disk.

Or that they have enough disks to make it equivalently fast.
posted by oaf at 9:45 AM on February 17, 2008


In accordance with a careful effort carried out by myself, googling my username gets you nothing but metafilter, and googling my real name gets you nothing but music. Excellent. Unless electronic music becomes a sign of subversion anytime soon, I'm golden.
posted by tehloki at 3:57 PM on February 17, 2008


To be fair it would be difficult to maintain anonymity in any age with that grotesque a skin condition.
posted by HVAC Guerilla at 6:37 PM on February 17, 2008


I know going the other way [ie into the US] it's insane because they ask if you've ever used drugs (not been convicted or even arrested, but ever used period!), if you are a terrorist, if you have committed a crime of moral turpitude (which it actually takes 50 pages of case law to decide-- they include things like "oral sexual perversion") on this ridiculous form. Any yes answer and you can't enter the country.

The reason for that is that if you've told a lie on your immigration form, you never legally entered the country, and therefore have no standing in the courts to dispute a deportation order.

The questions sound stupid, but they give the administration an easy way to get rid of you, should you make trouble. All they need do is find any evidence or suggestion that you've ever shared a joint or gone down on somebody.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:37 PM on February 17, 2008


My weekly trip to the supermarket prompted me to post this afterthought:

Retailers mine data for the purposes of crafting clever marketing tactics. For example, if the data reveals that people who buy Coke also buy chips 87% of the time, they'll advertise discounts on Coke, but keep the chips at the regular price. Similar tactics might be used for nappies & chocolate, or for any range of products with strong purchasing correlations.

Often, the discounted item might be a "loss leader": a loss-making product that entices you in, so that you spend up big on profitable products.

Unfortunately for the supermarkets, there will always be a tiny subset of shoppers like me - hardcore statistical outliers - who have a reasonably stable core set of purchases, and are prepared to buy in bulk when any of those items are on sale. They probably have a term for us, "asshole shoppers" or something, because when I go to the supermarket, my trolley usually contains nothing that's not on special. And this isn't because I impulse buy sale items. It's just that I don't mind having a dozen blocks of 85% cocoa chocolate sitting around for a few months.

This week's trip netted me $60 worth of goods, of which only one item wasn't at least 30% off. It's quite satisfying & fun, especially imagining others in the checkout queue thinking "Wow, this guy lives on nothing but salmon, tahini, blackcurrant cordial & soy milk...must be the latest fad diet!"

posted by UbuRoivas at 7:08 PM on February 18, 2008


well, i was leaving aside the possibility of crazy stalkers, but hadn't thought of activists. what happens to them, exactly?

First step in hounding the peace activists and political commentators seems to be banning them from boarding a plane, without warning or appeal, and other methods of intimidation. That honeymoon in Paris you've been saving for? Looks like you're unexpectedly spending it in Detroit. After that, the nastier things tend to be hidden behind gag orders and other forms of secrecy. :-(

Also, don't leave aside the possibility regular occurrence of stalkers. It might seem far fetched to you, but most single guys regularly see some amazing woman drive by and idly wonder "Where can I meet someone like that?!". If it is your JOB, as an officer, to watch for traffic violations and to run the plates of violators, countless times a day, you simply don't need to wonder. At least, not if you have a bit of a sleazy streak. You can find out where and how to meet her, and she'll never know... unless you're dumb enough to later reveal it to her yourself... in which case she's one of the rare people able to lay a complaint... and that complaint might prompt an investigation... and that investigation might find in just that one area, widespread abuse of the databases... involving many more officers than just the one mentioned in the complaint... and cases like this might go to court and thus be all through the public record... yet people will still believe that if you've got nothing to hide...
posted by -harlequin- at 9:23 PM on February 21, 2008


You can find out where and how to meet her, and she'll never know... unless you're dumb enough to later reveal it to her yourself...

Copper (thinking): "Hm, what's her schedule for today? (*checks database*) Ah, yoga class, then beauty salon & a trendy bar tonight. Ok, scratch the salon; she'll think I'm gay; in for a back, sack & crack wax. Bars are usually good places to meet people...(*searches, watches security videos*) Oh, Christ, that's a classy joint, full of attractive young professionals, and it's a block off Wall St; she won't even acknowledge that I exist. Yoga class it is, then..."
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:58 PM on February 21, 2008


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