“Harold put a toad in my soup!” cried Freddy. “No,” Harold said.
Data: there is a toad in the soup. Question: Which analysis of the child is wrong? Maybe a bird dropped the toad in there.
I recently came across a term that is new to me, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). This added a little more to my unease with the current world situation. A discussion of the SCO was recently published in the MIT magazine, Technology Review. It appears that this organization is led by China and Russia, and includes countries like Myanmar and Iran.
The scary thing is that it could encourage more surveillance (data collection) of SCO citizens, as well as data manipulation: censorship and control of individual expression. I imagine that the data collected by a country in the group is shared among all members of the organization, so the idea of citizen privacy becomes laughable.
In the United States, we collect huge amounts of data. If you are driving on interstate highways from Michigan to Kentucky and cross the Ohio River on a toll bridge, there is now nowhere you can stop to pay the toll. Instead, the bridge reads your license plate and later you receive a bill for the crossing you made. The same type of system is in use on many toll roads from Ohio to Florida.
Fair enough, in some ways. Drivers trade their travel data for a faster journey, because they don’t have to stop or carry cash for the toll. Does it matter if several state highway departments know where you’ve been?
But suppose states were required to tell the federal government every place you’ve been, and when. You have no control over this. The political aspects of such data collection are the scary thing.
Some of our favorite vacation spots are in Canada, so we often went through customs when entering Canada and the United States. On a trip from New York to Michigan, the shortest route was through Canada from Buffalo, New York to Port Huron, a route we had traveled often before. It’s a good shortcut and avoids some of the heavy truck traffic in the US.
On previous trips, we have found stopping customs at the border to be quick and reasonable. The person in the guard shack would ask for our ID, ask where we had been or were going and wave us on. On one particular occasion, however, the queues to the gate were long and it took us over an hour to reach the booth. At the time we were there, I was really hoping to find a bathroom.
We stopped at the door where the guard, who was hidden behind reflective sunglasses, asked the questions. I answered, of course, but this time he asked if we had any weapons with us. I answered “No”, but then I thought of the small penknife in my pocket. I wondered what he considered a weapon. My knife? The key in the car toolbox? How would he analyze this data?
“You were looking at the glove compartment,” he said, and asked me forcefully if I had a gun there. I told him there was no weapon there, which was true. I thought now was not the time to explain the knife or the bathroom to him.
After more questions, he let us go and we rushed to a nearby gas station. The day is back to normal. Almost. I had become paranoid. So when we arrived at the port of entry into the United States, and some of the same weapons questions were asked, I wondered if we had been tagged as suspects and were forever electronically tagged.
Government data collection is harmless. How the data is used is what matters. If we Americans believe that our data is collected and used for good reasons, we will have no problem with that. However, once a sufficient portion of the population feels harassed by poor data analysis, difficulties can be expected. Think January 6th.
The nation is already polarized. Whether or not there is a toad in the national soup, the data must be analyzed honestly.