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Facecrime

In late September, there was a modest gathering of law enforcement officers, military personnel, and mental health professionals in the small western New York town of Hamburg. It was totally ignored by the mainstream media, with just a reporter from the Buffalo News on hand to record the proceedings. Lucky for us.

The 120 men and women were attending the International First Responder-Military Symposium, held at Hilbert College, a small "Franciscan tradition" place of learning. Not that St. Francis would have been interested in a military symposium, but if he'd been able to attend, he'd have heard all about a new technology that will help identify and track "terrorists."

A lot of very disparate people have been tagged with that term of late. But this new tech may well be the final icing on the cake. It's a computer program that trawls phone conversations, emails, and social networking sites looking for any signs of resentment of the government.

That's right. If you're angry at Washington, they want to know who you are and what you're saying.

The program has just been rolled out, and there's no certainty that the cops or the Pentagon will jump at the chance to own it. But in the current climate, what's the likelihood that they'll turn up their noses at the opportunity to add this valuable weapon to their anti-terrorist arsenal?

Mathieu Guidere of the University of Geneva is co-developer of the software, along with Dr. Newton Howard, director of MIT's Mind Machine Project. Guidere said it works by pinpointing "resentment in conversations through measurements in decibels and other voice biometrics," and that it "detects obsessiveness with the individual going back to the same topic over and over, measuring crescendos." With written material, it hunts for a similar fixation on the subject.

Chillingly, Guidere added that once this dangerous individual has been identified, the information can be passed along to authorities so surveillance can begin.

For the moment, Guidere is content to tout his program as a means of locating potential lone bombers, but his method of characterization leaves a bit to be desired. These people are not mentally deranged, Guidere says, they harbor hatred and deep resentment toward government. And their emotional spikes can be identified by the computer.

Quite a selling point. You monitor what folks are saying on Facebook. You profile a suicide bomber bound for Times Square. You stop him before he does the deed. Who would be against that?

Trouble is, of course, that "deep resentment toward government" describes everyone from WTO protesters to Tea Partiers and, increasingly, in-between Americans who have never picketed anything. In fact, it just may be possible that the phrase describes more than a few readers of this publication.

Here's another quote: "It was terribly dangerous to let your thoughts wander when you were in any public place or within range of a telescreen. The smallest thing could give you away. A nervous tic, an unconscious look of anxiety, a habit of muttering to yourself - anything that carried with it the suggestion of abnormality, of having something to hide. In any case, to wear an improper expression on your face ... was itself a punishable offense. There was even a word for it in Newspeak: facecrime..."

Those words were written over 60 years ago, by George Orwell, in the novel 1984. Only off by 26 years. Not bad, considering he had only his imagination with which to conjure up the total surveillance state.

Too bad Orwell didn't live to see the Internet. He would've loved it for its potential to undermine centralized control. Now though, as you can see, plans are afoot to take the very embodiment of freedom of speech and turn it against the people. How will it survive as an open forum if people know the feds are patrolling it for unacceptable words?

All of the prohibitions government feels compelled to enforce have already turned America into the world's #1 Incarceration Nation. We're running short on prison space. So where will they put this horde of malcontents they'll be rounding up in the near future? Good question.

Building the Internet was a massive undertaking. But keeping it free may prove to be even more difficult.

 


Ed. Note: The editors of Casey's Extraordinary Technology watch the tech sector like hawks, always ready to jump on the next mega-trend in the making. That's how they made an average gain of 33% for their subscribers in 2010 so far. Nothing to scoff at, and bigger profits are yet to come. You can give Casey's Extraordinary Technology a risk-free 3-month, with full money-back guarantee. Details here.

 

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