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You Are a Suspect
November 14, 2002 3:57 AM   Subscribe

You Are a Suspect A growing awareness by those on the right and on the left that our rights are now seriously in threat of total erosion in light of new Petnagon proposal to track all moves of citizens in giagantic data base. may require reg for NY Times.
posted by Postroad (66 comments total)

 
If this can still happen... does that really mean that a sophisticated hacker would have access to the credit card purchases, e-mail messages and web habits of every US citizen? The idea of doing this is insane, the idea of doing it before US government computer networks achieve decent security is bewilderingly horrible.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 4:08 AM on November 14, 2002


Damn.
posted by putzface_dickman at 4:17 AM on November 14, 2002


"knowledge is power" [from the article]

und arbeit macht frei, mein kamaraden.

Is Canada the new Switzerland?
posted by dash_slot- at 4:20 AM on November 14, 2002


Godwinned in three. Not that I disagree, mind you.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:23 AM on November 14, 2002


Good Godwin.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 4:25 AM on November 14, 2002


it's just not funny anymore.
posted by quonsar at 4:26 AM on November 14, 2002


This is so seemingly shot from the hip I can't wait for the future. Such visionaries we have in control of us. I simply just cannot wait for the future!

I swear to god,before these fascists "came to power" I literally thought that we were on some humanitarian tear. Unconscionable that I'd ever side with Safire. Times have changed.
posted by crasspastor at 4:27 AM on November 14, 2002


Look, I apologise for the premature godwinisation, but..
how many signs & wonders do we need before we wake up to what the Reptilian party are doing?

Bully boy tactics abroad, barely restrained by international organisations & allies, snooping on citizens, detentions without charge, ignoring corruption at the apex of business and government, unacknowledged assasinations in foreign lands, support for anti-democratic coups in allied countries, denial of responsibility for resentment directed to the FatherlandHomeland, reduction of union power in selected sectors...

These are all elements of a style. One which gives grave cause for concern.
posted by dash_slot- at 4:29 AM on November 14, 2002


sigh.
posted by LouReedsSon at 4:43 AM on November 14, 2002


whats a petnagon?
posted by billybobtoo at 4:54 AM on November 14, 2002


It's another word for someone who doesn't contribute to a conversation but decides it's actually important to just point out a typo.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 5:00 AM on November 14, 2002


this certainly doesn't shock me in the least. and people here will just swallow it all up as they maintain the fiction that it's all for their own good. for the empty illusion of an unattainable safety most citizens seem perfectly happy to give away everything else.

but perhaps i've said too much. i guess this will likely go on my permanent record.
posted by zoopraxiscope at 5:01 AM on November 14, 2002


Hmm, I guess for the next couple years I'll occupy myself with bouncing a text in arabic off as many proxy servers as I can find that reads something like "bomb hijack kill great satan terror strike down anthrax".

Then see how long it is before the FBI/Homeland Security officers come a knockin'
posted by statusquo at 5:05 AM on November 14, 2002


I'm worried too about this abuse of power, but as I mentioned before, we already have Carnivore and Echelon in place, and no hacker has managed to usurp any information from there to the best of my knowledge.

Still, is it time for the now-famous Franklin quote again? "That that can give up essential liberty for temporary security deserve neither liberty nor security."
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 5:12 AM on November 14, 2002


Whoops. Make that "They that..."
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 5:12 AM on November 14, 2002


The Latin motto over Poindexter"s new Pentagon office reads "Scientia Est Potentia" — "knowledge is power." Exactly: the government's infinite knowledge about you is its power over you. "We're just as concerned as the next person with protecting privacy," this brilliant mind blandly assured The Post.

I hope this is an error, or some cruel joke. Othrwise I am not the only person in this room who is filled with a morbid sense of irony.
posted by Keyser Soze at 5:12 AM on November 14, 2002


I support the Republican party over the Democratic party. I support Bush over Gore. I support a war on militant Islamism.

I agree, however, with those who do not want this centralized database.
posted by dagny at 5:16 AM on November 14, 2002


While I think we are right to be concerned, I'd remind us all that we may also take solace in the fact that this "virtual, centralized grand database" does not, as yet, exist anywhere except in the felonious mind of John Poindexter. The idea that the federal government could just "glue together" something of this scope and complexity in anything less than 5 or 6 years is laughable. A lot can happen in the time it's going to take to actually build this "thing." One need look no further than the air traffic control system in the US to see that "technical excellence" is not the government's forte...
posted by JollyWanker at 5:27 AM on November 14, 2002


that's little solace, jollywanker, given that the same technical incompetence has given us the most technically advanced and fearsome weaponry on the planet. besides, it doesn't have to contain accurate information, or operate flawlessly, it just has to produce suspect lists and facilitate arrests. sieg heil!
posted by quonsar at 5:36 AM on November 14, 2002


Not another one of those rants fron a NYT liberal...No....Wait...It' Safire!!!

