Thursday, March 19, 2009

Nixon on MIAC

Getting information, especially public information, out of our fusion center, out to law local law enforcement agencies is something we do every day and we're going to continue to do. Any way they take that information and can analyze what the threat levels are is important to make sure that the public stays safe.

That's the governor of Missouri, defending the work of MIAC's intrepid honorary junior detectives in a local St. Louis television news story last night (and yes, that's my better half providing the libertarian response).

While Jay Nixon's statement was quite obviously intended as a brush-off, well, he's the governor and we therefore have to take his statements seriously ... especially when those statements make it painfully clear that he hasn't the slightest idea what he's talking about (or else just doesn't care).

By way of framing, I defer to Clifford Stoll:

Data is not information, information is not knowledge, knowledge is not understanding, understanding is not wisdom.

The MIAC report is transparently based on piss-poor data. It offers no numbers and identifies no actual "extremist militia" or terrorist organizations. From a data standpoint it's pretty much just an incompetently edited scrape of the Internet's underbelly.

In attempting to convert this poorly sourced, randomly gathered, incoherent data into information, MIAC introduces egregious errors. The error of greatest interest (to me, anyway) is the reversal of identification criteria: It conflates the nearly 100,000 Missourians who supported a third party political candidate last year with a number unspecified (but per other sources, probably two full orders of magnitude smaller) of militia activists and an even smaller number of dangerous criminals.

Once MIAC has mangled incoherent data into bad/false information and released it as a "strategic report," police officers in Missouri who are exposed to the product may take it seriously -- and believe that they now have an understanding of the report's topic.

They don't, and that's dangerous. Even if every one of the police officers exposed to MIAC's idiocy is possessed of an uncommon wisdom (and I doubt that's the case), wisdom is useless if coupled with a false understanding.

Let's be clear here:

The MIAC report is useless as "analysis."

The MIAC report contributes nothing useful to determining what the "threat level" is.

The MIAC report doesn't "keep the public safe." It does precisely the opposite. It increases the likelihood that innocent Missourians will be harassed, injured, even killed by law enforcement.

This is what happens when bureaucracies churn out stacks of make-work paper to justify their budgets. Apparently our governor considers those budgets more important than his constituents' lives. Or maybe he's just dumb as a post. Take your pick.

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