Background Checks for EVERYBODY!

A background check simply filters and formats personal information about an eating, breathing person into a somewhat standard and therefore, presumably, useful “packet”. Much of the information in a background check is already out there in the public domain. Most of the rest is already controlled and/or owned by the government. What is missing is the true and just application of filters and formats – the so-called algorithms – needed to organize and maintain said “packets” as beneficial to humanity.  

Oh, there are algorithms in use. Primarily by marketers, but also governments and other well funded cartels; though we are offered no transparency, and the accounts that do manage to “leak” to within the public’s earshot suggest any claimed intention is at least dubious and too often, just another scene in a bad but never-ending Keystone slapstick filled with corrupt buffoonery.  The place(s) that sold and shipped thousands of rounds of ammo to a disturbed individual that would later commit mass murder, even after reaching out to mental health professionals for help. I can only wonder if methodical determination within the health care system and, in parallel, the public safety agency(s) to keep this guy off the street might have been enough to prevent the deaths of innocent movie-goers in Aurora Colorado. Mostly because the health care system is determined mostly to pay big returns to shareholders and agencies of safety are little more than occupying forces in our cities with clearly with priorities other than the public’s safety.

Anyone that has never done so might be shocked to see what anyone can learn about themselves at web sites that traffic in other people’s personal details. Anyone willing to pay the low, low price can look deeply into your background in a few minutes from anywhere on the planet without your permission or knowledge. If you are OK with that, you might be a moron. To be sure, there are a number of web sites where anybody in the world can pay a few bitcoin to see a disturbing amount of information about you. That is to say: obtain your most vital personally identifiable information (PII) without leaving a trace. 

US Government agencies like the IRS, NSA, FBI, CIA and ATF; industrial surveillance engines like Google, Bing, Yahoo and Mozilla(!) as well as the myriad of cookie powered marketing and transaction data crapitalists, not to mention the massive, and generally view-able offline to the stealthy, archives of banks, insurance companies, retailers and wholesalers that routinely accumulate giga-scads of data useful to check a person’s background. Ever so slowly, the players are sharing select bits of this information to make a buck but so far everyone still totally sucks at cooperating to render this information useful to humanity. Opting instead toward driven self interest (e.g., criminality, manipulation of the public, profit, return on investment, bonus to self, cash flow, fear of reprisal, redress, revenge, etc.).

As I had previously blogged regarding Government Agency’s mandates for unfettered, unquestioned and, as I remain convinced, un-American, unneeded and wholly ineffective access to ‘pen and tap’ data in every data center and central office in the country. What they cannot take for the asking or with a little sometimes heavy-handed coercion, they just take. And the mandated pathways needed to get to the data are irrevocably open to all comers in the process.

Government regulations intended to help may be making the situation worse. HIPPA, for example, sorta standardizes health information and compels health care providers to store your medical records in a supposedly secure but professionally shareable electronic form. Combine that with the now widely suspected to be hacked by government agencies cryptography and the downstream government agencies are surely licking their chops over this pool of easy data and working quietly behind the scenes to make sure what-ever happens, the backdoor will always be open to them. Security is all good and fine. Would be even better if it actually worked though, and what we know is we are not getting that job done. So why isn’t there a plan to be of genuine service to the communities this data is about? That’s all I want to know. Can there no turning back toward truth from here?

Government data proper can often be classified as “public information”. Yet we the public have to know whom to ask or pay or seduce, and the secret word and the appropriate political alignment – to see it. Even among and between government agencies there exists no mandate or model to effectively and mutually share data. Brilliant!

Stores routinely collect video surveillance and customer transaction histories. Each will process, archive, aggregate and perhaps share the collected data in what-ever way has been decided by the executive management.

Many 24-7 news operations exist at the local, national and international levels. We know they don’t simply overwrite yesterday’s news with today’s news. It accumulates and is indexed and/or cataloged by date and some variant of keyword. Has for all our lifetimes. If you made the news at any time in your life, it is in that archive and can be recalled by someone.

It strikes me that all the data is already out there. What is missing are the ways and means of using this already collected, already aggregated data so that the right decisions can be made at the right time: the algorithm. Even worse, the impetus for the politicians that would have to drive the implementation remains too much about what not to tell the constituency. For them, the transparency targeted would be a threat to their elect-ability. Thus, there is no prospect for a fair and just background checking algorithm.