The last comment thread on this issue took a decidely more pro-administration bent.

I see Poindexter has managed to rehabilitate himself and is ready to get busy collecting data on everyone.

I'm not willing to give up any more of my privacy to contibute to some illusory increase in national security.

Notice how quick the administration was to jump all over to new bin Laden tape as evidence that there is a heightened risk and need for more security measures? When everything is seen through the eye of national security, the truth is lost. The sad part of this is that a lot of folks support the administration without really understanding the effect of tese proposals and an equal number have no idea what is happenning.
posted by mygoditsbob at 5:40 AM on November 14, 2002


It's true, mygoditsbob. This is an amusing story of two threads.

Like the military tribunals idea floated by the Bush administration, everyone seems to go along with these ridiculous ideas until William Safire calls "bullshit" on them in the New York Times Op-Ed page. In the same way that only Nixon could go to China, only one of Nixon's speechwriters can take the Bush administration to task for trampling on our rights.
posted by deanc at 5:56 AM on November 14, 2002


Thank God for Poindexter, after all he was the model for Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan, the Republican 007 who never ceases to amaze us on the written page and on the movie theatre's screen

My favorite JP quote: "I made a very deliberate decision not to tell the president so that I could insulate him from the decision and provide some future deniability for the president if it ever leaked out."

Almost as interesting as his buddy Oliver North's political philosophy seminars, free education for the people on talk radio
posted by matteo at 6:21 AM on November 14, 2002


So, dagny, does that mean you support a war on militant Christianity and militant Judaism as well?
posted by Beansidhe at 6:29 AM on November 14, 2002


All your data are belong to me.
It is futile to resist.
You will be assimilated.
Repeat to me the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition, human!!
I know what you did last summer.
I will use my power only for good.
Where do you want your data to go today?
Power is power.
posted by nofundy at 6:30 AM on November 14, 2002


I kind of assumed that the government already kept track of all that stuff. It pays to be paranoid, lol...
posted by stifford at 6:33 AM on November 14, 2002


look, I'm new here, what's a Godwin?
posted by lerrup at 6:38 AM on November 14, 2002


Godwin's Law: As an Internet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.

"Frequently, the thread ends at this point, with the comparison-maker losing the argument by default. Godwin's Law thus practically guarantees the existence of an upper bound on thread length."
posted by Pretty_Generic at 6:51 AM on November 14, 2002


What no one seems to ask about it under what circumstances can the Gov access this database. If it were in pursuit of terrorists, well that would unsettling but justifiable (within reasonable premises).
But if for instance the DEA ir the IRS or Direct Mail Political Marketers(shudder)are also potentially able to use this meta-base, lets just call it the end of an era (that lasted all of 226 years). La fin d'epoch

Little known fact: If you move to Canada, your credit history gets wiped and restarts anew, tabula rasa.
posted by BentPenguin at 7:23 AM on November 14, 2002


Information is power
Knowledge is strength.

Too bad most Americans just can't be bothered to learn much.

I do find the fears of the of the false dichotomy of left and right merging. I saw it for a while in the first Clinton admin too but it seemed to go below the surface for a while. I wonder what that would mean for chances of substansive change.

This idea should be scrapped on principle alone, but it won't and society will suffer at the hands of mistakes, false information, selective enforcement, and loss of community.

A paranoid society is not a healthy society.
posted by infowar at 7:36 AM on November 14, 2002


Lemme get this straight... terrorists bad, tax cheaters and drug dealers good?

Heh.

No, I don't support this monster either. I find it ironic that (some) Republicans can talk about getting rid of "Big Government," and at the same time, build Big Brother.
posted by Foosnark at 7:40 AM on November 14, 2002


Even the official stuff is pretty damn' scary.
posted by SealWyf at 8:02 AM on November 14, 2002


I support the Republican party over the Democratic party. I support Bush over Gore. I support a war on militant Islamism. I agree, however, with those who do not want this centralized database.

