Government Snooping Goes Hi-Tech

Does data-mining point to a dystopian future?


As with most futuristic movies, the plot from Minority Report seemed a bit far-fetched. Police psychics dispatched officers to arrest perpetrators of crimes before they actually took place. Eleven years after its release, though, the movie seems remarkably prescient.

"(Fresno Police Chief) Jerry Dyer is betting he soon will know what criminals will do before they decide to break the law," reported the Fresno Bee in an August news story detailing that city's new command center. It uses supercomputers to build profiles so, as the chief said, "you can logically predict where crimes are likely to occur the next day."

Fresno gathers data from video-cameras, stationed throughout the city, and other sources. This so-called "Big Data" approach to policing has rapidly expanded nationwide after video footage helped pinpoint the Boston Marathon bombers.

Oakland now is using anti-terrorism grants — meant to beef up security at its port — to build an innocuously named Domain Access Center. It "will collect and analyze reams of surveillance data from around town — from gunshot-detection sensors in the barrios of East Oakland to license plate readers mounted on police cars patrolling the city's upscale hills," according to the New York Times.

"Pervasive warrantless surveillance reflects the fact that domestic law enforcement agencies have adapted the 'counter-insurgency' model employed by the military, the CIA, and the NSA overseas," said civil-libertarian author William Norman Grigg, who alerted me to Fresno's movie-like "predictive policing" model.

These technologies advance incrementally. Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB 806, which sanctions a Department of Motor Vehicles pilot program to test electronic license plates — something critics fear eventually will allow government to track drivers' whereabouts. The program was backed by Smart Plate Mobile, which has a patent on a digital plate. These technologies often combine the efficiency of the private sector with the power of government agencies, which is another way such approaches differ from traditional policing efforts.

Oakland and Fresno officials say high crime rates justify these measures. But the San Diego Police Department says the city "is fortunate to have such a low crime rate; however we are constantly looking for new methods to reduce crime even further." One such method is Operation Secure San Diego, which lets police monitor video-streams from a private business.

"This program is just one of many in a rapidly increasing infrastructure that needs policy and oversight controls that do not now exist," said Kevin Keenan, with the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties. He's more concerned about the misuse of license-plate readers. And he worries about the lack of controls on SANDAG's envelope-pushing facial-recognition program, which lets police scan people's faces and compare them with databases.

The ACLU calls for independent oversight and controls. Agencies claim they don't misuse the technologies — but Keenan points to examples of abuse (i.e., a federal report showed misuse of information obtained at government "fusion centers"). And then there's mission creep. License-plate readers were sold to the public as a means to identify stolen cars, he added, but now agencies are mining the data to investigate suspects. The only real limits are ones imposed by the agencies themselves.

Problems with open-ended data-trolling are legion. We know, historically, that authorities do indeed misuse information. Any assurances of "proper procedures" often aren't worth very much, based on the continuing revelations about the National Security Agency programs.

"You don't know how your movements are being tracked during the day," said Jennifer Lynch, an attorney for the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, pointing to vast information sharing among agencies. As a result, Americans become more fearful and less willing to, say, express unpopular political positions or do anything outside the mainstream.

In The Matrix, Neo is offered a blue or red pill. Taking the former lets him continue in a fantasy world, but the latter will open his eyes to grim reality. Until the public swallows the truth about the depth of the budding surveillance infrastructure, our society could become fodder for future dystopian movies.

NEXT: 76,000 People in DC, VA, MD to Lose Insurance From One Company Because of Obamacare

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  1. It uses supercomputers to build profiles so, as the chief said, “you can logically predict where crimes are likely to occur the next day.”

    Deciding how to deploy limited resources to best respond to crimes or perhaps even deter crimes seems like a smart idea to me (but what they hell, I’m an engineer so big-data makes sense to me).

    This is a far cry from arresting people before crimes have been committed.

