Special Reports Archive
- Written by Gordon Cook
- Category: Special Reports Archive
- Published: 03 July 2008
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90,000 word 100 page report available now at $75 per copy.
Big Brother Goes On Line
Web of Databases Woven Without Public Knowledge Could Determine Our Communications Future
Introduction and SummaryThis report is the result of two weeks of interviews in Washington State in late May and early June. It shows a very dark picture of our coming technology "dystopia."
The COOK Report finds that the state of Washington leads the rest of the nation in developing the building blocks of a statewide information infrastructure. What is being "leveraged" there is the Clinton -- Gore push for National Information Infrastructure (NII). NII is touted in commercials by AT&T and others as being kind of warm and friendly communications utopia. But the essence of NII is often in the eye of the beholder. In fact, there is no widely accepted definition of or goals for NII. Instead, it is one of those terms with a definition specific to whomever is talking about it at any given moment.
In the state of Washington what is being constructed is not a service for video on demand; nor is it home shopping. It is a statewide web of state agency networks and inter linked databases. While other states have some NII related projects, we are not aware of any that have the number and scope of those in Washington.
People with whom we talked generally agreed that the citizens of Washington are facing a situation where their privacy is fast disappearing and where the rights to information that they own and should effectively control are being sold out from under them. In the opinion of many to whom we talked, the situation is volatile and may become more so. Even George Lindamood, the outgoing Director of the Department of Information Services, acknowledged that when the citizens of the state understand the totality of what had happened to them, they will be angry.
In order to bring a "competitive environment" to the citizens of the state, Washington State agencies are moving forward to implement new information technology programs. But this information technology is the new hucksterism of the second half of the '90s. With the Clinton Administration pushing it in the first half of the decade, officials from the various departments of state government are lined up at the federal table to make sure they get the technology grants that will make their agencies stand out at home. They are very likely perfectly well-intentioned civil servants - in a hurry to build now and ask questions later. Policy issues, the big picture, privacy and confidentiality concerns are given lip service, but usually put off as being to difficult to deal with now. As these are put off, the web of interconnected communications systems and databases grows and wraps more firmly in place around Washington State residents.
There may be about a year to make meaningful changes before the average citizen is irretrievably caught in the emerging state data web. The only hope that we see is for citizen groups to coalesce, get educated and agree on the objectives for and definition of a state commission on citizen information rights -- one that has legal power to slow down the technocratic juggernaught -- until adequate legal safeguards to protect privacy can be put in place. The citizen's lobby must then sell these objectives to the legislature. If they don't succeed, Washington State may be neither comfortable nor a good place in which to live. It will be a combination of "Brave New World," "Blade Runner" and a digital Singapore transplanted to the Pacific northwest by a seemingly well-intentioned alliance between corporate and political technocratic elites.
One agency that is part of this Washington State web has a database of at-risk four-year-olds that can be linked with databases of violent juveniles, drug use incidence, trade and economic activity. All this information can be mapped matched with census tract and other economic data through a Geographic Information System (GIS). A GIS Database allows many different kinds of information to be overlaid on maps of differing scales according to physical location. GIS was described to us by the Assistant Director of Administrative Services of Community, Trade and Economic Development (CTED), a relatively new state agency, as "the glue that holds all the other disparate information together". The CTED system is under construction.
Someone has obviously decided there is a public purpose to be served in creating a database of at-risk four-year- olds and another of violent offenders. Missing from the Washington State scene is any widespread public understanding either that these and other data bases exist. Also absent is any reasonable means of challenge by the public to state agency use of them. For example, what if CTED were to decide that when a business had narrowed its choice to four potential locations, the final step towards maximum competitiveness for that business would be to show it the population density of at-risk four-year-olds and violent offenders in each of the sites? The business would surely choose to locate in an area with as few undesirables as possible. The potential of information technology to be used in building economic ghettos in Washington State is not generally known let alone an item on the public policy agenda.
