Dennis Bailey at The Open Society Paradox objects to my characterization of Hank Asher, and says:
Rather than debate the merits of the program, they have to make this a personal attack on the man.
Well, let’s talk about the programs. DBT, the first company Asher founded, was deeply involved in disenfranchising Florida voters. MATRIX is sorta hard to discuss. Us peons aren’t allowed to know what’s actually in it. We do know that when people started asking questions, Georgia and other states dropped out of the program. (You might expect Mr. Bailey, in favor of openness, to oppose secret databases.) So what can we say about it? We can presume that the data in these things is horribly inaccurate, because every time we get a glimpse, it is horribly inaccurate.
So yes, I’ll attack the man who profits by creating these systems. I think secret databases are repugnant.
Privacy advocates say that if we have a more open society many people will have to wear scarlet letters because of past mistakes. One would expect that it would be liberals who would be praising a story about a man who turned from a life of crime to become a productive member of society. However, in the discussions I’ve seen on the net about Hank Asher, it’s this same crowd who are stitching those scarlet letters. I guess turning your life around only qualifies as worthwhile as long as you do work that liberals support and obviously data mining to fight crime and terrorism doesn’t qualify.
Sure. So lets look at what he did, and what the effects of what he did. He hid his past. He may have lied to the DEA and FBI, who suspected contracts with his company until they bought him out for $147m. If you think this company was doing good, it seems wrong of him to hold it hostage by refusing to leave when the main customers decide to stop doing business with him.
If you want to put your past behind you, that’s fine. If you’re building databases that are being used to assess criminals, then it is perhaps relevant that you were one. There’s irony (and audacity) in a man who tries to prevent anyone from hiding their past, while hiding his own. He’s created systems that affect millions of people, while avoiding regulation or inquiries into his own past. And then there’s that nagging data accuracy question. Did he build filters into the program? Remove a few interesting links from the database?
Frank Abagnale, in contrast, has not lied about his past since serving his time. I have no problem with Frank being rehabilitated. (Friends who’ve employed him also say that he does great work. But they hire him knowing full well they’re hiring an ex-con.)
If Mr. Asher would like to build a private investigative agency, he should expect that people will investigate him. If he’d like to run an art gallery, I’d be all in favor of letting him put his, and everyone else’s, past to rest. But as a gossip-monger? He reaps what he sows.