The already ubiquitous Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Business Intelligence (BI) tools in union with the data already being collected are enough to implement fair and just algorithms to determine such things as who should or should not buy a gun – and assist with implementation planning that doesn’t end in a shoot-out well before the first shot has been volleyed. All that is lacking is the collective will to get it done.

A background check must assure the greatest measure of accuracy, accountability and transparency possible from the body of information about a person that is already in the lawfully shareable domains. With transparency in background checks anyone and everyone must be able to find all background information about themselves, where that information came from, and a history of all previous reads. The person could then work withing the established framework to correct any errors should they show up in their own background. A person would get a de facto background check every time they created an entry or update in the shareable data set. Furthermore, mental health warning signs could be followed up as thresholds of concern are in peril rather than as interventions of greater concern.

Make no mistake, EVERYBODY’s PII data is out there in the wild right now. The tyranny is that the data, who uses it and how it is used can be lawfully kept from that person’s view and beyond their control. It can easily be used to persuade or deceive that person and as easily be manipulated – by someone who may or may not know anything about that person – to deceive other’s. This data must be openly available for view and stubbornly resistant to change at all times or it will be compromised in unknowable ways. Just like source code, PII that is open is most secure by design.

Still and all, imagine how anyone might react when they ‘fail’ a background check when trying to buy a gun. Especially if they might already suffer with mental health issues or are already be wanted for past crimes or already own an arsenal. Point-of-sale background checks that actually do what they are intended to do would surely make a bad situation worse – at least some of the time – when doled out as a pass or fail ticket awarded to one citizen waiting in line but not the next, especially if the ‘fail’ meant “no gun today” and the persons brought the the intention to do harm along with them to the gun seller. This reveals an essential aspect of self-interested capitalism to pit a low level wage earner against the customer as an enforcer.  Couple that with the fact that most gun buyer’s in the US today are not buying their first gun: they are already armed. Similarly, an unknown number of guns trade hands in private and possibly black market exchanges among the self-interested.

The notion that the solution of for everyone to arm themselves is the best or only solution is pure marketing bs. When going after a problem where too many people are dying because too many people have guns, the most laughable solution is to push more people to get a gun. I mean,… what could go wrong? Quite clear who would stand to benefit though, isn’t it.

Imagine, from yet another perspective, how it might affect the vote if voters could query candidate background data only to find that a favorite politicians had failed to disclose a long history of mental illness or abuse or even which – if any – of the judges you are supposed to approve at each election were blatantly corrupt or known prescription drug abusers.

Imagine if those responsible for hiring our teachers and police had similar information when evaluating teaching candidates or even the longest tenured educators. And imagine we had the same information about teachers and police as the people that hire teachers and police? And teachers and police had the same information about us. And we had access to that information about our Doctor or car mechanic or date? Shouldn’t everyone be exposed to the same level of scrutiny? NRA spokes person Wayne La Pierre? President Barack Obama? You? Me?! It’s actually way too late to dicker over who should get such scrutiny. It’s happening now to everyone but not equally and without transparency or proper oversight. It’s also well protected by widespread denial and record profits.

Still and all, I do wonder what would become of those of us who don’t meet the background check sniff test at some point. After living in this society where people prefer not to know their neighbors all my life, that truth could be so disturbing that even greater horrors and mischief ensue. So many are now armed with assault weapons and so few police have the training and skills required to recognize let alone council a person safely through a mental health crisis that there probably is not a lot anyone can do about guns already in the wild for generations without something as drastic as a massive weaponized domestic drone campaign to ‘take away the guns’ from the cold dead droned hands of those labeled “should not have guns”. More realistically, mental health interventions will remain a point of difficulty that will require trained and skillful councilors, clergy and communicators.

It is beyond belief that the political system has even been discussing a plan that could so obviously end with a “take his guns away” order followed by desperation and then, too often, a shoot-out. Ordered revocation will not work any better than chasing the homeless out of town (again) or the prohibition of alcohol or hemp.