    1. Yeah – this actually makes sense. If/when it gets into “we think you might commit a crime, so we’re going to arrest/detain/whatever you” – different story.

      Predictive analyics? Yay! (assuming they’re not gained through illegal spying, etc. etc. SLD etc. etc. etc.)

      1. Is there another way to gather sufficient data for Predictive Analytics?

      2. Sure, the tech is a good efficiency consideration, Caveat Privvy and all that. But…

        “Your honor, probable cause was established as the Stasi-2000 system indicated that 80% of the citizens in the 202 area code would commit a crime today. The defendant was in the area code, therefore he’s probably guilty.”

    2. What does driving trains have to do with anything?

      1. Sorry, I’ll restate that in the vernacular for you: I’m a nerd so big-data makes sense to me.

        1. Oh, come on; how may times in one’s life does one get to legitimately make that lame “engineer” joke? Well?

          1. One too many perhaps 😉

        2. If it’s driving trains, better restate it in the vehicular.

  2. Woman handcuffed, stripped and thrown in jail because of overdue traffic ticket

    Sarah Boaz was arrested as she left her home for work Wednesday
    The arrest was over an unpaid traffic fine, issued in August
    Boaz lost the ticket and expected, at worst, a late fee
    Instead, she was handcuffed, strip-searched and placed in a cell…..icket.html

    1. Sounds like a good shoot kill beatdown police action.


    2. The fact that it was a stop sign ticket from 60 days ago makes this a whole new class of nut punch.

  3. Test it on past crimes.

    If it doesn’t “logically predict” *them*, it’s no better than trying to time the market.

    1. You’re a climate change denier, too, aren’t you?

  4. There’s another similar push to find genetic propensities for committing crimes. I had a neighbor who was a Ph.D in neuroscience and a law professor. Her research focused on, among other things, “…new interpretations of the Fourth Amendment.” You do the math.

    1. Oh, they’ve been found.

  5. This is the logical and unavoidable outcome of a theory of policing based on ‘crime prevention’. Given the inherent unpredictability of future actions, crime prevention by the state cannot help but be oppressive. A magnificent tool, particularly as it sounds so very seductive. Who could oppose the prevention of crime?
    But who can account for the unintended consequences?
    It’s the precautionary principle all over again, writ larger and on the barrel of a gun and the walls of a prison.

    1. Injustice is when someone violates, the life, liberty or property of another person. Justice is simply an absence of injustice. It’s not a proactive thing.

      For justice to be proactive, it must become injustice. Then the organization tasked with maintaining justice becomes an instrument of injustice.

      Just like every government that has ever existed.

      1. I told Atlas about this, he shrugged.

        1. He’s more into artisinal mayonnaise these days.

  6. By the way Steven Greenhut, the implementation of a massive surveillance state is actually the opposite of the concept laid out in the Minority Report. So major fail dude.

    1. Eh…dude had to have an operation to change his eyeballs so that the security scanners wouldn’t recognize him. Everybody had to look up at the scanners whenever they entered some building, so I’m going with the idea that it was a surveillance state.

      1. I forgot about that, but it doesn’t change my position. The fundamental idea of Minority Report was using metaphysics to predict an imminent crime and then arresting the criminal before the crime actually took place.

        So far, big data is being used to allocate resources to high-crime areas and to search for subjects post crime. However, it is not hard to see “top men” deciding, in the not so distant future, to use big data to intervene prior to a crime. Then Greenhut can write his article.

        1. Eh, they already intervene prior to a crime. That’s the entire point behind DUI roadblocks and other strange notions of ‘probable cause’ being redefined as ‘I as an officer think he’s scum.’ As opposed to ‘The defendent was running down the street carrying a severed head. This seems unlikely to have been a case of self defense.’

  7. “The Land of Freedom and Liberty” has become the world’s worst police state.

    Thanks Big Government!

    1. But Thockpuppet tells us routinely that people demand these thervices!

  8. The first place where Big Data is really going to disrupt people into a law enforcement way is in the policing of health care fraud.

