Jeez, what a goddamn news day. What a news week. (And it’s only Tuesday.) What a month, what a year, what…yeesh, I’m tired just reading these stories. I can’t imagine being a reporter based in Washington these days. (Unless, like Hank, I covered TV or pop culture or something. Although that’s pretty busy too, being Peak TV and all. You should read Hank’s appreciation of Ric Ocasek and the Cars. It’s good.)
I guess now the pace and the atmosphere and the rhetoric and all the rest of it, which has been crazy, will be even crazier. The things we should be discussing in the next 14 months — policy and the beer test and whatnot — we will not be discussing. And so, in what might be the final act of this shitshow, we will be discussing Him.
Mission accomplished. This is our penance, I guess. So let’s get on with it.
It’s a little like falling from a high place, isn’t it? You hope there’s a net at the bottom, but you don’t know until you get there. If there’s one for us, let’s hope it’s still strong.
I can’t stand to talk about Him right now, but I will mention a couple little things. Last summer, the News ran a story about the widespread use of facial-recognition software in summer camps. It was a revelation. First, that so many camps employ a full-time photographer to capture every day of the action, and that these photos are made available to parents to look at every day as well. Facial-recognition software is used — with permission, which I gather is readily granted — to single out your own kid’s pictures, so you don’t have to look at a bunch of others if you don’t want to.
The other day I saw, on Facebook, some parents recommending to some other parents a particular app to allow surveillance on their teens. This app, Life360, informs everyone of where everyone else is every minute of the day — this is increasingly seen as reasonable — but also this, for a premium. It’s called Driver Protect:
Unlimited Place notifications: Set up unlimited Place notifications, and get notified when your family members come and go from home, work, school, and any other important locations.
Driving reports: We let you know what happened during each drive with instant, detailed driving reports, showing potentially unsafe behaviors (including phone usage, high speed, hard braking, and rapid acceleration) in the map at the time of occurrence.
Get that, kids? You have your driver’s license, and mom will be getting real-time alerts if you peel out from the light by the malt shop. Don’t you feel safe?
And now, this: Neighborhood watch gets the FBI’s toy box. From Slate:
A new venture called Flock Safety is a good example of the problem. The Atlanta-based company sells a particular vision of security: Residents can track every single car that passes through their neighborhood with the help of the company’s automatic license plate readers. As the Los Angeles Times recently reported, a two-year contract entitles you to the cameras, cloud storage for the data, and, most importantly, software that allows quick identification of license plates—completing a task in seconds that would take a person hours or days. (It’s not necessary for a whole neighborhood to agree to adopt the system, as long as some neighbors agree to pay for it.) If a crime happens within the neighborhood, residents can check and see which cars were captured by the cameras in the area at the time. Imagine being able to produce a detailed map of one car’s whereabouts. Residents can send videos to the police, and the police can presumably request data from residents. Although the data is stored on the company’s servers, residents own the data, according to the company’s website.
In this way, suspicious neighbors are just catching up to the police, repo agents, and property managers, who already have access to license plate readers that can capture data at rates of thousands of plates per minute. Flock essentially tells potential customers: If these are useful tools for safety, shouldn’t individuals and communities have them, too? And like many other surveillance products sold to the police and the public, it promotes surveillance as a service with a for-profit motive. The company begin as a 2017 Y Combinator startup and has since raised millions in venture capital funding from Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund, among others. Its website promises to “increase solvability around crime with infrastructure-free [automatic license plate readers] in your community.”
How many times do we have to learn this lesson? All the technology that is supposed to save us will be used in ways we do not anticipate or intend. Sometimes this is, if not a good thing, at least a way to find the truth; I’m sure, if the law enforcement community knew how cell phones would be deployed to reveal racist behavior by police officers, they would have figured out a way to monkey-wrench the iPhone before it was released. This “service” (koff-koff) is being marketed to improve “neighborhood safety,” but my guess is, that’s not the way it’s going to happen.
Why do we stand for this? Because we’re afraid — of everything. I suspect that’s also why we elected Him.
OK, I’m going to read a novel published when He was just a toddler. I hope it’ll calm my nerves. This too shall pass.