Edward Luce is what I call “prescient plus”

A few days ago he wrote this subtitle in the FT:

Self-interest guides the Big Data companies, and the same is often true of the White House

And this:

Big data’s agenda is not confined to immigration reform. Among other areas, it has a deep interest in shaping what Washington does on privacy, online education, the school system, the internet, corporate tax reform, cyber security and even cyber warfare. Big data is also likely to be influential in the US-European trade partnership talks, which start this month. Whether the sector becomes a thorn in the side of the process remains to be seen. Either way, Americans should be relieved someone is making the case for privacy.

He closes with this:

A century ago, Theodore Roosevelt pushed back against the power of the rail barons and oil titans – the great technological disrupters of his day. Mr Obama should pay closer heed to history. And he should become wary of geeks bearing gifts.

Don’t forget this line:

One of the geekocracy’s main characteristics is a serene faith in its own good motives.

The general problem is the unholy government and tech alliance, based on a mix of plutocracy, information-sharing, and a joint understanding of the importance of information for future elections.  Which current politician wouldn’t want to court the support of tech, and which major tech company can today stand above politics?

I will add this: if you were surprised by today’s revelations, shame on you!


One of the geekocracy’s main characteristics is a serene faith in its own good motives.

Nothing like trusting self-perception.

If you do say so yourself ;)

I don't normally participate in comment threads but that one deserves a hat tip


Comment of the week, with no close runners up.

Yes. Y'all can put down your witty quips and go home.

And... they are mostly Democrats.

I'd say more Libertarians than anything else, ironically.


They may call themselves Libertarians, but they finance the Democrats

But it was the Bush administration and Republican Congress that convinced the voters of the need to spend billions of borrowed dollars in order to be safe by giving up the liberty of the potentially evil which is almost certainly anyone on your block who you don't like because of skin color, dress, religion, national origin.

What I admire about Obama is he is president of all the people including those who live in fear and think the president should protect them, and do that by taking the liberty of those they fear. The Patriot Act debate was won by the Republicans/conservatives who argued government technocrats should be seeking out scary people and spying on them secretly.

I think Republicans and conservatives are really frustrated by the actions of Obama because he has done as the Congress legislated and acted as the Republicans advocated, based on the Republicans being given the mandate to set policy by the voters. As a result, Obama has been deemed as strong on defending America as any Republican could be, and has restored Democrats as the defense hawks defined by Wilson, FDR/Truman, and LBJ.

During the cold war, it was Democrats and liberals who profited the most, with Reagan really opening the gush of profits by changing the mindset on who gets all the profits from lots of workers.

It is obviously what We the People want because of the Republicans elected to drive the policy in favor of big government intrusions and unlimited money on "defense" (not to mention the jobs programs) just to "keep us safe". Liberals/Democrats believe in democratic republican government - it might be wrong, but is the best system possible.

But Buushhh!!!!

Obama is a civil liberties disaster (worse than Bush).

The spectacle of dead end Obama proponents supporting Obama by arguing that Obama continues to implement Bush police state policies is a never ending source of entertainment.

Hope and change got translated to more of same.


"As a result, Obama has been deemed as strong on defending America as any Republican could be, and has restored Democrats as the defense hawks defined by Wilson, FDR/Truman, and LBJ."

Let's hope not. Wilson's mishandling of WWI and the armistice made him (probably) the most unpopular president in U.S. history (no opinion polls back then). The 1920 election was the biggest landslide in U.S. history, with the Republicans running Warren Harding. The fact that the Republicans could rack up the biggest winning margin in U.S. history with Harding should tell you something.

I could offer a few comments on the Johnson administration. However, it shouldn't really be necessary. Truman had the lowest job approval ratings of any president in U.S. history for which we do have polling data (and not just because of Korea).

FDR defeated the Axis powers with the help of our allies.