And that seems to be where the conversation is now stuck for eternity. Some folks seem to believe that background checks are a waste of time and won’t help a thing. Others believe background checks are not enough and even more rules and regulations are necessary, convinced that the type of weapon foretells a propensity for misuse. Meanwhile the politicians provide us the predictable dis-services of misinformation, stonewalling and nonsense in the hope that nothing changes other than an ever increasing number of zeros in their bank balance – and maybe a little more stuffing in the easy chair. 

To get the conversation moving perhaps we have to stop blaming any narrow slice of the population (e.g., gun buyers, disturbed individuals, terrorists, tree huggers, religious fundamentalists or politicians) as the source of a systemic problem and in so doing, erroneously see prevention as the elimination of certain stereotypical yet otherwise lawful type of abiding persons from the population. As far as I can tell, criminals, haters and lunatics will find ways to do their deeds whether or not they can legally buy a gun or even are able to use a gun. We need a system that ameliorates the aberrant behaviors before there becomes an awful headline of death and disaster. Continuous cradle-to-grave background checks coupled with well-qualified trans-personal counselor to reach out to others regularly to help us understand what our background check is signaling is essential. Unfortunately, those in positions of power would place too much of their power at risk under such a structure simply because EVERYBODY has a few “red flags” in their background. And it doesn’t help much that money or power can so easily change the narrative in spite of the truth. 

The American public is apparently mostly behind the need for better background checking of potential gun owners. Seems to me like everyone in the county is a potential gun owner and can easily circumvent ATF regulations just like always. Doesn’t that potential technically make everyone a candidate for a pre-purchase background check? And since anyone can buy a gun at any time isn’t it important to maintain that background check? It could be entirely possible to buy a gun anytime, and why on earth should we wait until someone is buying a gun to help them with the issues identified in their background data? Is it really true that people bent on doing evil will find a way if they have a gun or not? Shouldn’t we be doing all we can to protect our communities from those risks easily uncovered through background check?

All political systems of our time may be already too corrupt to even give lip service to a solution based upon transparency, accountability and human dignity. That is but one disadvantage of the bought-and-paid-for oligarchies we now suffer and the financially driven, politically biased media that would so quickly loose ratings if accountability and transparency of background checks were the rule for everybody. Probably, politicians and bankers would be the biggest losers. A reasonable compromise among all or even most elected officials is not possible in this time when everything but including Wikileaks happens behind closed doors. Background checks must be open and transparent to be beneficial to humanity. Backroom deals bargain away the bounty of all for the self interests of the bungling politicians and their buddies, brothers and banks. What exactly is wrong with standing before your peers and community as the person you are? Are we all that ashamed of the truth? Isn’t such self-deception the tether evil needs to grow it’s vine?

Background checks are already as much a part of life as death and taxes. The problem is current background checks are sloppy, incomplete, inconsistent, usually clandestine and always susceptible to malevolence. I bet city cops, for example, do get a much different background check than seasonal city workers. But not at all am I convinced the cop gets the better or more informative check of the two.

What we really need to do is first agree on what needs to be in a background check and then go about the business of compiling and checking backgrounds consistently throughout the population. What ever it is, I have no doubt that the US Government already has more than enough access to personal information to begin this work. The Generals in charge of this access appear to not even need more than the rubber OK stamp of the politicians that we have given voice. But instead of doing the work we are witnessing a very different militarization of law enforcement in this county. A militarization apparently meant to entertain as it subjugates: to show the people they have nothing to fear as long as the do as they are told.  A militarization that has not been instrumental in making us safer but showcases a janitorial law enforcement wittingly portrayed with dramatic backdrop by clever camera operator and described by a well spoken narrator seeking to compose the most dangerous or scary scene among the many “news teams” recording the official “truth”.

