A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Archive for the ‘1984 was a Warning not a Blueprint’ tag

It’s Good to Be the King

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It’s good to be the king. When you’re the king, you don’t have to put up with insults from your subjects:

When body-camera footage of an aggressive or abusive police officer goes viral, the response from law enforcement groups is often to caution that we shouldn’t judge the entire system based on actions of a few bad apples. That’s fair enough. But what does it say about the system when the cops gets away with their bad behavior? What if, despite video footage clearly showing that the cops are in the wrong, sheriffs and police chiefs cover for them, anyway? What if local prosecutors do, too? What if even mayors and city attorneys get into the act?

Adam Finley had such an interaction with a bad cop. He was roughed up, sworn at and handcuffed. When he tried to file a complaint, he was hit with criminal charges. The local police chief turned Finley’s wife against him, which (according to both Finley and her) eventually ended their marriage. The fact that video of the incident should have vindicated him didn’t seem to matter.

This is a really good story to read because it illustrates a lot of facts about modern law enforcement, the power of authority, and local government. Even though body camera footage clearly showed the officer was abusing his authority, Finley had his life ruined because the people tasked with overseeing the law enforcer covered for him. This shouldn’t be surprisingly since all of the people tasked with overseeing the law enforcer work for the same government as the law enforcer. But many people still make the mistake of believing that government oversight of law enforcement is an effective check against abuse when, in fact, government oversight of law enforcement is merely the government overseeing itself. Whenever you give an entity the power to oversee itself, it has a strong tendency to find that it did nothing wrong.

Propaganda is Not Reality

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A lot of people make the mistake of believing that the propaganda they’re being fed is truth. But propaganda is not reality. If one wants an example of this point, they need look no further than the propaganda being pumped out to support the drug war:

In the middle of May, a police officer in East Liverpool, Ohio, Chris Green, was responding to a traffic call when he realized that white powder had spilled inside the car he was investigating. He put on gloves to protect himself from what he would later learn was a formulation of fentanyl, a potent prescription opioid, as he handled the situation. Later, when he got back to the station, another officer pointed out some dust on the back of Green’s shirt. Green brushed it off, no gloves, without thinking. Soon after (some accounts state it was mere minutes, others clock it at an hour), he was unconscious.

“I was in total shock,” he told the local paper after the fact. “ ‘No way I’m overdosing,’ I thought.”

He would go on to receive four doses of naloxone, an emergency drug that counteracts an opioid overdose, before waking up.

An overdoes from merely touching fentanyl? That sounds like powerful and extremely dangerous stuff! Except for the fact that the story as told is bullshit:

Each of the medical and toxicology professionals I asked agreed that it’s implausible that one could overdose from brushing powder off a shirt. Skin cannot absorb even the strongest formulations of opioids efficiently or fast enough to exert such an effect. “Fentanyl, applied dry to the skin, will not be absorbed. There is a reason that the fentanyl patches took years [for pharmaceutical companies] to develop,” says my colleague Ed Boyer, M.D., Ph.D., a medical toxicologist at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

While fentanyl is dangerous due to its concentrated nature, it’s not so dangerous that touching a little bit of it with your skin will cause you to overdoes. Unfortunately, while most publications were happy as can be to publish the officer’s account of the incident, they didn’t bother doing any investigation (thus why the field is seldom referred to as investigative journalism these days) into whether or not the officer’s story was even plausible. Even when journalists aren’t intentionally publish propaganda, they often unintentionally publish it by mindlessly accepting whatever a government official says as fact and publishing it without any investigatory work.

