Tuesday, September 7, 2010


I have felt for a while that the concentrated powers of high tech get a free pass from scrutiny. The reason why it's relevant to this blog is that false positives and false negatives are the kinds of things you can get away with when no one is holding your feet to the fire. I have a cluster of thoughts that I don't see being expressed anywhere - it's very possible I'm mistaken, but it's something that I think is on the horizon. Recent terror incidents in the U.S. suggest that the types of things that would need to be considered fair game in order to prevent/preempt them are changing. It becomes more of a psychological question, when this notion (either accurate or cynically trumped up) of "homegrown" terror gains credence. And when it becomes more of a psychological question, it becomes OK to ask questions about people's thoughts and ideas even on a quiet day. Supposedly, the ends would justify the means. (And as always, I have room in my conception of how things work for all four quadrants of the FP/TP/FN/TN grid. I'm interested in good police work by good police, and accurate and fair apprehension of true-positive criminals before they are able to commit any human-rights violations. The thing I don't know about is harm to innocents in the course of the authority figure's job, either accidental or deliberate.)

When it becomes OK to ask these questions, it becomes important to talk to people where they are. And where they are is tech. Where they are is their devices, smartphones, PDAs, computers. Therefore, it seems to me that the big concentrated powers of high technology are very likely to be comandeered, semi-nationalized, or enlisted for help in the "war." The NSA asked for help from AT&T and other telcos because they needed to be where the foot traffic is. It seems like a no-brainer to me. So the place where I feel at odds with a lot of people is that this premise colors how I feel about Apple, Adobe, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, Motorola maybe, Google, the Blackberry people, and whoever else, Amazon. I am suspicious of them and I am suspicious of the role of coolness, cachet and status in letting them off the hook from a skeptical eye.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Obama Administration Sued over Plan to Assassinate US Citizens


New addition to the topic that got me writing this blog in the first place. I suppose a moderate would say "you should read between the lines, it's in their interest to do it as modestly as possible. If they say they don't target people for free speech but for doing things with language and communication that demonstrably lead to attacks, the program should be analyzed in that light - it's not a cover for killing just anyone if they say it isn't."

It doesn't matter. The false positives are the point: accidents, mistakes and scapegoating, either now or by a future administration.

What about the rather level-headed and calm rebuttal that if the powers are used unfairly, the outcry will force them to back down? It makes every person a canary in a coalmine. And there is a quality here that needs to be identified and labelled: unfolding over time. Paul Jay's interviews have been talking about this phenomenon, where Toronto police detained people outside the G20 meeting and charge them, and later the charges were dropped. It unfolds over time. It is like a Trojan Horse. When the arrest is happening, the police are entitled to belittle the person and abuse them - or act as though they are - because they are contextualizing the person as a suspect. They might do this disingenuously with no intention of pursuing the charges. What you're left with is a few days of treatment that is supposed to be prohibited. That particular case is a Canadian story because it's the Charter that it would be violating. The one-two punch is a thing unto itself, and should be encapsulated with both episodes together, with a rubber band around them.

The analogy here that goes back to the U.S. government basically relates to this idea of a bleeding edge of controversial, alarming assertions. Of disingenuously "floating a trial balloon" to see what will happen. The point is that the person/people caught up in the implementation of controversial programs ARE the story. And replies of "we ended it, what more do you want!" is not enough, and is phony in itself. We ended rendition, we ended torture. It's not enough only to look at one time slice at a time. The point is what effect does it have upon the whole phenomenon of trying something out that will probably not last more than a couple of years? And how many peoples' lives are being disrupted in ones or tens or hundreds by something where the refrain will later be, "We stopped it! The people have spoken, what more do you want?"