Monday, December 26, 2011
Too many US citizens do not know the name of the largest US city or approximately how far it is from the US East Coast to the US West Coast. Too many US citizens do not know the square root of 4 or the name of the galaxy in which they live. Too many US citizens are not really citizens. They are really only brainwashed consumers and voters that buy what the corporate-controlled mass media tells them to buy and vote for whom the corporate-controlled mass media tells them to elect to office. For too many US citizens, thinking is passé. Reacting is the norm.
Most citizens in Western European nations - Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and Vatican City -- think that Americans are stupid and ignorant. They are not far off the mark. Too many of the posters on SF Bay Area > Craigslist > Politics lend credence to the Western European view of Americans.
Too many posters on SF Bay Area > Craigslist > Politics show how limited is their vocabulary by using an abundance of four-letter words and/or show their lack of critical cerebral activity by employing ad hominem attacks against other posters. This is not entirely the fault of such posters. It is the fault of their parents, the public education system (the US Department of Education, which is the product of the corrupt two-party monopoly of government by the elite and Wall Street, i.e., the Democratic Party and the Republican Party), and the corporate-controlled mass media.
Too many readers of this post probably will not understand what this poster is talking about and will not attempt to understand because it would be too much trouble to apply their brains TO THINK AND LEARN. That is why there are so many HAVE-NOTS in contrast to THE HAVES.
To all of you posters that use limited vocabularies and/or ad hominem arguments in your posts, "You doom yourselves to an insignificant life if you refuse TO THINK AND LEARN, which is not easy. REAL THINKING requires effort, work, and concentration. REAL THINKING requires one to overcome apathy, laziness, and submission. Craigslist posters that DO NOT THINK stand out from those that DO THINK. Craigslist posters that DO NOT THINK show the world how stupid they are in their posts. A vocabulary rife with four-letter words in combination with a lack of 7-10 letter words and/or an ad hominem attack show a simple mind -- a dimwit. Are you a dimwit, too?
If you are dimwit, and you vote, you will most likely vote for a Republican or a Democrat in the next election because the corporate-controlled mass media has successfully brainwashed you to vote that way; and you will vote that way, because THINKING about the qualifications vs. the disqualifications of the candidates requires work, effort, and concentration, which takes time and is not easy.
Take the easy way out - don't think. Don't keep an open mind. You don't have to do that. You know everything. React, dimwit.
Monday, December 19, 2011
The Making of a Prison Society
Recently by William Norman Grigg: Support
Your Local Police State
you shouldn't bring kids to protests."
which issued from the sneering lips of an armored riot policeman,
struck Don Joughin with the force of a billyclub as he tried to
comfort his children – a three-year-old and a newborn – after they
had been showered with a chemical agent by a riot policeman.
did not take place during any of the recent "Occupy"-inspired
protests. It occurred in August 2002, during a fundraising visit
by then-President George W. Bush to Portland, Oregon.
with then-recently established "security" protocols, local
police were deployed in riot gear to keep
demonstrators confined inside "free speech zones" located several
blocks away from the motorcade route. Joughin, who was accompanied
by his wife and three children, was present when police
unleashed a pepper-spray fusillade against a small group of protesters
who had taken a few steps outside the designated protest zone.
After the police
attack began, Joughin and his family attempted to leave, but found
themselves penned in. Acting on the tragically innocent assumption
that the police were present in order to keep the peace, Joughin
politely asked the officer obstructing an exit how he and his family
could leave the turbulent intersection. "He pointed and said to
exit to the [northeast], into the spraying police opposite him,"
With his family
in danger of being trampled by protesters fleeing the chemical barrage,
Joughin asked the officer to let him and his family through. "He
looked at me, and drew out his can from his hip and sprayed directly
at me," Joughin recalled. He didn't bear the brunt of that criminal
assault, but his three-year-old caught some of the blast. The assailant
then turned on Joughin's wife and the infant "and doused both of
their heads entirely from a distance of less than three feet," Joughin
As his children
were screaming in agony, Joughin pleaded with the cops to allow
him and his family to leave and seek help. They responded by closing
ranks and blocking the Joughin family's escape. They didn't relent
until someone in "authority" gave them permission to set them free.
The last thing Joughin and his traumatized family heard as they
left the scene was the sadistic taunt hurled by one of the tax-devouring
thugs who had assaulted the children with a chemical weapon.
of Americans have been horrified by recent incidents of armored
police officers beating and pepper-spraying unarmed, unresisting
protesters, those nauseating spectacles are neither novel nor particularly
rare. In "Securitizing
America: Strategic Incapacitation and the Policing of Protest Since
the 11 September 2001 Terrorist Attacks," a heavily sourced
paper recently published in the journal Sociology Compass,
Patrick F. Gillham of the University of Idaho observes that
current police doctrine dictates that public protests are to be
treated as "security threats," and dealt with using methods
inspired by "a new penology philosophy."
From that perspective,
every public demonstration – however peaceful and orderly it might
be – is to be treated as the equivalent of a prison riot.
This means that police are free to employ every available means
– pre-event surveillance, pre-emptive arrest, hostage-taking, and
the use of incapacitating "less-lethal" weaponry – in
order to "neutralize" people suspected of being "disruptive"
Under the "strategic
incapacitation" model, Gillham notes, "police often refuse
to communicate at all with possible or actual transgressive protesters
except to issue commands once protest events have already begun."
(Emphasis added.) It’s not enough to confine protest to "free-speech
zones"; the right to assemble itself is subject to modification
or revocation without prior notice – even in the absence of disorderly
behavior on the part of the protesters.
phalanxes of riot police will appear and slowly herd protesters
into a confined area. An announcement will be made that the demonstration
has been designated an "unlawful assembly," and shortly
thereafter the attack will begin, typically culminating with either
mass arrests, needless injuries, or some combination thereof.
2001 anti-war protest in Washington, D.C. offered the first opportunity
to field-test this approach. A small group of anarchists were driven
into an improvised holding area by riot police, where they were
literally held as hostages: "After 2 hours of detention, police
conveyed the terms under which protesters would be released to a
neutral third party of legal observers and not to the detained protesters."
Two years later,
during the Free Trade Area of the Americas summit in Miami, "police
not only pre-emptively arrested perceived transgressive protesters,
they also arrested scores of union members and student activists
walking to permitted events, as well as credentialed reporters and
curious bystanders," recalls Gillham. Most of those arrested
had not been ordered to disperse, and had violated no law – including
a draconian anti-assembly law that had been enacted by the city
government just days prior to the summit. In addition, Gillham observes,
"Bails were set high as a further way to keep those arrested
off the streets."
The same approach
was used at both the Republican and Democratic national conventions
in 2008. In one particularly memorable application, 284 people were
arrested at a public park in St. Paul, Minnesota on Labor Day 2008
during the Republican Convention. A huge contingent of riot police
– supplemented by the National
Guard’s JTF-RNC, and equipped with chemical munitions and gas
masks – cut off access to the park, which was bordered on one side
by train tracks and the other by a river. This turned the park,
however temporarily, into
a huge open-air detention center.
version of the same tactics was employed by police in Pittsburgh
when the 2009 G-20 summit brought the crème de la scum of
the world’s criminal class to that city.
plied the night air and serried rows of armored riot police assembled,
a robotic voice announced: "By order of the chief of police,
this has been declared an unlawful assembly. I order all those assembled
to immediately disperse. You must leave the immediate vicinity.
