Bleeding the 4th


If I asked you what the 4th amendment of the constitution was, could you tell me without looking it up? More importantly, do you understand what rights are guaranteed to you by it?

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

No doubt you know you're protected from unreasonable searches and seizures, and that warrents are generally required for searches of your home. But are you aware that it is the 4th amendment that is invoked in defending your right not to be spied on? Justice Louis D. Brandeis sums up the 4th amendment well as “the right to be let alone”. And this right is a cornerstone that supports the 1st amendment's right of free speech. Unfortunately, privacy is often the lamb on the alter of national security.

Conservative MP William Hague on privacy
If you have nothing to hide, you've nothing to fear

Sadly, this is not restricted to England:

Google CEO Eric Schmidt on Privacy
If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place

While the United States lauds itself as The Land of the Free, the continued violations of the rights of its citizens is disturbingly prevalent on even a cursory glance through its history. From the 17,000 pages of material the FBI kept on Martin Luther King Jr, to the funneling of millions of american's telephone calls by the NSA, not a single decade passes without an Orwellian nightmare taking place. The worst part of this continued bleeding of the 4th amendment is that many watch it take place, but do nothing. There is no guide in place which chronicles a list of such wounds, but taking stock of a few paints a grim picture of the patient.

In January 18th 2016s New England edition of the New York Times, an article titled Disruption By Netflix Irks TV Foes ran. While the piece itself is only reporting on Network Television's begging of Netflix to release ratings, an interesting paragraph caught my eye when I was reading it:

The battle over ratings began when Alan Wurtzel, NBC Universal’s head of research, said on Wednesday that he was confronting the “800-pound gorilla” and gave the news media what he described as a “Netflix reality check.” Ratings, particularly among 18- to 49-year-olds, dictate how much money cable and broadcast networks make from advertisers. Mr. Wurtzel provided data from a firm named Symphony Advanced Media, which uses audio content recognition installed on phones to recognize what is being watched and when. According to Symphony’s data, the Netflix show “Jessica Jones” was viewed by 4.8 million people within the first 35 days of its premiere in the 18- to 49-year-old bracket important to advertisers. In that demographic, Mr. Wurtzel said that, according to Symphony’s data, “Master of None” had 3.9 million viewers, “Narcos” had 3.2 million and Amazon’s “The Man in the High Castle” had 2.1 million viewers.

(Emphasis mine)

While Wurtzel may want to give Netflix a “reality check.” I'd prefer to look into what Symphony Advanced Media is and does. Monitoring through a device is (sadly) nothing new. According to their website, their product passively collects behavior patterns across media and in real time. Their results page boasts about user's twitter usage in relation to their television viewing. No matter how anonymous the data they collect from you is, it is an admitted fact that this company is actively monitoring what you are doing, in your home, and using it to provide information to advertisers on how best to sell you something. At what point does listening in on what you watch, and on what you do while you're watching cross the line for the average citizen? Does a private company doing such things violate your rights? What about the rights of another company? If Twitter's privacy policy states that they do not disclose your private personal information, and they only share information with their own 3rd party services. Then where does Symphony's monitoring of your phone fall in legaly?

Putting aside inter-company legality, the sheer scope of advertisement's disgusting crusade for behavioral analysis is insane. You might say that this is just paranoia. After all the goal, as with NBC and Symphony, is to make money. And there's no harm in some research to sell you something right? In a long article about the lengths companies go to to figure out how to sell you things, a curious thing happened. Target knew a man's daughter was pregnant before he did:

About a year after Pole created his pregnancy-prediction model, a man walked into a Target outside Minneapolis and demanded to see the manager. He was clutching coupons that had been sent to his daughter, and he was angry, according to an employee who participated in the conversation.
“My daughter got this in the mail!” he said. “She’s still in high school, and you’re sending her coupons for baby clothes and cribs? Are you trying to encourage her to get pregnant?”
The manager didn’t have any idea what the man was talking about. He looked at the mailer. Sure enough, it was addressed to the man’s daughter and contained advertisements for maternity clothing, nursery furniture and pictures of smiling infants. The manager apologized and then called a few days later to apologize again.
On the phone, though, the father was somewhat abashed. “I had a talk with my daughter,” he said. “It turns out there’s been some activities in my house I haven’t been completely aware of. She’s due in August. I owe you an apology.”
When I approached Target to discuss Pole’s work, its representatives declined to speak with me.

If the daughter did not want her father to know about her pregnancy, regardless of whether you personally see it as right or wrong, she does have a constitional right to do so. In their scheming for riches and analyzing of data points, the researchers at target forgot one simple thing. Humans are not just numbers in a machine. To treat them as such and to create targeted advertisements towards their demographics not only dehumanizes them, but converts their worth as a person into nothing more than a possible addition to a company's bottom line. While this may not be the intention of researchers such as Andrew Pole, it is the undeniably effect. And this is not a singular incident.