    You may find this hard to believe, but most health care fraud these days is found because of tips, or whistleblowers, or because some investigator somewhere pulls out a sample of claims and decides something doesn’t smell right.

    There’s really been very little effective data mining done. I mean data mining in the sense of analyzing ALL claims in the population, uniting Medicaid, Medicare and private insurance claims.

    It’s about to be done. And every health care provider everywhere is out of compliance in some way. The entire art of medical billing consists of figuring out how to throw codes at payers in different combinations until the providers get paid. The “standard practices” of billing and the written regulations of billing are totally different.

    And to try to partially pay for Obamacare, they’re going to subject that nightmare data pile of jimmied claims to data analysis and pursue every provider where they find a mistake.

    Imagine if you will a new invention that allowed the police in your state to retroactively know every time anyone had committed a traffic offense and not gotten caught for the last five years. Imagine they then mailed out backdated tickets for all those offenses, all on the same day.

    That is what is coming in health care.

    You heard it here first. Tick tock.

  9. SWAT raids journalist’s home, seizes confidential files with source information.…..ring-raid/

    1. That was linked twice in yesterday’s morning links. Do try to keep up.

      1. Dammit to hell!

        1. Sorry. I lied. It was today’s links. Here and here

  10. Cop suspended after horrific video of him ‘kicking and hitting his child because she ate carrots’ is released as it emerges police police chief knew and did nothing…..eased.html

    The arrest papers stated that Yachik’s daughter told interviewers at the Child Advocacy Center in Fort Collins that she had been choked until she blacked out, force-fed hot sauce, bound with handcuffs and plastic zip ties, locked in rooms, punched and kicked, beaten with ropes and starved.

    If that’s how he treated his own child, imagine how he treated those he protected and served.

    1. Okay, I’ll imagine it, but I don’t want to do that “wavy lines” thing when I do.

    2. Obviously the strain of being held to a higher standard all the time began to affect him adversely. Definitely in need of a paid vacation.

    3. Those must’ve been some carrots!

  11. This will reduce overhead and guide the police to tomorrow’s pet killings today!

    1. Why not just pull the pet registrations from town hall?

  12. “Fresno Police Chief) Jerry Dyer is betting he soon will know what criminals will do before they decide to break the law,”

    A guy stumbles out of a bar that the police are watching. He runs into a couple of people on the way to his car, fumbles with his keys (dropping them at least twice), and somehow manages to get the car started. The police arrest him and haul him down to the station, where he proves to be quite sober.

    His friends, however, get away with several instances of drunk driving.

    1. That sounds like an excellent prank if you see cops staking out a bar and you’re sober.

      Go in, have a coke, then come out doing your best impression of a drunk-ass, er, drunk.

      Naturally, you will want to have your phone recording and uploading everything from that point on.

      1. Looks like a good way to get arrested for POP.

    2. Smells like grant money to me. Set it up as a sociological study about racial profiling differences between perceived inebriates of different races.

  13. But what are libertarians proposing that we do? Anyone can complain about abuses of power, but how will the free market prevent the next terrorist attack–or the next mugging, for that matter?
    Instead of simply criticizing “big” government, libertarians need to offer superior solutions, otherwise they’re just whistling in the dark.
    We need solutions, not snark.

    1. You can cower in the dark and shit your pants if you like. But I plan to go about my business in an orderly fashion.

      Your chances of being killed by a terrorist are about a million times less likely than being killed in a car accident heading to work.

      All, and I mean ALL, of the surveillance systems being put into place to catch terrorists are bullshit.

    2. “…how will the free market prevent the next terrorist attack–or the next mugging, for that matter?”

      It won’t. But then again, neither will the security theater being peddled by the government.

      Brett, the sad fact is that there is no way, short of literally implementing an actual 1984 camera-in-every-household scheme, to stop either the next terrorist attack or the next mugging. And frankly, that wouldn’t even do it.

