When NBC’s Brian Williams interviewed Ed Snowden in Moscow last week, one of Snowden’s most interesting statements was left on the cutting room floor.
Specifically, the following statement was cut from NBC’s broadcast Wednesday night:
Now, we have a system of pervasive, pre-criminal surveillance where the government wants to watch what you’re doing just to see what you’re up to, to see what you’re thinking, even behind closed doors.
Indeed, a government expert told the Washington Post that the government “quite literally can watch your ideas form as you type.” (And see this.) And British and U.S. intelligence agencies have been recording millions of webcam videos … many of them nude videos from inside people’s homes. Indeed, the government is spying on virtually everything we do.
Moreover, the NSA is working on building a “pre-crime” computer system that uses artificial intelligence and massive amounts of data to try to predict how every thinks and what everyone is likely to do.
As we reported last year:
The government is currently testing systems for use in public spaces which can screen for “pre-crime”. As Nature reports:
Like a lie detector, FAST measures a variety of physiological indicators, ranging from heart rate to the steadiness of a person’s gaze, to judge a subject’s state of mind. But there are major differences from the polygraph. FAST relies on non-contact sensors, so it can measure indicators as someone walks through a corridor at an airport, and it does not depend on active questioning of the subject.
CBS News points out:
FAST is designed to track and monitor, among other inputs, body movements, voice pitch changes, prosody changes (alterations in the rhythm and intonation of speech), eye movements, body heat changes, and breathing patterns. Occupation and age are also considered. A government source told CNET that blink rate and pupil variation are measured too.
A field test of FAST has been conducted in at least one undisclosed location in the northeast. “It is not an airport, but it is a large venue that is a suitable substitute for an operational setting,” DHS spokesman John Verrico told Nature.com in May.
Although DHS has publicly suggested that FAST could be used at airport checkpoints–the Transportation Security Administration is part of the department, after all–the government appears to have grander ambitions. One internal DHS document (PDF) also obtained by EPIC through the Freedom of Information Act says a mobile version of FAST “could be used at security checkpoints such as border crossings or at large public events such as sporting events or conventions.”
The risk of false positives is very real. As Computer World notes:
Tom Ormerod, a psychologist in the Investigative Expertise Unit at Lancaster University, UK, told Nature, “Even having an iris scan or fingerprint read at immigration is enough to raise the heart rate of most legitimate travelers.” Other critics have been concerned about “false positives.” For example, some travelers might have some of the physical responses that are supposedly signs of mal-intent if they were about to be groped by TSA agents in airport security.
Various “pre-crime” sensing devices have already been deployed in public spaces in the U.S.
The government has also worked on artificial intelligence for “pre-crime” detection on the Web. And given that programs which can figure out your emotions are being developed using your webcam, every change in facial expression could be tracked.
While the government pretends that such pre-crime monitoring is meant to prevent terrorism, the fact is that it is instead being used to crush dissent.