Trying to hide your pregnancy from data collection is nearly impossible, Janet Vertesi tried, and did fairly well. But she found it extremely difficult, and had to actively police her family to not spill the beans. She had to use tor to browse baby-related sites, and go through a ridiculous number of hoops to just buy things on amazon for her upcoming child. While this was a self-imposed experiment, perhaps one of the most important point she makes is in her talk:

Those kinds of activities, when you take them in the aggregate ... are exactly the kinds of things that tag you as likely engaging in criminal activity, as opposed to just having a baby,"

The presumption of innocence is the backbone of the judiciary system. While fraud detection is a useful thing, too much of a good thing is well known to be unhealthy. In the same way that Vertesi's actions make her appear like a criminal, it is the unfortunate reality that there are systems being tested which use everything they can get about you to determine your “threat score”. Sadly, I'm not making this up:

As officers respond to calls, Beware automatically runs the address. The searches return the names of residents and scans them against a range of publicly available data to generate a color-coded threat level for each person or address: green, yellow or red.

And this is only a single program among others that attempts to determine what class of citizen you fall into. There are plenty more:

The cameras were only one tool at the ready. Officers could trawl a private database that has recorded more than 2 billion scans of vehicle licenses plates and locations nationwide. If gunshots were fired, a system called ShotSpotter could triangulate the location using microphones strung around the city. Another program, called Media Sonar, crawled social media looking for illicit activity. Police used it to monitor individuals, threats to schools and hashtags related to gangs.

And the scan can be ran on any one, at any time, and the results can be affected by things that you never did:

Councilman Clinton J. Olivier, a libertarian-leaning Republican, said Beware was like something out of a dystopian science fiction novel and asked Dyer a simple question: “Could you run my threat level now?”
Dyer agreed. The scan returned Olivier as a green, but his home came back as a yellow, possibly because of someone who previously lived at his address, a police official said.
“Even though it’s not me that’s the yellow guy, your officers are going to treat whoever comes out of that house in his boxer shorts as the yellow guy,” Olivier said. “That may not be fair to me.”

While it's great that equality of treatment in surveillance is alive and good. It really doesn't help anyone that this gross violation of rights is taking place. And as Olivier said, it really does sound like something out of a dystopian novel. But at this point, you may be wondering why I'm talking about both government programs that violate the 4th & 5th amendments and advertisements?

It's simple, the Government wants to combine with tech to increase surveillance. Why? As I stated before, National Security is the chopping block on which rights are maimed. The worst part is not that it's encouraged to have the police monitor your threat level, but also your friends:

One area of discussion was over how a system used by Facebook to deal with users at risk of suicide could serve as a model for identifying terrorist sympathizers.
The social network’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, walked government officials through how Facebook currently enables users to flag people who appear to be posting suicidal thoughts, a person familiar with the conversation said. The government officials in the room wondered if such a system could be used to flag terrorist content or detect a user who appears to be radicalizing, added the person, declining to be quoted on the record.

The road to hell is paved by good intentions, and enabling users to flag each other as bad citizens is a terrible idea. This gamification of conformity is extremely similar to something China has started doing. While it may not be your credit score being affected by your opinions it's still a bad idea. If you don't understand why, it may help to understand how propaganda games effect citizens:

Political opression through gamification in China

In the book 1984, children are taught from a young age to rat out their parents if they have any instances of wrongthink. And in the social experiment The Third Wave students easily fell into lockstep to garner favor with an authoritatian leader. If you don't understand the very short step from flagging possible terrorists, to flagging people who don't obey, to the loss of civil rights for dissidents who oppose an injust system, then you need to read a book about the National Socialist party in Germany during World War Two and leading up to it, and then also watch The Wave to understand how the same thing can happen in the US:

The Wave

Monitoring social media to determine if someone is going to commit a crime is an idea taken directly from Minority Report, or the anime Pyscho Pass. And just as in those works, it is a terrible idea.

“It’s a very fine line to get that information,” said Andre McGregor, a former FBI terrorism investigator and now director of security at Tanium Inc, a Silicon Valley security company. “You’re essentially trying to take what is in someone’s head and determine whether or not there’s going to be some violent physical reaction associated with it.”

To throw away the presumption of innocence and use prediction models will not lead to a safer state, it will lead to one who's judiciary system has lost it's back bone and that can no longer guarantee the freedom it purports to protect. These systems do one thing, throw the baby out with the bathwater:

America’s most senior spy, director of national intelligence James Clapper.
“We are interested in exploring all options with you for how to deal with the growing threat of terrorists and other malicious actors using technology, including encrypted technology,” the briefing document said. “Are there technologies that could make it harder for terrorists to use the internet to mobilize, facilitate, and operationalize?”

Who decides what groups should be shut down? Who decides which people are considered terrorists? If an activist group wishes to protest, fully within their 1st amendment rights, then at what point does the government decide to “make it harder … to mobilize, facilitate, and operationalize”? If a group wished to denounce or protest a war would you really want the power to silence them being put into the hands of those who they are criticizing?

The United States of America was born out of a war for freedom from Great Britain. If not for the ability to anonymously publish the pamphlet Common Sense the country may not exist today. Such a pamphlet, if neccesary today, would be hard pressed to be published without leaving a trace to sellers, advertisers, or other big data agencies, and by extension, the government which it might be written against. Bleeding the 4th amendment dry, does nothing but weaken the rights of the people, and therefore the nation. That it is done under the pretense of protecting the country is hypocrisy of the highest order. Perhaps the simplest rational for why the 4th amendment is important was said by Edward Snowden:

Edward Snowden on Collective Rights and Privacy

Arguing that you don't care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don't care about free speech because you have nothing to say

I have written about this before, and if you're interested in learning more I suggest you read The Right To Privacy by Ellen Alderman and Caroline Kennedy.

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