If you do not disperse, you may be subject to arrest, and/or other
police action" – the latter being a euphemism for summary punishment
through "the use of riot control agents and/or less lethal
protesters were ordered to leave, and threatened with severe reprisals
if they didn’t – only to find that the police already had them surrounded
and were determined to arrestor assault at least some of them.
in keeping with the "strategic incapacitation" doctrine,
were not employed in response to criminal violence, or to deal with
any impending threat of the same. Gillham points out that under
the new approach "arrests are selectively applied to neutralize
known or suspected transgressive actors often times before any crimes
The same is
true of aggressive violence employed by riot police, notes Gillham:
"Less-lethal weapons such as tear gas, pepper spray, Tasers,
rubber bullets, wooden missiles and bean bag rounds are now the
weapons of choice…. Evidence suggests that police use these weapons
as a means to temporarily incapacitate potentially disruptive protesters
and repel others away from areas police are trying to defend such
as entrances and exits to secured zones."
once the riot police appear and the decree goes forth that a given
protest is an "unlawful assembly," the protest area itself
is designated a "secure zone," and those within it can
only leave with the permission of their captors.
All of this
is manifestly the product of a military mind-set – one better suited
to a military prison camp than a battlefield. The behavior of domestic
police in dealing with political demonstrations is nearly identical
to that of specialized "Immediate Reaction" forces (IRFs)
deployed in military prisons such as those at Guantanamo Bay and
Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan.
In his memoir,
Years of My Life: An Innocent Man in Guantanamo, Turkish
national Murat Kurnaz – who was kidnapped by Pakistani bounty hunters
and sold into U.S. custody for $3,000 – describes his captivity
in Gitmo (as well as Bagram) as a supposed "unlawful combatant."
Any violation of the arbitrary – and ever-changing – rules of prisoner
conduct provoked an attack by the IRF, a unit consisting of "five
to eight soldiers with plastic shields, breastplates, hard-plastic
knee-, elbow-, and shoulder-protectors, helmets with plastic visors,
gloves with hard-plastic knuckles, heavy boots, and billyclubs."
In other words, they were accoutered exactly like the domestic riot
police who have become such a familiar presence in recent weeks.
rule wasn’t a prerequisite for a visit from the IRF. The team would
be summoned to inflict punishment for any act of defiance – such
as an insult hurled at an abusive guard, or even an attempt to exercise.
Typically the IRF would soften up the target by infusing the cell
with a liberal dose of Megyn
Kelly’s much-discussed "food product" – weaponized
Once the prisoner had been left entirely incapacitated, the IRT
would swarm him to deliver a beating.
interrogator Erik Saar provides a parallel account in his remorseful
memoir, Inside the Wire.
IRF-team MPs lined up outside the cell door," writes Saar.
"Starting in the back, they each shouted `Ready!’ and one by
one slapped the shoulder of the next soldier up. The first soldier
opened the door and directed a good dose of pepper spray at the
detainee, then started to back him into a corner with his shield.
But the captive managed to swipe the shield away and tried to kick
the second soldier in line. He landed a good blow to the shoulder,
but before he could put his foot down the third soldier, thinking
fast, grabbed it and jerked. The detainee’s body rose in the air
and came crashing to the metal floor."
MPs swarmed over him," continues Saar’s account. "One
was responsible for securing his head, and the other four were supposed
to take one limb each. The detainee was kicking and squirming, fueled
by his hostility. Mo [an Army translator] was shouting to him in
Arabic to stop resisting. One of the stronger soldiers who had a
solid grip on one arm was punching him in the ribs…."
tactics were used at "Camp
Greyhound" in New Orleans, an improvised jail modeled after
Gitmo and operated by FEMA in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Among
those imprisoned there was Syrian-American businessman Abdulrahman
Zeitoun, who was seized in his own home by National Guardsmen, imprisoned
on unspecified charges, and escaped with his life only because of
the providential intervention of a Christian clergyman who happened
to visit his cell after Zeitoun had been transferred to the
Elayn Hunt Correctional Center.
and the other prisoners, the Camp Greyhound experience was one of
tedium punctuated by sheer terror. The guards exploited any excuse
to inflict exemplary "discipline" on the detainees, most of whom
had been arrested for violating curfew or similar petty matters.
procedure was the same," recalled
David Eggers in his book Zeitoun; "a prisoner would be
removed from his cage and dragged to the ground nearby, in full
view of the rest of the prisoners. His hands and feet would be tied,
and then, sometimes with a guard's knee on his back, he would be
sprayed directly in the face" with pepper spray. "If the prisoner
protested," continued Eggers, "the knee would dig deeper into his
back. The spraying would continue until his spirit was broken. Then
he would be doused with [a] bucket and returned to his cage."
of this pointless and whimsical cruelty included one disturbed man
with the intellectual and emotional capacity of a child who was
"punished" because he displayed the irrepressible symptoms of mental
acts of sadism, Eggers observes, were "born of a combination of
opportunity, cruelty, ambivalence, and sport." They were intended
to torment the other prisoners, most of whom – like Zeitoun – were
possessed of more decency than their captors and thus left sick
with rage by the spectacle of helpless men being tortured.
normal circumstances [Zeitoun] would have leapt to the defense of
a man victimized as that man had been," observes Eggers. "But that
he had to watch, helpless, knowing how depraved it was – this was
punishment for the others, too. It diminished the humanity of them
The same treatment
continued once Zeitoun was transferred from the makeshift FEMA detention
camp to a "regular" prison. For more than two weeks he
and his cellmate were abused, insulted, humiliated, and treated
to a visit from a
Gitmo-style "Extreme Repression Force" (ERP). Swaddled in riot
gear, wielding ballistic shields, batons, and other weapons, the
ERP "burst in as if [Zeitoun] were in the process of committing
murder," writes Eggers. "Cursing at him, three men used their shields
to push him to the wall. As they pressed his face against the cinderblock,
they cuffed his arms and shackled his legs."
heroically subduing an unresisting man – who by this time was dealing
with an infected foot and a mysterious kidney ailment – the ERP
tore apart the cell before forcing the victim to strip and submit
to another body cavity search. By some oversight, the ERP neglected
to use pepper spray on the innocent and helpless man. All of the
prisoner-control tactics used in Gitmo and "Camp Greyhound" have
been employed against peaceful protesters in New York, Oakland,
are understandably concerned about sections
1031 and 1032 of the proposed National Defense Authorization Act,
which would authorize
the indefinite military detention of Americans – including those
seized here in the United States – who are suspected of terrorism.
That abhorrent measure represents an enhancement of current policies
and procedures, rather than an abrupt departure from them. Whether
or not the Senate approves the NDAA, the people in charge of Regime
Security already consider this country to be one vast military prison,
and are willing to act on that assumption whenever the opportunity
with permission from Pro
© 2011 William Norman Grigg
Sunday, December 18, 2011
The Alex Jones Channel Alex Jones Show podcast Prison Planet TV Infowars.com Twitter Alex Jones' Facebook Infowars store
December 18, 2011
(NaturalNews) The use of antidepressant and psychiatric drugs, particularly among children, is an extremely risky activity that could have fatal consequences for both the individuals that use them, as well as their friends and family. According to the National Post, a Canadian judge recently ruled that the extreme mind-altering effects of the antidepressant drug Prozac were in large part responsible for causing a 15-year-old boy to thrust a nine-inch kitchen knife into one of his closest friends.