With the exception of FDR, the Democrats you are comparing Obama to, were foreign policy disasters, at least in the eyes of the American people. Perhaps worse, Obama simply isn't a hawk in the mode of any of them. His foreign policy has been one of restraint and caution which is (in my opinion) appropriate to the times.

Obama has restored the Democratic party's credibility in foreign policy, not be embracing the Neocon craziness of the Bush/McCain/Graham/Rubio Republicans, but by rejecting it. A generation ago, the Republicans (H.W. Bush, Powell, Cheney, etc.) were the party of sanity and restraint in foreign policy. Now it's Obama and the Democrats. Times change.

"the potentially evil which is almost certainly anyone on your block who you don’t like because of skin color, dress, religion, national origin."

It would be nice if people occasionally remembered that Bush proclaimed that "Islam is peace" less than a week after 9/11 and even celebrated Ramadan in the White House later that year. His position that Islam was not to blame for the attacks, and later that we were not at war with Islam was consistent (and often stated). He took heat for these actions from some quarters, as well as for policies like airport security not profiling passengers.

Yes, I understand that people strongly disagree with his actions on post-9/11 security. But the claim that he tried to stir up racist and/or anti-Muslim sentiment is baseless and slanderous.

Bush campaigned in 2000 against airport security profiling Arabs. He made a big deal about his opposition to it in the second presidential debate with Al Gore in October, 2000. Here's what I wrote on the evening of 9/11/2001:


A general problem is that people don't remember all that well what they saw happen on TV. They tend to remember the simplifications of The Narrative rather than their own lying eyes.

@Steve Sailer,

As I remember it, the bigger issue was the use of 'secret evidence' in immigration hearings. Notably a convicted terrorist by the name of Sami Al-Arian waged a media war against 'secret evidence'. From Wikipedia

"During the 2000 presidential election, Al-Arian contacted Al Gore's campaign and Bush's campaign to address the use of secret evidence to detain U.S. citizens without charge. Al-Arian met Bush during a campaign stop at the Florida Strawberry Festival to remonstrate against the Clinton administration's use of secret evidence. After presidential debates in which Bush decried the use of secret evidence as a form of racial profiling against Arab-Americans, Al-Arian began campaigning for Bush as the candidate most likely to end discrimination. During the White House briefing that announced Bush as the winner of the election, Al-Arian received a spot in the front row for his voter outreach efforts in Florida. On June 20, 2001, Al-Arian joined 160 Muslim-American activists in a White House briefing with Bush senior adviser Karl Rove. But in a separate White House event on June 28, his son Abdullah - a congressional intern - made national headlines when he was escorted out by Secret Service without explanation. Twenty four Muslim community leaders walked out also to protest Abdullah's ejection. The Secret Service later apologized for the incident citing "confusion by one of its guards". President Bush personally apologized in a letter to Nahla and thanked the family for their charitable contributions to the Muslim communities around the world."

Other source, including your UPI article, point in the same direction.

In the 2nd Presidential debate with Al Gore, Bush conflated the two anti-anti-terrorist policies he was pushing to win the Arab vote in Michigan into one sentence: "Arab-Americans are racially profiled in what's called secret evidence. People are stopped, and we got to do something about that."

It's funny how, with all the Bush haters in the world, there has bee so vanishingly little interest in following up on the impact of the Bush-Mineta policy against profiling Arabs and Muslims at airports. The counter clerk who checked in Mohammed Atta told Oprah years later that he'd never seen anybody who looked more like an Arab terrorist, but then gave himself "a politically correct slap" and let him on the airplane.

The Diversity dogma is too sacred to be dispensed with, even to blame 9/11 on Bush!

Mulp has to be really tedious in person. Thank God this only the internet.

I don't really have a problem with this information being used for legitimate national security purposes, but the IRS scandal highlights the fact that government bureaucracies cannot be trusted to use their powers for defined purposes without some strong checks and balances. We need some kind of mechanism to ensure that this data isn't going to be used for other purposes. How can we be sure that political opponents or other people with unpopular (but legal) views aren't going to be singled out for harrassment or intimidation? How can this country remain a democracy under the control of the citizens if citizens can be singled out for illegal intimidation?