Don't run crying to me. No hard feelings or anything, Dagny, but you and your fellow Republicans/Libertarians wanted him in there, now suck it up. Just keep this in mind in 2004. Maybe the project won't be completed (or, with luck, even started) yet.
posted by octobersurprise at 8:44 AM on November 14, 2002


Hey! Leave libertarians out of this, why don't ya. And to be fair, octobersurprise, I believe that Democrats would be doing the same thing.

The fact is that America has lived in peace (at least from outside forces) for such a long time, that the populace wants greater protection even at the expense of liberty. People are scared shitless, in case you haven't noticed. The majority of people want the government to protect them and don't care exactly how they do it. Standing up for personal liberty and privacy in a time when people are scared of death-loving fanatics is not going to be a popular position.
posted by cell divide at 8:58 AM on November 14, 2002


I've said it elsewhere and I've said it again: the only thing likely to prevent this sort of official personal information clearinghouse is a constitutional amendment protecting privacy. Unfortunately I don't see such a thing getting through any modern Congress no matter what party has the majoriy.

So failing that, the fallback is an information rights act, or even an amendment: we need transparency into the system that gathers data on us, the right to know what they have on us and the right to who may use it as a matter of law.

Here's a report on the current state of data privacy around the world. Note where the US stands compared to much of the developed world in passing at least some kind of data privacy laws.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:23 AM on November 14, 2002


cell divide, I simply don't believe that. Granted it's ludicrous to suggest the Democrats aren't as self-serving and greedy in regards to self-preservation as the Republicans, but the idea that the GOP would allow a Democrat administration to make this department even remotely similar to its current inception is close to impossible.

This is, without a doubt, one of the broadest attempts in recent history at recentering Federal power to the hands of the Executive and its direct cabinet, and if a Democrat president tried to do this a Republican leadership team would attack almost as fast as the GOP did with their outrage over the attempt to partially-federalize health care ten years ago.

Now that Republicans control the government, they suddenly don't seem so upset about massive big-government control; you can't expect me to believe that their opinions would still be this way if they didn't have a popular pseudo-wartime president.

I agree that post-9/11 the DNC would suggest a homeland security department... oh, wait... they sort of did that first anyway. But a President Gore would not have had appointed an Attorney General as psychotically obsessed with crippling "immoral" liberties to recommend the vast abuses of personal privacy accounted for in this current version. Gore and Lieberman were obsessed with censoring the entertainment media; Bush wants to hear nothing bad from the press. There's a big difference there.

Nor would he have decided a week after the attacks that his close friend-slash-Republican governor of Pennsylvania-slash second choice for VP suddenly met all the qualifications to head the department without the need of an oversight committee. Imagine if you will Gore telling the Republican Party that Catherine Townsend suddenly had partial control over the Coast Guard and the INS. The collective head explosions would have set off sprinkler systems.

This is not to say Gore's a saint. (I'd say he's more like a monk.) As mentioned before, a DNC-created OHS would definitely have concessions to labor and I'm sure there would be a lot for the trial lawyers, plus an equal interest in Democratic pork projects. But I will stick the the belief that the inherent moral base of the party wouldn't have included such open power at the hands of the government simply on the understanding that the GOP could, and would, block it anyway.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 9:34 AM on November 14, 2002


XQUZYPHR, I disagree fundamentally because I believe with a Democratic president and the divided house, the pressures of mid-term elections and other politics would force the Democrats into a position where they would need to capitulate to the Pentagon and other departments responsible with providing the protection Americans are desperate for.

If the Democrats were in the executive branch at this time, the pressure they would be feeling to "do something" from the Republicans (the party which has long held the mantle of law, order, and security) would be immense. In order to survive and hold onto power, the Democrats would need to make serious moves designed to protect Americans. Meanwhile the Pentagon and other departments would be openly lobbying for enhanced powers-- and if they got resistance from the White House, the Republicans would sieze on this and make it a campaign issue "Democrats aren't listening to our security forces and don't want to protect Americans." The Dems would be forced to co-opt the issue.

In the end this is a democracy and right now the people want this, or at the very least want something like it. Any party that wants to hold onto power is advised to follow the wishes of the terrified public.
posted by cell divide at 9:47 AM on November 14, 2002


CD, I'm not trying to paint everyone with too broad a brush. I know that a lot of libertarians oppose this sort of thing, too. And organizationally or politically, I'd support those who made their opposition clear. But the fact is, if you voted for Bush--and libertarians tend to vote Republican more often than not--, this is what he's giving you in return. If you voted for him and like it, fine. If you voted for him and are disturbed by it ... well, keep that in mind for 2004.

