Christopher Lucero | Defending Against Big Data

Letters to the Editor
Letters to the Editor

What do you think of big data? Do you trust it? Mistrust it? How about big government? Listen up. Introduced into both chambers of Congress have been identical bills to “prohibit biometric surveillance by the federal government without explicit statutory authorization and to withhold certain federal public safety grants from state and local governments that engage in biometric surveillance.” HR7356 is the House initiative. S4084 is the Senate version.

As of now, there are 16 cosponsors supporting the House bill.

You may want to consider your long-term interests (and that of your family, friends and neighbors) in your decision to support or to decline to support this legislation.

It is a very controversial topic, hotly debated among the developers and practitioners who design and use these automata, as well as titans of industry and politicians. A number of dystopian futures have been imagined that shed a fair amount of distrust upon government that – while not specifically intruding – gathers inferential data that can make all forms of control more efficiently administered.

We are all interested in efficient governing. From that perspective, the upsides to the use of technology supports utopian visions that would arise from the positive attributes of such technology.

Human habit is to find a loss about 10 to 100 times as dissatisfying as a comparative gain. Thus, all potential risks of misuse by government would need to be 100 to 1,000 times less likely in order to have long-term amenable acceptance. If you believe government has the capability to administer a system that has a 100:1 or 1,000:1 ratio of benefit to hazard, you could rationally support this bill. 

If you believe government cannot or will not be able to assure those ratios of benefit to hazard, it might be worthwhile to consider sending an email or calling your senators and congressional representatives to urge their support for the passage of the legislation.

At the same time, there is a bill, HR 6172, stagnating in the House. It attempts to scale back surveillance, to throttle the incursions of enforcement into the privacy of U.S. citizens in their communications (warrantless monitoring of phones, internet, media, etc.).

Astonishingly, the ACLU has garnered support from conservatives. Here’s a quick summary: The ACLU opinion in support of the Lee Amendment to HR6172 (Mike Lee, R-Utah) sides with conservatives in citing errors and omissions that occurred during investigations (surveillance) of Carter Page, a campaign advisor to the Republican Party during the 2016 presidential election. Lee’s amendment calls for greater oversight of said investigations.

According to “Conservapedia,” the ACLU is a “leftist, secular-progressive organization…” that “pursues a leftist agenda that includes censoring prayer and recognition of God in public institutions, such as public schools.” Yet when we ALL face a common threat, we set aside rhetoric to act in common to counter it. We have a rare moment: Conservatives and the ACLU are on the same side of an issue.

“May you live in interesting times.”

Christopher Lucero

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