These days, it seems like it's more or less
everybody, doesn't it?
It's not just the government. Take the recent flap
over OnStar. GM touts its emergency broadcast system
as the greatest thing since the invention of the Chevy, and it rolls out
accident survivors to attest to the need for the product.
Longtime critics of the nanny state take a more
jaded view, swearing that it's only a matter of time before something like OnStar becomes mandated for all new vehicles. The move
will be proclaimed as being "for our own good," of course. No
mention will be made of how drivers will be forced to accept a live
microphone that feeds whoever is manning the central listening post (and also
recording the feed). Private car conversations will cease to be private.
But no one seems too bent out of shape about that.
Nor has there been much protest about the change to OnStar's
terms and conditions of service. Originally, all that OnStar
was allowed to do was collect information on your vehicle's location during a
theft recovery or when emergency services were called for. Now when one signs
up, one grants OnStar the right to collect and
sell personal, yet (allegedly) anonymous information from one's
vehicle, including speed, location, seat belt usage, and who knows what all
And the thing is, once one has OnStar
(six million of us do so far), one always has it. Thus, the company can
continue to collect data even after the service is disconnected. In order to
be cut off altogether, one has to specifically shut down the vehicle's data
connection… if one knows how.
Bad as that was, even it wasn’t the last
straw. What finally got consumers screaming, "Enough!"? It was OnStar's September announcement that under its newest
terms and conditions, the company is allowed to gather data from former
subscribers and peddle it to third parties.
That got even members of Congress up in arms and
calling for an FTC investigation. OnStar backed
off, and in late September OnStar backed down and
removed the offending language from its contract. The potential for abuse of
active users remains, however.
While private-sector surveillance is growing
exponentially, the government is not going to be left behind. In fact, it's
taking a giant leap forward with the beta testing of its Future Attribute
Screening Technology (FAST). If that sounds really ominous, it's because it
Remember Minority Report? That's the 2002
film in which Tom Cruise played a futuristic cop in his department’s
"Precrime" unit, which apprehends
criminals before they act, based on foreknowledge provided by dedicated
psychics called "Pre-Cogs." It's good, old-fashioned sci-fi fun
from the pen of Philip K. Dick and the lens of Steven Spielberg.
Only it isn't fun any longer. Or sci-fi. It's real,
and it's here.
No, there aren't any psychics floating in holding
tanks. Yet. (As far as I know, that is.) But the Department of Homeland
Security is busy working out the kinks in FAST, according to an internal
document obtained under FOIA by the Electronic Privacy Information Center.
Details are still a bit sketchy, but we know that
the project was initiated in late 2008, and that the tech is being tried out
on volunteers selected from the general public or from among DHS employees,
if not both. In any case, DHS is building a prototype "mobile screening
laboratory" that will supposedly "detect cues indicative of malintent."
In other words, like Minority Report's
psychics, the DHS's machines aim to pinpoint the perpetrator of a crime, but
before the fact.
Says the DHS: "The FAST program is only in the
preliminary stages of research and there are no plans for acquiring or
deploying this type of technology at this time." They're testing it in
order not to use it. Mmmm-hmmm…
DHS adds that even if the technology were put
into the field, the department has no intention of storing people's personal
information. Uh huh.
GM. DHS. And how about the Fed?
The Fed? Sure, I've written much about Casey
Research's disagreements with Fed policy over the years. But even I was
floored to learn that the central bank has hopped onto the
speeding surveillance express.
On September 16, an RFP – i.e., Request for
Proposal, the standard form which puts a project up for bid – was
issued by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The RFP, filed with Fed
vendors, is requesting the creation of a "Social Listening
Platform" with an intended function to "gather data from various
social media outlets and news sources."
The solution will be required to "monitor
billions of conversations and generate text analytics based on predefined
criteria." And it "must be able to gather data from the primary
social media platforms – Facebook, Twitter,
Blogs, Forums and YouTube," and to "handle crisis situations,
continuously monitor conversations in real time, and Identify [sic] and reach
out to key bloggers and influencers." It "must support content
coming from different countries and geographical regions. It should also support
multiple languages." Finally, it will be tasked with determin[ing] the sentiment of a speaker or writer with respect to
some topic or document" and "provid[ing] sentiment analysis (positive, negative or neutral)
around key conversational topics."
Wow. That's pretty comprehensive. It makes one
wonder what exactly the Fed is looking for. Let them tell us. From the RFP's Introduction:
media platforms are changing the way organizations are communicating to the
public. Conversations are happening all the time and everywhere.
There is need for the Communications Group to be timely and proactively aware
of the reactions and opinions expressed by the general public as it relates
to the Federal Reserve and its actions on a variety of subjects.
Awwww… they care what we think of them.
Well, that's one explanation, anyway. But actually,
it's more likely that they care what we say about them. Is it difficult
to envision the day when anyone who blogs, "Fiat currency must
die!" gets put on a terrorist watch list? Didn't think so.
With Marshal Dillon deputizing everyone in sight
like this, it just might be time to think about gettin'
out of Dodge…
[Sometimes the only way to handle an alarming trend
such as this is to put oneself out of its reach. Internationalizing yourself
– and your wealth – was one of the topics discussed at the
recently held Casey Research/Sprott Summit, When
Money Dies. Audio recordings of the entire event are available now
(in CD or MP3 format): get yours and start getting ready for the coming challenges.]