This report describes the all ensnaring data web that is being woven in Washington State. Since many of the programs being field tested in Washington are federally backed, what happens there is likely to spread to other states unless we understand what is happening and insist that it be stopped.
The spinning of the data web begins in kindergarten -- or even earlier -- when parents are asked to supply their children's Social Security Numbers as identifiers. Goals 2000 and other school restructuring efforts have led to increased data collection about individual students. Educators want to know everything about today's students, even whether they arrive at school "ready to learn." With the help of national business groups and the well-intentioned but perhaps naive support of the Annenberg Foundation, Total Quality Management is the current Band-Aid being applied to a education system that policy makers with the study A Nation at Risk, in the early 1980s declared effectively "broken." Total Quality Management demands that all "relevant" data be gleaned and applied to the process at hand whether it involves manufacturing, or shaping our children's future.
To this end, the educational bureaucrats within the US Department of Education have established a National Center for Education Statistics. The Center has come up with standards for state student record databases and over 500 questions for states and local school districts to choose from in constructing their own systems. Depending on how faithfully the states follow the federal model, what could easily become the student's life long dossier may start with questions like the date of the last dental exam and the condition of soft tissue inside the student's mouth!
Indeed the federal student data handbooks contains fields for the phone number of the students email provider, whether the student is a registered voter and information about the student's post high school employment. If the student moves between states, a national system called SPEEDE/ExPRESS is being put into place to transfer his or her electronic record from one jurisdiction to another. If federal planners have their way, electronic tracking will continue throughout high school and from there into the student's employment.
The product of this nationalized and homogenized school record system -- the graduate -- may ultimately submit electronic portfolios, including teacher evaluations, to area employers via WORKLINK, a national program developed by Educational Testing Service. Under the guise of making school more relevant to the world of work, employers with desirable jobs will be able to glean electronically, from among thousands of area graduates, the few with the cleanest records. Those who don't make the electronic cut may walk their paper records to the nearest McDonalds.
The New Information Environment: Data Bases and Public-Private PartnershipsAs most politicians continue to stoke citizen anger against state and national government, citizen and legislative tax revolt initiatives have left government with inadequate revenues to do its job. As a result, an alliance of politicians and some corporations has formed to promote public -private partnerships. According to its critics, that alliance is simply profiting from the disenchantment the politicians have created .
In 1993 the Washington State Legislature proposed such a partnership to improve the state's highways. Construction firms on a national level were invited to bid on highway improvements to be paid for by tolls -- euphemistically known as user fees. In part encouraged by a federal project calling for "smart highways" nationwide, the proposals include toll tokens tied to individual citizens and their vehicles. Electronic sensors will decrease the value of each token and, in so doing, provide "information of commercial value" to entities like auto insurance companies, the driver's employer and any others willing to purchase the citizen's private data. This purchasing of citizen's data is promoted as a new revenue source for government. Promoters say it will keep government from having to raise taxes.
In 1993 the state legislature passed a law (which in the session just ended was largely gutted) guaranteeing health insurance to all Washington citizens. In yet another public-private partnership, the state undertook to create a statewide database to share patient treatment referrals and medical records among appropriate agencies and health care providers. Missing from the legislation were adequate protection of patient privacy and the right to correct medical records. Parts of the law were repealed this year, but plans for a statewide medical database continue.
The Department of Information Services is the state agency that provides telecommunications and computing infrastructure for the remainder of state government. Under George Lindamood, who arrived as Director in February 1993 and departed June 1 1995, it branched out into its own money making activities. These included a statewide compressed video network, Internet training for other state agencies and a would-be statewide information kiosk program.
