After the atrocities committed in the United States on September 11, 2001 – 9/11 – the federal government, under the direction of President George W. Bush, launched its self-justified War on Terror.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) sprang up soon after. Today, 18 years later, DHS will cost U.S. taxpayers $74 billion in 2019, of which $7.7 billion goes to TSA.
Almost ten years after 9/11, James Wesley Rawles said that, based on his 18 years of law enforcement training, any of the following qualities would flag you as a potential domestic terrorist:
- Expressions of libertarian philosophies (statements, bumper stickers)
- Second Amendment-oriented views (NRA or gun club membership, holding a CCW permit)
- Survivalist literature (fictional books such as “Patriots” and “One Second After” are mentioned by name)
- Self-sufficiency (stockpiling food, ammo, hand tools, medical supplies)
- Fear of economic collapse (buying gold and barter items)
- Religious views concerning the book of Revelation (apocalypse, anti-Christ)
- Expressed fears of Big Brother or big government
- Declarations of Constitutional rights and civil liberties
- Belief in a New World Order conspiracy
With so many American citizens qualified for at least one of the above categories, it is small wonder that the DHS considers the U.S. at high risk for domestic terrorism. The odds are for it.
Evidently, the fed is concerned that a group of homeschoolers might plan a trip to the nation’s capital to picket Common Core and teaching to the test – and perhaps lob a molotov cocktail or two over the White House fence while they’re at it. How does private education threaten the national security state, exactly?
The DHS also set up a neighborhood snitch program called, “If you see something, say something.” The idea is to report anything unusual going on around you, such as unfamiliar parked vehicles, an unattended bag at an airport, or even a door or window left open when it is usually closed.
Someone who questions other people to a degree that goes beyond shallow introductions and idle chit-chat might be a terrorist, according to the feds in charge of security right here at home. Likewise, someone who seems unauthorized but is overly attentive to buildings, parking lots, or other facilities might be up to no good.
Extended loitering – what we used to call “hanging out” – is, according to the DHS, yet another signal that a potential terrorist is lurking in your midst.
Now, there is nothing at all wrong with a Good Neighbor policy. And there is great value for being ever on the alert for would-be thieves or vandals.
But now, the DHS is going to let computers “decide” who is likely to be a domestic terrorist and who isn’t. This changes the game from concerning to frightening.
DataRobot, a private automated machine learning company based in Virginia, has received the federal contract to build a software algorithm that will flag anyone who might try to blow up the plane.
Not only does the DHS propose to yield the power of judgment to machine intelligence but it is designing the software to guess.
Are you frightened yet?
In December 2018, the DHS announced its new program which “will give foreign airports around the world free software that teaches itself who the bad guys are, continuing society’s relentless swapping of human judgment for machine learning.”
In particular, DataRobot will create “predictive models to enhance identification of high-risk passengers” with software able to “make real-time prediction[s] with a reasonable response time” – which happens to be less than a second. (Computers operate in nanoseconds. One nanosecond equals one billionth of a second.)
The federal contract makes the assumption that the software “will produce false positives and requires that the terrorist-predicting algorithm’s accuracy should increase when confronted with such mistakes.” The software is currently being tested at the development facility in Virginia.
Even more frightening is the “dataset” (pool of information) that DataRobot’s DHS terrorist predictions are limited “solely” to that which appears on a traveler’s ticket record. Other ticket records for the same traveler are fair game, as are demographics such as the airports being visited and the passenger’s name, birthday, gender, and citizenship. As an extra assist, the system may access the name of the travel agent who brokered the ticket, the passenger’s seat number, credit card information, and broader travel itinerary.
Like the Amazing Kreskin, from this scanty information, the DataRobot artificial intelligence (AI) system is supposed to “predict if a passenger or a group of passengers is intended to join the terrorist groups overseas, by looking at age, domestic address, destination and/or transit airports, route information (one-way or round trip), duration of the stay, and luggage information, etc., and comparing with known instances.”
DHS leaders plan to integrate the DataRobot code into their already-operational Global Travel Assessment System (GTAS). This non-proprietary, open-source software toolchain was designed to make it assist other countries to duplicate the U.S. model and set up their own internal no-fly lists, with ease and speed.
This new DataRobot AI system will “complement the GTAS rule engine and watch list matching features with predictive models to enhance identification of high-risk passengers.” One contract requirement was that the software be able to “automatically augment Watch List data with confirmed ‘positive’ high-risk passengers.'”
One thing that isn’t spelled out in the DHS contract for possible-terrorist probability machines is just how much human supervision will be involved. We do know that “targeting analysts” will be deployed to review system outputs and reports – but will they have the authorization and ability to challenge the computer’s opinion?
The very idea that the Department of Homeland Security would rely on a computer’s opinion for anything should raise alarm bells everywhere.
Don’t worry about raising a fuss over this domestic security issue – if you are so inclined, you’re probably already on the DHS suspected terrorist list according to them.