Would a Gore/Liberman administration be doing the same thing right now? Perhaps. Believe me, I don't regard them as paragons of integrity. But somehow I doubt projects like these would be pursued with such zeal by a Democratic administration. And I can't help thinking that Bin Laden or no, the usual conservative suspects would be frothing at the mouth if a Democratic Administration did propose a project like this. Can you imagine the op-eds: First they tried to take away your guns, now they want to monitor your every move!. It'd be outrageous. Anyway, if nothing else, it's probably a cinch that Mr. Poindexter wouldn't be involved.

And on preview, much of what XQUZYPHYR said
posted by octobersurprise at 9:48 AM on November 14, 2002


When those of y'all who are standing up for personal liberty and privacy start getting arrested, then I'll be worried. Thanks for being the canaries for the rest of us...

Anyone ever read the SF novel "Alternities" by Michael P. Kube-McDowell? It's an alternate universe story in which a special team of operatives goes undercover in various Earths to engage in trade and espionage. One of the operatives is caught when he gets a little sloppy because the people there are all suspicious of strangers, due to an act of nuclear terrorism in their past. (In this universe, Kubrick made a movie about the incident.) The author sure nailed this aspect.
posted by kindall at 9:49 AM on November 14, 2002


Ashcroft:
"Get me the data on those buying lots of munchies at the 7-11 stores. I want to know who the pot smokers are."

Cheney:
"Get me the data on everyone who purchased a hybrid vehicle. I want to know who the tree huggers are that are impacting oil profits."

Duhbya:
"Get me the data on everyone who purchased a "... for Dummies" book. I want to know who my constituents are."

And so it goes....
posted by nofundy at 9:58 AM on November 14, 2002


Wow. The sky has fallen so often now that it's a wonder it can even hold the stars up at night anymore.

Only problem with all these scare stories is that there isn't much to be scared about. The system they are talking about is not technically possible.

Most of what I do, professionally, is enterprise IT strategy and architecture for Wall Street firms. Many of them - especially in the last few years, have been putting considerable energy into attempting to integrate their back-end data systems. Most of them have been, at best, only partially successful. They are all getting driven nuts right now by the Patriot Act, because it means they have to track customers across all of their divisions (i.e., an individual with a brokerage account, a mortgage, and a small business account at Chase may appear in a half dozen different databases at Chase, some of which are incompatible with others).

But relatively clean data, and virtually uniform metadata, are required to apply anything remotely resembling AI algorithms, Business Intelligence programs, or other data mining tools. In other words, individual firms, with the power and control to aggregate data from a dozen or so internal systems, are finding it nearly impossible to do so completely.

Imagine now the literally thousands of sources required to deal with the scope of the project as it is being portrayed in the press. It is not possible to create such a "virtual database". The really funny part of things is the line "he has been given a $200 million budget". Sounds like a lot right? Folks, this is pocket change. in the world of enterprise IT. For instance, WSJ article yesterday announced a Merrill Lynch contract - to supply 25,000 new workstation to its brokers - was just awarded to Thompson Financial. Contract is 5 years. One billion dollars. And this is just to handle the trading activities for a few million people.

To operate at the scale the press is implying in the scare articles - millions of databits collected and aggregated daily on 300 million Americans. Shit ... 200 million dollars would not even pay for the architectural planning for such a system, let alone the system itself.

What 200MM might buy is a bit less "stovepiping". A few systems that might make it easier to consolidate existing data about an individual. But let me be very clear about this: Safire is simply lying, whether intentionally or not, when he says:

"Every purchase you make with a credit card, every magazine subscription you buy and medical prescription you fill, every Web site you visit and e-mail you send or receive, every academic grade you receive, every bank deposit you make, every trip you book and every event you attend — all these transactions and communications will go into what the Defense Department describes as "a virtual, centralized grand database."

It is simply not possible to create such a thing for 200MM. It is not even possible to plan it for 200MM. And even if the dollar figure was increased tenfold, the technical issues, quite simply, make it impossible.

If everyone wants to believe the "examples" delivered up by professional opinion page writers (who obviously have significant technical training) and be deeply frightened, or wants to use this as the latest "Bush/Ashcroft=evil ... I'm moving to Canada ... this is just like the Nazis" thread, I say, enjoy!

