Beyond the Cusp

April 6, 2014

Are Privacy Rights Even Possible Today?

The United States Constitution stipulates a carefully constructed and balanced governance with opposing interests and powers separated and posed as checks against the usurpation of excessive power over time by any one branch, individual or small group of individuals. Still, the Founding Fathers were challenged by the representatives of the various states and the people to give stated recognition and formalized structure to the protections of the individual from the power and infringement by the government which resulted in the first ten amendments, the Bill of Rights. This set of Amendments placed defined limitations on the government and its related institutions as well as defined unabridged rights awarded the people by an authority which superseded the government and any individual, group, corporation or entity. Initially there were a dozen proposed Amendments which were to constitute the Bill of Rights but only ten survived the ratification process. The first of the two Amendments which were not ratified pertained to the number of representatives and the maximum number of citizens they would be permitted to represent all in a sliding scale that increased the ratio as the number of representatives in the House of Representatives is increased as the total passed each hundred. It is easier to read the proposal than explain, so, it reads, “After the first enumeration required by the first article of the Constitution, there shall be one Representative for every thirty thousand, until the number shall amount to one hundred, after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall be not less than one hundred Representatives, nor less than one Representative for every forty thousand persons, until the number of Representatives shall amount to two hundred; after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall not be less than two hundred Representatives, nor more than one Representative for every fifty thousand persons.” The other rejected Amendment concerned the rate of payment for members of the House of Representatives and read, “No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.”


All that may be interesting but it also has as much relevance to the modern world as do those definitions for the number of citizens each House of Representatives member has in their districts as today that number is in excess of seven hundreds of thousands, not the tens of thousands as was originally thought to be a fair ratio. The idea of personal anonymity and the safeguarding of each person from excessive government intrusion and inspection were considered sacrosanct at the writing and founding of the United States. This was a unique concept whose origins were a recent concept then and now is either a concept that has never been addressed for much of the world and becoming a quaint and dated concept where it originated in the political parlors and by the political philosophers and thinkers leading up to the founding of the United States and the explosion of representative governance in Europe and America. The current debate has taken some twists and turns especially since the revelations introduced into the public conscience through the release of classified information by Edward Snowden about the extent of spying on individual citizens by the United States government. Of course his releases told of what many thought to be excessive intrusions by the NSA and other data gathering government agencies and were perceived as being something relatively new as such unprecedented ability for gathering data, especially electronic data, was thought to be a recently acquired ability for government. The reality is even more frightening than what was revealed by Mr. Snowden as the NSA has been capable of recording virtually every bit of electronic data generated in the United States since somewhere back in the 1970s. This ability has been supplemented and expanded repeatedly going through different names, one of the more memorable being the Echelon System used in the 1980 -90s which also was capable of recording huge amounts of data comparable to the total electronic data output of the United States. It is apparent that the NSA has increased their abilities in, at a minimum, direct correlation to the amount of electronic data capable of being produced by the United States, no small feat. Recent revelation have told of the United States actually recording every e-mail and electronic communication of any one nation in the world in addition to its abilities to monitor the United States electronic output and some have spoken of the ability to record to some extent and level all the electronic communications and generated data of the entire planet. What possibility for privacy remains when measured against such unfathomable abilities?


