For whatever reason, this has not been shared on any of the blogs I frequent despite it being instructive on the future of the surveillance state.
The Wall Street Journal notes the gobsmacking ineffectiveness of our efforts to stop terrorism:
Per life saved, the Food and Drug Administration maintains society should be prepared to spend $7.9 million. The Environmental Protection Agency has its own figure: $9.1 million.
The Homeland Security Department has shied away from any such discipline, though it once suggested that a life saved from terrorism was worth twice as much as any other life, bizarrely based on the public’s exaggerated dread of terrorism. Even so, the Federal Air Marshal Service has been estimated to cost $180 million per life saved. Airport security—don’t ask. One British study estimated that security efforts would have to stop 30 attacks per year on the scale of the 2005 London transit bombing to justify Britain’s spending under normal metrics.
Rather than concluding, however, that maybe we should spend somewhat less on things that don’t work…
Maybe the best outcome, then, would be to take metadata surveillance away from the spooks and apply it more broadly and openly to regular law enforcement.
Absent an improbable Bernanke-sized bailout of civil libertarians by Scalia and his newfound friends, this seems to me that it will eventually be the winning argument.
Pew says that 56% of Americans found acceptable the “NSA getting secret court orders to track calls of millions of Americans to investigate terrorism.” This was somewhat unsurprising because asking some one whether something should be done to “investigate terrorism” is basically like asking whether or not they hate America.
This same public would surely support proactive surveillance to “identify sex offenders” or “identify school shooters”. (There’s no need to include the word “potential” in either of those…unless you’re a sex-offender defender.) Do you think it would be considered inappropriate to troll through the database if it might assist with an AMBER alert?
Whether you support this development or not is immaterial because it is going to happen. If you still doubt this, consider that Julian Sanchez of Cato concedes that even the most sweeping of surveillance measures are probably legal under the Supreme Court’s current interpretations of the Fourth Amendment. Sanchez alludes to the need for a new constitutional amendment, which tells you just how lost a cause it is. Godspeed, Cato. [EDIT: OK, not really. See Sanchez’s piece and the edit below.]
For those of us who accept the constraints of reality, however, we can work on adjusting to our rapidly approaching futures. Here is my humble starter suggestion: a digital mirror.
The government and corporations have tools to help understand everything we do. Google and the government know every search I’ve made using it and how it compares to other users, but I don’t. Costco and Amazon know everything I buy (to the point of being able to contact me about product recalls), but I don’t. The government has apparently been tracking our credit card purchases, something I wish I could get some more help with.
A functioning digital mirror would consolidate whatever data you give it, process it into some intelligible points about what you might look like to an outsider based on that data, and tell you those points and how they compare to other users. Have your Facebook posts been particularly serial-killer-ish lately? Check your digital mirror to find out!
That’s all I have so far. Can you detail how such a service would work and what insights it could provide to a customer? Can you think of other tools that might be useful?
EDIT: Julian Sanchez notes in the comments that he makes no mention of the need for a constitutional amendment. Well, this is awkward. The parts of his piece that made me leap to the need for an amendment was that “When you used technology that left traces of your activity in the phone company’s files, the court reasoned, you ‘assumed the risk’ that the company would reveal that information — even if they had explicitly promised not to — and waived your ‘reasonable expectation of privacy’ under the Fourth Amendment.” He later notes that presently “a vast array of private information that would previously have required a physical search — and therefore a search warrant — to obtain is now available under a far lower standard.” This is the current protection offered by the Fourth Amendment, which suggested to me the need for another amendment if one really expected to protect data held by companies as opposed to just physical property.