If you want to discuss reality, however, good grief ... that article doesn't even remotely resemble it.
posted by MidasMulligan at 10:29 AM on November 14, 2002


Midas: So this doesn't bother you at all? I believe you when you say it's not currently possible to implement it as described, but what about future possibilities? What about the fallout from simply heading in that direction? Are you really OK with this? Not being snarky, I genuinely want to know.
posted by languagehat at 10:35 AM on November 14, 2002


XQUZYPHR, I disagree fundamentally because I believe with a Democratic president and the divided house, the pressures of mid-term elections and other politics would force the Democrats into a position where they would need to capitulate to the Pentagon and other departments responsible with providing the protection Americans are desperate for.

Wow, it's like an RPG. "Yes, but if Gore had +4 Teflon and Janet Reno rolled a 12 or better, then the Card of Undetectable Hypocrisy could be played on the Media Spin Vortex...." Criminey, the facts are complicated enough, but this amounts to daydreaming.

The facts, in the form of the Republican reactions to Clinton's actions against terrorism, support the assertion that Conservatives would suffer mass cerebrovascular blowouts if the Dems tried anything like this on their watch no matter what the provocation. The hatred of the far right for the mere fact of the Clinton administration exceeded all reason. You'd think they'd have approved of his use of cruise missiles against terrorist training camps, wouldn't you? Well they didn't. Wag the Dog, they said.

Kindall; how very strange. I thought of that novel too.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:39 AM on November 14, 2002


George, to be fair, I didn't support Clinton's anti-terrorism efforts either. Painful as it is to agree with the Republicans, it's hard to forgive the near-fact that Clinton had an aspirin factory bombed because he got caught getting a blowjob.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 10:55 AM on November 14, 2002


The thing that always gets to me when I read about the Information Awareness Office is: why did they decide to make their logo so creepy? Seriously; at least they could have had the "Ray of Observation" emanating from the eye of the fnord beaming down upon someplace other than North America. I mean, I know they're looking at Americans, but just from a general creep-out point of view. Is this logo some sort of joke? A DARPA designer having some fun? An attempt to throw off conspiracy theorists, possibly by making their heads explode?
posted by mr_roboto at 11:00 AM on November 14, 2002


The fact is that America has lived in peace (at least from outside forces) for such a long time, that the populace wants greater protection even at the expense of liberty. People are scared shitless, in case you haven't noticed. The majority of people want the government to protect them and don't care exactly how they do it. Standing up for personal liberty and privacy in a time when people are scared of death-loving fanatics is not going to be a popular position.

Personally, I'm not all that scared of terrorists. I am probaly more likely to be hit by a drunk driver, inhale second hand tobbacco smoke, be struck by lightning, get mugged, etc than I am to be attacked by terrorists. I refused to be terrorized.

What does have me nervous, however, is the group of powerful interests in this country that seem determined to bend the nation to fit their whims.
posted by kayjay at 11:12 AM on November 14, 2002


I don't get it mr_roboto. The eye is pointing it's ray squarely at central Europe in the image I'm seeing, with some lovely golden fallout hitting Russia, the Gulf and North Africa. Is that because I'm in London, or is it actually you trying to make my head explode?
posted by walrus at 11:24 AM on November 14, 2002


Midas: So this doesn't bother you at all? I believe you when you say it's not currently possible to implement it as described, but what about future possibilities? What about the fallout from simply heading in that direction? Are you really OK with this? Not being snarky, I genuinely want to know.

Didn't take that as snarky - in fact, it might be good to get beyond scare tactics writers use to sell newspapers, and the normal anti-Bush rhetoric, and have a robust discussion about this. Actually, what Ashcroft is doing does bother me, but for reasons very different from most of those in this thread. What bothers me most is that our government is still in kindergarten when it comes to its technical comptetance. Some of this came to light during the post 9/11 hearings ... when it became public that FBI agents were not even using Google (for goodness sake) for fear of stepping on "privacy". In other words, the electronic tools available to the FBI were significantly less than the tools the average home user on a modem had.

This is absurd, because terrorists themselves are certainly making increasing use of electronic media to tie together global organizations. I do believe an entirely new approach to intelligence agency activity is necessary. I also believe the road being discussed is not it ... and arises out of an attitude that has still not adjusted to the 21st century.

20, even 10 years ago, data itself was a valuable commodity. The internet, however, has fundamentally altered that. There is no longer data scarcity, there is an almost overwheming data surplus. This stretches across every area of life. 10 years ago, for instance, there were not that many sources to look at for info on a company one wanted to buy stock in. A few rumors could give one a significant advantage. These days, however, there are literally thousands of pages of analysis, rumor, advice and opinion about almost any company one wants to look at.