Those who specialize in knowing the extent and depth of the abilities to gather data on an individual often are quoted, though almost always as an anonymous source, telling of borderline or even absolutely mind-boggling abilities possessed by the government spying and law enforcement agencies. There have been cases claiming they have the ability to listen to a conversation in a closed room from as much as a quarter or half mile distant simply by pointing a specialized laser at a window pane and interpreting the changes in the vibration of the glass molecules as long as the window is not covered by a thick, sound dampening set of curtains. There are claims that they can locate people using thermal imaging through walls of almost any building. Many have heard that the spy satellites optics are capable of reading a newspaper that somebody is reading sitting on a park bench. The Soviet Union demanded that their government employees never carry any classified documents outside of buildings unless they were safely contained in a briefcase. Many of the tactics used in the biggest Hollywood films such as listening in on conversations from a distance utilizing parabolic microphones and other such routine spy thriller capabilities are likely outdated by the time we see them in movies. There was a recent report that some government agency was researching some form of determining through observable and easily collected data who would be most likely to commit crimes, what those crimes would be, whom they would target and when the crime would be committed with some degree of dependable accuracy. What is the obligation of the government if they are capable of predicting future criminal events in preventing any harm resulting from such acts and how close are we to replacing the precogs lying in a pool and seeing events referred to as precrimes as in the movie Minority Report except using instruments, computers and software programs to predict such possibilities. Between the abilities of governments for data collection, computing of metadata, and making accurate predictions and profiling individuals, what possibility does anybody have of escaping with even the slightest shred of privacy intact? And what can be done to prevent governments from misusing such data, and even more important, what limits should be placed on private companies when it comes to sharing personal data and forming profiles on individuals which can and are used in targeted advertising and other such abilities. And even if such limitations were to be incorporated into regulations or criminal codes, how would they even be enforced or even could they be enforced and if enforced, what other problems would result from government attempting to gather the proof of such crimes being committed? It becomes mind-boggling just playing out the ever-expanding web resulting from data collection and manipulation.


The final area that also is providing insights which may be an even bigger threat is in the area of AI, artificial intelligence. Google and Microsoft are working with the United States government and who knows who else to utilize the data they are able to collect using buying patterns and search terminology used when searching the internet and many other data inputs to formulate a program or set of programs that will be able to predict future trends and reason and think in a manner close to that of a human being. They claim such research is being used to better serve the public and to be able to design robots in the future that will be better enabled to interact with people. What threats to our privacy exist as a result of such research and is there any way we can protect ourselves from such intrusions? The result of everything we are experiencing and that are being reported is that there is no longer anything that even resembles the privacy that the Founding Fathers attempted to give the people guarantees would be held sacred by government. That is looking less and less likely with every revelation. Now the United States is implementing a healthcare system which will posit all the healthcare information into the computers of the IRS, Internal Revenue Service, the tax people. How much power will the government have when the IRS has complete records of your healthcare and your financial situation? How will government use such data and will the government now determine the level of healthcare a person will be entitled to be provided conditional on their financial worth to the society as a whole? This could easily enter an area which at its worst could result in some form of euthanasia and a form of means testing to qualify for healthcare treatments at the least. Thinking too long and too hard on the completeness of the government’s ability to gather every iota of personal information on each and every individual, especially realizing that each of us are potentially ourselves, and to utilize this data to predict our future actions and results of everything in our lives such that they can literally know before we ourselves are aware of what tomorrow holds for each of us and use this ability for nefarious purposes which will compromise every shred of our privacy and most know our most intimate thoughts before we even have them, can any government or person be trusted with such knowledge and the power it imparts. Some of the items which were restricted to the areas of futurist political science fiction such as in Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World are now becoming within the grasp of government and companies making these stories warnings of what is coming soon to our worlds and it will make for many horrifying prognostications on what our lives will become. Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely and ultimate power corrupts beyond imagination and what is coming is beyond even that.