      Consider the most damning factoid about another protection scheme, the so-called war on drugs: Drugs are readily available in the most secure environments we can actually create, i.e. prisons. If we can’t keep them out of there, should we then redouble our efforts to make the rest of the country even more intrusive than prisons? Of course not. At that point we’d be wise to reconsider our entire approach.

      Similarly, we need to realize that given a determined, secretive, intelligent and courageous criminal, there is literally no way we can discover what they’re up to and stop it in time. Think Ted Kozinsky. Lived in a cabin in the woods. Made his own rivets! The only way he got busted was by being stupid enough to publish an easily-recognizable manifesto.

      So libertarians, realizing the futility of sacrificing liberty for “security”, are not on board with even more intrusive, freedom-destroying security theater.

    3. how will the free market prevent the next terrorist attack–or the next mugging, for that matter?

      Who said that it would?

      Want to prevent the next terrorist attack? I don’t think it can be done. You can’t prevent crazy people from doing crazy things. You can only react. Though it might help if our government quit meddling in the affairs of people in other countries. That tends to piss them off.

      As far as the next mugging goes, again you can’t prevent crime. You can allow people to arm themselves though. Muggers like helpless victims, not armed citizens. Then get the cops concentrate on actual crime, like muggings, instead of going after consensual activities like sex and drugs. Then they might be better equipped to respond to actual crimes that have like actual victims and stuff.

      1. Which is it: “I don’t think it can be done” or “it might help if our government quit meddling in the affairs of people in other countries”? I think it’s the latter. That said, we can’t be totally isolationist; we live in this world and we have to deal with it (please don’t take that to mean something it doesn’t?I only have a 1500-word max here, so I can’t get too philosophical).
        RE: “you can’t prevent crime”. If that were true, why have police, courts, and prisons at all? Are you saying that putting a criminal in prison doesn’t restrict her from committing crimes against innocent persons?
        I see by ur last paragraph that we agree on a lot (i.e., consensual activities).
        But I maintain that we can prevent crime by properly identifying and properly incarcerating criminals (terrorists included, of course).

        1. Which is it: “I don’t think it can be done” or “it might help if our government quit meddling in the affairs of people in other countries”?

          Both. By both I mean I don’t think there’s anything proactive that the government can do, which is different than saying there are things the government should stop doing.

          I maintain that we can prevent crime by properly identifying and properly incarcerating criminals (terrorists included, of course).

          Again, I think you’re missing the distinction between proactive and reactive.

          The crime that you say government is preventing is an incidental effect of reacting to crime, not proactive action to prevent it from occurring in the first place.

          1. Incidental or not, it is real. “Incidental” is not the word I would use.
            I don’t think the gov can be successfully proactive concerning crime, even if they were to violate rights (and they shouldn’t do that). So I think we have to stick with the reactive. But we can expect the reactive (when done properly) to be a serious deterrent to future crime.
            Of course, we would still want to get rid of the welfare state and the drug war and interventionism abroad as those things promote crime/terrorism. I think changing those bad policies (with an eye towards improving security) would be proactive… esp. as far as activists/citizens trying to change those policies.

            1. So bring back the stocks and pillory. Pierce the ears of rapists, and cut the nostril of a murderer. Public display, humiliation, and advertising will do far more as a deterrent then 5 years with HBO and a gym.

              1. Between the unacceptable barbarism of the pillory and the objectionable coddling of HBO access there is a balance to be sought.

            2. I don’t think the gov can be successfully proactive concerning crime

              Then what in the actual fuck is your argument? Because you started out down this rabbit hole with the following statement:

              …how will the free market prevent the next terrorist attack–or the next mugging, for that matter?

              If you don’t believe proactive approaches are appropriate or can be successful, then what are you suggesting the free market, or the government for that matter, do? Jail the criminals that they catch? Well golly fucking gee, what a novel concept. Now all you have to do is invent someone who was theoretically arguing against jailing people AFTER they’ve been caught committing crimes and you’ve got yourself a point.

