A Quiet, Unseen—and Thoroughly Disturbing—#6

Sunni's picture

A Cryptohippie friend brought to my attention their recent report on the electronic police state. Quite intriguing, it is.

The report [PDF] is refreshingly succinct, and I don’t want to give a lot away because it is worth downloading and reading; however, a very important point is made at the beginning that I will use to help entice others to read it (emphasis theirs, but some formatting of emphasis changed):

The usual image of a “police state” includes secret police dragging people out of their homes at night, with scenes out of Nazi Germany or Stalin’s USSR. The problem with these images is that they are horribly outdated. That’s how things worked during your grandfather’s war – that is not how things work now.

An electronic police state is quiet, even unseen. All of its legal actions are supported by
abundant evidence. It looks pristine.

An electronic police state is characterized by this:

State use of electronic technologies to record, organize, search
and distribute forensic evidence against its citizens.

The two crucial facts about the information gathered under an electronic police state are
   1. It is criminal evidence, ready for use in a trial.
   2. It is gathered universally and silently, and only later organized for use in prosecutions.

The USSA comes in at #6 in their analysis—a dismal but not surprising showing given how the “war’n terra” rolled over many individuals who had previously been skeptical of government intrusion into everyday activities. And perhaps it’s because the corporate–state merging isn’t as advanced in other countries that the Cryptohippies didn’t address that specific element of the scene. For me, that’s the most alarming element in our society.

All of us should know that virtually no banking transaction is private any longer in this country; and the IRS has been hard at work lately to extend that policy throughout the globe. But what of your purchases of alcohol, tobacco, or even “junk” food? If you use a supermarket “loyalty card”, those purchases are recorded and stored, and could be used against you ... say, if you were in a nasty custody battle as part of a divorce. How long until someone who buys a lot of blank CDs or DVDs gets reported to the RIAA and MPAA, those bastions of luddite information protectionism?

Actually, no sound reason may be needed to target someone: if a person in power has a vendetta against one, enough digging through this electronic mountain of data will provide something to justify the persecution. After all, given all the contradictory laws we are supposed to obey, we’re all guilty of something. It has become frighteningly easy for the state’s agents to discover what, and to come after us.

For those interested in digging into the issue a little deeper, Cryptohippie made their original data available too. What they’ve undertaken is difficult, but very important work; it would be great if interested others could help expand and improve this annual report.

Valuable, but....

I have some issues. First of all the "original data" is a spread sheet with numerical values assigned to the seventeen categories they look at. How the numerical value was arrived at, and the data that was used to derive that value does not seem to be available. At least I could not find it. For example, Argentina gets a 1 in Gag Orders and the US gets a 4. Why? Additionally, they rank 52 countries but the spread sheet only lists 47.

And then some things about the ranking just do not feel right. For example North Korea. To be an Electronic Police state, as opposed to a traditional one, requires

State use of electronic technologies to record, organize, search and distribute forensic evidence against its citizens.

Everything I have read about North Korea indicates that they do not rely on technology. Instead they are very old fashion. North Korean subjects do not have email, or any type of net access. For the most part they do not have bank accounts, even fewer have credit cards. Instead, the police just break down their door and haul them away to labor camps, often without trial. If there is a trail, the "evidence" is the standard old fashion kind. Also, as high tech as their atomic weapons program may be, the state in general is very backwards. So North Korea does not fit the definition of an Electronic Police State. Unless I am missing something.

There are a couple of other issues as well, but the work is valuable. I hope that the 2009 report will include the raw data and a description of the methodology, including the weights assigned to each category.

Thanks for digging.

I didn’t look at the original data, Jorge, so I appreciate you filling in the blanks on it. I think the plan is for it to become an annual project—but as is stated in the report, gathering some of the information necessary to rank states is challenging. Wish I had the time to get involved in a project like this ... sometimes I miss sifting through data a lot.

Anyway, when I thanked my friend I passed along the URL for this post, so I hope the Cryptohippies read and heed your helpful comments.


A different example is the use of 'black box' type recorders in many mainstream cars that collect data on speeds attained and acceleration etc, and which can be (in Aus, HAS been) used as evidence to convict of traffic violations etc at a later date.

The Q here is not whether it is right or wrong to speed, but the fact that none of the car companies are upfront at point of sale about this monitoring (and, in news clippings here in Aus recently, some would not comment at all on whether their products did it or not...)

Mallcity 14 comes another step closer.

Probably the same here.

I don’t recall the last time they were examined/questioned by the media up here. But that gives me yet another reason to take good care of my old car.