Re: Monitoring people (was Re: Meritocracies and freedom of information)

From: Adrian Tymes (
Date: Sun Oct 14 2001 - 17:19:18 MDT

"Robert J. Bradbury" wrote:
> Adrian Tymes wrote:
> > There are so many foreign students, the government could not
> > possibly monitor even a small fraction of them.
> It depends what you mean by "monitor". Computers are cheap and
> getting cheaper (IBM mainframe class computers don't cost $5
> million anymore). The required information on say 10-20 million
> people would *easily* fit on a single hard drive. We have the
> technology to do data collection and mining inexpensively --
> lets use it.

True. But, as the saying goes, there's information and then there's
knowledge. The latter requires human (or at least sentient, but *right
now* and for the immediate future that means "human") comprehension of
the former in order to make use of and act on it, in ways that are
obvious once you have the information but which are, in general too
complex to economically predict every single method. (Though software
is slowly getting better at this task.)

> The government scans my passport every time I enter the U.S.
> so they must have a record of all of my entries. The airlines
> have a record of all of my exits. Why can't this information
> be tied together such that the border crossings can be matched?
> (Particularly for non-U.S. citizens!) VISAs are issued for
> explicit periods and specific purposes. I see no reason why
> when people overstay VISAs red flags should not go off to
> cause the start of an investigation.

One overwhelming reason: the number of cases they already know about -
even without this scanning - *far* exceeds the manpower available to
investigate. The obvious solution, hire more people, requires money
they just don't have.

> I think we are going to have to develop better methods for
> determining when someone represents a threat and implement
> them.

This, I'll grant. If we could develop better rules, we could turn
those rules over to non-sentient machines available today, and the
problem might go away (or, at least, significantly diminish). Then
again, developing these better methods and rules is easier said than
done, at least without catching so many innocents in the net that
sorting them out and compensating for the inconvenience makes the system
actually more expensive than what we have now. (Some citizens
require a *lot* of pacification: since they're innocent and honest and
catching them was entirely the government's mistake, they use the
opportunity to squeeze for every apologetic cent and benny they can

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