November 9, 2007

LA Police mapping Muslims

Filed under: Surveillance, Terror — ubikcan @ 3:31 pm

What’s interesting about this story (which was sent to me by multiple sources and now I see it at HuffPo) is not how new this is, but how something that has been done for quite a while now is receiving attention. Nearly a 100 comments at LA Times, nearly twice that at HuffPo. Must be the Muslims.

Did you know the US Department of Justice has a crime mapping center? That it publishes manuals and provides software on geographic profiling? Poor old LAPD. They’re just doing what the USDOJ told them to do.

Did you know there are geographic profiling researchers at universities? Kim Rossmo is generally credited with inventing the term. Here he is.

On Tuesday Wired reported a story that the FBI wanted to get the sales receipts from Bay area grocery stores to see how much falafel had been sold (it was nixed by higher-ups in the FBI). This was supposed to lead them to Iranian terrorists.

Can you connect the dots from geographic profiling to the stories this week?

Let’s not kid ourselves. Profiling and data mining are alive and well in this country. (If you fly internationally various data are collected about you, from your seating preferences to whether you paid by credit card or cash and whether you ordered a halal or kosher meal.)

The problem? False positives which drain manpower and resources because they have to be checked out. (Remember the search for Steve Fossett on the Mechanical Turk? The lead searcher said:

Maj. Cynthia Ryan, who says her e-mail and voicemail boxes were flooded with leads from folks working on the Mechanical Turk. Many times, they mistook search aircraft in the air for Fossett’s plane — even though it’s unlikely Fossett’s plane would have appeared intact. (via apb)

See? All those false positives actually didn’t help.)

People often cite profiling as a necessary evil because it works: criminals do fit profiles. We wouldn’t have Silence of the Lambs otherwise. Sure. The trouble is many many more innocent people also fit profiles. Profiling is the deep sea trawl net of searching. It kills everything in its path.

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October 25, 2007


Filed under: Google, map, Terror — ubikcan @ 4:10 pm


Ogle Earth has another sensible reaction to the latest story that terrorists are “using” Google Earth to plot their actions.

It’s not the sort of endorsement one wishes for. But Abu Walid is trying to boast about his militancy, as his Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade is now trying to outdo Hamas in the toughness stakes in order to win over the Gazan population. Google Earth is mentioned because it is a new tool — it is the best way yet to find the local supermarket, regardless of who you are. The Volkswagen bus used to transport the rocket doesn’t rate a mention by Abu Walid, but that’s because both we and he are used to terrorists having cars.

No doubt Second Amendment rightists will endorse this view as well (which makes me uncomfortable). But look, if you take away Google Earth (or censor portions of the world) you would perhaps make some minor impact on these guys until they found another way to get the imagery (and it is definitely available from other, non-US sources) and for sure at the same time make its usage by ordinary people needlessly difficult.

In the case of guns the alternatives are knives and fists which are definitely less dangerous than street sweepers and armor piercing shells.

March 25, 2007

Intellectuals and war

Filed under: Inquiry, Terror, War — ubikcan @ 2:22 pm

“What did you do during the war, daddy?”

The relationship between intellectuals such as anthropologists or geographers and wartime activities is a thorny one.

Obviously I find it very interesting, and in some ways, remarkable how much and how often academics get involved in the pursuit of war. Whether it be WWI (my interest) or WWII, or the current “war” on “terror” (scare quotes deliberate), there has been no shortage of academics and scientists who promote and enable research for war-driven gain. Whether it be linguistics, race, the CIA, GIS for homeland security or whatever, the history of this involvement is there.

I don’t know if there is a written history of it as a whole, but there very much should be–what did Franz Boas do during the war for example?

There are partial histories such as this one. But I think we need one of the entire 20th century. Many of the founders of academic disciplines were very involved indeed in pursuing wartime aims, and this topic is very relevant today as we seemingly slide in an unreflective way towards involvement in war, security and surveillance (eg the Department of Homeland Security has purchased an Enterprise ESRI license).

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