Though the Winnipeg boy that committed the heinous crime had allegedly abused prescription drugs and “experimented” with cocaine long prior to the incident, he had never had a violent or aggressive personality about him, according to reports. It was only when he began taking Prozac, the very thing doctors had given him as a so-called “solution” to his previous illicit drug problems, that he began to rapidly go off the deep end.
“He had become irritable, restless, agitated, aggressive and unclear in his thinking,” said Justice Robert Heinrichs of the Manitoba Justice Department, who ruled on the case. “It was while in that state he overreacted in an impulsive, explosive and violent way. Now that his body and mind are free and clear of any effects of Prozac, he is simply not the same youth in behavior or character.”
What the judge appears to be implying here is that Prozac is directly responsible for altering the brain of a user and causing them to think irrationally, which in turn can cause them to harm themselves or others. In other words, if it were not for the use of this mind-warping drug, the murderer in this case most likely would never have dreamed of slaughtering one of his best friends.
Judge Heinrichs ultimately determined that, because of the drug’s involvement, the boy who murdered his friend would not be tried in an adult court. Even though the boy pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, the judge only added a ten-month sentence on top of the two years that the boy had already spent in jail pending the trial — and there will apparently be no appeal, which is a first in any North American court.
In a similar outcome back in 2001, a Wyoming jury ruled that the antidepressant drug Paxil had caused a man to murder his wife, daughter, and granddaughter, after which he killed himself. And one of the mass-murderers in the infamous Columbine High School shooting, Eric Harris, had allegedly been taking the antidepressant drug Luvox at the time that he participated in the tragedy (http://www.naturalnews.com/019342.html).
Sources for this article include:
Monday, December 12, 2011
E P I C A l e r t
Volume 10.13 June 25, 2003
Published by the
Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC)
H A P P Y B I R T H D A Y G E O R G E O R W E L L !
 Birthday Greetings
 Selections from EPIC Advisory Board
 Orwell and Language
 Orwell and Commercialism
 Orwell on Poverty and Inequality
 Orwell on Perpetual War
 EPIC Bookstore: Rise of the Computer State
 Birthday Greetings
Dear Mr. Orwell,
Greetings on your 100th Birthday! You might be gratified to know that
a new generation of readers have a growing interest in your writing.
Your insights resonate as never before in these times.
We take this occasion to share some of our personal reflections on
themes you brought attention to, including language, commercialism,
inequality, and war. The theme of surveillance is notably missing; we
hope interested readers of the EPIC Alert might contribute a 1000 word
essay on the subject and send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Contributions
will be edited and posted on our website.
The EPIC Team
 Selections from EPIC Advisory Board
Philip E. Agre
The dramatic improvements in the underlying technology are hardly
speculative. We know what technologies are in the lab, and we know
roughly how long it will take before those technologies reach the
market. We are therefore justified in extrapolating historical cost
trends into the foreseeable future. The capabilities of the technology
in the next couple of decades are hardly in doubt.
Nor can there be much doubt about the potential for abuse. We have
abundant precedents from other technologies, and the burden is really
on the person who would argue that automatic face recognition in
public places will be an exception to these precedents. Databases will
leak, technologies will exhibit function creep, information will be
diverted to secondary uses, law enforcement will make use of
technologies originally designed for other purposes, repressive
governments will make use of technological advances pioneered in
relatively free societies, and people's lives will be disrupted by
quality control problems in the data. The argument here is not that
automatic face recognition in public places will turn society into
Orwell's 1984 overnight, or at all. The harms from automatic face
recognition will develop slowly because the technology will not be
deployed instantaneously, and because institutions change slowly. But
the danger is great enough, and backed up by enough history and logic,
and will be hard enough to reverse if it does materialize, that we are
justified in acting now.
Your Face Is Not a Bar Code: Arguments Against Automatic Face
Recognition in Public Places, May 5, 2003,
Today, individuals provide substantially the same identifying
information to each organization with which they have a relationship.
In a new paradigm, individuals provide different "pseudonyms" or
alternate names to each organization. A critical advantage of systems
based on such pseudonyms is that the information associated with each
pseudonym can be insufficient to allow data on an individual to be
linked and collected together, and thus they can prevent the formation
of a dossier society reminiscent of Orwell's "1984".
A system is proposed in which an individual's pseudonyms are created
and stored in a computer held and trusted only by the individual. New
cryptographic techniques allow an organization to securely exchange
messages or payments with an individual known under a
pseudonym--without the communication or payments systems providers
being able to trace messages or payments. Other new techniques allow a
digitally signed credential to be transformed by the individual, from
the individual's pseudonym with the issuing organization, to the
individual's pseudonym with a recipient organization. Credentials can
be transformed only between pseudonyms of a single individual, and an
individual can obtain at most one pseudonym with a particular
organization, but even a conspiracy of all organizations can gain no
information from the pseudonyms about their correspondence. The
combination of these systems can prevent abuses by individuals, while
averting the potential for a dossier society.
A New Paradigm for Individuals in the Information Age, 1984
IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy, April 29 - May 02,
Each week that passes sees one more strand of the web completed. Every
strand is woven delicately, and we are told each time that the effort
is all for our benefit. True, every strand catches another tax dollar
or snares another criminal. But every strand binds honest citizens
more tightly to the administration of government...Your finances,
purchases, employment, interests, telephone activity and even your
geographical movements are losing their anonymity. Not everything will
be bad, however; technology will bring wonderful possibilities. It
will also bring the nightmare of total nakedness.
Big Brother: Australia's Growing Web of Surveillance
(Simon & Schuster 1992)
David H. Flaherty
There appears to be a consensus against a totalitarian society or a
police state, because of the regrettable precedents for each. All of
us shudder at living in the fictional worlds of George Orwell's "1984"
or Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. At what point does
surveillance become unacceptable, whether by private detectives, the
police, or welfare and taxation authorities? At what point does
surveillance actually take place, when data are collected or when they
are used? The shaping of appropriate answers is the concern of this
entire volume. Officials privacy protectors have a basic role to play
in crafting society's answers to these questions, in part because
government created their agencies in order "to protect privacy," but
also because since data protectors were first established, problems of
surveillance have become more severe owing to the exponential growth
in automation. The questions did not admit a one-time solution.
Protecting privacy in Surveillance Societies: The Federal
Republic of Germany, Sweden, France, Canada, and the United
States (University of North Carolina Press 1989)
Public policy deliberations about privacy in Congress, or the spectre
of the much feared "1984" and the dominance by "big brother," can be
seen to be linked closely to increases in the number of citizens who
are concerned about privacy. A question that asked respondents to
indicate how close had come to the society that George Orwell had
described in his book 1984 found the proportion who though that we had
already arrived at such a society to have more than doubled between
1983 and 1988 and to have trippled between 1983 and 1989 (from 6
percent to 19 percent). p.140.
The Panoptic Sort (Westview Press 1993)
Extensive, undesired observation--what may be called "surveillance"--
interferes with this exercise of choice because knowledge of
observation "brings one to a new consciousness of oneself, as
something seen through another's eyes." Simply put, surveillance leads
to self-censorship. This is true even when the observable information
would not be otherwise misused or disclosed.