In other words, it is not the ability to obtain data, but rather the ability to filter it that is now the scarce commodity. I agree that "knowledge is power" ... but to think that obtaining a vast storehouse of data is synonomous with obtaining greater knowledge is wrong. Abstracting useful information from any data set is always a matter of the ratio between the total data set and the useful data. The sheer volume of data they are talking about - literally petabytes - would mostly be filled with useless material.

But because the attitudes are still those of a decade or two ago, the focus is on collecting data, not on processing it. This is stupid, because it 1) Allows the press to scare the hell out of people (and sell papers) exactly like Safire did here; and 2) produces a situation in which effective data filtering is - technically - nearly impossible.

The intention is to secure the country - and as 9/11 demonstrated, there is an entirely new sort of threat out there, coming from people using an entirely new set of tools. Private industry is already addressing the problem of how to turn raw data into knowledge ... but the vast majority of the most cutting edge discussions don't revolve around getting more data, they revolve around developing new tools to make better use of the glut of data they already have.

In other words, the proposal does bother me, because the WTC barely missed my head when it fell, I want to see America secured, and because it is my business to construct systems such as those being contemplated, I am convinced that the approach they are taking is simply wrong. Far more security could be accomplished with far less money, and far less public outcry.

I'm not worried because some agency knowing that I vacationed in Jamaica last month. I am worried that an unsuccessful intelligence agency approach to electronic media will mean that someone hiding in Afghanistan caves can coordinate multiple attcks on US cities entirely over the internet, and no one will see it coming in time to stop it.
posted by MidasMulligan at 11:36 AM on November 14, 2002


Hell, I was a suspect long before the Patriot Act. Just ask my wife!

the Republicans (the party which has long held the mantle of law, order, and security)

Yep, I'm laughing!!! But wait, you're serious? OK, Now I'm REALLY laughing!! Where did you get that BS?

Ever hear of an enthymeme? Your argument could use one.
posted by nofundy at 11:41 AM on November 14, 2002


walrus: I guess I was looking at it in more of a 3D perspective, with the fnord behind and above the globe, directly facing the North American landmass. But you're right; the way the beams of light are draw, the majority of the "light of knowledge" is striking Europe and Africa.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:45 AM on November 14, 2002


What kayjay said. I watched the Twin Towers fall from twelve or so blocks away, and it didn't raise my desire to give up my basic daily life to pretend that this couldn't happen again. If anything, it made me realize that our bloated, high-tech defense system was useless in the face of someone who had the will to kidnap a few hundred people and use them and their plane as a weapon.

The truth is, most Americans, like most humans, just want to live normal lives. I want my future kids to be healthy and have a good education. Scrapping the health care and education budgets to make way for more nuclear submarines isn't making me feel better.

Terrorists like Al-Quaeda don't want to "destroy America" except in the way that I want to "win the lottery-" it's a want that they acknowledge is near-unobtainable. They want to get the U.S. the hell out of their business so they can... get this... live what they call "normal lives" as well. The fact that they're killing themselves to perform these acts implies that they're not really in it for themselves... like us, they want what they consider to be a better hope for their children, however obscene that consideration may be.

On both sides, all we're giving is less. We need to alter the potential for "normal" lives in the impoverished areas of the world, and we can't do that by destroying and sanctioning them- all it does is give credence to the despotic leaders who have an instant excuse for their despotic leadership. Likewise, we can't create a society that perpetuates fear as a means of regulation... something that is rapidly happening right now in the United States.

This advance in technology is NOT going to help us, Midas. A few dozen guys from the poorest region of the planet caused thousands of lives and billions in damage. A lone nutcase with a gun causes massive fear and death. A single lunatic in a shack with no electricity kills people with mail bombs and we only catch him because a family member turns him in. I'm sorry to have such pragmatism, but it feels like the only effect new technology is going to have is an even worse feeling when the next person gets past it. The only infallible system is one that prevents the bugs from being created in the first place.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 11:52 AM on November 14, 2002


Intent is more important than the actual plan. Eventually someone will iterate to a workable plan. Legal sanction to build such a databse is even more important. Eventually, someone will wake up to the fact that $200m is 'pocket change' and will do something about the budget. Someone will write a better scope.

Safire is an editorial writer. An editorialist will have to simplify and exeggerate to make a point so that the largest possible number of people read it and so that the content is accessible. Sensationalisation is a weapon. Kinda like what a cartoonist does to someone's face in a cartoon.

