Future shock: data trolling and predictive policing
Code pink protesters stand outside a hearing before the House (Select) Intelligence Committee last month on Capitol Hill in Washington. Photo: Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/MCT
For Americans planning to attend a protest sometime soon – maybe an anti-pipeline demo or a grudgefest against the Big Banksters – there’s good news.
Now you can be detained without the inconvenience of turning out on a cold rainy day and standing around for hours hoisting heavy placards.
According to records obtained by the U.S. based DBA Press and Center for Media and Democracy, security officials will know what you’re thinking in advance and can send a squad car to chauffeur you to a cozy interrogation room for a friendly chat.
If you don’t pass Go you could be detained for months – or years— under anti-terrorism rules with three meals a day and free room and board. All good, no?
If you’re shaking your head, you might find the new report alarming. It says that a new technology called, euphemistically, OpenMIND, is able to access password-protected sites and is “deliberately designed to hide both the presence of inquiring analysts as well as their subjects of interest.”
OM is a virtual vacuum that sucks up, stores and collates “vast amounts of data in order to monitor shifts in public opinion and predict the possible future actions of those being monitored.” Minority Report is no longer fiction, but science.
Who’s snooping? The records show the technology is used by American law enforcement and counter-terrorism fusion centre personnel. The ones who gather and analyse vast amounts of “open source intelligence” on Internet users.
A fusion centre, BTW, is a hub of municipal, county and state counterterrorism personnel and agencies that pass along any “suspicious” data to intelligence agencies. They will create a file that could expand throughout your life, regardless of whether your behaviour is within the law.
And the “open source intelligence” they’re using is not material from old fashioned published sources, but “information trolled from citizens’ Facebook, Twitter or other online social media presence.” In other words, anything you confide to anyone online. That could be an outburst of anger about corporate greed, big-oil muscle or shabby treatment by a government department.
The scary part is it’s “harvested” and “investigated” by spooks unknown to the users, and whose judgment determines the fate of their data – and their lives. Banal beefs can be interpreted as threats, and calls for protests as potential violence. Who makes the calls, and why, remains secret.
Although the authorities insist they are only trawling for serious threats to national security, there is ample evidence that mined data is used for the benefit of powerful corporations whose agendas might be damaged by public dissent. Governments, too, can use it to neuter potentially outspoken opponents before they have a chance to gain an audience’s ear. And just the knowledge that somebody out there is listening promotes self-censorship. Ask any former East German.
Is there any antidote to toxic data-trolling? If so it hasn't been invented yet. In the meantime? Step away from that device.
Olivia Ward has written on international conflicts, politics and human rights from the former Soviet Union to the Middle East and U.S. as well as Big Data and its effects.