Information collection in cyberspace is more like surveillance than
like casual observation. As explained above, data collection in
cyberspace produces data that are detailed, computer-processable,
indexed to the individual, and permanent. Combine this with the fact
that cyberspace makes data collection and analysis exponentially
cheaper than in real space, and we have what Roger Clarke has
identified as the genuine threat of dataveillance.
Information Privacy in Cyberspace Transactions, 50 Stan. L.
Rev. 1193, 1261 (1998)
Gary T. Marx
In considering current developments and trends in the study of social
control, I have suggested the idea of the "maximum security
society"with clear indebtedness to Bentham and Foucault I have found
it useful to note some parallels between control themes found in the
maximum security prison and the broader society. The maximum security
society is made up of six subcomponents: the engineered, dossier,
actuarial, suspicious, self-monitored, and transparent societies.
George Orwell equated Big Brother with the harsh reality of a boot on
a human face. The concept of the maximum security society is meant to
characterize some softer social-control processes that have increased
in importance and sophistication in recent decades, as the velvet
glove continues to gain ascendancy over the iron fist. In contemporary
society these forms of control are uncoupled and the former is clearly
dominant-using the creation and manipulation of culture through the
mass media, therapeutic and labeling efforts, the redistributive
rewards of the welfare state, the use of deception (e.g., undercover
techniques and informers), and the engineering away of infractions.
The Engineering of Social Control: The Search for the Silver
Bullet Published in J. Hagan and R. Peterson, Crime and
Inequality (Stanford University Press 1995)
George Orwell once wrote that "[g]ood prose is like a window pane."
What I take Orwell to have meant by that remark is that when people
read good prose, it makes them feel as if they've `seen' something
(whatever the author was trying to convey) more clearly. Put another
way, if a writer can induce his or her reader to feel that the reader
would have come to the same conclusion that the author reached had the
reader done his or her own investigation of the subject matter, the
writer has achieved a kind of "window pane" effect on the reader.
Good Legal Writing: of Orwell and Window Panes, 46 University
of Pittsburgh Law Review 149, Fall 1984,
Paul M. Schwartz
George Orwell carried out the classic analysis of how surveillance can
exert this negative pressure. In the novel 1984, first published in
1949, Orwell imagined a machine called the "telescreen." This
omnipresent device broadcasted propaganda on a nonstop basis and
allowed the state officials, the "Thought Police," to observe the
populace. Computers on the Internet are reminiscent of the telescreen;
under current conditions, it is impossible to know if and when the
cyber-Thought Police are plugged in on any individual wire. To extend
Orwell's thought, one can say that as habit becomes instinct and
people on the Internet gain a sense that their every mouse click and
key stroke might be observed, the necessary insulation for individual
self-determination will vanish.
Privacy and Democracy in Cyberspace, 52 Vand. L. Rev. 1609,
Numerous articles were written in 1984 boasting about how the world
had escaped Orwell's dire predictions of governmental surveillance and
the elimination of privacy. Many people rejoiced about the lack of
omnipresent telescreens and the Thought Police, but far fewer people
paid attention to the development of technologies that facilitate Big
Brother-style surveillance. Most U.S. citizens feel that we are all
protected by the Bill of Rights from secret governmental surveillance.
Unfortunately, that has not always been the case historically, nor is
it necessarily true today; worse, it may be still less true in the
future if we fail to be continually on guard against creeping
governmental intrusion into our private lives.
Building Big Brother, Information Impacts Magazine, February 2000,
Robert Ellis Smith
We should remember that the laureates of the cybernetic nightmare--
Kafka, Orwell, Huxley--were in fact rebelling against impersonal
bureaucracies more than computerization. The anti-utopias in George
Orwell's "1984," Yevgeny Zamyatin's "We," and Aldous Huxley's "Brave
New World: are _bureaucratic tyrannies_, not necessarily _computerized
Our Vanishing Privacy and What You Can Do to Protect Yours
(Loompanics Unlimited 1993)
 Orwell and Language
"Total Information Awareness of transactional threats requires
keeping track of individuals and understanding how they fit into
models." - U.S. Department of Defense
The labeling of government methods of surveillance has taken an odd
turn in the United States. As if officials were ever sensitive to
Orwell's warning in 1984 about the use of language to conceal
intent, recent naming exercises have adopted a strategy that might
almost satisfy the requirements of a truth in labeling law.
Consider "carnivore," the FBI's code name for a new system of
Internet surveillance that would enable the capture of messages
moving across the network. Carnivore was chosen, internal
governments reveal, to make clear that the techniques was selective:
only the court-authorized evidence would be obtained. A separate
program under consideration "omnivore" lacked the critical
judgment and was rejected.
Before Carnivore, the FBI described the system to wire surveillance
capability into the telephone network as "operation root canal." The
pain of the project is palpable.
This history takes us then to the proposal from the Office of
Information Awareness, which reminds us in a nod to Orwell that
"knowledge is power," to undertake "Total Information Awareness."
The intent is clear. The government must know everything about
everyone. Where the data exists, it should be captured. Where it
does not yet exist, it should be produced. Models of human behavior
must be developed. Techniques to distinguish the abnormal from the
normal devised. Your tax dollars at work.
But public opinion did not favor these proposals. Carnivore got a
makeover. It became "DCS 1000." No change in functional capability,
just a new designation in government memos and on powerpoint slides.
And the creature of the Office of Information Awareness was also
scrubbed clean. An investment in the acronym "TIA" was preserved.
The program renamed "Terrorist Information Awareness," which may
upset grammarians, but should now ease a public that once thought it
too could be the target of a system of total surveillance.
In Politics and the Language English, Orwell wrote that simple
writing was necessary to enable political debate. The government has
been clear about its intent. The public has made clear its
assessment. And so the terms of debate are changed, the purpose
concealed, and programs march forward.
- Marc Rotenberg
 Orwell and Commercialism
"Advertising is the dirtiest ramp that capitalism has yet produced,"
declared Orwell's Gordon Comstock in Keep the Aspidistra Flying.
Disgusted with the advertising industry's disrespect for the public's
intelligence, Comstock leaves his well-paying copy-writing job to live
a life of poverty. He rejects the modern Decalogue, which has been
reduced to two commercial commandments: "Thou shalt make money" and
"Thou shalt not lose thy job." For Orwell, society's civil religion of
the money god represents a new social control. Commercialism creates a
new orthodoxy, a climate where thinking is unnecessary because
propaganda ministers have provided all beliefs and ideas that need be
known. Orwell remarks in Nineteen Eighty-Four that once this
orthodoxy is established, people can have a right to intellectual
liberty because "they have no intellect."
Nowhere else in Orwell's work is the emptiness of commercialism more
sharply criticized than in Keep the Aspidistra Flying. Orwell bites
the conscience of the reader, making one painfully aware of how the
lack of money inhibits many of life's joys. Eventually Comstock
returns to his advertising agency job, where he arrives just in time
to evaluate a colleague's new advertisement for an antiperspirant foot
powder: "P.P. What about YOU?" "P.P" stands for pedic perspiration,
and while the word "pedic" is an advertising-industry neologism, the
company men nevertheless admire the slogan because it induced a
"guilty tremor" in those who encountered it. Comstock writes the copy
for the advertisements, which attempted to spread fear of loneliness
and rejection amongst those who didn't buy the product.