              1. Ending the welfare state, the war on drugs, and interventionism abroad are the main things I would advocate to reduce crime/terrorism. But the main topic was street surveillance, which isn’t a favorite thing of mine. That said, I don’t think it’s an infringement on the Bill of Rights and I can see the possible value in identifying violent criminals. I agree with the concerns raised about wrongly using surveillance footage; its use should be limited to identifying violent criminals and, for example, reckless driving.

        2. If you want to continue this I’ll check back around 5PM EST. Gotta go.

    4. kinnath: Let’s stop the vulgarity; it’s unsavory and unwelcome.
      Now, even if it’s unlikely any individual will be killed by a terrorist, we can’t throw up our hands and say “to heck with it, I’m just gonna go about my business.” That’s irresponsible; we have a duty to protect society.
      How can you maintain that “ALL, of the surveillance systems being put into place to catch terrorists are bull****.”? No one could know that for sure. Mind you, I’m not saying the current system is perfect (it needs some tweaking), but as long as individual rights are not violated, the gov has to do what it can to keep America safe.
      DEATFBIRSECIA: admitting the free market cannot suppress terrorism does not help the libertarian cause; u need a better response–can you imagine Gary Johnson saying that at a press conference after the Boston Bombing?
      Now, I’m certainly not for “implementing an actual 1984 camera-in-every-household scheme” or “freedom-destroying security theater”; all that’s beyond the pale. But why not have cameras in public places (streets, parks, etc.) so that, if a crime occurs, we can more likely apprehend the suspects? Cameras in public don’t violate rights–otherwise the paparazzi would be outlawed. And every time we do catch a criminal, we deter other offenders.
      Ted Kozinsky might have been caught sooner if we’d had more cameras in public places, as he hand-delivered some of his bombs.
      As far as keeping drugs out of prison, I don’t see the connection to the issue at hand…

      1. kinnath: Let’s stop the vulgarity; it’s unsavory and unwelcome.

        Sorry, I have no patience left for this discussion. If you want to come to this forum years after these details have been hashed out, you need to have a thicker skin.

        How can you maintain that “ALL, of the surveillance systems being put into place to catch terrorists are bull****.”? No one could know that for sure.

        I am an engineer working on safety critical systems. I am an expert in risk management. I can assure you with a very high degree of confidence that all actions taken past the strengthening of cockpit doors are security theater and cause more harm than good.

        They are rife with crony capitalism. They are fundamentally nothing more than payoffs to the politically connected. They are bullshit.

        And most importantly, they have routinely avoided fixing known, real security threats, because they are all behind the scenes and no one would see that they get fixed or are ignored.

        1. Again, what about apprehending criminals as a means to prevent crime? What about public cameras (on public property only; only viewing public property) used after the fact to identify criminals?
          I’m all for “strengthening of cockpit doors” but there are caveats to that as well (as in who will pay for it).
          Please supply some links to support your charge that the security industry is “rife with crony capitalism” and constitutes “nothing more than payoffs to the politically connected”. That’s a serious accusation and needs to be supported.
          As far as having a thin skin: it’s not that at all; I simply dislike vulgarity. This whole site is flush with it–esp. the comments. Where are the polite, courteous libertarians?

          1. Again, what about apprehending criminals as a means to prevent crime?

            The justice system is supposed to be a process control solution that punishes people that do bad things to discourage other people from doing bad things. I suppose that is prevention.

            Surveilling and detaining people before actually they do bad things is totally unacceptable.

            I’m all for “strengthening of cockpit doors” but there are caveats to that as well (as in who will pay for it).

            Already done, and you paid for it through the government subsidizing the airlines that had to comply with post-911 regulations.

            That’s a serious accusation and needs to be supported

            Way beyond the scope of a internet discussion board.

            I simply dislike vulgarity.

            Too fucking bad.