Written by Christopher Burg

July 3rd, 2018 at 10:00 am

George Orwell Wasn’t Cynical Enough

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George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four either served as a dire warning or as a blueprint depending on what side of the state you occupy. The Party, the ruling body of Oceania, established a pervasive surveillance state. Helicopters flew around peeking into people’s windows, every home had a two way television that couldn’t be turned off and allowed government agents to snoop on you, children were encourage from a young age to rat out their parents if they did anything seditious, etc. However, as cynical as George Orwell’s vision of the future may have been, it wasn’t cynical enough:

In April, California investigators arrested Joseph James DeAngelo for some of the crimes committed by the elusive Golden State Killer (GSK), a man who is believed to have raped over 50 women and murdered at least 12 people between 1978 and 1986. Investigators tracked him down through an open-source ancestry site called GEDMatch, uploading the GSK’s DNA profile and matching it to relatives whose DNA profiles were also hosted on the website. Now, using those same techniques, a handful of other arrests have been made for unsolved cases, some going as far back as 1981.

The New York Times reports that GEDMatch has been used to track down suspects involved in a 1986 murder of a 12-year-old girl, a 1992 rape and murder of a 25-year-old schoolteacher, a 1981 murder of a Texas realtor and a double murder that took place in 1987. It was even used to identify a man who died by suicide in 2001 but had remained unnamed until now. Many of these suspects were found by CeCe Moore, a genetic genealogist working with forensic consulting firm Parabon, who has previously helped adoptees find their biological relatives. “There are so many parallels,” she told the New York Times about the process of finding a suspect versus a relative.

Genetic databases are a boon for law enforcers. While most people are worried about the commercial databases like Ancestry.com and 23andMe, there is an open source genetics database called GEDMatch that, unlike the commercial products, doesn’t even require a warrant to access. What makes genetic databases even more frightening from a privacy standpoint is that you don’t have to submit your genetics. If a family member submits their genetics, that’s enough for law enforcers to identify you.

Since law enforcers are using this database to go after murderers, rapists, and other heinous individuals, it’s likely that many people will see this strategy as a positive thing. But government agencies have a tendency to expand their activities. While they’ll start using a new technology to identify legitimately terrible people, they quickly begin using the technology to go after people who broke the law but didn’t actually hurt anybody. The scary part about law enforcers using tools like GEDMatch is that they will eventually use it to go after everybody.

Propaganda 101

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What makes for good propaganda? Ideally good propaganda appeals to emotion. The goal is to manipulate the emotions of individuals to win them over to your cause. However, better propaganda is also based on some amount of truth. If your propaganda is entirely fictitious, it will likely be discovered at some future point and the people you won over may not to happy with you. The best propaganda is not only based on some amount of truth but the lies, when discovered, can be waved away with deniability.

The girl on the cover of Time Magazine’s latest issue is an example of excellent propaganda:

The widely shared photo of the little girl crying as a U.S. Border Patrol agent patted down her mother became a symbol of the families pulled apart by the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy at the border, even landing on the new cover of Time magazine.

But the girl’s father told The Washington Post on Thursday night that his child and her mother were not separated, and a U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman confirmed that the family was not separated while in the agency’s custody. In an interview with CBS News, Border Patrol agent Carlos Ruiz, who was among the first to encounter the mother and her daughter at the border in Texas, said the image had been used to symbolize a policy but “that was not the case in this picture.”

A crying girl is always a good way to manipulate emotions. Moreover, the current administration provided its detractors with a great deal of ammunition by separating immigrant children from their parents. These two factors already made the crying girl on Time’s cover a good piece of propaganda. But the icing on the cake is that the lie can be easily denied. The person who created the cover could easily claim that they were told that the girl that was to be included on the cover was an immigrant child separated from her parents. The editor could easily make the same claim. Even the photographer could claim that they were later informed that the girl was separated from her parents. It’s difficult to claim that Time Magazine knowingly lied in this case, which helps protect the magazine’s reputation even though it was caught lying.

Written by Christopher Burg

June 26th, 2018 at 11:00 am

Meet California’s New Slave Tracker

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License plate scanners have become all the rage in the slave tracking market. But what if you eliminated the need for scanners by making the license plates themselves broadcast their current location? That’s a feature now being rolled out in California:

California’s dramatic new license plate is hitting the streets — a digital display board that allows changeable messages controlled by the driver or remotely by fleet managers.

The new plates use the same computer technology as Kindle eBook readers, along with a wireless communication system.