Orwell's criticism of commercialism is relevant today because
advertising's reach has become both more pervasive and invasive.
Marketers know no boundaries. They are on a quest to invade your
private thoughts; to make commercials the "fabric" of your life. And
thus, captivity seems to be important to advertisers. Propaganda
should be force fed, just like the mandatory two minutes of hate in
Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. Emerging technologies that could be
used for captive advertising include directed sound devices that beam
messages at a specific individual. Targets of the device cannot ignore
the message, and feel as though the sound is literally inside their
head. Others are working on "instant customer recognition" in order to
create pervasive personalized marketing along the lines of Speilberg's
Orwell's contribution to criticism of commercialism closely follows
themes that were introduced by Aldous Huxley in Brave New World. In
Huxley's book, individuals were persuaded to love their own servitude
through genetic influence, social engineering, and healthy doses of
advertising-like propaganda. The selective release and repetition of
information, Huxley's Bernard Marx observed, can "make one truth."
Today's advertisers follow the same model, inundating us with
commercial messages until they are incorporated in popular culture and
language. The marketing ministers have been so successful that a
number of commentators have suggested that the First Amendment
recognize advertising as fully protected free expression, on par with
our prayers and political advocacy. Apparently, the Constitution can
serve both God and mammon.
In recent years, there have been new calls to limit commercialism.
Often, these ventures focus on marketing to children, as they may not
possess adequate critical thinking skills and autonomy to evaluate
advertising and commercial messages. In October 2002, the editors of
British Medical Journal The Lancet recommended that "[m]ore radical
solutions should be considered" to curb commercialism's effect on
children, including "taxing soft drinks and fast foods; subsidising
nutritious foods, like fruits and vegetables; labeling the content of
fast food; and prohibiting marketing and advertising to children."
However, in 1980 when the Federal Trade Commission attempted to curb
the reach of invasive marketing to children, the advertising industry
responded vigorously. The Industry successfully limited the agency's
authority by getting Congress to bar the agency from promulgating
rules to protect children from advertising.
Perhaps I've been too hard on advertisers. Some argue that
advertising eases the difficult burdens of modern life by providing
useful information to ease our roles as consumers. The effect of
advertising and commercialism might in fact be the opposite. That is,
since it so frequently relies upon appeals to emotion and is devoid of
pricing and objective quality information, advertising might actually
harm individuals' understandings of products and the market.
Orwell's view of commercialism as a subtle but powerful form of social
control is finding a new following in a new generation, a generation
that reads Stay Free! and Adbusters Magazine. A generation that is
creating art such as Matt Groening's The Simpsons (where the local
newspaper is called the Springfield Shopper), Chuck Palahniuk's Fight
Club (1996), and Mike Judge's Office Space (1999). There may be some
hope yet for a societal religious conversion away from the money god.
- Chris Hoofnagle
Adbusters Magazine: http://adbusters.org/
Stay Free! Magazine: http://stayfreemagazine.com/
Bad Ads: http://badads.org/
Commercial Alert: http://www.commercialalert.org/
 Orwell on Poverty and Inequality
"You thought it would be quite simple; it is extraordinarily
complicated. You thought it would be terrible; it is merely squalid
and boring. It is the peculiar lowness of poverty that you
discover first; the shifts that it puts you to, the complicated
meanness, the crust-wiping." (Down and Out in Paris)
Why does poverty have to be so low? Is it not enough that one must
suffer from hunger and deprivation? Why must one also suffer from
humiliation? Poverty as pure deprivation is understandable, but why
must it carry social stigma? George Orwell believed that the lack of
dignity in poverty results from a social structure that perpetuates a
separation between classes. Those in power have incentive not to enact
reforms to benefit the poor and they benefit by buttressing the social
structures that perpetuate disparity.
The theme of poverty and the separation between those that have and
those that do not runs through his writings. He writes about separate
classes in 1984, he contrasts the aristocratic pigs with the other
farm animals in Animal Farm, he recounts the brutal poverty in
Marrakesh, and he tells of his own personal encounter with poverty
in Down and Out in Paris. For Orwell, poverty is a personal matter,
and it goes to the heart of his understanding of human dignity.
In Down and Out in Paris Orwell describes the work conditions of a
dishwasher or "plongeur." The work is brutal. The work hours are
long. The conditions are terrible. Orwell finds that the plongeur "is
no freer than if he were bought and sold. His work is servile and
without art; he is paid just enough to keep him alive; his only
holiday is the sack. Except by a lucky chance, he has no escape from
this life, save into prison." Orwell writes, "an idle man cannot be a
plongeur; they have simply been trapped by a routine which makes
Orwell examines why "comfortably situated people" are fond of
identifying hard work with honest work. One reason could be to soften
the tough nature of hard work. Transforming work that is senseless
and brutal into something virtuous salves the conscience of the well
off. Another reason is more instrumental--the "comfortably situated"
actually perpetuate the current conditions to maintain their position.
He writes, "I believe that this instinct to perpetuate useless work
is, at bottom, simply fear of the mob. The mob (the thought runs) are
such low animals that they would be dangerous if they had leisure; it
is safer to keep them too busy to think."
The danger of the mob is not a physical danger, but rather simply
forcing the upper class to share some of their wealth. Allowing the
working class time to think and organize would be a threat to the
upper class way of life. This is central to Orwell's point. The
conditions of the working class are perpetuated by a social structure
that benefits the upper class, who in turn have little incentive to
correct the disparity in the system. When the disparity is made
apparent, the upper class brush it aside using convenient myths about
the virtues of honest work.
What really separates the classes then, is money. Orwell explains that
beggars, even though they work hard, are universally despised simply
because they fail to make money. "In practice nobody cares whether
work is useful or useless, productive or parasitic; the sole thing
demanded is that it shall be profitable." Thus, Orwell concludes,
"[m]oney has become the grand test of virtue." There can be no
dignity in poverty. Dignity is precluded by the defining condition of
poverty, a simple deficiency of money.
Orwell's comments on poverty resonate today. In a time of increasing
unemployment and hardship, it takes a peculiar twist of logic to
justify a tax cut that only benefits the wealthiest fraction of the
population. Rather than trying to reconcile the disparity, the rich
might be better off trying to ignore it. Ignoring the problem should
be easy, since, as Orwell says, "[a]ll people who work with their
hands are partly invisible." With the aid of private walled
communities, ghettos, and twelve lane freeways the poor can remain
invisible to the well off.
Technologies of surveillance are often first aimed at minorities and
the impoverished. The State of Connecticut invested in an expensive
biometric system to combat welfare fraud--the saving from catching a
few bad actors far exceeded by the total cost of the surveillance
system. Since September 11, the use of background checks on new
employees has seen increasing use. Companies are less likely today to
hire someone who has a minor offense. If poverty encourages crime,
these kinds of practice only encourage more poverty and crime.
Private companies in the name of risk management use supposedly
rational factors to discriminate among their customers, but these
factors might actually be serving as proxies for factors that, if
known, would be unlawful or obnoxious. New government risk profiling
systems such as the air passenger profiling system or Total
Information Awareness might result in furthering race, class, and
ethnic divisions. Those with clean records, good credit can sail
through the system, while those who have a pale of suspicion struggle
to make ends meet. Orwell reminds us to pay close attention to the
impact of these practices; the privileged have always tried to shield
the true nature of discriminatory practices.
