Who's Watching?

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Published : October 30th, 2011
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Category : Editorials





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 else.

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 is.

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:

Social 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.]



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An editor at Casey Research, Doug Hornig’s work can be read in "BIG GOLD" a monthly newsletter which focuses on mid- to large-cap gold stocks; "What We Now Know" – a free bi-weekly e-letter covering trends in investments, geopolitics, the economy, health and technology; and "The Daily Resource" an economy and investment column on kitcocasey.com. A former Edgar Award nominee, finalist for the Virginia Prize in both fiction and poetry, and a past winner of the Virginia Governor's Screenwriting competition, Doug lives on 30 mountainous acres in a county that just got its first stop light. He is an admitted political junkie, but hates all political parties. Doug has authored ten books and has written articles for Business Week, Playboy and more.
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Let's say system just adds representative payee type oversight based on these so determinative cues (with no due process of course - but that is immoral to the bone), and the case is easily made for actually modifying the transgressor's DNA or at least making punitive charge to it regards say an insurance profile customized to the individual or refinement thereof regards behavior specific group premiums - behaviorial change for profit, what else could it mean? Make same ubiquitous enough and life itself converges to computer game as human experience finds its personal system image everywhere 'you want to be.' The young ones won't even know the difference, eh. At this point, work reduces to epidemiology, eh. The classes thus are useful still, more efficient, but given the nature of the beast, watch Mr Smith (and he's but an Avatar) employ them (along with the current pop psych science of the day) in the service too of the capricious, arbitrary, and insane; i.e., the niggardly as expressing the fine regards controlled, eh, and so too the main event, which remains as always - the transfer of wealth.

Here, one could argue and argue well (even in, especially in the Austrian style), fuck Moloch, yet then still suffer through the profound untethering of Liberty from America's Declaration of Independence, which as of today ironically (and irony here is just plain sad) still belongs to Americans.

'After I get through', will I lament this terrible trade - this Ben Franklin declared accursed, Saftey over Liberty swap?

Thanks for this. Orwell would just shake his head, because this is beyond
1984, for we are now confronting a system that anticipates our mis-steps,
our sins, our expected anti-social behavior. It probably wouldn't upset
Calvin, that old Presbyterian theologian would always knew that certain of
us were predestined to commit crimes and sins. I cancelled my Onstar
services months ago, but now you are informing me that even when it's
cancelled, it's still actively sending my personal information to the
industrial military complex (Sorry, that last phrase is 1960's talk). That
little antenae mounted on the roof of every GMC Sierra is a designer
frill that turns out to be an invitation to spy on each truck owner. If you
can't unsubscribe, that's one thing, but the social engineering feature of
anticipated crimes reported before they happen, is Theatre of the Absurd.

Ed Willms
Huntsville, ON
Latest comment posted for this article
Doug, Thanks for this. Orwell would just shake his head, because this is beyond 1984, for we are now confronting a system that anticipates our mis-steps, our sins, our expected anti-social behavior. It probably wouldn't upset Calvin, that old Presbyt  Read more
Ed W. - 10/30/2011 at 11:57 PM GMT
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