Beyond the Cusp


March 17, 2014

Random Thoughts Roundup

Let’s start with the mysterious disappearing Malaysian Boeing 777-200ER flight number 370 which dropped off of radar by turning off the transponder beacon and disappeared leaving no trace, or at least none yet discovered despite a massive search. The debate initially was had the aircraft crashed into the seas or been blown into a million small bits at 35,000 feet. Then the question was about whether or not it had been hijacked and the introduction of two Iranian men who boarded the flight using stolen passports and identifications. Now this story has birthed a plethora of different possible scenarios even to include the theory that the plane was hijacked or diverted with the cooperation of the pilot and co-pilot and taken to some location where it may be utilized in a future terror attack. This would leave two huge questions; who stole it and what are they going to do with the over two-hundred passengers and crew that came along with the purloined aircraft. The theory gaining the most credence here has been that the plane was indeed diverted and taken by some terrorist sponsors with ulterior motives all of which are not necessarily terrorist acts. The fear is the terror sponsors who arranged the theft of a plane full of innocent people had more than the future use of it in some form of terror attack and that entity was Iran. The fact that the plane was initially reported to have turned off its transponder but that its engines had continued to search for a Boeing satellite to which it could download flight engine characteristics for use in reporting any malfunction or necessary maintenance for four hours after the plane dropped from flight leads one to pretty much rule out it having experienced a catastrophic malfunction or been destroyed by a terrorist bombing. The latest reports now claim that the plane had continued to fly for approximately seven hours after it dropped from identifiable view and that it initially took one of two regularly utilized flight trajectories one of which would have taken it over Thailand and the other across India. The flight path that would lead to the Bay of Bengal, then aiming for Iran becomes a logical target and seven hours would have placed the plane likely somewhere in or around southeastern Iran. The Iranians, other than being the world’s leading terror sponsoring nation, likely would love to have a couple of modern Boeing engines for reverse-engineering along with the avionics systems and other advanced guidance, control and possibly even the entertainment systems. Then, the utilization of a modern passenger airliner for delivering possibly an EMP or other nuclear device would enable the Iranians to use virtually any size weapon and not need to engineer a missile deployable miniaturized warhead. With an entire Boeing 777-200ER airliner at their disposal, the Iranians could place virtually anything one could dream up onboard and very likely escape most detection systems simply by assigning it a believable or actual transponder sequence and have the aircraft fly along recognized and heavily trafficked flight paths eventually reaching anywhere on the planet after making at most three fueling stops. Reaching the heartlands of the United States would only require a flight from Iran to Libya for the first refueling stop, then flying on to Venezuela for the second fueling stop, and finally straight north across the heartlands of the United States detonating an EMP device at 35,000 ft. over St. Louis fulfilling one of Iran’s main chants at protests, “Death to America.”


Another hot issue is the Ukraine, the Crimean Peninsula, Russian troops and Russian President Putin, or as we like to refer to him, Vlad the Invader. There have been rumored reports that Russian troops attempted to enter a region that lies just off the northeast coast of Crimea called the Arabat Spit. This reputed encroachment comes on the same day as the vote by the citizens of Crimea as to whether they desire to remain as part of the Ukraine or if they prefer to be returned to Russian rule. There will be many commentators posturing and posing questions and scenarios no matter what the reported outcome of the vote. What I may think the citizens of the Crimea should decide is irrelevant but what is relevant is who is counting the votes. Does anybody honestly believe a reported outcome of a vote where Vlad the Invader is responsible for counting the votes and validating the totals, honestly? After all, it was a likely hero of Vlad the Invader, Joseph Stalin who said, “It’s not the people who vote that count. It’s the people who count the votes.” With the recent past of Russian elections as an indicator, can anybody honestly have any faith when the person who counted the votes granting Vladimir Putin back-to-back victories in elections for Russian President followed by a win for not only Vladimir Putin as Prime Minister, but his able and helpful acolyte and flunky Dmitry Medvedev as Presidential Place Holder who stepped aside at the next election which, of course, Vladimir Putin won back the Presidency. Odds are the world will never know the actual results of the vote from the Crimea and that may be as good as it gets as anything other than their opting for Russian rule would only increase the probability of open warfare breaking out. Don’t even expect that taking the Crimean Peninsula will be the end of this crisis as one can pretty much bet the farm that Vlad the Invader is not yet finished invading. Part of the proof for this conjecture leads to another Ukraine news story.