In an unrelated note, in the retailing industry, one year back the whole idea of tracking every container that gets shipped into USA was a joke. Today CTPAT looks a lot more real. The carriers are scrambling to upgrade. Customs department is trying to get money to upgrade its database. Even China is demanding detailed 24 shipping manifests (talk about unlikely partnerships!). And there has to be a whole of other related initiatives going on that we dont hear about at all. Let us not underestimate the resourcefulness and the reach of a recession proof budget and research agenda.

I am not as worried about the existence of such a database, as I am about the potential abuses of such a database. The SSN was not created to track the medical/credit history of a person, but today this country seems headed in a direction where it may become difficult for an elderly, ill person to get decent insurance at a reasonable cost. That to my mind is unanticipated use of the system. Governments are almost always compromised by powerful vested interests. Availability of a mother database like that is almost like an invitation to various unanticipated commercial exploitations and a massive waste of government money.
posted by justlooking at 11:55 AM on November 14, 2002


someone hiding in Afghanistan caves can coordinate multiple attcks on US cities entirely over the internet

So the Tora Bora rollout of AT&T Broadband went smoothly, I take it?

(Sorry, couldn't resist. P.S. there's a great parody of the Apple 'Switch' campaign starring Osama bin Laden somewhere in this.)
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:14 PM on November 14, 2002


In other words, the proposal does bother me, because the WTC barely missed my head when it fell, I want to see America secured, and because it is my business to construct systems such as those being contemplated, I am convinced that the approach they are taking is simply wrong. Far more security could be accomplished with far less money, and far less public outcry.

Midas: I understand your point about wasting money in unproductive ways, and it's a good one, but it's still not clear to me whether you disapprove of the type of data collecting they're contemplating, or simply of the fact that they don't realize the immensity of the task of filtering it. I agree that they'd better get cracking on dealing with the flood of intelligence from Afghanistan and points east, but that's not what we're talking about here. Regardless of how effectively they're dealing with it, do you think it's OK that they want to collect and centralize credit card data, e-mail, etc.? justlooking has some good remarks that indicate why I'm worried.
posted by languagehat at 12:51 PM on November 14, 2002


Knowing what I do about databases and government, I'm not exactly shaking in my booties. Far more likely would be a series of notable fuckups where the bitched-up data in the database sends a squad of JackBooted Thugs (tm)into the wrong houses, where they will proceed to slap taxpayers, stomp their kittens and act in typically idiotic fashion, all in full view of a few neighbors, et al, and to which afterward the aforementioned Thugs will be gleefully roasted by a band of congressfuckos in a righteous froth. In any case, the chances of you getting to be one of the unlucky recipients of the Beavisian body cavity search is roughly the same as you winning the lottery, so my thought is that overweening concern might at this point be premature.

The best defenses against this sort of thing being, as always: (a) pay cash, and (b) have a decent lawyer on speed-dial.
posted by UncleFes at 1:14 PM on November 14, 2002


Thing is, laughable as this effort is, search is not a hard problem computationally and Moore's law makes this technology inevitable. So I say let's consider the political implications now, before it's too late. I get that people want America to be "safer": that applies to me and the UK, also.

But I'm interested in just how far most people would be willing to downgrade their own personal freedom in pursuit of that goal. My choice would be damn far down the scale from this proposal.
posted by walrus at 1:15 PM on November 14, 2002


Addendum: I could get killed crossing the street tomorrow by a drunken fool. The suggested solution vastly outweighs the problem, to my mind.
posted by walrus at 1:18 PM on November 14, 2002


Security-Freedom concerns have ebbed and flowed constantly throughout American history, o' tusk'd one, but has always come back to Freedom. Americans are a freedom-loving people, we have never known tyranny, and we will always over time trade security for freedom. It is our nature.
posted by UncleFes at 1:29 PM on November 14, 2002


brazil.
you are all on the blacklist, by the way. all of you. better safe than sorry.
this reminds me of the story i heard, about people in america who were officially dead, due to some bureaucratic slip. they had to petition for months to be re-instated as 'living'. sorry no links.
posted by asok at 2:10 PM on November 14, 2002


Here's an interesting story on air-travel blacklists, for Salon Premium subscribers.
posted by homunculus at 8:33 PM on November 14, 2002


The intention is to secure the country - and as 9/11 demonstrated, there is an entirely new sort of threat out there, coming from people using an entirely new set of tools. Private industry is already addressing the problem of how to turn raw data into knowledge ... but the vast majority of the most cutting edge discussions don't revolve around getting more data, they revolve around developing new tools to make better use of the glut of data they already have.