This is way bigger than the usual Republican vs Democrat mud wrestling. If we screw this up, our democratic republic goes out the window and we will all be serfs under the control of whatever courtiers have the ear of His Majesty.

That...far more than some religious lunatic with a bomb...is the biggest danger to the country right now. What are we going to do about it?

I was pretty sure there were a few Democrats in Congress who voted for those measures, too. There was some talk of "connecting the dots" at the time. Seems like Obama signed reauthorizations that were passed, probably not by a Republican Congress. But thanks for bringing this up - it's important to note that partisans seem to remember only one half of the story ;)

Palantir strikes me like a tech company that cares about civil liberties, and they do a lot of work to tech in that end.

But I also hear they're involved with DoD (?) which would make me seriously consider that prior.

"But I also hear they’re involved with DoD (?)"

!!!! I didn't realize they did anything significant besides their DoD contracts. They sell intel software that...finds and analyzes links between target individuals.

and the founder is a self-declared libertarian. We should just trust them.

Bill Maher is another "self-declared libertarian."</snide>

I didn't know Palantir did anything BUT DoD contracts.

"which major tech company can today stand above politics"

So far it seems Twitter is doing a relatively good job of resisting cooperating with government eavesdropping.

Thank you (this automated reply originated in Room 641A, located in the SBC Communications building at 611 Folsom Street, San Francisco)

Given that (as near as I can tell), most of what you do on Twitter is already public (unless you lock your feed), wouldn't it be easy enough to eavesdrop that the government doesn't need to bother with management?

Whether you share the location of where you are tweeting from is optional, and this location information (along with, I imagine, IP address, etc.?) could be extremely helpful to intelligence organizations.

while I appreciate the point that Tech companies' self-declared noble aims are not so noble, you
can't pin this on them. They have no volition is this. The scale and nature of surveillance is decided
by political masters and military-intelligence complex.

ECHLEON predates current tech giants and BigData fad. This is just ECHLEON updated to current

Especially since the cited article claims a reluctant tech company was forced to comply by the courts.

Echelon goes back to Ultra during WWII.

There's a lot of continuity over the last 70 years. For example, much of Silicon Valley's roots go back to Allied strategic bombing efforts to defeat German radar in WWII:


@Steve Sailer,

I don't doubt that Terman was highly influential. However, his Radio Research Lab was in Massachusetts, not California. He returned to Stanford after WWII and thereafter was a key figure in establishing 'Microwave Valley' and then 'Spy Satellite Valley'. Of course, Silicon Valley is a direct descendant of those earlier efforts.

At least Big Data counters the influence of the music and film industries. It is picking between the lesser of two evils.

Actually, the general problem is The Third Party Doctrine which creates the incentives and pressures that lead to this.

Anyway, no one's explained how we're supposed to incentivize politicians to take the risks of there being another major attach and "not having done everything in their power to protect the country and our children." Does your answer have something to do with morals or judgment? Go back to the drawing board.

Of course it would be much different if consumers were really willing to turn their backs on companies that repeatedly violate privacy. Maybe it is time we admit we mostly like to pay lip service to the idea of privacy, but when it comes down to it, we really don't care that much.

The constitutional issue is more fundamental than that: courts apply the Fourth Amendment to evidence but not to intelligence. The government's only penalty when it violates the Fourth Amendment is having evidence excluded from criminal trials, which is no penalty at all when the intelligence agencies would prefer to avoid criminal trials altogether.

Let's ask differently: Is all this efficient? Sure beats the efficacy of searching grandmothers for weapons at airports!

