Saturday, July 27, 2019

FL: Next Surveillance State Deadline Approaching

In the wake of the murders at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, the great state of Florida decided to make a giant leap forward in establishing a surveillance state, proposing a data base that would collect giant massive tanker cars full of data from every public sources imaginable as well as social media. It will provide a one-stop shop for singling out every troubled child in the state. What could possibly go wrong?

We should soon find out. Governor DeSantis set a ready-to-go date of August 1, 2019.

Well, we're supposed to find out. An EdWeek investigation back in May revealed that the system is hitting some speed bumps-- which is probably just as well. From the EdWeek piece:

Don't mind me. I'm just here to help.
“It was never a good idea to try to implement a database this big, in this time frame,” said Amelia Vance, the director of education privacy at the Future of Privacy Forum, a Washington think tank that has been closely tracking Florida’s response to the Parkland shooting. "The lack of forethought and consideration for what this will mean for individual children is really troubling."

And what this will mean is, in fact, very troubling. EdWeek also obtained a list of some of the data bases that are supposed to be part of this well-bronzed cyber-big-brother, this Big Tan Eye. Some of the data that various departments have available to share:

* Law Enforcement has a criminal information sharing platform that includes reports, tips, and "other information that needs to be verified before law enforcement agencies can rely upon it."

* The state child welfare department has records for 9 million people, including foster care and protective services reports.

* The department of children and families has 5.6 million records covering substance abuse and mental health issues, plus demographics and service data.

* Juvenile Justice has, of course, lots to share.

* The state department of education has basically every individual student record from class schedules to disciplinary records.

* And yes, social media posts.

Critics charge that the state is only paying attention to what is legal rather than what is useful or ethical. In other words, only asking what they can do and not what they should do.

Supporters offer not-very-reassuring notions like "We're just putting together data that is already out there, not collecting new stuff, so this doesn't violate privacy" and of course selling the notion that this will make it possible to find and stop the next shooter before tragedy strikes. It makes me wonder-- if Florida's Big Tan Eye convicts someone of Future Crime, will it finally be okay at that point to make sure that person can't get his hands on a gun? Or will the Second Amendment remains sacrosanct even in this Brave New World.

A coalition of thirty-two education, disability, privacy and civil rights groups sent a letter to the governor earlier this month laying out some of their objections. They note that this is part of an "alarming trend" that includes swell stuff like requiring districts to collect mental health records for all students as a requirement of registration.

There are a host of unintended consequences that can already be predicted. For instance, the Big Tan Eye wants to know who's been bullied, because it thinks that being a victim of bullying makes you more of a potential threat. What do you suppose will happen to reports of bullying once students and their parents understand that the new rule is "Report a bully and it goes on YOUR permanent record, labeling you a potential school shooter'? What other help will students actively avoid because it will become part of their digital record?

There is, of course, the security question. The state is making promises about who will and will not see it, but once it exists, what future legislators will see a good reason to open the data base to even more viewers. And what are the chances of hackery getting at the treasure trove of data?

But the letter also makes another important point-- there isn't a shred of evidence that any of this works. Studies suggest that social media monitoring doesn't help. And the algorithms that will be needed to sort through all the noise cannot be trusted.

Again, from EdWeek coverage:

“It sounds like a fishing expedition for information about Floridians,” said Rachel Levinson-Waldman, a lawyer with the liberty and national security program at the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University law school.

And so it does. One of the biggest data fishing expeditions ever, with no guarantee that it will not be used for troubling purposes and no promise of checks for accuracy (which is no small thing-- one of the big problems with Big Brother is that he gets many things just plain wrong).

The Big Tan Eye will (should it ever get off the ground) be inaccurate, creepy, overreachy, intrusive, not useful for its alleged purpose, problematic for those students when they eventually become adults (what-- do you think they're going to purge these records once a student turns eighteen), and dangerous. And on top of all that, because of the huge value of large troves of integrated data, it will be lying there essentially like a giant pile of unattended money, just begging to be grabbed one way or another.

While Florida's legislature never met a bad idea they didn't like, this is still a higher level of Bad Idea. Here's hoping that next week, they throw the switch and nothing happens, or they can't find the switch, or the whole thing isn't even ready, because the only hope that Floridians have right now is that their legislatures incompetence will thwart its bad judgment. Otherwise, every child in Florida had better not lie, pout, cry, ask for help, or breathe funny, because the Big Tan Eye will be watching.

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