[…]

If the car is stolen, the plate’s manufacturer says the plate can tell the owner and police exactly where the car is or at least where the license plate is if it has been detached.

Of course if the license plate can tell law enforcers where it is if the car to which it’s attached is reported stolen, it can tell law enforcers where it is when the car isn’t reported stolen as well. In addition to broadcasting their location, these license plates can likely provide other valuable information. For example, they can probably determine how fast you’re driving (a simple calculation if you have real time location information). If that information is tied with the location information, law enforcers can determine remotely whether or not you’re speeding and potentially issue you a ticket. Likewise, if you park somewhere, the license plate could provide law enforcers information about how long the vehicle has been stopped. If, for example, the vehicle is parked in a two hour spot, a parking ticket can be issued if the car has been stopped for two hours and one second.

Fortunately, this is currently a pilot program. During this pilot I doubt the license plates will be used for anything nefarious. But if this pilot program is successful, it will give the government of California an excuse to make these license plates mandatory. After that they will likely be used to expropriate additional wealth from drivers by being used as automated traffic and parking citation dispensers.

Written by Christopher Burg

May 30th, 2018 at 11:00 am

The TSA Is Making a List and Checking It Twice

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When you travel on an airplane in the United States you must first subject yourself to the depravities of the Transportation Security Agency (TSA). Usually your options are to either walk through a slave scanner so a pervert can look at your naked body or submit yourself to sexual assault. It turns out that not everybody meekly rolls over when given these options. When air travelers decide to do anything other than shuffle through the security line with a submissive downcast gaze, their name goes on the TSA’s secret naughty list:

I thought of this exchange last week when the New York Times revealed that the Transportation Security Administration has created a secret watchlist for troublesome passengers. The TSA justified the list by saying that its screeners were assaulted 34 times last year, but did not release any details about the alleged assaults.

Naturally, the TSA’s official definition of troublemaking goes well beyond punching its officers. According to a confidential memo, any behavior that is “offensive and without legal justification” can land a traveler on the list, as can any “challenges to the safe and effective completion of screening.” Anyone who has ever “loitered” near a checkpoint could also make the list. So could any woman who pushes a screener’s hands away from her breasts.

The memo would be more accurate if it stated that anyone who fails to unquestioningly submit to all the TSA’s demands would be found guilty of insubordination. As an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, Hugh Handeyside, told the Washington Post, the policy gives the agency wide latitude to “blacklist people arbitrarily and essentially punish them for asserting their rights.”

According to the New York Times article mentioned in the above except, landing on the list doesn’t prohibit you from flying… yet. However, governments frequently use lists to punish people in the future. There may come a time when landing on this list will prohibit you from flying just as landing on several other secret government lists can currently prohibit you from flying. If that happens, you flying privileges will be in the hands of a flunkies who were probably bullied in high school and took a job with the TSA so they could live their revenge fantasies. But, hey, the United States is the freest country on Earth!

Land of the Free

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My feelings for government agents are well known but even among such a rogues gallery Jeff Sessions stands out as particularly loathsome. I often compare him to a Saturday morning cartoon villain. He’s a two dimensional character who seem to be evil for the sole sake of being evil. In his latest disregard of common decency he has decided once again that the Party in Nineteen Eighty-Four were the heroes and should be emulated:

Sessions, however, refuses to accept this reality. Instead, he has claimed that the agreement caused 236 murders. He points to a journal article written by Paul Cassell, a former federal judge, and Richard Fowles, that asserts the reductions in stop-and-frisk encounters from 40,000 a month to 10,000 a month caused the additional murders in 2016. While the report accurately states the reduced number of stop-and-frisk encounters and the spike in murders in 2016, it provides no causal link between the two events.

The authors essentially suggest that a huge number of random stops will reduce crime because no one will ever know when they might be stopped and, therefore, will not carry weapons. Apparently, they are fine with randomly stopping hundreds of thousands of people, a practice with a greater than 84 percent error rate.

