Wednesday, February 20, 2013

On Crimethink

An octogenarian by the name of Sister Megan Rice and two of her friends managed their way past the security at the U.S. government’s Oak Ridge nuclear testing facility. Their goal was to put up some yellow caution tape and graffiti protesting the U.S.’s continued production of ever more powerful nuclear weapons. 

According to Paul Donahue, the president and CEO of WSI-Oak Ridge (aka Wackenhut aka G4S Government Solutions), the acts of Sister Rice and her friends are prima facie evidence that these three are enemies of the state. He said, “The enemy of today is not just organized Nation States, but vandals, activists and protesters looking not necessarily to harm material, or people, but clearly seeking to embarrass (source).”

Sister Rice and Friends
The statement is revealing: an implicit comparison is drawn between hostile nation states and private citizens who would seek to embarrass company presidents and CEOs such as he himself. And although he didn’t use the word “terrorist,” the connotation is unmistakable. The same activities that earned Vietnam protestors and anti-nuclear protestors of the 1980’s and 1990’s a veritable “slap on the wrist” are now regarded in a far more serious light. 

In other news, it is revealed that, “in cases where terrorism is charged, prosecutors need not prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Rather, only the defendant's potential for committing a crime need be established in order to convict.” This is referred to as “preemptive prosecution,” and is merely an extension of the kind of reasoning that legitimized preemptive war against Iraq to avert Saddam Hussein’s use of (as it turns out, nonexistent) weapons of mass destruction.  

For example, “Tareq Abufayyad, a young Palestinian man and recent college graduate ... was detained at San Francisco International Airport when he was on his way to unite with his family, all of them naturalised citizens of the US. Tareq was deemed inadmissible merely on the grounds that he had the potential to become a Hamas-operative." The immigration judge’s reasoning was that, “because he was a well-educated man from Gaza, a strong-hold of Hamas, Tareq would be ‘attractive to Hamas’ as a future recruit (source).” 

Over in New York, lawyers have described NYPD surveillance of Muslims "as an 'all-encompassing dragnet' for intelligence, based on the false assumption that 'conservative Muslim beliefs and participation in Muslim organisations are themselves bases for investigation (source).'" Aside from this being an egregious example of stereotyping an entire community on the basis of the actions of a few, it is also fairly compelling evidence that members of law enforcement aren't that bright and we shouldn't be surrendering our civil liberties to them so casually. 

Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security is testing a new computerized Future Attribute Screening Technology (FAST).  The purpose of this device is to scan people in a public place and identify behaviors that indicate malintent. So far, FAST is still in the testing phase. Tests consist of “instructing some people passing through the system to carry out a ‘disruptive act.’” Scientists involved in the project claim a 70% success rate. People who behaved disruptively (how they behaved disruptively is left vague) were spotted by FAST (source).

The way FAST works is described in another article. “The sensors secretly collect and record information concerning individuals, including video images, audio recordings, cardiovascular signals, pheromones, electrodermal activity, and respiratory measurements (source).” Presumably, FAST would not be developed unless the Department of Homeland’s Office of Civil Liberties and Civil Rights hadn’t already decided that there is no 4th Amendment issue raised by suspicionless and covert searches. And if we are to believe that pheromones and electrodermal activity are indicative of malintent, wouldn’t this invoke the 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination? 

The hapless soul who is “flagged” by the FAST system might object to being detained in a small room with TSA agents while his or her flight departs. But can an ordinary citizen make a convincing argument that his or her pheromones have been misunderstood? What if we have evil thoughts that we do not intend to act upon? The ordinary citizen will not be as credible as the many scientists who vouch for FAST, and who know a great deal more about electrodermal activity than you or I. 

DHS responded to a Freedom of Information Act request for data on FAST. They declined to share information, claiming the "deliberative process privilege" which "protects the integrity of the deliberative or decision-making processes within the agency by exempting from mandatory disclosure of opinions, conclusions, and recommendations included within inter-agency or intra-agency memoranda or letters. The release of this internal information would discourage the expression of candid opinions and inhibit the free and frank exchange of information among agency personnel." In other words, if folks at DHS imagined that the public knew what they were discussing, they wouldn't want to discuss it.

Lastly, it bears noting that Panasonic and Samsung are starting to market televisions that come equipped with facial recognition software. The idea is that the television can offer program recommendations that are personalized to the person who is sitting in front of it (source). I will suggest that these manufacturers get in touch with DHS about the pheromone detectors, because then the televisions would personalize recommendation not only on the viewer, but his or her mood. My television would probably be telling me about now that I am in the mood to watch Minority Report.

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