- John Baggaley
 Orwell on Perpetual War
"Winston could not definitely remember a time when his country had
not been at war, but it was evident that there had been a fairly
long interval of peace during his childhood, because one of his
earliest memories was of an air raid which appeared to take
everyone by surprise." (1984)
In Orwell's 1984, Big Brother maintains a totalitarian grip upon the
country of Oceania, by means of informers and constant surveillance.
Constantly in the background of this society of paranoia is a
perpetual war, waged against one of two remaining superpowers in the
world-Eurasia or Eastasia. Which two powers are at war at any given
time is largely irrelevant, as no victory can ever be achieved. The
purpose of the war is not, in fact, to win, but to do two things:
control Oceania's economy and maintain in its citizens the credulity
and fanaticism required to maintain complete devotion to the Party.
In America we appear to be in the midst of a perpetual war on Terror.
Like the Cold War, it is a constant pressure and concern, blooming
occasionally from an ideological war on a concept to actual wars in
actual locations--Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq. This war may not
be directed by a small cabal intent on consolidating and expanding its
power, but the consequences might be similar. Are we adequately
prepared for the consequences of this new war?
Actual wars have, traditionally, been well defined in time--there are
opening shots and final surrenders. And the two years following the
shock of September 11th have been accompanied so far by two definite
military actions against two different nations. These two actions
have been linked, not just by time, but also in the justifications
given for them. Both were viewed by the administration and the public
as extensions of the War on Terrorism. Yet it was not a link between
Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda that justified a war in Iraq, but a more
generalized fear of a potential attack from abroad. And Saddam
Hussein's Iraq was certainly not the last unfriendly regime to plan
development of weapons of mass destruction. The list not a
particularly short one, and as governments and politics change, the
list may extend indefinitely. Threats and dangers have always
existed, and will always exist. In looking for potential enemies, one
is always sure to find them, in one state of nascence or another.
"The self-satisfied sheeplike face on the screen, and the
terrifying power of the Eurasian army behind it, were too much to
be borne; besides, the sight or even the thought of Goldstein
produced fear and anger automatically. He was an object of hatred
more constant than either Eurasia or Eastasia." (1984)
The image of the burning World Trade Center towers is imprinted on the
American consciousness. So are the images of the "enemy." The faces
of Osama bin Laden and Mohammed Atta are filed in our minds in a
drawer labeled "terrorist," as the face of Hitler and the swastika are
filed under "Nazi." They are the faces of an enemy, people to rally
against, effigies to burn. Given a face to hate, we can personify our
fears and hatreds, and create in our minds an enemy that we feel a
need to fight. This emotional response can often bypass good common
sense. People often express a willingness to do anything, everything
they can to "get the terrorists." We talk about wanting to "do
something." Those "somethings" that get done run the gamut from
sensible (securing cockpit doors) to nonsensical (confiscating nail
clippers from traveling grandmothers) to egregious (detainees held for
months without charges in cells brightly lit around the clock).
"[T]o those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost
liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists for
they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve. They give
ammunition to America's enemies and pause to America's friends.
They encourage people of good will to remain silent in the face of
evil. - John Ashcroft
Attorney General Ashcroft's admonishment to the Senate Judiciary
Committee does not merely raise concern about the chilling of open and
honest debate. Suspicion and paranoia have all-too real consequences
for real people. In the days following the attacks of 9/11, the FBI
and other law enforcement agencies were flooded with tips from
citizens well-meaning and otherwise, reporting "suspicious"
activities. A recent New York Times article reported on scores of
innocent people having their lives overturned by another person's
unwarranted suspicion. In one example, nine men in Evansville, Indiana
were rounded up, handcuffed, and imprisoned for a week on a false tip.
It took nineteen months before their names were cleared from the
national crime registry, and in the meantime, they were prevented from
flying, renting apartments, or getting jobs.
In the name of combating terrorism, the FBI and other agencies
continually argue for broader powers to expand domestic surveillance.
Suggestions that the restrictions exist to counter the FBI excesses of
the Hoover era are ignored in the face of wartime necessity. Wartime
necessity has often been used as a justification for many excesses--
the U.S. internment of American citizens of Japanese ancestry during
World War II was justified as a wartime necessity.
Rights given up under an immediate crisis or for a specified duration
may seem reasonable in the aftermath of a disaster, but in a crisis, a
war that has no victory conditions, these rights may be gone for good.
The fact that there is no clear end to the War on Terrorism has
lasting implications not just on the attitudes and policies of
America, but it also has dire consequences for some. About 680 people
captured in Afghanistan are still being held prisoner at Guantanamo
Bay, where they have not had a trial, access to legal counsel, nor the
benefit of prisoner-of-war status. When they will be released or
charged has never been answered, but for references to "the end of the
We are told to look for threats from within--among our neighborhoods,
our neighbors. Yet there are so few terrorists and so many neighbors,
and the suspicion that this new cold war creates can only have
detrimental effects on communities around the country. These rifts may
not be repaired until we can overcome an "us versus them" mentality,
until we can look past a war that can end simply by us saying that it
"This crusade, this war on terrorism is going to take a while."
- George W. Bush
- Sherwin Siy
 EPIC Bookstore: The Rise of the Computer State
The Rise of the Computer State; The Threats to Freedoms, Our Ethics
and Our Democratic Process, by David Burnham (Random House 1980)
David Burnham's 1980 book examining the proliferation of computers and
their effects on society was prescient. There is hardly a person in
this country not affected by the computer; its usefulness is
unquestioned. In this work, however, Burnham asks about the
liabilities of computers--just how close to Orwell's 1984 have we
In this examination of the computer state, Burnham, a former New York
Times investigative journalist, scrutinizes telephone companies, the
FBI, the IRS, Social Security, credit reporting agencies, the NSA, the
CIA, and cable companies to discover what their computers already know
and are trying to find out about us. The book also examines how this
information can be put to unforeseen and harmful uses.
Burnham marshals a wealth of evidence that hadn't been available
elsewhere to document the case that the rise of the computer state can
threaten privacy, legal procedures, and democratic process.
"The Privacy Law Sourcebook 2002: United States Law, International
Law, and Recent Developments," Marc Rotenberg, editor (EPIC 2002).
Price: $40. http://www.epic.org/bookstore/pls2002/
The "Physicians Desk Reference of the privacy world." An invaluable
resource for students, attorneys, researchers and journalists who need
an up-to-date collection of U.S. and International privacy law, as
well as a comprehensive listing of privacy resources.
"FOIA 2002: Litigation Under the Federal Open Government Laws," Harry
Hammitt, David Sobel and Mark Zaid, editors (EPIC 2002). Price: $40.
This is the standard reference work covering all aspects of the
Freedom of Information Act, the Privacy Act, the Government in the
Sunshine Act, and the Federal Advisory Committee Act. The 21st
edition fully updates the manual that lawyers, journalists and
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litigate open government cases (or need to learn how to litigate
them), this is an essential reference manual.
"Privacy & Human Rights 2002: An International Survey of Privacy Laws
and Developments" (EPIC 2002). Price: $25.