Privacy law may have gone too far for efficiency. It was once meant only as "My home is my castle" [and you can't enter it without a warrant], according to Judge Posner, I believe. The right to privacy seems to have become a right to secrecy. What, exactly, is wrong with requiring everyone to wear an LED display announcing his net worth to the world?

I get it that government can be brutally effective and utterly incompetent at the same time, but not sure that's an 'unholy government' thing. Tech companies are often beholden to investors and market forces too (not all sunshine and roses either) which can drive short-term-ism...we take the good with the bad.

And what exactly are you suggesting as an alternative in the case at hand? There are no free lunches and most (excluding the most fervent libertarians, fine) would agree that government is supposed to protect its citizens. How do they do that without collecting information?

Clearly defined rules about when a person's data can be accessed would be nice. Google's earlier explanation that they weigh each request for user data by the gov based on security needs wasn't so alarming. What this appears to be is unlimited access to everyone's data, comply or we'll send the courts after you, with the only safeguard being "just trust us".
And google uses that info to be in the targeted ad business. We don't know the scope of what the pentagon uses it for, but their appears to be some truth to the idea that they're in the military industrial complex business. And it reminds me off the IRS scandal, with the organization targeting its most fervent critics. What repercussions could there be for a political group that targets the NSA? What data could Facebook provide to help keep a codependent political regime winning elections? Unholy is the word that comes to mind. Terrorists just don't scare me that much in comparison.

"And google uses that info to be in the targeted ad business."

Ha ha, that's all? The ability to nudge our behavior, 'help us' define our preferences is widespread in private industry, particularly as personalized treatment is more acceptable than in government. Boundaries on data access ... and maybe we shouldn't create so much ... is a fair topic but seems best when parties viewed neutrally.

There is no great stagnation in surveillance capabilities.

+1 and ... 'We're not as alone as we thought we were.'

"Big data’s agenda..."

The articles that talk like this are just monumentally stupid, and there has been an increase in their number lately.

Big data's coming to get you and has some kind of coherent worldview!

Tech companies are free not to cooperate with the government. They're also free to fend off the industrial espionage of foreign states on their own dime.

They are not free to not cooperate..
Judge orders Google to comply with FBI's secret NSL demands
A federal judge tells the company to comply with the FBI's warrantless National Security Letter requests for user details, despite ongoing concerns about their constitutionality.

Interesting, didn't know about this.

Is that an Economist's sour grapes / jealousy because in the past decades they used to have a monopoly on politician's ears offering endless punditry?

"A century ago, Theodore Roosevelt pushed back against the power of the rail barons and oil titans – the great technological disrupters of his day. Mr Obama should pay closer heed to history. And he should become wary of geeks bearing gifts."

By the time TR took office, railroads were a mature industry. By contrast, the oil business was just beginning to take off. The Spindletop well blew in on January 10th, 1901. Some people claim that it doubled world oil production immediately. That's an overestimate given that U.S. oil production in 1900 was already in the range of 160,000 BPD.

It's worth noting that Spindletop was not drilled by Standard Oil and indeed Spindletop marked the beginning of the end of Standard's monopoly. By the time, Standard Oil was broken up, its market share had already plunged because of all of the new oil companies formed after Spindletop.

What is true is that TR wasn't shy about opposing the railway interests (blocking the Northern Securities Company merger) and Standard Oil (breaking it up). TR was also an immigration reformer (restrictionist). He would have passed legislation restricting immigration during his administration. However, the Dillingham commission was still working when he left office.

On the great issues of the day, TR stood up to the cheap labor interests and the great concentrations of corporate power (including Wall Street). By contrast, the modern Republican and Democratic parties compete in terms of how slavishly they can serve the Open Borders lobby and Wall Street.

Yes, but the Progressives were interested in eugenics, so that means they were Evil, and thus we can never, ever think about what they accomplished for America.

Its a Trap!

