Is Silicon Valley Building the Infrastructure for a Police State?

New AI tools could empower the government to violate our civil liberties.


Silicon Valley firms are building surveillance and profiling tools to help government agents make sense of the massive amount of information available on social media and in publicly accessible data sets. Are they using cutting-edge technologies to keep Americans safe, or laying the groundwork for a police state?

The Palo-Alto based Palantir is one of the biggest so-called threat intelligence firms, and it's primary backer is Peter Thiel, the PayPal founder, Facebook board member, and Trump supporter.

Also an outspoken libertarian, Thiel told Fortune magazine he hopes Palantir's technology will help protect the civil liberties of Americans because, given the massive amounts of Americans' data the government takes in, "if we could help [agents] make sense of data, they could end indiscriminate surveillance."

Thiel believes Palantir's technology will prove crucial in stopping future terrorist attacks. Some insiders credit Palantir for enabling the government to find Osama bin Laden's hideout in 2011.

Edward Hasbrouck of the nonprofit Identity Project says this technology enables the government to violate civil liberties without necessary checks on its power. He compares it to the Berlin Wall. "By building checkpoints—by building the control mechanisms," Hasbrouck says, "we're already putting into place the infrastructure for those who will abuse them in the future."

Paul Scharre, a policy analyst who studies artificial intelligence and defense at the Center for a New American Security, says the public shouldn't fear artificial intelligence tools just because they're new and unfamiliar. "There's no technology that's just inherently good or inherently bad," says Scharre. "It's about how we're using it, and to what ends."

Watch the video above to learn more about artificial intelligence, its application in government, and what precautions we might take to preserve our civil liberties going forward.

Produced by Zach Weissmueller. Camera by Alexis Garcia, Justin Monticello, and Mark McDaniel.

"White Atlantis" by Sergey Cheremisinov is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 License.

"Glow in Space" by Sergey Cheremisinov is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 License.

"The Signals" by Sergey Cheremisinov is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 License.

"Clouds" by Sergey Cheremisinov is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 License.

"Comatose" by Kai Engel is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 License.

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    1. I’m making over $7k a month working part time. I kept hearing other people tell me how much money they can make online so I decided to look into it. Well, it was all true and has totally changed my life.

      This is what I do…

  1. I look forward to seeing how Neanderthals use AI.

  2. If only we can sharpen the teeth and claws of the fox, he can guard the henhouse more effectively!

  3. I opened my first protonmail account today. Free end to end encryption, company headquartered in Switzerland.

    Oh hai NSA!

  4. No, they already built it and it’s in use right now today.

    Next question?

    1. What does your name stand for? Bring Your Own…

      Or is it not an acronym?

      1. Data base?
        Dumb bitch?
        Donuts box?
        Doubting beliefs?
        Don’t bother?

  5. Let’s say for the sake of argument that Silicon Valley is creating the infrastructure for a police state. What are you going to do about it? Silicon Valley has the right to do whatever it wants and you don’t believe the government has the right to stop them.

    1. Why would the government try to stop them if they benefit from it? I’ve never heard a government say, “Wait, please, don’t make me more powerful.”

      Ah, I see, you think government is the collective will of the people. How quaint.

  6. “[I]f we could help [agents] make sense of data, they could end indiscriminate surveillance.”

    I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at that comment. Let’s suppose Congress decides to enable internet surveillance for drug use (now they can monitor all phone calls and instant messaging). . or tomorrow, they decide to go after porn. Good gawd, we are already hearing of teenagers who make the mistake of sexting a picture, to their boyfriends now being rounded up as kiddie pornographers with life long “Pedophile” labels.

    Make sense of the data? He is assuming any level of competency in the federal government. And that is not accounting for corruption and illegal snooping on the level of the Clinton bunch.

    I am starting to perceive the totality of the internet, social media, smart phones, google, etc as evil incarnate.

  7. I can only hope that a libertarian invents the first human-like AI and the NAP will be hardcoded into. Might not be bad if they defended against aggression, too. AI jailbreaks!

  8. The government will just become a more competent snooper. Tech has advanced to the point that keeping track of 325M+ individuals is no longer overwhelming. In fact, it is increasingly easy given today’s processing speeds and virtually limitless digital storage. The apps that combine the data streams from all the various sources have become quite sophisticated. The government’s digital profile of you is a few clicks away and disturbingly accurate. Your income, spending habits, social media contacts, website visits etc. make for a very accurate picture. If that picture interests a government agency, your texts, emails and calls can then be targeted for a more complete picture. Privacy is over. Encryption can protect your communications assuming government doesn’t have a back door, but it can’t stop the digital profiling.

    1. I think you make a good observation in the first part of your comment.

      As to the second part, you and many others give up too easy. You throw up your hands, saying “oh well, the government is snooping and good at it”.

      Pay in cash, refuse to let the government get away with this, and contact your Senators and Congresman.

      Freedom is never free. If it means more effort to pay in cash to avoid the snooping government, so be it.

      1. Ah, yes.
        But how do you get the cash to spend?
        Job = electronic trail
        Govt benefits = electronic trail
        Driver’s license = electronic trail
        Unless you subsistence farm, starting with stolen seed, and only using hand tools, you will leave a trail.
        So hi to your robot overlords.

  9. Always with the blame on corporations.
    I accidentally looked at a history book the other day. Turns out they did pretty good on police states decades ago without any of the modern technology.
    Power hungry politicians will always find a way.
    Welcome to the revolution.

    1. I think that’s a good point. Police state or not is independent of technology. Technology may make it easier (NSA snooping your google searches) but it can also make it harder (PGP encrypting your e-mails).

      So trying to hold up “technology” as a bane or boon is to miss the point, that it’s the people who will make it a police state (or not).

  10. Silicon Valley is basically populated by idiot savants. They have come to the realization that a problem with government surveillance is that they will inadvertently punish innocent people.

    The solution, therefore, is to help build a system that is more accurate, so that only the guilty are caught.

    This of course ignores the question of defining “guilty”.

    1. If you are anything other than extreme left wing, you are guilty.
      If you are male, you are guilty.
      If you are white, you are guilty.
      I fail to see where the question would be in defining guilty.

  11. If the citizens demand the infrastructure, is it really a police state?

    1. Well, Hitler WAS elected, once upon a time – – – – – –
      But yes, Nazi Germany was a police state.

      1. Hitler was infrastructure?

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