Remember when films portrayed Nazis and Cold War Eastern European guards asking for papers as bad guys? Those were the days! Speaking of Nazi Germany and Cold War Eastern Europe, those governments taught us that even if you establish the most ruthless police state imaginable, crime will still be rampant. Random harassment teaches people to avoid law enforcers, nothing more. Needless to say, with such an education a policy of randomly stopping and frisking individuals can only manage to catch the dumbest criminals.

When the Government Is Big, Private Businesses Want to Do Business with the Government

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I find that a lot of people don’t think their positions through very thoroughly. For example, I know a lot of people who advocate for a large, powerful government but then become upset when they read stories like this:

SEATTLE — In late 2016, Amazon introduced a new online service that could help identify faces and other objects in images, offering it to anyone at a low cost through its giant cloud computing division, Amazon Web Services.

Not long after, it began pitching the technology to law enforcement agencies, saying the program could aid criminal investigations by recognizing suspects in photos and videos. It used a couple of early customers, like the Orlando Police Department in Florida and the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in Oregon, to encourage other officials to sign up.

See this capitalist shit? This is why we need socialism, comrades!

The supreme irony here is that most of the people I mentioned above fail to realize that the very thing they advocate for, a larger and powerful government, is what convinces businesses to pursue government contracts. It’s true that Amazon is operating on the capitalist principle of seeking profit. However, in a country where the government is large and powerful the most profitable contracts are often government contracts. If the governments in the United States were weak and poor, Amazon would have no interest in pursuing contracts with them. But they’re powerful and wealthy so Amazon, like everybody else, wants a piece of the pie.

Tracking Your Pieces of Flair

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Some people mistakenly believe that if they don’t carry a cell phone, government agents can’t track them. While cell phones are convenient tracking devices, they aren’t the only tool in the State’s toolbox. Law enforcers have been using license plate scanners for years now. Such scanners can track the whereabouts of every vehicle in the department’s territory. And since license plate scanners are technological devices, they are improving in capabilities:

On Tuesday, one of the largest LPR manufacturers, ELSAG, announced a major upgrade to “allow investigators to search by color, seven body types, 34 makes, and nine visual descriptors in addition to the standard plate number, location, and time.”

Plus, the company says, the software is now able to visually identity things like a “roof rack, spare tire, bumper sticker, or a ride-sharing company decal.”

Even obscuring or changing your license plate won’t work if you have, like so many Americans, covered your car in unique pieces of flair.

I’m sure some people, thinking that they’re very clever, have already come up with the strategy of not driving their vehicle. After all, if you don’t have a cell phone or a personal vehicle, the government can’t track you, right? Wrong again.

Make the Slaves Carry Their Tracking Devices

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Mobile phones are useful for both us and government. For us they provide almost instant communications with any of our contacts across the globe as well as access to the collective knowledge base of humanity. For government they provide real-team location information and a potential goldmine of evidence, which is why one British judge thinks that there are benefits to forcing individuals to carry their cell phones at all times:

A senior British judge has highlighted the benefits of legislation that obliges people to carry their mobile phone at all times.

Sir Geoffrey Vos QC, Chancellor of the High Court and former head of the Bar Council, raised the prospect of compulsory mobe-carrying in a speech to the Law Society (PDF).

His speech hypothesized a future where everybody is required to carry their cell phone and how that would lead to easier criminal prosecutions. It’s also not an implausible future, especially in Britain. The island is already a surveillance state. Legally requiring individuals to carry a tracking device at all times probably wouldn’t even be noticed in the pile of other tracking technologies already being employed by Big Brother. Moreover, once everybody is legally required to carry their cell phone, another law could easily be passed that mandates that all cell phones have a “law enforcement mode” that allows law enforcers to secretly active a phone’s microphone and camera to collect evidence. That would, after all, make life easier for law enforcers, which seems to be what this judge is interested in.

We live in an time where Nineteen Eighty-Four is not only technologically feasible but is easily implementable thanks to the fact that most people already voluntarily carry around a device that can collect evidence against them.

Written by Christopher Burg

May 15th, 2018 at 10:00 am