Our civilization has entered the digital age. The technological realm has become pervasive, and we can hardly escape it in our daily interactions. But can we trust those steering the ship? As each day brings new insight into the fraudulent use of personal data, breaches of privacy, and attempts to filter our perception, we need to be more aware than ever. With today’s hasty technological development, few people stop to examine how these changes will affect our privacy, liberty, or our ability to control our own lives. Each week, Liberty Nation’s You’re Never Alone will catch you up on the facts you need to know.
This week, we look at new evidence of politically-motivated Facebook censorship, ask whether a computer is fit to judge your personal morals, and preview a new experiment in police street spying.
Facebook Whistleblower Alleges Censorship
Investigative news organization Project Veritas recently released a number of leaked documents provided by an anonymous “Facebook insider” who claims that the social media provider secretly “deboosts” or suppresses the distribution of political speech certain staff members don’t like. The former Facebook employee worked as a “content review analyst for the intellectual property department” of the company. “I saw things that were going on that I personally found to be troubling,” she said in an interview with Veritas founder James O’Keefe.
According to O’Keefe, the “ActionDeboostLiveDistribution” command used to suppress content deemed “bad” was piggybacked onto an artificial intelligence program used to detect and block keywords related to self-harm – before it “went political.” The command would remove “share buttons” and materials designed to spread user interaction from livestream videos without notifying the user. Pages targeted with the code included conservative figures including comedian Steven Crowder and writer Mike Cernovich, and news site the Daily Caller.
The Veritas report also alleges that Facebook may suppress “content near the perimeter of hate speech” and internet “trolling” behaviors such as “toxic meme creation,” using slang terms commonly associated with today’s right-wing movement like SJW (social justice warrior) and MSM (mainstream media) and “red-pilling normies to covert them to their worldview.” Seiji Yamamoto, who formulated these potential policies, suggested that the effort to “demote bad content” should be implemented especially “leading up to important elections.”
Don’t Judge Me, Alexa
Skeptics of home assistant devices such as Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa have long suspected they would eventually be used to monitor owners’ actions with the ultimate goal of controlling them. But the devices may soon transcend the routine tracking of users’ interests and movements, and begin evaluating their ethical beliefs. Norwegian scientists have proposed that a “moral AI” should be added to these devices, with the capability of calling the police if it deems residents owners to be breaking the law.
As reported by the Daily Mail newspaper, the scientists:
Suggested that digital assistants should possess an ethical awareness that simultaneously represents both the owner and the authorities – or, in the case of a minor, their parents.
Devices would then have an internal ‘discussion’ about suspect behavior, weighing up conflicting demands between the law and personal freedoms, before arriving at the ‘best’ course of action.
There have certainly been moves to bring home assistant technology into the crime-fighting world. An Amazon Echo device has been subpoenaed as a witness of sorts to provide evidence in a murder case; police believe that one unit may contain recordings of suspect Timothy Verrill committing double homicide, although Amazon has yet to release the information despite the court order. While Amazon has denied that the home assistant currently has the capacity to contact the authorities if it detects a crime in progress, the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department has claimed that it received a 911 call from Alexa during a domestic violence incident.
While this technology will obviously be sold to the public as a savior that will save the innocent from terrible crimes or alert parents to the misdeeds of wayward teens, it will surely be used to clamp down on immoral thoughtcrimes and so-called offensive “hate speech” expressed in a person’s own home.
“Smart Ears” on the Streets
Of course, policing is not only essential inside the home, but on the streets as well. LN recently reported on the current rollout of facial recognition technology as a law enforcement tool, but visual clues simply aren’t enough – according to one French town, installing microphones in public is a valuable addition. The central French town of Saint Etienne is starting a trial of 50 sound sensors installed in a high-crime area, with the purpose of detecting suspicious sounds, including shouts, alarms and breaking glass. Police hope to use a combination of the microphone and CCTV recordings to identify suspects. It is not yet decided whether signage will be posted to alert residents where the microphones will be located. Local authorities have said that the microphones will not be able to pick up the sounds of conversations. Local officials stated that “People should not be worried. We’re not going to spy on them.” They added that “People’s well-being also depends on greater security.”
Local baker Berkame Lachcene supports the trial. “I had the window of my shop broken,” he said. “If these microphones allow us greater peace of mind and to be informed as soon as something happens, it’s a good thing.”
Others residents aren’t so convinced, they told Le Parisien newspaper. Retiree Bernard Mallet said that “It’s an aberration. I’m against surveillance. There are already too many cameras, and now there will be microphones too. I don’t think this is the right method to offer us more security. In my opinion what we need is more police, not ‘Big Brother.’” Café owner Ahmad Draoui added, “I don’t really believe that they won’t be recording conversations. This is disguised spying.”
This is not merely a European issue that won’t affect Americans – far from it, the Saint Etienne plan is inspired by similar schemes already active in U.S. cities like New York. In 2015, the Big Apple installed “gunshot detector” microphones on street lamps in some neighborhoods. Allegedly, the detectors can only pick up certain loud sounds like a firearm discharging but shouted voice recordings picked up on the devices have reportedly been used as evidence in court. “This gunshot detection system is going to do a world of good in terms of going after the bad guys,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said at the time.
When asked about the microphone trial, the French baker told reporters that, “If these microphones make the area more peaceful and provide evidence in case of an incident, it is a good thing. For my part, they can spy on what they want, I have nothing to hide.”
This argument inevitably crops up during any conversation related to government surveillance. “If you don’t do anything wrong, you don’t have anything to hide,” so it’s all okay. While this argument may be fine the first time, and the second time, when does the intrusion become too much, even if you are doing nothing “wrong”? While people understandably crave a safe and secure environment in which to live, is the answer really to increasingly monitor all citizens, all the time? What other solutions could be explored to minimize crime? After all, the definitions of “wrong” and “illegal” can change at any time, but once these laws are in place, they are not going away. So, when faced with this dilemma, perhaps it’s a good time to remind ourselves of that famous Benjamin Franklin quote, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”