The CIA is sponsoring teach companies through its venture capital arm, In-Q-Tel. Should we be concerned about its motives and possible backdoors?
We tend to unknowingly or neglectfully expose a lot of our personal data on the internet and often times it’s not our fault. Social networks and digital applications, marketed as a utility or source of entertainment, can also be used for mining data and giving corporations incredible insight into our personal lives. That data is then analyzed and stored to develop a profile that decides the best way to target us with advertisements.
In the early 2000s, the development of Google Earth made geospatial technology an exciting prospect in the tech world. Unsurprisingly, this technology was controversial and banned in some countries due to national security concerns and privacy issues. What is also unsurprising is that it was originally developed by a startup that was funded by In-Q-Tel, called Keyhole EarthViewer. The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, or NGA, was cultivated out of this new technology as a parallel branch to the NSA that focuses on exploiting and analyzing geographical information and activity.
In-Q-Tel is headed by Gilman Louie, a former video game designer, turned venture capitalist. Some have made note of Louie’s connections with board members of the venture capital firms that gave Facebook the funding to become the social media juggernaut it is today. One connection is with James Breyer, a partner and board member of Accel, the company that invested $12.7 million in Facebook’s Series A funding. Louie and Breyer sat together on the board of military defense contractor, BBN, known for essentially helping to create email and the internet. Facebook’s second round of funding came from a company called Greylock Venture Capital, headed by Howard Cox, who also sat on In-Q-Tel’s board.
Another interesting connection that has been made with Louie is his role with Niantic, the mobile gaming company that created Pokèmon Go. Louie was added to the board of the company for his strategic insight in both gaming and venture capital investment. The augmented reality technology for Pokèmon Go was also a product of Keyhole, Inc., the In-Q-Tel funded start-up that became Google Earth. Users of the game are required to allow the program to access personal data ranging from geolocation services, to camera access, and it even has the capability to remotely read, modify, or delete files on a user’s phone. The program can track where users are, where they’ve been, what they look like, and a multitude of personal information that could be used to create profiles and spy on individuals.
Which begs the question; is this a beta test for a larger CIA-sponsored program?
While this may seem overly paranoid, it falls in line with other In-Q-Tel tech investments. Dataminr is one such blatantly named startup that uses Twitter data to spot trends that can be used to benefit law enforcement, ostensibly monitoring for terrorist threats. But what else can this data be used for and what are the ethical concerns with the profiles that are being built with this information? Edward Snowden’s exposé of the NSA intelligence agencies’ ability to use metadata to paint a very intrusive image of innocent civilians. This technology could be easily manipulated with a deluge of false tweets sent to intentionally cause a panic, considering the tweets aren’t verified. An attack of this nature could be carried out be hackers or even the government itself in a false flag operation.
Other companies In-Q-Tel has invested in that monitor and analyze social media data include GeoFeedia, Pathar and TransVoyant. But one of the more invasive projects, Palantir, is as unsettling as its name. Palantír, in The Lord of the Rings, is an omniscient crystal ball that can see anything, anywhere, including into the past and future.
The company was created by Peter Thiel, founder of PayPal and former board member of Facebook with other In-Q-Tel venture capitalists. Palantir created a system, much like the premise of the movie, Minority Report, where law enforcement can predict crime before it happens. It has been touted for its success in military applications and is being implemented in law enforcement with “predictive policing” efforts. The prescience of Tom Cruise’s dystopian police state is uncanny. Some believe this to already be a factor in the recent disparities in police shootings and as an instigating force in growing police militarization.
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