Palantir Technologies is a data-mining firm that loves it some predictive policing: computer-aided sorcery that uses data models to try and predict where crimes may occur and who's got a reasonable chance of committing them.
For predictive policing to work well, the predictive model being built needs to be well fed with data on criminals, their first, second and third-person acquaintances, their social media accounts, and crime statistics for the area where the model is meant to be seeing crimes before they may possibly happen. It sounds like shit right out of Minority Report, because it kinda is – just without spooky kids in a swimming pool and a hell of a lot less accuracy.
Accurate or not, the notion of predictive policing raises a number of civil rights and privacy concerns. The ACLU isn't down with it, as the methodology of stopping someone without reasonable suspicion is against the Fourth Amendment. In their eyes, computer-aided guesses don't cut it when it comes to justifying a stop-and-frisk. China's been using it to snoop on their citizens and has been sending suspected radicals and political dissidents for re-education, just in case they decided to protest their nation's ruling party's status quo. It's creepy shit.
Anyway, back to Palantir.
Did I mention that it was started up by Peter Thiel with money seeded by the CIA? No? How about the fact that they've been running an off-the-books program with the New Orleans Police so secretive that the city's own government didn't have a clue that it was going on? Read the rest
Patrick Ryan wants to be the Democratic nominee for New York's 19th district in the Hudson Valley, a Republican seat that Dems hope to flip; he's gone on record stating that he can do the job because of his entrepreneurial success -- but he didn't mention that he built his career at Berico Technologies by pitching a product to help businesses spy on union organizers and left-wing activists, a plan that included spying on left-wing Democrats and planting fake documents in order to discredit labor unions.
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Peter Thiel thinks that it was a mistake to let women vote; that democracy is incompatible with "freedom" (because poor people will tax rich people if they get to elect their own leaders); that the major problem with the mass government surveillance that Edward Snowden revealed was that it was incompetently conducted (which is why he started Palantir, a mass surveillance contractor that sells spying services to authoritarian states); that free markets are inefficient and should be replaced with monopolies; and that marketplace of ideas should be replaced by secretly funded litigation campaigns that eliminate publications that say things you don't like.
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In 1936, John Maynard Keynes suggested that a fair economic system would lead to "the euthanasia of the rentier, and, consequently, the euthanasia of the cumulative oppressive power of the capitalist to exploit the scarcity-value of capital" -- implying that we have a choice between fairness and extreme wealth, and that the two couldn't peacefully co-exist.
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Peter Thiel was always a controversial figure in tech, known as an acerbic doctrinaire libertarian who'd publicly declared that "I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible," a situation he blamed in part on "the extension of the franchise to women," -- but people still took his money and sought his help in part because he was viewed as a mostly harmless crank and in part because he had a titanic amount of money and connections to throw at organizations that legitimized him by affiliating themselves with him.
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When the 9/11 commission reported back on the intelligence failures that led to the attacks 16 years ago, they identified a key problem: America's spy agencies had collected so much useless, indiscriminate information (haystacks) that they couldn't find the useful, salient facts (needles) buried there. Read the rest
UT Austin sociologist Sarah Brayne spent 2.5 years conducting field research with the LAPD as they rolled out Predpol, a software tool that is supposed to direct police to places where crime is likely to occur, but which has been shown to send cops out to overpolice brown and poor people at the expense of actual crimefighting. Read the rest
Yesterday, Merck CEO Ken Frazier quit Trump's advisory council and today the CEOs of Intel and Under Armor joined him, which raises the question: why were these guys on the advisory council for an avowed white supremacist who campaigned on a platform of racial discrimination against Mexicans and Muslims? Read the rest
Palmer Luckey, the guy who founded Oculus, sold it to Facebook, and then used the money to fund racist, far-right meme creation in the 2016 election cycle is now running a Peter-Thiel-backed startup to build surveillance technology that could be part of Donald Trump's border wall. Read the rest
Donald Trump has been slow to fill administrative positions that require Senate confirmation (and thus public scrutiny), but he's quietly hired 400 "beachhead team" members "to serve as his eyes and ears at every major federal agency, from the Pentagon to the Department of Interior" -- a rats' nest of ex-lobbyists running agencies they used to lobby, campaign staffers being given cushy jobs, neo-nutjobs from the Breitbart depths who endorse birtherism and other, more exotic conspiracy theories, and a whole Mos Eisley Cantina's worth of scum and villainy. Read the rest
Muckrock today announced a $1,000 grant for projects to increase public understanding of noted Donald Trump supporter and anti-Gawker-lawsuit-funder Peter Thiel. Motherboard matched the Muckrock reporting grant funds, and now the grant is $2,000.
