Spying and Torture: Don't Go There

There is something George W. Bush should understand, being that he's a dry drunk; one is too many and a thousand never enough.

That little rule of thumb is doubly true of torture and spying on fellow Americans. Justifying one water-boarding becomes justification for the next, and the next until, before you know it, torture becomes not just another tool in the box, but the tool of choice.

The same goes for spying on one another. Humans are born suspicious of one another. Just try handing a baby to a stranger and see what happens. Distrust is programmed right into our DNA, and it knows no bounds. Employers and employees share a mutual distrust of one another. Parents don't trust their own kids unless they're right under their noses. And we trust those we don't know anything about least of all.

So, when the President of the United States gives the nation's most technologically intrusive spy agency, the NSA, the green light to snoop on U.S. citizens it's not just another legalistic nuance, it's a sea change, a very dangerous one.

Why? Because there really is only about six degrees of separation between all of us. One monitored individual's phone calls, for example, inevitably leads to dozens of other suspects. Which leads to the next inevitable question: Who are they? And then: Are they part of it? (Whatever the it, real, feared or just imagined, may be.)

If Bush wants to know where domestic spying leads a nation all he has to do is have one of his aides read aloud to him some of the millions of files the East German Stasi compiled on its own citizens.

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Imagine you've forgotten once again the difference between a gorilla and a chimpanzee, so you do a quick Google image search of “gorilla." But instead of finding images of adorable animals, photos of a Black couple pop up.

Is this just a glitch in the algorithm? Or, is Google an ad company, not an information company, that's replicating the discrimination of the world it operates in? How can this discrimination be addressed and who is accountable for it?

“These platforms are encoded with racism," says UCLA professor and best-selling author of Algorithms of Oppression, Dr. Safiya Noble. “The logic is racist and sexist because it would allow for these kinds of false, misleading, kinds of results to come to the fore…There are unfortunately thousands of examples now of harm that comes from algorithmic discrimination."

On At Liberty this week, Dr. Noble joined us to discuss what she calls “algorithmic oppression," and what needs to be done to end this kind of bias and dismantle systemic racism in software, predictive analytics, search platforms, surveillance systems, and other technologies.

What you can do:
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