Privacy and Gun Control

By on October 20th, 2017 in Articles, Human Impacts, Social Implications of Technology, Societal Impact

Periodically, often after a unconscionable massacre such as Las Vegas or Orlando, the United States reviews the balance between the Constitutional “right to bear arms” and the question of how to prevent such abuses of this right. This typically focuses on types of guns, rates of fire, and even occasionally to high tech controls on guns. It is possible to make guns that can only be fired by identified individuals. But a new opportunity is emerging, with a possible trade-off between privacy and gun control.

The combination of big data, artificial intelligence, and ubiquitous sensors and data collection points is already a challenge to personal privacy. This is a topic that Technology and Society addresses on a continuing basis. And it is an area of explosive evolution and related implications.  In the U.S. we can (and do) track every retail purchase, public data points (car registration, deeds, voter registration), and internet interactions such as Facebook likes.  Private industry applications have surpassed government data collection in many ways, and provide an interesting, albeit disconcerting, path to managing gun violence.

Currently there is a broad requirement in the U.S. for background checks tied to gun purchases. This is a data source that could be combined with the OCEAN psychological profiling automated with Facebook.. Collect information on purchasing patterns, combine  that data with an AI evaluation, and you end up with a view of every individual in the U.S., along with perhaps a prediction of their likely abuse of weapons.

It’s a bit like Minority Report without the prescient mediums, or Persons of Interest, or The Circle. These present a world where personal privacy is replaced by some level of government, private, or public transparency. We are at a point where we can know what guns and ammunition are held at what locations by what individuals and perhaps more about these individuals than they know about themselves (see presentations/interviews with Michal Kosinski ). Police would know when they are called to a “situation” what is the likelihood of an occupant having a gun cache, and perhaps the probability of their using these. The largest source of gun deaths in the U.S. is suicide. It seems that a psych profile, real-time monitoring of social media, and purchasing data might provide an opportunity for intervention before such events. The same data collection might also provide a heads-up on individuals likely to commit acts of terrorism.

But, what do we do when the “stars line up?” That is, if an individual is collecting a combination of guns, ammo, accessories; is visiting ‘hacking’ web sites that show how to create automatic weapons; and has a psych profile that parallels that of mass murderers or terrorists? I don’t have an easy answer on that one, and I’m not particularly comfortable knowing that private industry already holds much if not all of this data.