Tuesday, June 11, 2013
Anomalies, Prisons, and Geophysics: How Governments Use Data and How to Stop Them
Note: Considering the information that was revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden regarding NSA’s PRISM surveillance program, I thought it would be appropriate to repost the following article I wrote in 2006 (original site, previous site, and updated with relevant videos in 2012). Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill’s video interview with Edward Snowden has been added to the piece.
A common definition of an anomaly is "a deviation from the common rule, type, arrangement, or form." This definition, however, can be simplified by stating that an anomaly is a deviation from specific parameters. The defining characteristic of an anomaly is that it can only exist in a comparative setting, implying that it can only be detected within a certain data set. Once a data set is obtained then parameters can be specified to filter out so called anomalies for evaluation. Depending on the type of data collected, these parameters can be specified to be anything occurring in any combination. If there is no data set, then there are no anomalies.
A prison can be defined as "a place of seeming confinement." It is a place to incarcerate people who have lawfully or unlawfully stepped outside the parameters set in their society. This implies that inmates are anomalies within a community. However, these anomalies, unlike eccentrics and aristocrats, are deemed to be a threat to the establishment or the citizenry. Hence prisons are locations where we hold anomalies that we fear.
Geophysics is "the scientific study of the physical characteristics of the Earth, including its hydrosphere and atmosphere, and of the Earth's relationship to the rest of the universe." Equipment is used to collect and interpret data from our surrounding world and, if required, to locate anomalies within a region. User defined parameters needed to find anomalies are usually inputted into computer programs, which extrapolate data providing a detailed representation of a situation. As long as there is sufficient computer processing speed, good data, and a competent interpreter, anomalies can be flagged. In general, the more data acquired the better the controls of an investigation.
It should also be understood that anyone involved in a geophysical investigation, from the data collector to the interpreter, can create anomalies at will, anywhere at any time, either deliberately or erroneously. It is relatively easy to change certain parameters to obtain the anomalies that are desired. The isolation and/or extermination of any number, such as 2 or -5 or 600, can be achieved by running filters through a data set. In most cases, to compensate for any errors in data collection and to assure that the desired number is isolated, the number will be flanked. For example, to isolate the number 2, any number between 1.5 and 2.4 will be flagged. This will assure that any number that might be confused as a 2, or has the possibility of becoming a 2, will be removed from the community.
In the last few years certain governments around the world have passed laws to legalize the merging and collection of data for their populations. From credit card information, to medical records, to travel destinations and phone calls, it is all being recorded, tabulated and interpreted. Parameters are being set to flag people as anomalies who have stepped outside of specified boundaries. Those deemed to be existing outside of the limits set by the controllers are investigated, and in some cases removed from the community. The interpreters are so confident in their collection and evaluation of the data that they are passing laws to assure that those deemed to be a threat are unable to question their investigation or incarceration. Since most anomalies occur in batches, laws have also been passed to allow the controllers to have the ability to extrapolate information from captured anomalies by any means necessary, including torture. These laws will also protect government and private organizations by granting them immunity from prosecution.
At present the parameters set by those involved in these investigations are narrow enough to allow the general public to feel relatively free. However, as time progresses and fewer anomalies are identified, broader parameters will be used in the analysis of the data to assure that no one will accidentally turn into an anomaly. Anyone associated with or related to an anomaly will find their private and public life scrutinized to convince the investigators that they have not been influenced or misdirected due to their close proximity to an anomaly. Fear of certain anomalies, justified or not, will become a prison for most of these societies and fascism the end result.
It is extremely important for us as a population to fully comprehend the power that this sort of broad data collection gives our governments. Those who control and interpret the data will have the ability to not only remove unwanted people, but also to restrict the movement of the entire populace. For example, it is relatively easy to place a location marker on all credit and bank cards, which when activated, will only allow the cards to be used within a certain area. If governments decide to restrict travel, then all they need to do is activate the location markers to restrict the use of financial activity to within a certain distance of a residence, creating a jail without physical walls. When this scenario is carried out, special permission will need to be obtained for anyone travelling outside of their zone.
There are numerous ways to gain freedom from these organizations whose purpose is to identify, isolate, incarcerate, eliminate, and even exterminate what they deem to be undesirable elements from society. The machine running these filtration programs can be halted if people stop providing governments and corporations with data. Reducing the number of transactions that are automatically fed into the databases will produce gaps and uncertainties in the data set, creating erroneous interpretation. If enough errors are made, a population loses confidence in the controllers and the system should correct itself. Providing these organizations with large quantities of false or distorted data can also reduce the efficiency of their system. Other methods may include the retraining of law enforcement officers, using cash whenever possible, disassociation and/or protection from insecure electronic activity, and private inquiry into the reasons for government acquisition of personal data. It is very important to grasp the concept that if there is no data set, then there are no anomalies.
The best way, however, to stop these entities is to make fundamental changes to the system itself. This requires us to be educated in the methods in which we are controlled, allowing us to understand the problems that exist in the current system so we can avoid its pitfalls. Placement at the highest levels of government of ethical civil servants that are accountable to the people and regard the privacy of individuals as the most important aspect of their duties is an essential starting point. It is crucial that during this transitional period alternative choices for leaders are present to avoid a power vacuum. By decentralizing our government and localizing our communities we can avert chaos during this process.
Link to video, PRISM (surveillance program)
As a collective we must understand that democracy can only exist in a society with an educated populace, and the right for self-governance can only be obtained through knowledge. When a society embraces ignorance and forfeits its right to control its destiny, it has succumbed to apathy and can only deteriorate. In science, the analysis of anomalies contributes to our understanding of the physical world, improving our lives. In contrast, identifying anomalies in our society based on political doctrine has created fear and misunderstanding, restricting our lives. The lack of accountability from our leaders and our indifference to the consequences of their actions is diminishing our civil liberties. But it is not too late, we can prevent this from happening. We still have the ability to reclaim our future if we begin to educate ourselves.
Constitution and Civil liberties in the United States