Blaming the modern tech companies for this is plain wrong. If anything companies like Google are resisting the government's attempts at doing this. (Facebook on the other hand....) Of course any multi-billion dollar company, even if they really truely don't want to be evil, will end up doing some evil stuff just by accident or as you point out cause they think they are doing good.

But Prism, Phone Records, Scorched earth prosecution of whistleblowers, forever wars, infinite military spending, complete dissolution of civil liberties, fracking, and other no question asked evil is being done by an entirely different group of people who have been doing it for over 100 years. These are the Oil Companies, Banksters, Corporate Mainstream Media, Telcos and both political parties. These are the entities that we need to get the pitchforks out for and get all of their top management, Boards of Directors and political cronies into jail.

Can you explain your justification for distinguishing between the morality of these different industries?

It seems totally arbitrary, mostly related to the fact that certain sectors can be scapegoated in useful ways.

Alls I know is that I hate America now. Maybe the terrorists were right. They had principles. We don't.

What makes America so great again? Why should we care about it?

As G.K. Chesteron said: "'My country, right or wrong' is like 'My mother, sober or drunk.'"

You have to play the hand you are dealt.

Now, who wants to buy those Google glasses? Anybody?

I worked in Big Data over 30 years ago. Here's my take on the issue:


One can safely say that he used Big Data, not prescience, to make his accurate prediction.

But just imagine all the terrorist attacks they've prevented. The Boston Bombers are evidence for this. Terrorists are reduced to using household items since they've been swept off the interwebs!

Is this comment sarcastic? Because I was thinking "all this plus a warning from Russia and the Marathon still got bombed".

I also wonder why the government can't put this much effort into reducing the national debt.

Google's motto is don't be evil. If that's you're motto, you must have a lot of evil ideas that you need to constantly tell yourself "don't be evil. don't be evil. don't be evil." The only difference between USG and Google is that USG has the power to compel people to do what it wants, and Google wishes it had the power to compel people, since their goal seems exactly the same as USG: control all the information.

Interesting winner from the story may be China. They now have at least an excuse for blocking Facebook and harassing Google. Also have to wonder if, for all the talk of Chinese hacking, the US government isn't also picking out all the Chinese data that flows through their systems.

Anyway, so much for your libertarian internet paradise. Turns out it's a glorified hammer, and the wielder will decide whether it is used for good or evil.

The truly paranoid might suspect a Chinese agent working at the NSA leaked the story to weaken Obama's hand before the upcoming talks...

Verizon closed up almost 3.5% yesterday . . .

Isn't the libertarian view that self-interest guiding everyone is, basically, a good thing?

Hmm, hadn't thought about it like that. I thought it was more along the lines of leave me alone or live and let live.

I've been surprise to not see flags raised over Obama's amazing (from a direct marketing perspective) data driven marketing campaign. Did OFA have access to any of FB's valuable data? Why is the answer self-evidently no? Prominent FBers have the data and backed Obama.

In general, should sophisticated, data-driven marketing campaigns conducted by the ruling class worry us? The data is there, the marketing need is there, the only safeguard left is ethical use. And what's more ethical than getting your guy elected?

I think all this is just Obama's way of carrying out a campaign promise, though not in the way we expected. Another example of good government in action, you know: Integrated circuits, hybrid seed, internet… the list is endless.

For any of you that are not worried about Obamas gov being in control of the NSA data, consider this:
1. Obamas campaign computer geeks openly bragged about their campaigns ability to mine data for voter targeting, message targetting, and oppo research, and made clear they plan to continue in the 2014 election,and might even turn it over to Obamas chosen successor.
2. The IRS scandal has made it quite clear that every dept of the Obama administration is subject to politicization for the campaign.
3. With the NSA we are giving them the largest data mine in the world, with the best mining equipment in the world, with us paying the bill for it, and depending on a bunch of politicised burocrats to pretect us from misuse of this treasure trove.

--all subject to the intellectual disaffection or moral unilateralism of actors like Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden, with their serene faith in their own pristine motives.

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