Friday, July 07, 2006


It certainly is fascinating information for all concerned citizens to ponder. The linked articles don't deal with it, but I believe I have read that some of the sellers of widely used social software are also in the data mining business. I believe I am accurate in recalling that Greg Palast has written of Choice Data Point's connections with one or more of the social software providers.Obviously, people should be careful of what they write online. Email and internet postings might as well be written in stone and protected by a phalanx of armed guards; they are extremely hard to get rid of. Even psuedononymous postings might well be cracked and somehow indexed under a person's name.For the vast majority of people the vast majority of the time, being the subject of a large database file will have no effect. But if some one somehow gets in the way of somebody who has access to this database, one can expect a lot of derogatory information to come piling out.It is not generally known that Martin Luther King was one of the major figures in the history of American copyright law. This happened when private concerns started making a lot of money selling King's speeches. King's lawyers, seeking a source of income to support King while he advanced his civil rights activities, argued that King's speeches were only in the public domain for the specific audience that was present to hear them. For everyone else, they were King's private property, and they had to pay royalties to use them. The U.S. Supreme Court bought this argument, and it revolutionized American copyright law.Similarly, it can be argued that information is only in the public domain for the purpose in which it was generated, and not for permanent database collection. I would hope the Supreme Court would buy this argument, and I would love to work on a case like this as an attorney, either representing clients, or more likely due to an extremely demanding schedule, as the writer of an amicus brief.A country in which intimate personal knowledge about hundreds of millions of people is in data bases to be employed at will against the interests of any of those hundreds of millions of people at the whim of the data base ower or whoever contracts with the data base owner is not a free country. I am introducing shortly a bill seeking to guarantee privacy of cell phone records, and it is obvious from this thread that much more has to be done at both state and federal levels to protect our citizens.

June 14, 2006


Seand and ChiefSalsa may well be right that laughter and ridicule is the best defense against intrusive data mining. Just as in the FBI's massive investigations as to who once was a communist, and who associated with one or more people who once were a communinist, and who associated with one or more people who associated with one or more who once were a communist, most of the information that comes out is of mind-numbing triviality and complete insignificance.On the other hand, information about people's relationships can be used to manipulate people. The FBI in the late 1940's found that a communist named Morris Childs was so disillusioned with communism that he had almost completely dropped out of the Communist Party. They recruited him as an agent. With their extensive knowledge of the Communist Party--probably far greater than possessed by any single communist--they plotted a brilliant comeback campaign for Childs which led him to rise to the number two position in the Communist Party based on his uncanny knowldedge of the relationships and opinions of each person who counted in the Communist Party.The FBI then successfully worked to make Childs indispensable to the Communist Party so that he would hold onto his top leadership position. With the FBI's helpful knowledge of the key people in the Soviet hierarchy, he successfully solicited the money to finance the party organization, financing they kept getting until the Soviet Union dissolved. The FBI then widely leaked the information that the Soviet Union was financing the American Communist Party, trying to discredit the Communist Party simultaneously with trying to keep it alive, and keeping Childs as a high-ranking leader of it. Child's autobiography discusses these somewhat contradictory efforts--brilliant and repulsive simultaneously-- in extraordinary detail.Similarly, in their notorious COINTELPRO operation, the FBI sent tapes of alleged Martin Luther King sexual encounters to his wife and friends, and undermined various organizations by feeding false information to close friends of radical leaders they disapproved of. Relationships, organizations, and marriages were destroyed by these kind of tactics.These kind of tactics were employed against Democrats like George McGovern and Ed Muskie in 1971 and 1972, and helped contribute to the Nixon landslide just as Watergate was unfolding. Part of the fascination with the Watergate tapes is hearing Nixon's inquiries, suggestions, and enjoyment with these tactics.These kind of tactics undermine trust between persons and make talking, planning, or outreach far more difficult. They are not what one would expect from high-ranking people in an extraordinarily idealistic nation.

June 15, 2006


The news that records of all phone calls from various telephone companies (including Verizon) have gone into a database is outrageous. It is well worthy of the effort that the ACLU and other organizations are making to dismantle this system of surveillance.When one person calls another, he or she is not doing something for which answers and explanations should normally be provided. Of course, one can come with scenarios of illegal activity which justify surveillance: that is why we have legally authorized wiretapping under certain very limited circumstances. A database of all phone calls made, coupled with databases of health care records, databases of financial records, databases of political activities, databases of books and magazines purchased, databases of internet searches made, etc. are creating a future in which many, many details about people's lives will be available to those who have access to the data bases.If the right to privacy that a majority of the U.S. Supreme Court believes is covered by the U.S. Constitution is to be meaningful, it should cover this kind of absurdly overbroad intrusiveness.A future in which the minutiae of each person's life is publicly available to those with access to the data base is a future in which people will be operating in a state of fear. Thought, social interaction, and access to needed advice and professional help all will be curtailed. This is not the type of country many tens of millions of Americans would want to live in.

May 24, 2006


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