Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Conflating Corporate Data Mining and Government Spying

Many supporters of the governments PRISM program have made the argument, in essences, that corporations are already mining our data for private gain. Many of them lean left, and believe that such data mining is fundamentally evil, and by making money from it, the evil is compounded. Indeed, many of them are quite exercised about corporate data mining.

Such is the case with Lou Dobbs.  In his discussion segment with Bruce Schneier, author of the book Liars and Outliers, Dobbs continually conflated the data mining that corporations do with the data mining in which the government is engaged. Let's be clear, here. Corporations perform data mining in order to sell advertising. They add value to the advertisers, who can target their product advertising to those people most likely to be in the market, and the add value by bringing targeted advertising to those people looking for such ads. I am not the least bit offended that products I may be interested inshow up in the advertising I read on line. Lady's dresses may be of interest to some, but I pretty much ignore them, since the wife doesn't wear them. On the other hand, advertisements for the latest concealed carry products interest me, and I am likely to click on such ads. Of course, I don't necessarily purchase the products just because I click on the advertisement. Indeed, it is impossible for a corporation to do anything to me if I don't buy their product. Nothing they can do can make me hand over my money. Now, is it a little creepy that advertisements for shoes appear on my computer right after I have been looking for something inexpensive to replace my worn out pair? Sure, but I know how the trick is done.

On the other hand, government is force. Government can send me to prison, or worse. As Bruce Schneirer said last night, if a corporation gets it wrong, the worst that happens is you get an ad for something you don't want, but if government gets it wrong, you can go to jail. The consequences to an individual, thus, are orders of magnitude greater for the government than for corporations. Therefore I want to know that my government only snoops on those who have been identified with probable cause to have been guilty, and they have sworn out a warrant under penalty of perjury, and that a judge has signed off on that warrant, after duly considering the evidence of probable cause. That is the way the system works. If that means some terrorists get away with it, it also means we can be secure in our papers and personal effects.

Another line of reasoning, which is of course the utilitarian argument, is that we are all safer because the NSA is spying on everyone.  Presumably, these are the same people who think their neighbors harbor homicidal thoughts about them and are only constrained by lack of a gun.  The other night, Miss Alabama, one Mary Margaret McCord gave the perfect answer for this crowd. You can see, and hear it at New York Magazine's Daily Intelligencer. Miss McCord wants to feel safe at movies, the mall, and airports. But apparently she doesn't want to put in the work necessary to be safe. She apparently wants to run around in condition white, oblivious to her surroundings, trusting that the NSA is watching over her, and others will spring into action should someone do something to endanger her precious life. Here's some advise. Grow up! You are not a child anymore, and you (and you alone) are responsible for your safety, and that of any children you may eventually have. Get a gun, learn to use it, carry it everywhere. Make up your mind now that if it comes to you or someone who means to kill you, you are going to ensure it is him or her. Learn to look around, observe what is going on around you, and constantly have a plan to defend yourself and your loved ones. That is the only way to be safe in this world; to rely on others is an illusion.


  1. The Marines have it right, I think (and they'll pardon me if I paraphrase): "Be professional and polite, and have a plan to kill everyone you meet."

  2. Rev. Paul,

    I have heard that one from several people, but it is an apt description of being in condition orange.

    God bless,