This survey, by EPIC and Privacy International, reviews the state of
privacy in over fifty countries around the world. The survey examines
a wide range of privacy issues including data protection, telephone
tapping, genetic databases, video surveillance, location tracking, ID
systems and freedom of information laws.
"Filters and Freedom 2.0: Free Speech Perspectives on Internet Content
Controls" (EPIC 2001). Price: $20.
A collection of essays, studies, and critiques of Internet content
filtering. These papers are instrumental in explaining why filtering
threatens free expression.
"The Consumer Law Sourcebook 2000: Electronic Commerce and the Global
Economy," Sarah Andrews, editor (EPIC 2000). Price: $40.
The Consumer Law Sourcebook provides a basic set of materials for
consumers, policy makers, practitioners and researchers who are
interested in the emerging field of electronic commerce. The focus is
on framework legislation that articulates basic rights for consumers
and the basic responsibilities for businesses in the online economy.
"Cryptography and Liberty 2000: An International Survey of Encryption
Policy," Wayne Madsen and David Banisar, authors (EPIC 2000). Price:
EPIC's third survey of encryption policies around the world. The
results indicate that the efforts to reduce export controls on strong
encryption products have largely succeeded, although several
governments are gaining new powers to combat the perceived threats of
encryption to law enforcement.
EPIC publications and other books on privacy, open government, free
expression, crypto and governance can be ordered at:
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SOURCE: HRDC's Homeless Individuals and Families Information System
- For immediate release (Ottawa: 9 Jan 03) -
National homeless shelter tracking system still unfinished
Tracking system still unfinished
Accurate data on the homeless are expected to help experts understand and resolve the problem, but the long-awaited national tracking program still has bugs, Juliet O'Neill reports.
The Ottawa Citizen
Monday, January 06, 2003
Laird Eddy, administrator of Ottawa's Mission, says the national information system, called HIFIS (Homeless Individuals and Families Information System), has too many bugs and limitations. He has been 'praying' the system can be made to work.
After seven years and more than $1.3 million spent on consulting, planning, designing, programming, testing, updating and testing again, a national homeless information tracking system still isn't off the ground across the country.
Shelters are using a hodgepodge of data systems. Some, including the Mission in Ottawa, won't touch the new system. And those using it are not yet sending information to a central database -- the goal of the program to begin with -- because the rules for doing so haven't been worked out. A national system that could help policymakers is still an estimated two or three years away.
"A lot of money is going down the drain maintaining people in their homelessness," says David Hulchanski, an urban-planning expert at the University of Toronto who praises the potential usefulness of a national data system to more smartly allocate public funds. "My only complaint is they're not serious about it. Why has it taken so long ?"
One of the reasons, says Al Mitchell, of the Lookout Emergency Aid Society, which operates three shelters in Vancouver, is that the government has taken the trouble to consult carefully with shelters instead of creating a "top-down" system that does little more than feed a bureaucratic hunger for statistics.
But a negative reason cited by Laird Eddy, administrator of Ottawa's Mission, is that the system, called HIFIS, for Homeless Individuals and Families Information System, contains too many bugs and limitations, and ironing them out has taken a long time. They're still not close to satisfying him, though he has been "praying."
An internal debate from the beginning was whether it would be better for the government to spend money housing the homeless rather than tracking the unhappy details of their lives, needs and movements from one shelter to another or one city to another.
"It's a top-of-mind debate," said Guido Weisz, the federal official at Human Resources Development Canada who defended progress on the program so far. "On one hand, you want to use as much of the money as possible to help the homeless. On the other hand, you also want to do so effectively. Communities and provinces have all called upon us to take leadership around doing more research so that they can invest better."
A consensus was reached that most of the information was being gathered anyway on a local level and should be harnessed on a national scale. It could then be used by federal, provincial and municipal policymakers to figure out the scale of long-term, short-term and periodic homelessness, the reasons and what to do about it.
Nobody knows just how many homeless there are in Canada. The only national figures are a snapshot from Statistics Canada, showing about 14,000 people in shelters on census day, 2001. That doesn't include people living on the street or with friends, or in emergency hostels, hotels and motels. The StatsCan figure for Ottawa was 1,040.
"Spending on information systems is nickels, tenths of a cent, compared to the tremendous amount that's being spent on services," said Dennis Culhane, a leading American expert on homeless data crunching who has been consulted by Canadian authorities.
One study led by Mr. Culhane tracked 10,000 homeless people in New York, half of whom were provided housing. He found the average cost of maintaining a homeless person was $40,000 U.S. and that the cost of housing the 5,000 was almost fully offset by their lack of need for emergency shelter and other public services.
Closer to home, at the Mission, Mr. Eddy said it was discovered a few years ago, by collating data at Ottawa's shelters for men, that some of them are just passing through, intending to stay only a few days and not sticking around long enough to need help finding housing, a job or addiction recovery assistance.
"That allowed us to re-organize our resources, saved us some resources," he said. The effect of that kind of information, gathered routinely now when people sign in to the Mission shelter, trickles down to less wasteful planning in welfare worker caseloads, among other services.
Mr. Eddy is one of many who had looked forward to participating in a national data system.
But he is unhappy with HIFIS so far because he can't get access to the computer program code to make it work with the Mission's system of data collection and billing.
Ironically, the Mission, which has 25 computers and a full-time IT specialist, was one of the models on which the system was based when it was being developed by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.
CMHC worked on the system with shelter groups, representatives from other levels of government and the help of a technical manager from 1995 to 2000, and then handed it over to Human Resources and Development Canada.
"It was done on a shoestring," said John Engeland, the CMHC researcher who shepherded the project as far as he could in a research and development capacity -- without any funds to operate a system or to help shelters install it or convert their systems.
Since the handover to HRDC, $1.3 million has been spent developing, installing, converting data systems, training users, and trying HIFIS software, which comes with hundreds of pages of user manuals.
Yet to date, there's still a mixed bag of data systems being used at shelters across the country, some of them pilot tests of a version of HIFIS that had too many snags for some users and has just recently been replaced with a new updated HIFIS Version 2.
And the shelters and transition houses using the system are not sending their information to a central database because the protocols for doing so have not yet been worked out.
One troubling question is how to protect the privacy of the homeless people, as data on them are sent from one database to another.
"We are still at an early stage with the system," Mr. Weisz, director of policy and research at HRDC's National Secretariat on Homelessness, said in an interview.
But he defended the program against those who say it is taking too long, saying it was merely a research project at CMHC and has been developed at HRDC into a workable software system. "I don't see us dilly-dallying on the process at all. We've made great strides forward."
He said 377 shelters and transition houses out of a potential 1,800 are using HIFIS now and he estimated it will take two or three more years before it is deployed on what could be considered a national scale.
While Mr. Weisz talks as though HIFIS was born just a couple of years ago, others date it back to 1995 when Mr. Engeland and others, concerned that homeless policy was too often based on "hunches and hearsay," organized an experts workshop.
It was agreed then to mobilize authorities around data collection to improve policymaking and many provincial, municipal and shelter authorities, plus EDS, a technology company, pitched in on designing the system.
Mr. Engeland said CMHC paid for periodic meetings and expert advice and the total cost was in the range of a few hundred thousand dollars. Most of those involved were on a government payroll.
Connie Woloschuk, head of the City of Ottawa's homeless initiatives team, dates HIFIS back seven years, saying it took "a long time to develop."
