French theorist Michel Foucault saw the writing on the wall. In his 1975 book, "Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison," which drew on the work of the English philosopher Jeremy Bentham, he introduced the social theory of "panopticism" to explain, at least in part, how surveillance functions as a system of power.
Today, we are very much living in a tech panopticon -- one in which our purchasing habits, individual data and even physical movements can be tracked without our knowledge. What does this mean for the future of personal privacy? How has the "war on terror" radically altered the ways we fight crime, and in what ways might the state use the increasingly sophisticated tools at its disposal to abuse its authority?
For Jamie Garcia of the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, the possibilities are terrifying and limitless. In the latest installment of "Scheer Intelligence," she and host Robert Scheer discuss how local police forces are working hand in hand with Palantir, an organization funded by the CIA. Specifically, they explore how data mining and "predictive policing" pose an existential threat to people of color. Observes Garcia: "It takes us back to post-9/11 in which Congress wanted to set up a way to make domestic law enforcement the eyes and ears of the federal government."
Not even the country's most liberal states are immune to these kinds of civil rights violations. Take California, where Garcia notes the LAPD has ignored the will of the people at every turn to implement a controversial new drone program. "When you have your own city council not listening to the wishes of the community," she laments, "you realize that there is no community control of these [initiatives]."
Despite this, Garcia refuses to abandon hope. "We [have to] talk about how the police is functioning," she concludes. "We just assume, like a public utility, that they're doing their job. That they're providing us ... safety. And I think that will open our eyes to how harmful policing is in our lives."
Listen to Garcia's full interview with Robert Scheer below, and beneath the audio player see a transcript of the interview.
Robert Scheer: Hi, this is Robert Scheer with another edition of "Scheer Intelligence," where the intelligence comes from my guest. In this case it's Jamie Garcia, who's involved with a group called Stop LAPD Spying Coalition. And what it's a reference to is something that has happened all over the country. The technologies launched by the CIA, by the NSA, by the Pentagon -- to extensively spy on terrorists around the world and learn all these techniques of getting the terrorists in our midst and the terrorists who want to attack us -- has now come to inform policing on the local community level.
Some of the estimates I've seen, it is highly secretive, of course, but about 50 different police departments in the United States are using the services of something called The LASER Program, which stands for, believe it or not, L.A. Strategic Extraction and Restoration. It's basically data mining, trying to use artificial intelligence to figure out who are the bad guys are, how to do selective policing and there's another program here in LA that's also a national called PredPol which tries to do. ... Both of these groups are basically aiming at something called predictive policing. The whole idea is to more effectively use police resources and using with data mining, the kind that use all the data we have on the Internet and to be more targeting.
The argument against it, and there's a Dartmouth University study, many others, show that these are deeply biased studies. They involve racial profiling, they involve stigmatizing neighborhoods and they're a self-fulfilling prophecy. That if you target people then you'll have more arrest records, you'll have more incidents, and that will affirm your description of these bad actors. So welcome, Jamie. Can you set us straight? How you got involved in this, what is your organization trying to do. I know you have weekly confrontations or meetings with the LAPD here in Los Angeles, so take it away.
Jamie Garcia: Yeah, thank you so much for giving us the time and to be able to inform Angelenos and talk to folks nationally about what is happening with predictive policing. So the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, we go back to 2011 when we were formed, but we were formed primarily around an initiative called the Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative, which is a national initiative that began in 2008. The coalition formed around that initiative, and when we think about predictive policing, I think it's important that we see it not in a silo. We have to understand how it's a part of the larger, national changing nature of policing, and you talk about how counter terrorism programs and counter insurgency programs are now becoming part of domestic law enforcement.
I think that's a really important point because what we're looking at is presumption of guilt, assigned criminality before anything happens. That concept really takes us back to post 9/11. Looking at the 9/11 Commission, where Congress really wanted to set up a way to make domestic law enforcement the eyes and ears of the federal government, So they can prevent something from happening. And I think that's a really important concept for us to look at when we think about predictive policing because predictive policing is about data gathering. And it's about data analysis, and it's trying to find where that crime's going to happen and who's going to commit it before it actually occurs. But in some sense the Department of Justice, our federal government needed to set a landscape in order for that to occur, in order for people to buy into it. Then you mentioned this war on terror, and I think one of the guiding principles in the coalition is that there's always an other.
That these types of policies, these type of tactics, are kind of pushed into our community because they're looking for the terrorists, they're looking for whatever new threat there is that we need to be fearful of. The two things I want to just kind of ground us in really quickly about the Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative is to how they define "suspicion." They define it as observed behavior, reasonable indicative of pre-operational planning of criminal or terrorist behavior. Now when we think about reasonable indication, what exactly does that mean? You have probable cause, you have reasonable suspicion, now you have reasonable indication which the Office of Director of National Intelligence defined as an articulable concern.
When we bring in pre-operational planning, we think of the idea that someone is thinking about doing something. So that's essentially the kind of legal framework that the suspicious activity reporting program set up. Now after the post-9/11 commission kind of came out with this desire to stop things before they happened they passed the Intelligence Reformed Terrorism Prevention Act which mandated the president to create what's called the information sharing environment. That was essentially an environment where data can be shared through multiple agencies -- local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies.