23 October 2014

Are you an activist? Your tweets could kill you. I'm not joking


So I've not had a chance to update this blog as I've been up to my neck in it, but I've realised doing so has meant some of my readers haven't been able to keep up with my work. To make up for it, while I've got a few moments between sessions at the IARU Sustainability Science Congress in Copenhagen (where I gave a talk this morning), here are some updates.

First order of business is the continuation of my investigation, that began in The Guardian, into the Pentagon's co-optation of social science and academia to create new tools to track activists and political dissent. 

I followed that up with an extensive four-part investigation published by Occupy.com, which dug deeper in the activities of the Pentagon's Minerva Research Initiative, to unearth its role in funding new, cutting-edge, data-mining tools and algorithms that could be used by the intelligence community - most specifically the NSA and CIA - to analyse and track activism, political dissent and ultimately predict social unrest, via social media. 

The overarching aim is to enhance the intelligence community's capacity to automatically assess threats using these algorithms, based on integrated analysis of a person's or organisation's social media usage combined with what can be gleaned from their private communications, to create an overall picture of behavioural patterns and political propensities. 

The most worrying thing of all about all this is that according to former senior NSA executive Thomas Drake, the celebrated whistleblower who inspired Edward Snowden, these algorithms and data-mining tools are precisely the sort of algorithms used to generate targets for the CIA's drone-strike kill lists. The upshot is that if you tweet something that can be categorised as "extreme" via the dubious and imprecise threat-classifications schemes being developed for Pentagon use, you could end up on a terror watch list somewhere - or worse.

And just because you're American, don't think you'll be ok because drone strikes currently take place abroad in certain Muslim-majority countries. The other line of inquiry I explore in this in-depth series is the ongoing efforts to militarise the US homeland with drones. By September 2015, Obama has demanded that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) finalise its drone regulations, so that drones can fly in US skies. Police units are already using drones borrowed from border control in places like Seattle to conduct surveillance and assist with active on-street operations. But that's not all. Apart from the police actively lobbying to arm drones with so-called "non-lethal" weapons - riot control stuff, tear gas, rubber bullets, etc. - a little-known Pentagon executive directive last year now formally gives domestic agencies the authority to use armed drones on US soil in the case of major "civil disturbances" or "emergencies" - whether natural disasters, economic or food shocks, or a terrorist attack. 

My investigation ties up the Minerva initiative in the context of the wider national security apparatus and the drive to accelerate state-military control in the face of the increasing danger of civil unrest at home and abroad, due to the escalating probability of climate, energy, economic and food crises. 

The issues uncovered in my investigation demonstrate that we are well on the path to the consolidation of the surveillance-state, with the US leading the new model of state consolidation - our every move under the watch of militarised drones; our behaviours public and private the subject of routine but extensive data-mining and behavioural analytics to predict our predisposition and gauge our threat-level to US "national security"; and the danger of political dissent being characterised as a "threat" as the state loses its legitimacy as climate, energy, economic and food crises deepen. 

Think Skynet (Terminator), meets Hydra (Captain America: Winter Soldier), meets Pre-Crime (Minority Report).

So sure, your Facebook posts, tweets, Flickr photos, etc. etc. might not be an issue right now. But they're already being mined, wholesale, to gauge your organisational affiliations and "threat-potential." In a few years time, they might just get you on that drone-strike kill list. 

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