The kiosks represented a public-private partnership between the state, IBM and North Communications. The heaviest use of them was by job seekers who could access new job openings posted through the State Division of Employment Security. The Department of Information Services (DIS) would like to see all state agencies using the kiosks to transact as much as possible of their day-to-day business with citizens. However, it is a pilot program. At the time of our visit there were only eleven kiosks in operation. The program got negative press reviews when it found that users of the employment database were asked to enter their social security numbers. Critics maintain DIS had no legal justification for requiring the numbers and did not comply with notification requirements in the federal Privacy Act when requesting them.
The Politics of Divisiveness
Politics in Washington State has taken a hard turn to the right. One example has been ESSB5466, an "anti-pornography bill," that did not become law this spring only because of the courageous veto of Governor Lowry. According to Al Huff, the Director of WEDnet, the Washington State K-12 network linked to the Internet, the bill would have effectively banned the Internet from Washington K-12 schools. Why? Because it would have made the system operators of digital networks liable for any "pornographic" material found on their systems.
After the Governor's veto, the House agreed to eliminate depiction of breast feeding from the obscenity statute while the Senate came back with an exemption for the Internet. The House refused to accept the senate exemption of the Internet and the bill died at the end of the legislative session. This conclusion led one observer to conclude that such an extreme right-wing agenda was not to protect children from pornography but to censor the Internet. Since our return we have been told that the issue will surface again in the legislature next year.
We have found no reason to believe that the web of connected databases will be used only by the state agencies and their immediate private partners. After all, these partners have come aboard expressly to market the end product to others. Policy makers had better ponder what wide spread use of the databases could lead to. Who will benefit from what they have done? The people or the power brokers? For what is at stake is not just a question of privacy but one of being able to use the information to manipulate people and events. Consider not only what full access to the database information could mean to large corporations, but also what it could do for any kind of extremist.
Consider whether the current direction leads inevitably to the further empowerment of the already powerful? Does it give them superior information and knowledge? Taking information that should be private and making it publicly accessible cannot be condoned - no matter whether it be school records, health data or smart highway reports on our travels. It is also undeniable that aggregated information collected from the public by its government at local, state, and national levels belongs to the public. The public should always have access to that data at reasonable expense which may normally be defined as the incremental cost of distribution. If the general public is denied such access, the question emerges as to whether those in power should ever be allowed to engage in any form of State sanctioned economic discrimination, let alone a targeted program aimed directly against those citizens who not only unwittingly provided the raw data being used, but also ironically funded the discriminatory agencies.
We have here a convergence of technology trends that can either empower individuals to affect positively their own lives and neighborhoods, or can disenfranchise them and leave them at the mercy of the powerful should they be able to monopolize the data used for decision making. It is this very volatile mix of the middle class - afraid and on the way down - that causes us to examine information infrastructure issues in Washington State against the backdrop of broader economic and social issues.
Some members of Washington State government claim to be dealing with the policy issues. However, this study finds that the state's Public Information Access Policy (PIAP) task force has failed to educate the state's citizens about these issues. It is imperative that other's step in to the vacuum left by the task force. Backed by an informed media, citizen groups must come together, possibly under a state umbrella organization, such as a Washington State Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Such an organization must undertake a serious public education campaign about the privacy and social control implications of the Washington State plans, both those already activated and those proposed. The organization must be carefully crafted to keep citizens in control of the entire process. It should design an information policy commission to exist perhaps under the aegis of the judiciary. They and not the technocratic managers of state agencies would carry out reviews of state agency programs and intentions. The commission would need a process for hearings and prompt studies to be completed. It must have its own funding. Legislation to implement the commission should be promptly drafted and made a top priority for action in the next legislative session.