In Kiev on Sunday, Zalman Hetzklovich and his wife, an Israeli couple, were walking in Independence Square. The initial thought has to be, what were they thinking? As if there is not sufficient excitement and danger available in some places in Israel such as Sderot when the Gaza rockets are launching as they have over one-hundred times just this past week, this couple decided to vacation in Kiev in the Ukraine during a Russian invasion in progress? Well, they got their excitement and then some. The Hetzkloviches were set upon by eight men wearing Ukrainian uniforms and carrying clubs who leapt from a van. The couple disobeyed the call for them to stop reportedly said in Russian and ran jumping into a taxi to make their escape. As reported by Zalman Hetzklovich “I understood that if I didn’t run at that moment it would be the end of us. I stopped a taxi and got in with my wife, asking the driver to get us out of there. The attackers surrounded the car and demanded the driver stop. The driver stepped on the gas and knocked over the rioters, who succeeded in damaging one side of the cab. The driver was able to drive one block away until he reached a traffic jam; we saw the pursuers were back, and had gotten into their car, starting to chase after us.”


The Hetzkloviches were able to flee from the taxi and made it to a nearby synagogue where they took refuge. Chairman of the Kiev Hatzala emergency rescue organization, Rabbi Hillel Cohen, took the initiative and notified the authorities of the situation and then made arrangements to fly the couple back to Israel Sunday night. Rabbi Cohen reported that the authorities “apparently the government in Ukraine is dealing with more pressing problems at the moment.” Rabbi Cohen himself had just been released from the hospital Saturday after recovering from a stabbing wound in his leg he received as he was attacked on Thursday night by an anti-Semitic mob. One interesting anecdote about the situation the Rabbi found himself a victim of was that the medical responders who treated his wounded leg before transporting him to the hospital were volunteers whom had been trained only two weeks ago by the organization Rabbi Cohen runs, the Hatzalah Kiev, an aid organization which provides medical assistance and training as well as other community services using volunteers. There have been numerous reports of gangs of anti-Semites accosting and assaulting Jews in Kiev and in other locations within the Ukraine. Some of these mobs have been reported to be speaking Russian though there have also been reports of uber-nationalists who were among the rebels who recently aided in the overthrow of the Russian backed governance. It is thought that the Russian agitators have chosen to victimize the Jews in order to instigate further violence and force general unrest. There was a report of a synagogue being firebombed and another synagogue in the Crimea was reportedly defaced. This is not completely unexpected as acts of anti-Semitism have been on the increase in the Ukraine just as they have all across Europe and even in the Americas. Rabbi Moshe Moskowitz reported in a recent interview that many Jews he had spoken with have expressed a desire to leave the Ukraine and take up residence in Israel. One cannot blame them as such a move would apparently place them in a safer environment. Let us all hope that the crisis in the Crimea and the Ukraine does not escalate any further thus making it possible for a more significant and violent confrontation to spread even further, a distinct possibility if world history is any indicator.


Beyond the Cusp


June 8, 2013

Do You Love Big Brother Yet?

If you are among those who do not believe that the Federal Government has not achieved the equivalence of the Big Brother qualities from George Orwell’s book “1984”, then you probably disagree with Tea Party conservatives, not that that is necessarily wrong. It is very likely that most Tea Party chapters would probably disinvite me from their membership within a year if I were to join one of their chapters. That aside, the scandals currently demanding front page top of the fold coverage really does resemble themes from 1984 with a small flavoring of Aldous Huxley’s book “Brave New World” included. Exhibit one is the new National Security Agency (NSA) data storage complex that recently held its official ribbon cutting and was proclaimed open for business. Of course for the NSA’s meaning of open for business means that all your information is allowed in but can never leave while you may not get in or even approach the complex. This data storage complex is claimed to be capable of storing every email, instant message, Facebook post, Twitter message, phone call (cell or landline), search engine returns on your searches,  and all other electronic communication everywhere in the world in real time for the next century and beyond. Do you remember in the late 1980s and early 1990s when there were people whispering in hushed tones of the conspiracy that was listening in on everybody’s phone calls and later on monitoring all Internet traffic named Echelon? Well, that turned out to be valid paranoia as Echelon actually did exist but became obsolete before the middle of the first decade of the twenty-first century, thus the Echelon replacement that has probably been on line for the past couple of years even if it was just completed. There is no reason that the front end could not have been being fed all of our data while the back two-thirds were being installed. Presumably, this new Echelon on steroids complex is not only capable of monitoring and recording every electronic communication across the globe, it can theoretically even monitor your every keystroke as long as your computer is connected to the Internet including the backspace key, so they will know what you send in a message and what you rethought and deleted.


