Beyond the Cusp

January 19, 2014

Disparate Impact Meets Zero Tolerance

Thanks to an unprecedented cooperation between the Department of Justice and Education Department crafting a directive rolling out new directives for meting out discipline in schools, we now have competing dictates where enforcing the existent zero tolerance mandates will run headlong into disparate impact guidelines. This new directive details that all discipline must now be measured before application to be able to assure Federal authorities from Departments of Education and Justice that each application will not cause one group of students to have received discipline in greater proportions than any other group. This directive has implications beyond initial impressions as though most have looked at the application of disparate impact would force on disciplining minorities in many city school districts such that outcomes resultant from application of discipline is shared equally across all races. But all previous real world applications of disparate impact have constantly run into problems, many of which were unexpected when this theory was applied, and the same is likely in this application and is probably guaranteed. The real test will come when school systems run into my favorite consequence which lies in wait to despoil even the best of plans, unintended consequences, and this rule is guaranteed to run afoul of this.


One of the earliest attempts to apply the disparate impact guidelines were in criminal applications spurned by statistics which revealed a disproportionally larger number of minorities were being sentenced to prison than were other sectors of society. One of the results from the application of disparate impact guidelines to incarceration rates was a series of legal suits challenging the manner and practices of numerous urban police and justice departments which resulted in forcing the justice systems to release large numbers of convicts and adjust sentencing guidelines in order to equalize incarceration rates to fit the new guidelines. The same results will soon be converging on many schools systems and administrators are going to be challenged in how they keep discipline in their schools. Forget about the usual suspicions of applications of disparate impact and just fathom the coming lawsuits against schools when little Johnny is suspended for fighting and his parents sue over the disparate application of suspensions if boys as compared to girls for fighting. This is a disparity which is both expected and probably nearly universal in its occurrence. Boys tend to settle their differences in a different manner than girls. Simply put, boys tend to use contests of physical prowess to settle differences or taking revenge while girls are far more subtle and inventive in their manners of meting out revenge and settling differences. If school systems are to be required to discipline girls and boys in equal numbers and lengths for fighting then either school officials will need to find inventive ways to discipline more girls for fighting or turn a blind eye to many occasions of fights between boys. But what now happens to that old standby, zero tolerance. Zero tolerance forces school systems to discipline any rule breaking event as if it was the trigger of an apocalypse. The same will apply to disciplining students for disturbing the peace complete with intense screaming and attempted hair pulling. Good luck finding any boys to equal out this category. The schools are going to run directly into the same problems as law enforcement and the courts had when disparate impact guidelines were imposed on arrest, conviction rates and sentencing throughout the United States in the second half of the twentieth century. While we have witnessed some seriously insane applications of zero tolerance when six year old boys are suspended for using finger guns and yelling “bang, bang” and being suspended for using a (pretend) firearm on school grounds, now we will have twice the irony when we also have disparate impact applied in parallel with zero tolerance. One will have to give ground to the other and who knows which one will win out in the school yards across the United States. Let the inanity of insanity begin.


Beyond the Cusp


March 12, 2013

Can We Retain Any Personal Privacy?

Is there any possibility for an individual to guard and establish their privacy in their documents, life, thoughts and correspondence? For the majority at large the answer is not easily. If your correspondence uses e-mail then you may as well publicize it in the New York Times unless you have some form of very advanced encryption software and even then it is likely that the government has the keys to unlock the majority of encryptions. If you read your news on the Internet then it is almost public record where you get your news and even which articles you read, how long you remained on each article and whether you saved it or even commented on it. This much capability was pretty much available to the government since the late 1980s and their abilities have only expanded since then. The government, if it should so choose, can also record any phone conversation; track your health through your doctor, hospital and any other care you may receive unless you take very stringent and likely expensive steps to assure your privacy. If the car you drive has On Star, Lo Jack or any other tracking or Internet connection in your automobile then the government can track the movement of you vehicle. If your cell phone is less than a decade old, and whose isn’t, then the location of your phone can be traced and this is true even if you have turned off the phone. Some of the newest and more advanced full-feature phones can be used to listen to sounds wherever the phone is located simply by activating the audio microphone and view the area of a room which the camera is able to view by remotely turning it on. These are but a few items and the future promises even less privacy for the individual citizen.


With the coming universal instillation of smart meters replacing the older meters the electric company, and thus the government, will be able to monitor your electrical usage and from this seeming unimportant data stream deduce a surprising amount about your life even to include when you have had a party or company stay with you for any stretch of time. Once everybody gets new appliances which will contain interface which is relayed through the power grid will give even more detail about your habits and other information about your life. Already the government is networking all cameras used in private monitoring such as those on ATMs, in convenience stores, in department stores, monitoring self-serve gas stations, and other security and monitoring systems in addition to the surveillance cameras installed by the government and monitoring all of them using facial recognition software in order to have the ability to track virtually all movement by people of interest entirely automatically and can set alarm points to warn if these people of interest visit places considered sensitive while also gathering complete information of the routes and places where one spends time or meets with others. No longer does it take manpower to shadow a suspect’s movements in numerous cities and soon in almost any city or large town in the industrialized world. Add in the fact that all ticket information is also available to the government often without the need for a warrant or other legal notice.