Side Bar of Washington Report - p.2Alvin Toffler: Virtual reality points to a boundless capacity for deception. Not simply by governments or corporations, but by hostile individuals acting on each other. We can do this today, but we are increasing the sophistication of deception faster than the technology of verification. The consequence of that is the end of truth. The dark side of the information technology explosion is that it will breed a population that believes nothing and, perhaps, even more dangerous, a population ready to believe only one "truth," fanatically and willing to kill for it. [May 1995]
Washington State Citizen: The gold mine [from the databases] lies in the realm of being able to control the progression of society and completely maximize at every moment the flow of a person's existence as a consumer. It would be nice to hear Al Gore turn around and say - "the information super highway. It is not that. It is a massive control and social engineering mechanism. This is all it ever will be. There will be no privacy left if we continue with things the way they are currently being done." [May 1995]
Ordering InformationMore of this 90,000 word 100 page study will appear in future issues of the COOK Report. The publication date is July 15. The price is $285.00 or $750 for a corporate site license. The study contains interviews and our analysis woven out them. What you have just read is the Introduction and Summary. An executive summary is included as Appendix 6. This summary will not appear in the COOK Report. The editor will ship and invoice this report upon reciept of a faxed "purchase order" at 609-882-2572. (Please call before faxing.)
|Len McComb||Director Department of Revenue, Washington State|
|George Lindamood||Director Department of Information Services, Washington State|
|Al Huff||Director, Washington Schools Information Processing Cooperative|
|Kate Heimbach||Assistant Director, Administrative Services Community Trade and Economic Development Agency, Washington State|
|Robert Aye||Deputy Regional Administrator, Washington State Department of Transportation|
|Matthew Lampe||Deputy Director, Department of Administrative Services, City of Seattle|
|Kathryn Thomas||Assistant Director for Telecommunications, Utilities and Transportation Commission, Washington State|
|Mary Moore||Director of Library Planning and Development Division, Washington State Library|
|Sam Hunt||Special Assistant to the Director, Division of Information Services, Washington State and Co Chair of the Public Information Access Policy (PIAP) Task Force|
|Bob Jacobson||former policy analyst for the California State Legislature and former public member of PIAP|
|Vincent Pollina||Computer Systems Specialist, Washington Utilities Transportation Commission|
|Steve McCallister||Information Services Manager, Snohomish County Planned Parenthood|
|Currie Morrison||Computer Coordinator, Seattle School District|
|Walter Taucher||President Corporate Computers|
|Janeane Dubuar||policy expert education privacy and member Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility|
|Jeffrey Michka||community activist, Sysop Washington Community InforSource BBS, and Board member Coalition of Washington Communities|
Our thanks also to Peter Marshall, Dale Morrison, Jane Nelson, Leslie N. Jacobson, Simson L. Garfinkel and others for help or permission to use material that they authored.
|Introduction and Summary||1|
|The New Information Environment - databases and Public Private Partnerships||2|
|The Politics of Divisiveness||3|
Part 1: Education Infrastructure Components
|Privacy Invasion Begins in Kindergarten||4|
|HB 1209: Washington State Pilots the National Education Agenda||4|
|An Endemic Action: Avoid Dealing With the Policy and Privacy Questions||5|
|Electronic and Paper Records Demand Different Treatment||6|
|Electronic Student Records in Washington State The Urge to Merge||8|
|Overcoming the Confidentiality Barrier||10|
|Our Children on the Total Quality Management Assembly Line||12|
|The Origins of WSIPC in the Context of a Technology Bureaucracy||12|
|WSIPC: Time Sharing for Educational Records Evolves into State Wide Education Telecommunications Power||14|
|Washington Educational Network||16|
|Educational Reform Impact on WSIPC and WEDnet?||16|