As this is discussed and everybody gets to add their two cents worth and the rumors and suspicions expand to the point that paranoia seems to have taken hold of everybody’s imagination, we still may not be capable of uncovering all the myriad of abilities these monitor gathering systems will actually possess. I remember the early days when the rumors of Echelon were the buzz of the conspiracy minded and it was otherwise being debunked as all in the imagination of a paranoid few. Within the decade we found out that the paranoid few were actually the well informed. So, taking that into consideration, I might tend to give credence to much of the most extraordinary theories that I hear. Why not as it can only serve to give me reason to be as careful as I can in sharing. Of course blogging is not exactly the best way to keep your head down, but at least I will not be owning the newest game systems with the camera and on-line links. Between monitoring computers and phones, using cell phones and anti-jacking car systems as GPS locators to track our movements, anything with a camera or microphone to monitor video and listen to our conversations, drilling our children through psychological testing, smart meters and appliances, networked cameras with face recognition software everywhere in public, along with whatever else their tiny little minds can invent to follow, monitor, categorize, analyze, and eventually predict future actions, why get all worked up as the Government will do what Government will do and there is little we can do to prevent them. I would rather know what they are doing than have them do everything serendipitously. Do I approve or like the idea of being under the proverbial microscope? Not really but then I have adjusted to such as after attaining ballot access for the United States House of Representatives, I have very likely been on a watch list for quite some time. Truth be told, major companies have been collecting as much information as they could in order to predict purchasing habits. I realize that this data mining by the Government is far more nefarious and invasive than most would like and it would serve them best to support candidates who will actually curb and rein in the levels of invasive monitoring without a warrant.


The real debate concerns exactly where will the Government go with this high level of data being available? If it were just the Government it would be one thing but it is so much more. All the way back in the good old days of the Presidency of Dwight David Eisenhower (the 1950s) the President made a speech with an ominous warning that we are now finding out was quite prescient. President Eisenhower warned that the people needed to be wary of the “Military Industrial Complex” by which he meant the large companies and the Federal Government as well as State and Local Governments. President Eisenhower foresaw a future where a group of too big to refrain companies teamed with the Government in order to apply undue pressure and influence over the public and affect their lives adversely. President Eisenhower feared a future where the Government in partnership with major corporations would have such an ability to control and influence society with such an iron fist that nobody would be beyond their controlling influence and nothing would be private from the snooping and controlling interests and invasions of this out of control behemoth. The one question we all likely have foremost in our minds is, “When will we know for certain that this has gone too far?” One sign might be the availability of a channel where they have a continuous program depicting an evil entity that has been identified as public enemy number 1 and it is advisable that when things are going poorly in your life you should tune to this special channel and yell at public enemy until you feel relieved. OK, so that might be too odd even for government. Well, how about if you begin to notice at most Starbucks there are middle age and older men and women dressed in heavy clothing regardless of the weather and season sitting there endlessly nursing a mocha java mumbling something, almost a whisper. If you get too curious and stand close to one of these poor souls you can hear them repeating slowly, painfully, endlessly, “I love Big Brother.” When these people begin to appear it is too late to worry, it is even too late to run, just join them now and maybe the government will leave you alone.


Beyond the Cusp


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