The news surrounding Toronto’s for-now Mayor and real life Cartman impersonator, while amusing to anyone outside of Toronto, carries a dark undertone that should scare us all.
This was no ordinary police investigation that started with a complaint or a crime and led to an investigation of the facts mixed with testimony from the parties involved. No, this investigation started from a blog post on Gawker outlining a tape they had watched in the back seat of a drug dealers car.
Now, not that I think the police shouldn’t be able to start an investigation from a newspaper article, but should they really be able to trace every step you take backwards through time to be able to build a narrative of your activities on days before they even had a suspicion anything is going on? This I have a problem with.
The reason Rob Ford suddenly began admitting things when the charges against Lisi were laid is because there was no other option. They had him nailed to the wall 6 ways from Sunday and there was nothing to be done. They could prove that on the night the Gawker story broke, Price and Ford spoke, then Price and Lisi, then (using cell-site metadata) they know that Lisi went to the crackhouse in question and then later met up with Price at some secret place. After that meeting, they know Price called Ford. This is an extremely compelling narrative and they were able to put it together without talking to a single person or doing any actual police work, just data analysis.
This kind of investigation is almost certain to become more frequent as these big data sources become more fleshed out and easier to access by law enforcement, but it is scary. Soon this kind of information will enter background checks and security screening information, and then we’re into science fiction territory if we aren’t already.
Our kids will have a lifetime of this information on them, and will likely not be free from the level of personal scrutiny that until a few years ago was impossible unless we begin to reject this intrusion into our democracy.