In the name of economic studies and other trending research the government has fairly complete information about all purchases including the individual who purchased every item which was paid with a credit card, bank card, debit card, check or almost anything other than cash. If the government has chosen to monitor an individual and they were thinking they could hide their transactions by using cash for all purchases they still run the risk of having their purchases being caught by surveillance cameras and thus being within the information net available to the government. Virtually anything a person does outside of their personal residence or the personal residence of others is directly able to be monitored fully automatically by software and computers through the data acquisition network the government has already in place today and it is only going to become more intense and sophisticated. Many cities around the world are already switching to high definition cameras with highly sensitive microphones which can be utilized to record all sounds or can be used in a directional mode to listen to particular conversations at the choice of the government monitors. Eventually this will also be accomplished purely by software once somebody has come to the interest of the government.


Should the government wish to go beyond the cursory automated surveillance and invest manpower in monitoring an individual there is nothing which would be beyond their ability to gather information. There exist systems which can use the windows of a room in order to listen to conversations inside the room using a laser from distance measuring the minute vibrations the sounds make on the window. Infrared viewers are able to pick up the place within a room of human bodies through walls up to a limited thickness and monitoring movements. Add on top of these abilities the operational deployment of many of these and other surveillance systems onto drones. This provides deployment anywhere from the top floor penthouse to the dense woodlands. With modern optics and numerous types of specialized sensors such as FLIR, radar, lidar and even sonic buoys to search in bodies of water the ability to monitor leaves nowhere in which to hide. Such systems as these are available to most law enforcement departments if deemed necessary as well as to anybody with sufficient funds or influence.


Of course whenever somebody notes the unbelievable extent to which the government, should they choose, can monitor and record every action, sound, purchase or anything else one does or is involved with down to the most trivial details they are labeled paranoid, crazy, exaggerating, or otherwise dismissed as nobody wants to admit that privacy has died in our society and nobody is beyond the ever-present all-seeing all-knowing eyes, ears, monitoring and recording of our own government. People desire to hold on to the mirage that they still have their privacy even to the point of lying to themselves if that is what is necessary. The truth unfortunately is that nothing is beyond the reach of the monitoring powers of our government and all of its various law and threat enforcement departments. The often uttered phrase that follows next is that if you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear. But is every single act one performs within a normal life, even the most minor or smallest of transgressions, really completely legal and beyond being misrepresented in order to disparage or otherwise defame an individual? Who honestly believes that given the ability to record everything one does that it would all be seen as perfectly harmless to even the most wild-eyed government security personnel whose job depends on uncovering people whose actions are a danger to the state. Is every place you visit on the Internet wholly above any suspicions including the news and other information sites? Have you ever done an Internet search which might cast suspicions upon your motives? Remember that currently Google is in a partnership with the government in a project which is using the uses of the numerous search and information gathering services provided by Google to feed a study in order to research artificial intelligence. The claimed aim is to develop an actual and fully independent artificial intelligence which will be incorporated into computer systems and possibly robotic systems in order to facilitate the ability of these systems to advance and adjust their functional systems and software in order to improve performance. There are also plans to utilize the data for studies in the functioning of the human mind and to trend society to predict future needs and be able to address or influence societal direction.


The truth is that people have never had complete privacy but for most of history people have had sufficient privacy or the perception of privacy that gave them a feeling of comfort that they had general control over what they shared and that which they kept hidden. As technology progressed it actually had served to increase privacy for much of human history. It would be difficult to pick a date where that trend had finally turned the corner and privacy began to wane eventually to completely dissipate. We still have some amounts of privacy even if they monitor almost every act and impulse we ever perform within society. We are still secure in our dreams and thoughts and likely will be for the foreseeable future. Should the government ever find the ability to monitor our dreams and thoughts then we will have reached an age where everybody will be found to be a criminal. That is the eventuality of any society where thoughts can be legislated as illegal allowing for the conviction for impure or corrupt thoughts. As individuals we will tend to have dreams and thoughts which would be against any code of law even though we would never act upon those thoughts, but have the thoughts we will be unable to avoid. Dreams are often the release which allows us to live such thoughts releasing the temptation by acting these thoughts out in our subconscious dreaming while being completely law abiding in our conscious life. But, for now, we have privacy within our minds though not much beyond that. Maybe that will be sufficient but I will rather pretend that my level of privacy is somewhat greater and take comfort from that. My guarantee is that anyone who was assigned to monitor my life would likely fall asleep from utter boredom and that renders me safe.


Beyond the Cusp


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