            Where are the polite, courteous libertarians?

            Not here. Cause we are forever plagued by dumb-fuck trolls that come here to cause misery instead of having an honest discussion.

          2. So back to your original question: “What is the libertarian solution to security?”

            The libertarian solution is people being responsible for themselves.

            People need to do what they think they need to do to be safe and stop begging for the government to take care of them. That includes people carrying firearms where ever they want to carry them (while respecting the property rights of other people) if they feel they need to carry them.

            The government needs to strip out 80% of the laws that it uses to throw people in jails for non-violent behavior and focus on actually arresting, trying, convicting, and incarcerating people after they commit real violent crimes.

            Pretty much everything government has done since 911 has been wrong in the eyes of a libertarian.

            1. Not here to cause misery; just trying to see what others think about the issue.
              Don’t agree with the government subsidizing airlines; they can pay for their own cockpit doors; I paid for my own car doors.
              Agreed that “detaining people before they actually do bad things is totally unacceptable”.
              Surveillance “from video-cameras, stationed throughout the city” was the main thing I was thinking about from the original article. If the cameras are looking at public areas, I think it’s not inherently a rights violation. If the video is used to identify violence that is acceptable; tracking movement of law-abiding citizens is not acceptable. That the data could be used illegitimately is a serious concern; there should be legal safeguards.
              Agreed on the “80%” comment and the “since 911” comment.
              Sorry you could not provide some links on the prevalence of security industry crony capitalism.

      2. Unless you’re talking about the massive surveillance state that represents ever bad cop’s wet dream.

        This is actually far worse than just bullshit.

      3. as long as individual rights are not violated, the gov has to do what it can to keep America safe.

        Individual rights ARE being violated.

        Cameras in public don’t violate rights–otherwise the paparazzi would be outlawed.

        Right, private parties taking photos of specific people or things on public property is totally the same as the government photographing every person in public, databasing them, and matching them up to public records.

        Fuck off, concern troll.

        1. Don’t agree with “databasing them, and matching them up to public records.” There should be safeguards against that.
          Basically, I’m willing to give a little to Ds and Rs with (what I feel are legitimate) security concerns about violent crime and terrorism; I can accept the public cameras as a law enforcement tool regarding those concerns.
          But I realize that if you give an inch they try to take a mile (i.e., they want to then use the footage to snoop on law-abiding citizens, make arrests for consensual activities, etc.). If they want to go there, then I’m for putting the kibosh on the cameras completely.

  14. my buddy’s sister-in-law makes $75 every hour on the computer. She has been unemployed for five months but last month her paycheck was $20817 just working on the computer for a few hours. Full Report————–

    1. Bullshit. I saw that bitch working the pole down at Lovely’s Ladies. You guys need to have a talk.

  15. Kind of reminds me of this blog I wrote just after the Boston Bombing:…..s-freedom/

  16. Is the product all going to be like that wacky Fusion Center product, the map of disparate occurrences that reminded me of a layout from a game of Illuminati? Fuel spill in a basement in Keokuck, abortion protests in Flin Flon, tornadoes in Illinois, fast food restaurants attack to control gambling casinos with power transferred from UFOs…it all adds up to ZOMBIES ARE COMING!!!

  17. …the chief said, “you can logically predict where crimes are likely to occur the next day.”

    In Fresno, that’s a pretty easy question. The answer is: in Fresno.

  18. Sure, they are going to keep data to prevent crimes, but how does that translate to domestic issues where victims are told “we have to catch them in the act” before arresting?

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  21. I have just had a sort of insight, I think. While left wing media and a public education system that indoctrinates the young in socialist thinking are problems, I wonder if Americans’ seeming lack of outrage over government overreach includes another factor.
    The idea of American Exceptionalism is so ingrained in our world view that people actually do believe that “it can’t happen here”. Simply because we’re America, things that would be worrisome elsewhere are deemed of little concern, because we’re the good guys.

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