Consider the Boston Bombing. Authorities failed in every way to secure the event or identify or seek to isolate a risk of backpack bombs scattered about the finish area as a real risk before the instant of attack. There was well known but not, apparently, a specific known risk, nor preparation or screening to prevent even such a simple attack. They relied upon video after the fact, collected tediously from each local business that had been previously compelled by self-interest to install surveillance camera’s to stop [lesser?] crimes to identify the bombers. It took all the next day for authorities to filter the data and come up with a couple of freeze frames of video deemed ‘safe’ enough to release to the public. Then authorities had to crowd source the identity of those in the images on the evening news. But just enough picture to get names? All the while, authorities maintained a clear strangle-hold on the media covering the event. This demonstrates once again – and without any doubt – that the government has the technology and the data access to quickly and extensively check any person’s background once they have the person’s name. Unfortunately the late and well orchestrated photo release backfired when the bombers were shown that their covers ware blown and so thought it best to make a run for it. duh. That could have been the end of it but one of the two escaped after firing 200+ rounds plus lobbing two bomb in a battle with police en route out of town. The authorities then continued with a heavily armed show of military force as they spent a long hard fruitless day searching door to door to door to door in fatigues and combat gear. The camouflage, automatic weapon toting combat cops and armored vehicles in Boston were all over the TV in Colorado that day. And terror reigned all day. I was certainly hypnotized to and horrified by the media coverage. Finally the authorities called off the search empty handed at the end of the day and vacated a ‘sheltering in place’ order for a million people in Boston – even though it was not known to be any more or less safe. But involving the people was once again that little flash of transparency the situation needed. A citizen found the bomber in his back yard, well outside of the search area. Hours later the bomber was finally arrested – but only after government agencies had unloaded a couple of clips from police assault weapons into the hiding place of what turned out to be an already unarmed and already badly wounded criminal. All the next day the spokespeople of the various authorities took turns telling the TV camera what a great job the authorities had done.

Now that the event seems past I can only wonder how much faster this tragedy could have been brought to a conclusion if the police were transparent and accountable instead of operating as splintered secret military and para-military operations? Or will now do anything that might improve their chances of preventing bags full of bombs from being spread around the finish line of the next frivolous event that attracts a big crowd?

I am certainly not trying to defend these bombers. I am saying that background checks for everybody already shows promise on those rare occasions when given a chance to work. And I’m saying that everyone already does get background checks that they are not aware. Granted, I’m talking about an explicit ongoing background check with complete transparency and full accountability. The government would at last get to stop pretending they do not invade the privacy of citizens inappropriately.

The development and recurring revenue potential for universal background checks alone may be among the most impactful governmental concessionaire’s opportunities of all time! Not that I advocate for a Big Brother state. I just think we ought to use the data already being collected and aggregated – and so therefore already mandated in accordance with CALEA to be available for the pleasure and [mis]use of law enforcement to also benefit those the data is about. Who better than those already playing by CALEA rules to lead the push? I want essentially for the access and knowledge already expended by the agencies and the corporations they do business with about my background to be extended also to me and to allow me to extend it to others I have determined have a bona fide reason to peer into my background  And of course, I want to know who looks at my background. I believe that the right way to ‘enforce’ background checks is primarily through trans-personal counseling not janitorial police work. If it all happens before a crime is committed, why even involve the police? For that matter why pretend that counseling a person to help them avoid trouble is equivalent in any way to criminal enforcement actions.

Maybe all we have to do is turn caring about others into a guaranteed revenue stream and capitalism will magically protect us from homegrown terrorism? I admit though, there is $omething about that idea that does not fill me with hope but I cant quite lay my hands on enough of it…

Seriously, the time to make contact with a person that has done something – or enough somethings – that might disallow them to buy a gun or bullets or even a weapon repair part is at the moment they should no longer be allowed to do such things. Waiting until they have an intention to act so want to buy a gun to tell them they cannot buy the gun does not solve any problem before creating another, potentially even more contentious problem.

I would much rather see law enforcement equipped with the truth as born by my background – and also to be required to be living as one of those they police before they are offered the job – than the aloof militarized militias we now see so coldly clubbing, shooting and spraying large throngs of unarmed non-violent protesters, most often youthful and about half the time not white skinned, who gather in protest of outrage at the many and blatant injustices of the time. I also note that the cops have an impressive kill rate for old men supposedly always “angry old men” and typically “barricaded” in their own homes, so I keep a low profile. Perhaps I am most frustrated to see these over-funded highly secretive militarized agencies only ever able to arrive on the scene after the evil ones among us have acted with such terrible consequence to so many innocents. Seems like gross overkill for that sort of a mop-up operation, but damn! don’t they look badass on TV.

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