She expressed relief in an interview that HRDC had hired technical consultants and pulled together Version 2. Pilot tests of the earlier version at the Salvation Army and other shelters in Ottawa will soon end and "we're almost ready to roll it out to the other shelters," she said.
But count the Mission out, says Mr. Eddy. His reaction to the fact that Version 2 is being rolled out was to laugh. Mr. Mitchell, in Vancouver, says Mr. Eddy has fixed on "a key weakness" of earlier versions of HIFIS that did not allow users to pull a data file from programming code.
Version 2 has separated code from data.
The Vancouver shelters have to rejig their system now to use Version 2. But Mr. Mitchell isn't unhappy.
Thanks to getting HIFIS and new computers from a separate HRDC program grant, his homeless aid group saved $30,000 in planned spending that instead went directly to homeless people.
Mr. Weisz said HRDC will try to persuade reluctant shelters to sign on in part by citing success stories and offering help in installing, training and operational support.
"The last thing we want to do is plunk a whole new data system in front of somebody and say 'Go for it'," said Mr. Weisz.
One success story his office singled out involved the shelters in the Peel region of Ontario, which installed Version 1 of HIFIS last summer in shelters that had been collecting data manually.
Christine Gallant, an Ontario Works official involved in organizing the installation of computers and HIFIS in Peel, said the training takes half a day and the improvement in data collection is huge.
"Being able to have concrete data at your fingertips to support an argument is one of the best things about it," she said. Data analysis has shown that about 41 per cent of shelter users in Peel are actually employed at least part time, backing the argument that a lack of affordable housing was a prime reason for homelessness.
One thing Ms. Gallant was not keen on doing anytime soon was telling front-line emergency workers that they would be adopting HIFIS Version 2.
Version 2 is very different from Version 1," she said. "Right now we're content with the way things are. We need all of our shelters doing the same thing."
For more information...
Washington News & Views
Tracking the Homeless: An Overview of HMIS
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In Massachusetts a few years ago, data from homeless shelters revealed that a majority of residents had entered the system almost directly from foster care, prison or hospitals. As a result, then-governor Paul Cellucci committed to zero tolerance for discharge from government institutions into homelessness. In New York City, a recent assessment of a large, publicly-funded supportive housing initiative (New York/New York Agreement to House Homeless Mentally Ill Individuals) showed that the cost of permanent housing and services for disabled homeless people was only marginally more than the public cost of leaving them homeless. In this time of scarce resources (at least for those most needy), continuing affordable housing crisis and growing homeless numbers, we must demand more resources and make the best use of those that we have.
In 2001 Congress asked the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to take the lead in requiring communities to develop an unduplicated count of the homeless. It did this for two reasons. First, it was persuaded that cities with good data systems (Columbus, New York City and Philadelphia) did a better job of addressing the problem. Second, it was frustrated by the almost total lack of reliable national data about homelessness and the impact of federal spending on the problem. It wanted communities to have accurate data on homelessness and also use this information to evaluate patterns of program use and effectiveness. As good data emerged from communities, Congress asked HUD to use it to paint a more accurate picture of what was happening nationally.
To meet these goals, HUD required federally funded public and nonprofit organizations to implement a homeless tracking system – Homeless Management Information Systems, or HMIS. HUD provided technical assistance to HMIS and allowed for funding from the Supportive Housing Program (SHP). In July 2003 HUD released draft HMIS standards that laid out the information it expects agencies to gather through HMIS. Final standards are anticipated in early 2004, the deadline for agencies to implement HMIS.
Creating a useful tracking system is a formidable and challenging task. Issues of privacy, expense, participation and usage are just some of the concerns that must be addressed.
Confidentiality. While this is critical for all homeless people, special issues arise for victims of domestic violence and people with HIV and AIDS. Further, there are laws requiring protection of individual information (such as the federal Health Information Portability and Accountability Act). Confidentiality must be carefully maintained in information gathering, analysis protocols and data security.
Resources. The hardware, software, transmission, training and staff costs associated with implementing HMIS can be costly. Although HUD has allowed communities to apply for SHP funds to cover these costs, such requests compete with those for direct services and housing.
Analysis. One real benefit of HMIS is the information it can generate about the cost of homelessness, program outcomes and linkages with mainstream systems (government programs like foster care, employment training, health care and corrections that assist low-income people more broadly, or have custodial responsibilities). Obtaining such information requires resources and a sophisticated approach to both research design and data analysis. While few homeless assistance organizations possess these resources or skills, they can partner with agencies or communities that do.
Coverage. HMIS can contribute valuable information if they “cover” the maximum number of homeless people. Grantees of other federal programs (Health Care for the Homeless, PATH) and programs that do not receive government funding (missions, soup kitchens, clothing banks) should be included in order to gather the most complete set of data.
Use of Data. While HMIS data can tell us many things about the homeless, there are only certain kinds of information that HMIS should provide. Aggregating anonymous data to examine numbers and trends is relatively uncontroversial. More troublesome are possible uses of personal data, including sharing client files among programs. HUD has stipulated that it wants only aggregated, not client level, data.
These issues will have to be addressed at the community level. The real challenges of HMIS are not technical, they are civic. Communities must grapple with how they will handle information sharing, right to privacy and program evaluation. HUD should not tell communities how to deal with these matters, but should help with standards and protocols, best practices and technical assistance.
There are at least seven opportunities for well-run data systems to make a tremendous difference in the lives of homeless people and communities.
1. Plan to End Homelessness. Communities across the nation are developing plans to end homelessness. HMIS can help measure the success of their implementation.
2. Encourage Mainstream Participation. Data has shown that homelessness is extremely costly to public health care and other systems. Identifying the costs can convince those systems to more actively address homelessness.
3. Program Management. All homeless programs collect information for a number of reasons – to assess capacity, manage staff, allocate resources or prepare budgets and reports. HMIS can be used to manage and simplify these tasks.
4. Attract Resources. In a climate of intense competition for resources, homelessness organizations can use HMIS data to make a more compelling case for funding.
5. Assess Costs. Agencies can use HMIS to assess their costs and the cost effectiveness of their programs. States and localities can use HMIS to assess the cost effectiveness of various programs or interventions.
6. Prevention. HMIS can help identify where the homeless come from and who is most likely to become homeless.
7. Measure Outcomes. HMIS can be used to assess the impact of service and housing interventions on meeting immediate needs and the long-term goal of ending homelessness.
Creating good homeless management information systems is difficult work, with many and significant challenges, but making the best use of our existing resources, and building a strong case for new ones, will require more than a big heart and an apt anecdote. HMIS is not, of course, the solution to homelessness. It can, however, help us move past managing the problem, to ending it.
Nan Roman is president of the National Alliance to End Homelessness 1518 K St., NW, Suite 206, Washington, DC 20005. 202-638-1526. www.endhomelessness.org.
Homelessness Management Information Strategies
“Creating a Data System to Help You End Homelessness.” National Alliance to End Homelessness.
The Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness
Center for Social Policy
John W. McCormack Institute
University of Massachusetts-Boston
“New York/New York Agreement to House Homeless Mentally Ill Individuals.”
Corporation for Supportive Housing, 50 Broadway, 17th Floor, New York, NY 10004. 212-986-2966. firstname.lastname@example.org. www.csh.org.
Read the Description and History of the New York/New York Agreement. (PDF)
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