Apply to MuckRock’s Thiel Fellowship here.
“Applications are on a rolling basis with the first deadline of October 1, 2016. Applicants should email the following to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line'MuckRock Thiel Fellowship,'” says the announcement.
From Muckrock's Michael Morisy:
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Peter Thiel - co-founder of both PayPal and Palantir and an early Facebook investor - has profoundly reshaped industry after industry and, ultimately, remade the world to fit his radical vision of the future. Unfortunately, despite his impact in industries ranging from digital payments and mass government surveillance to radical life extension and seasteading, the media has done relatively little reporting on the details of his companies, often leaving the public in the dark on his contributions to society.
But maybe you can change that.
With MuckRock’s Thiel Fellowship, we want to help journalists and researchers better understand this pivotal figure’s work and share what they learn with the world.
MuckRock is offering a grant of 250 requests (a $1,000 value), plus our invaluable FOIA expertise, to between one and three inaugural Thiel Fellows who propose projects that help the public better understand organizations or areas of research and public policy connected with Thiel. Even better, Motherboard has agreed to double that, providing an additional $1,000 to fund FOIA request fees, research, potential stipends, or other related costs of the fellowship.
I had a friend who wanted to get better at painting. But she thought she had to be in Paris, with all the conditions right. She never made it to Paris. Now she sits in a cubicle under fluorescent lights, filling out paperwork all day.
Activist and intel/security journalist Barrett Brown criticizes the government that wants to put him in jail for eight-and-a-half more years in his sentencing speech, while also expressing "sincere regret" for threatening an FBI agent and his family. Read the rest
Yesterday in Hamburg, Glenn Greenwald gave an astounding, must-watch keynote address to the gathered hackers at the 30th Chaos Communications Congress, or 30C3 (Greenwald starts at 4:36). Greenwald excoriated the press for failing to hold the world's leaders to account, describing what he did with the Snowden leaks as challenge to the journalistic status quo as well as the political status quo. This is a leaping-off point for an extended riff on the active cooperation between the press and the national security apparatus, an arrangement calculated to give the appearance of oversight on surveillance activities without any such oversight (for example, BBC reporter expressed shock when he said that the role of the press should be to root out lies from senior spies, saying that generals and senior officials would ever lie to the public). Read the rest
Palantir is security software that helps CIA analysts take innocuous events (man comes to U.S. on temporary visa, man takes flight training classes, man buys one-way ticket from Boston to California) and put them into a context where potential threats can become more apparent (the one man is actually several, and they're all on the same flight).
The technology is based on a system developed by PayPal, and it's interesting because it's one of the few examples of counter-terrorism work that is actually proactive. Instead of adding increasingly elaborate airport security rules that are merely responses to the most recently exposed plot, a program like Palantir has the potential to spot plots in the making with less hassle to the general public. That could make it a good thing. On the other hand, Palantir comes with plenty of its own privacy and civil rights concerns. This Bloomberg BusinessWeek story is pretty "rah rah rah" in tone, ironically cheering on all the things that make Palantir seem rather creepy to me. But it is a great example of why countering terrorism is really just one long string of incredibly difficult choices. What matters more, who makes that call, and how do we balance a reasonable desire for safety with a reasonable desire to not be creeped the hell out by our own government?
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In October, a foreign national named Mike Fikri purchased a one-way plane ticket from Cairo to Miami, where he rented a condo. Over the previous few weeks, he’d made a number of large withdrawals from a Russian bank account and placed repeated calls to a few people in Syria.