Commentary About Boston Marathon Bombing, Terrorism, Privacy, & Big Brother

23 Apr

After the attack at the Boston Marathon, I was going to write a bit about what you, as an individual, can do to help prevent terrorist attacks. Alert people notice things that are out of place. Unattended packages. Suspicious behavior. As I read about the bombing, a citizen made a remark that he’d be willing to submit to a “cavity search” today to increase security. Me? Not so much.

No government can keep its citizens safe all the time. Too often throughout history, governments have shown no regard for the well being of their citizens. Because of this, citizens should be wary of giving up some of their rights to be better “protected.” Rights, once lost, are difficult to regain. There can always be another threat to demand more right’s sacrifices.

After the attack, the FBI and others mobilized to track down the culprits of the attack. You don’t need to be a security expert to immediately realize some of the basic steps they’d take. Start with the area of the bombing, work your way out, and seek out all surveillance video captured of the area. Ask citizens to inspect any videos or pictures they took for clues. If the terrorist keeps to the cities, it’s quite possible they’ll be able to construct a video trail of him right to his home!

What’s amazing today is how surveilled the typical urban dweller is. What’s downright mind blowing is how powerful computers allow this data to be collected, filtered, and analyzed.

One company providing this service to the FBI and local law enforcement agencies is Palantir Technologies, a company partially funded by the CIA’s In Q Tel. In Q Tel helped bring us Google Earth. Google Earth and Bing allowed TV reporters to show the house where the terrorist suspect had taken refuge under a boat tarp.

Privacy advocates worry about companies like Palantir, because “…the FBI can now instantly compile thorough dossiers on U.S. citizens, tying together surveillance video outside a drugstore with credit-card transactions, cell-phone call records, e-mails, airplane travel records, and Web search information.”

These private companies aren’t subject to the same accountability rules that the government is. The private companies aren’t subject to the same freedom of information requests. As citizens, we simply don’t know what they’re up to or what information they’re collecting about Americans.

We don’t know to what extent these companies will go to silence legitimate freedom of expression, protest, dissent, or whistle blowing. We don’t know if ordinary peaceful citizens could be labeled “terrorists.”

Even if we fully trust the American government, these private companies can profit by selling this technology to foreign powers, like Russia, which have shown little regard for the rights of its citizens. How will this technology be used in the future?

To eavesdrop on overseas conversations, the NSA is building a data center that can store zettabytes of data.

A good essay about privacy and video cameras everywhere.

A good article about apartment hardening.

Two interesting gadgets over at One is a commercial portable distiller which doesn’t require electricity, which can be used for desalination.
The other is a homemade PVC loom.

For exercise buffs, PBS had an interesting program “The Truth About Exercise” which you can watch here. It has a good discussion of how genetics relates to the ability to build cardio endurance and VO2 max. Regardless of how much they train, genetic non-responders won’t show athletic improvement with exercise. It talks about high intensity interval training.

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