Of course, 9/11 was a golden oportunity for those who want to lurch us bit by bit towards facism to drag along those people who, guided more by fear than common sense, will advocate severe erosion of our civil liberties in order to "secure the country". The fact of the matter is that so far all of the Al Qaida attacks, and aleged conspiracies for attack have involved foreign nationals in the United States under granted visas with passports from a few specific countries. Even the aleged "dirty bomber" was discovered as a result of contact with key players with foreign passports.

In fact, we have a fairly specific and clear profile for the terrorists. They hold passports from a handful of countries, and had visited areas of terrorist organizing activity in the last few years. Securing the country would thus appear to be fairly easy: place extra scrutiny on foreign nationals from Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Egypt. We have a nice small dataset that can be fairly easily organized and tracked.

As a result, it is clear that this proposal has nothing to do with preventing terrorism or securing the country. 200 Million dollars is more than enough cash to perform background checks and keep track of foreign nationals from hotbeds of terrorist activity.

This proposal has nothing to do with securing the country. Except from American citizens exercising their right to privacy.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:38 PM on November 14, 2002


Terrorists like Al-Quaeda don't want to "destroy America" except in the way that I want to "win the lottery-" it's a want that they acknowledge is near-unobtainable. They want to get the U.S. the hell out of their business so they can... get this... live what they call "normal lives" as well.

Al-Q has never (as far as I can remember) made such claims. Al-Q would rather see the US eradicated than out of the middle east, as the former would achieve the latter anyway.
posted by Neale at 9:39 PM on November 14, 2002


Notice the IAO's URL? DARPA was the agency who developed the protocols (hello TCP/IP!) upon which the existence of the internet is dependent. I'm not concerned what the nefarious Admiral Poindexter is able to patch together about my electronic footprints tomorrow (wait, yes I am), but long-term it's a fairly depressing prospect that this dark overlord/convict has been given so much power and authority to build the Big Brother infrastructure of his wet dreams - with my tax dollars.

The clever computer boys of the 50's probably couldn't imagine the internet as it exists today either. Just because this proposed surveillance system may seem implausible is no reason to take giddy sighs of relief.

Apologies if the Admiral's OVERVIEW OF THE INFORMATION AWARENESS OFFICE has already been posted.
posted by Zoyd Wheeler at 9:48 PM on November 14, 2002


Kindall; how very strange. I thought of that novel too.

I bet everyone who's read it thought of it. I should go read it again. %)
posted by kindall at 11:13 PM on November 14, 2002


Thing is, laughable as this effort is, search is not a hard problem computationally and Moore's law makes this technology inevitable.

Moore's law doesn't really kick into affect for clever algorithm development like it does for chip speed. And clever algorithm development is what would be needed to make 'this technology' at all effective at what it's purported goals are. Search in the form of 'grep' is not a hard problem computationally, but search coupled with inference and statistically significant correlation is far from trivial.

And $200M is chump change. The policy trend indicated here is more troubling than current technological capability.
posted by Medley at 11:25 AM on November 15, 2002


I am pretty sure no one will read this comment this late, but a comment in the related /. discussion shows that this is not as far-fetched as MidasMulligan thinks.
posted by mumbaiyaa at 1:27 PM on November 15, 2002


Wag the Dog, they said.

To me the dog is my government but its tale(sic) is us being wagged back and forth to cut the smell.

In Dallas every major grocery store has a big brother scheme in progress. They issue you a card which they scan when ringing you up. Each store has two prices on selected items, so the card acts like a coupon. To get the full savings you have to participate otherwise you pay the higher price, which can be several dollars.

When Tom Thumb(Randalls) started this there was a tale of a man who slipped on their wet floor. They told him if he followed through with the suit they would divulge his beers sales. If you lived in the south you may understand better. He would buy large quantities, and near me the cheapest place for me is Tom Thumb. Never heard the follow up, any one hear a similar story several years back?

One more way capitalism is being run through the mud imho. Now I see how our foreign friends see us stinking up this country and theirs by allowing big business to rule our governments.

Oh yea I forgot, my first line, someone let the dogs out in our Capitol Building there scratching on the doors.

PS, is tale(sic) correct for tail when wagging my words
posted by thomcatspike at 2:38 PM on November 15, 2002


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