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In the future, the Minuteman software system listens to all phone calls, reads all messages, watches everything, to keep Americans safe... but what happens when it mis-hears what someone says? Privacy Most Public addresses the age old question-- Who's watching the watchers?

Privacy Most Public

by Andrew Burt

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     Despite the background noise, it distinctly sounded like "Oswald."
     The Sentry had already noted the word "President" and the use of the future tense--this was definitely interesting. It spun off a thread to begin analysis.
     The Sentry's data described that circuit as an audio-only cell phone, on hook and in listen mode; an unremarkable apartment in San Diego among the hundreds of millions of rooms that the Sentries monitored constantly. The datastream had a considerable amount of background noise that made it hard to resolve words, so the Sentry understood why it couldn't be certain.
     Try the standard set of filters to disprove, but clear the automatic purge flag to save the earlier "historical" data from the minutes before.
     The filters didn't help, it still sounded like Oswald; maybe. Nonetheless: President, future tense, possibly Oswald--that was enough to warrant upgrading to Do Not Discard.
     The Sentry listened.
* * *

     Crack-tssszzzzzz! The egg spread out evenly over the griddle until the white almost touched the sizzling bacon.
     "I couldn't agree more," Emery DeFreece said, cracking another egg onto the griddle, "he's just dragging the country down, and I'd like to see something to stop it." Talking around a bite of toast, he continued, "I mean, Varnell's old, he's obviously incompetent, he could probably get sick and die any time anyway. But, it's not like we're swimming in options."
     "Yeah, they sure won't impeach him," Rod Maritz said from the kitchen table, continuing his roommate's thought. "It'd take years the way they move in Congress, by then his term's up, and I doubt he'd be healthy enough to last another eight years. Besides, you don't get to be President without having a lot of powerful friends. I mean, we can mouth off all we want, but unless we take control, our sorry asses are stuck on this train 'til the end of the line. Like you said, where's an Oswald when you need him." He swallowed the rest of his orange juice and stood up. "I need some more juice, man, and hurry up with those eggs--I gotta get going. I've got plans for today, named Alyssa."
* * *

     "Oswald." There it was again in the other voice, clearer this time; more future tense; and implied action. Oswald, President, future, action--the Sentry upgraded this dataset's state to Analyze: Increment the "save" flag from temporary to permanent, enqueue it for a Bloodhound, create a thread to locate any of the prior minute's data that might be untouched in the "least recently used" buffer list, and keep listening.
     As the Sentry continued its vigil, the Bloodhound Evidence Correlation module pulled the next item from its list, this one from a phone sentry, high priority. The Bloodhound set to work, methodically gathering data together to help the Minuteman Criminal Defense System determine if this was what the humans called a "live one"; or, as usual, one of the endless sets of harmless remarks, misunderstandings, or even movie dialogue. But hot or cold, every scent must be tracked. The Bloodhound pressed onward.
     Probable match on voices to registered tenants of designated apartment, Maritz, R. (eight months of one year lease), and DeFreece, E. (four months). No prior datasets for same location. Valid driver's licenses. Minor traffic citations, Maritz. Auto insurance lapsed, Maritz. Employer files: Frequent job changes; nothing unusual. Current occupations: Cuisine Delivery Artist (synonym-linked to "waiter") at Tuck's on the River, DeFreece; Remote Installer III at The Custom DashWorks, Maritz. Nothing unusual. No criminal convictions. Multiple juvenile arrests, Maritz, records off-line. Noted. Not on known list of suspected terrorists, smugglers, foreign agents, etc., at least by name or similarly sounding or spelled names. The Bloodhound looked up physical characteristics of the likely voices, matched those against similar lists; nothing found. Other physical databases: Facial match on Maritz, numerous peaceable anti-government demonstrations. Noted.
     Financial accounts past and present: Low balances, no large deposits on record, no large withdrawals, profile of recent activity consistent with prior activity. Scan for unusual recent purchases via the sales tax tracking system--the Bloodhound noted two transactions at department stores known to sell weapons and ammunition. Also, a dataset from a bookseller, marked "decrypt only for probable cause." Noted.
     Newspaper/magazine subscriptions, paper and electronic, indexed by name or mailing address: Nothing unusual... nothing unusual...--three months into year's subscription to Take the Streets, this address; estimated readership 4,000, topic: anti-government / revolutionary, a publication flagged as "always include for probable cause / escalate priority." The Bloodhound included this item in the case dataset and executed what some witty programmer had coded as the statement, "raise(eyebrow)." As instructed, the Bloodhound immediately submitted this case to the Magistrate module as medium priority, then continued the quest for more incriminating data.
     Though the Bloodhound was a sophisticated electronic detective, capable of collecting data from seemingly limitless sources, efficiently sniffing for details that might be relevant to a dataset, it was without the logic to resolve whether a case had merit--thus it fell to the Magistrate to decide if a potential breach of law was involved. The Magistrate was by far the most complex software module in the system, responsible for determining whether to alert the humans about a potential crime, but neither wasting their time on false alarms nor overlooking a serious incident. The Magistrate, indeed the entire Minuteman system, was a software work of art.
     Thus, inside that same few seconds, with the conversation still echoing in the heads of the two young men enjoying a Sunday morning breakfast, the Magistrate dequeued the case and set to work.

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