|Student Portfolios and Privacy||17|
|Where Is Our Public Policy on These Issues?||18|
|WSIPC's Future Direction in the Context of These Data Gathering Efforts||19|
|If WSIPC Makes No Policy Who Does?||20|
|Getting Washington's Largest School District on Line||20|
|Obtaining the Right Internet Connectivity||22|
Part 2: The State Agency Components
|Strange Bed Fellows: Merging Community Development and Trade & Economic Development Agencies||23|
|CTED and the Washington Development Network||24|
|Business, Local Government, Families: a Three Legged Stool of Social Control||25|
|A Community Activist Critique of CTED||28|
|Whom Does CTED Serve?||29|
|A Digital Singapore?||29|
|Department of Information Services as Would Be State Information Tsar?||33|
|Policy Aspects of D.I.S. Operation||34|
|Washington Interactive Television||35|
|Long Term Policy Implications of D.I.S. Actions||38|
|There Is Indeed a Potential Tinder Box||39|
|But What Is the Gold Mine? Reflections on the Department of Information Services||39|
|Technology for Technology's Sake||40|
|Department of Revenue: Government Through Public -Private Partneships||41|
|WSDOT: Smart Highways as a Public Private Partnership||42|
|Congestion Pricing in Puget Sound Metropolitan Area||43|
|Fare collection Devices and Operation||43|
|Smart Highways as a National Program:Instruments of Liberation or Social Control?||45|
|Links Between ITS America and Washington State||45|
|The Harvard Kennedy School of Government Jumps on the Highway Bandwagon||45|
|State Wide Medical Database in Return for Provider's Cooperation for State Wide Health Insurance||46|
|A Centralized Medical Records Repository for the Insurance Industry||47|
|Initial Operational, Reasons For, and Future Direction of the Data System||48|
Part 3: Private - Public Technology Jockeying: US West, Microsoft, & Seattle
|The City of Seattle Information Highway||52|
|A View of the Seattle Highway, US West and Other Issues from within WUTC||54|
|US West's Position in Washington State||55|
|The Public Interest Role of WUTC||56|
|Microsoft's Place in the Equation||57|
|MSN and Competitiveness of Internet Services||58|
|Becoming a Microsoft Solution Provider and Microsoft's Virtual Government||58|
Part 4: The Policy Picture
|PIAP: The Background. Bob Jacobson: Policy Analyst and Entrepreneur||59|
|The Beginnings of the PIAP Task Force||60|
|Information policy Poverty in Washington State||61|
|Our Lives Are Riddled||61|
|Sam Hunt's View of PIAP||61|
|Senator Sutherland's Role||61|
|The Role of the State Library in PIAP||62|
|A Citizen's Complaint to PIAP||64|
|Do We Serve the Public Interest by Avoiding the Contentious Issues?||65|
Part 5: The Center Is Not Holding
|Why We Must Rush Forward||67|
|Policy and the Need to Compete||67|
|The Technology Catalyst in its Political and Economic Context||68|
|Relationship Between Break Away Counties and the Takings Initiative||68|
|Takings as a Reaction to the Growth Management Act||69|
|The Pornography Issue||71|
Part 6: If We Are Not to Build a Blade Runner Society, What Should We Do?
|The Information Policy Problem: A Possible Remedy?||72|
|Technology Policy Is Not Made in a Vacuum||73|
|Does Technology Control Us?||74|
|But Whom Shall Be Thrown From the Life Boat?||74|
|Toffler's Idyllic Vision Is Wrong||75|
|1||Views of Indiana Student Records Adminsitrator on Privacy Issues||76|
|2||Intelligent Transportation Systems and the National Information Infrastructure||78|
|3||The Road Watches You: 'Smart' Highway Systems May Know Too Much||80|
|4||Acces vs Privacy in Computerized Court Records||80|
|5||Ethics Charges Against Dean Sutherland Dropped after Four Month Investigation||83|
|Educational Stratification by Means of Computers||8|
|Information Mapping by Means of GIS Systems||30|
|Cyber Police on the Beat in Singapore||32|
|Target Solution 2000 Health database May Put Totality of State's Information about Citizens into One System||49|
|Lowry's Veto of US West Bill Riles Sutherland||55|
|Mary Moore on Public Library Infrastructure||62|
|2||Education Reform Organization Chart||9|
|3||WEDnet Geographic Map and Block Diagram||15|
|4||Washington Development Network - Conceptual Diagram||29|
|5||HSIS Target Solution 2000 Data Collection and Storage Approach||50|