White House Now Thinks Harvesting Fitness Tracker Data Could Stop The Next Mass Shooting

from the no-conceivable-downsides-no-sir dept

In the wake of more mass shootings, everything coming from up top has been bat shit insane. The Trump Administration has a bunch of suggestions, and they’re no better than those offered by a bunch of policy makers who think pulling the plug on certain areas of the internet will somehow reduce the frequency of mass shootings in the US.

Despite being able to do actually useful things at the federal level, Trump has decided preventing gun violence should be everyone else’s job. First, he declared it’s time for social media companies to engage in even greater vetting of users’ posts, apparently in hopes of finding the next mass shooter before they start shooting.

We’re headed to pre-crime territory, with the feds in tow. Working together, these entities can be expected to create a massive mess — one that criminalizes words and will result in plenty of non-dangerous people spending more time interacting with federal agents. This isn’t going to solve the problem. It’s only going to create a new set of problems, waste limited law enforcement resources, and deprive people of their rights and liberties.

So, of course, the Trump administration is out there trying to make a bad situation even worse. Working backwards from a stillborn idea to come up with a catchy acronym, the White House brain trust is planning on inflicting this on America:

Last week, the Washington Post reported that the White House had been briefed on a plan to create an agency called HARPA, a healthcare counterpart to the Pentagon’s research and development arm DARPA. Among other initiatives, this new agency would reportedly collect volunteer data from a suite of smart devices, including Apple Watches, Fitbits, Amazon Echos, and Google Homes in order to identify “neurobehavioral signs” of “someone headed toward a violent explosive act.” The project would then use artificial intelligence to create a “sensor suite” to flag mental changes that make violence more likely.

According to the Post, the HARPA proposal was discussed with senior White House officials as early as June 2017, but has “gained momentum” after the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. The latest version of the plan, reportedly submitted to the Trump administration this month, outlined the biometric project called “SAFE HOME,” an acronym for “Stopping Aberrant Fatal Events by Helping Overcome Mental Extremes.”

Jesus Christ. Doesn’t take long for dystopia to take hold. We already knew every fitness tracking device is, first and foremost, a TRACKING device. They generate the sort of data cops and terrorists alike like getting their hands on. Now, the administration is suggesting this data will be able to stop killers before they kill by looking for elevated pulse rates or, I don’t know, heart conditions common to mass shooters. Or whatever.

Somehow, this patchwork of “volunteer data” will be Frankensteined into a “multi-modality solution” that can provide the government with “early diagnoses of neuropsychiatric violence.” Ok, then. But can it even do this? Or will analysts pore over tons of garbage data looking for patterns that don’t actually exist — all while being pressured to prevent mass shootings? If so, the desire to show the program works might overwhelm the desire to proceed in a scientific manner, leading to garbage outputs more aligned with numerology enthusiasts and that Timecube guy.

Expecting anything “advanced” from a fitness tracker is asking for trouble. As Emily Gorecenski points out on Twitter, a FitBit can somehow detect the heartbeat in the breast from a chicken that’s been killed, butchered, processed, packaged, sent to a grocery store, and purchased by a consumer.

Reminder that I can use a similar health tracker to pull a heartrate off a chicken breast. So maybe we shouldn’t use them for pre-crime detection.pic.twitter.com/sWOYjs5UfG

— Joe Biden is Center-Right (@EmilyGorcenski) August 30, 2019

These are the tools we’re going to use to do pre-crime? This is the scientific wonder that’s going to track down mass shooters before they can kill anybody? If we’re lucky, we’ll all live long enough to regret this.

Once you get past the HARPA buzzwords and the shininess of the tech toys, you’re left with the unpleasant feeling this is going to result in people being hustled off the street by black-clad government agents and rushed to the nearest reeducation center.

“Creating a watchlist of citizens who most likely will never act violently based on their mental health is a very dangerous proposal with major ethical considerations,” Emma Fridel, a doctoral candidate at Northeastern University specializing in mass murder, told Gizmodo in an email. “Doing so to predict the unpredictable is utterly absurd.”

This system will be little more than an efficient generator of false positives. Adopting as much intrusive surveillance as possible as quickly as possible is bound to result in a few prevented crimes. So would random house searches and 24-hour police checkpoints. Backing into this with a catchy acronym, technobabble, and a bunch of junk science isn’t acceptable. The government may feel obligated to do something about mass shootings, but everything it has come up with so far has been resolutely terrible, if not terrifying.

Filed Under: data, fitness trackers, guns, mass shootings, school shootings, surveillance, trump administration

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