There are scary things happening
The Biker's Diary
Tuesday, November 13, 2012 3:41 AM
The holiday based on being frightened - Halloween - has come and gone, and I didn't see anything scary. In the past, haunted houses, scary theme parks, and monster and ghost movies have never bothered me, either. My reaction has always been sort of ho-hum. I admit to being shaken by two movies, however, one being "Psycho" and the other "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest." The difference, I think, was the possibility that both of those scenarios could and have happened in real life.
In the past couple of weeks, my bedtime "junk reading" has been a book that is really scary. It is a detective novel, taking place in New York City (Jeffery Deaver's "The Broken Window"). The bad guy - the "perp" - uses knowledge of other people's lives to get them to take the fall for his crimes. Over the few years he has been doing this, he has managed to cause the innocents who are accused of his horrendous crimes to commit suicide, and/or be sentenced to years in prison, for crimes they did not commit.
This man was a collector, but did not have the money to collect the things he really wanted. Actually, he was more than just a collector, he was suffering from OCD, obsessive compulsive disorder, and never got rid of anything. So his hoarding meant that he lived in a place that was full of stuff, some of it valuable. But he always wanted more.
The book opens with the example of his wanting a particular very expensive painting. Because he could find out virtually anything he wanted to know about anyone, he had identified the woman who owned the painting. He carefully set up the situation, murdered her and stole the painting.
Because of some other circumstances, the detectives on the case thought that the person to whom they had been led as the perpetrator might just have been set up. So they staked out his house, and just missed grabbing the bad guy when he came to set up the "evidence." His method of operation was that he would leave clues about the person he was setting up at the crime scene, then take other evidence of having committed the crime to the home of the person he had chosen to take the fall. It had already worked many times without his getting caught. But this case was the turning point.
The bad guy was able to do all of this because he could get so much information on both of his victims, the ones he murdered and the ones he set up to be the "guilty" party. He could get it all because of the Internet.
During the same two weeks that I had been reading this book, I heard two different programs on the radio about data mining. I had never even heard the term until I was reading this book. So when I heard the topic being discussed on the radio, I paid attention.
Data mining companies gather information about everything: what we buy and when, what we like and why, our personal histories, and on and on. One use for all this information is obviously marketing trends, so the customers for data mining companies are obviously entities who want to sell more, spot trends, and in general improve business. But in this book, the data mining company employee was using his company's product for far more.
When the detectives were still trying to find the bad guy, they did a "test run" on one of their own group, inputting name and basic identifiers. What came back was almost 500 pages of detailed information, in categories ranging from a detailed profile, individuals "tethered" to the subject such as family, friends and neighbors, highly detailed and complete financial background, communications information including ingoing and outgoing contacts from all "devices," lifestyle activities, geographic positioning (where she'd been), legal history, additional dossiers of information, and threat assessment. That's a lot of information.
The radio programs I heard about this topic focused on the social networking aspect of the Internet, primarily the use of Facebook. The pieces of information that are out there about users and available to virtually anyone who wants it is frightening. It only takes someone - a data mining company - to put all the pieces together.
Reading that book and listening to those programs reminded me of George Orwell's book "1984" in which he wrote "There was, of course, no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time." That book, published in 1949, was the origin of the phrase "Big Brother is watching you."
Years later, Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas wrote "The privacy and dignity of our citizens (are) being whittled away by sometimes imperceptible steps. Taken individually, each step may be of little consequence. But when viewed as a whole, there begins to emerge a society quite unlike any we have seen - a society in which government may intrude into the secret regions of a (person's) life." And it isn't just government's intrusion that is frightening.
This book, like those two old movies, was at first very intriguing. But when I heard on the radio that data mining is indeed a reality, it became a scary book. I guess the future has arrived, but as Justice Douglas indicated, it seems so harmless on the surface.