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Indicating where to put the "good stuff"-raises, promotions, funding, new employees and perks.
Obtaining early warning of trouble spots portending possible "blowups", in organizations, for example when internal tensions get out of hand, producing a wave of firings or resignations.
In fact, one of the earliest application of this class of methods was set in a Roman Catholic monastery which in the late 1960's was on the brink of organizational collapse. The block model successfully identified three factions-loyalists, "Young Turks," and outcasts-whose membership foreshadowed the way the organization would unravel. In an application to a more complex organization in difficulties, the block model not only correctly identified the outcast group, whose members would be dismissed, but also detected a submerged case of personnel misassignment in a different corner of the organization.
With proper safeguards, use of such methods can be sound, ethicai and constructive. Obviously, internal audit departments should at times be permitted to scrutinize employees closely. But strides in the new "guilt-by-association" technologies are easily outstripping the vastly slower evolution of protective legal and administrative
The typical employee whose position is likely to be most vulnerable to a blockmodel analysis is the middle manager, who has a family, a mortgage and a career locked into the XYZ Corporation. If the model locates him in a favorably regarded bloc, innocence by association prevails and all is well. But if he associated with known noncooperators, or, worse still, is assigned to a bloc judged likely to split off and found a rival company, he then can be passed over in the next promotion.
Inevitably, these new technologies create an unusually sensitive and complex web of management, privacy, information access, social control, and legal liability problems. In the end, the true 1984 threat lies not so much in the computer methods themselves, but in our society's slowness to react.
[From the New York Times, Nov. 27, 1983]
BLOCK MODELS and Self-DEFENSE
(By Scott A. Boorman and Paul R. Levitt)
Suppose you're an official of the Indianapolis chapter of a prominent national conservation group. Your organization's activities, along with those of 70 other diverse concerns, are being studied by a new computer programming technique called block modeling. This sophisticated technology studies your cash transactions, communications patterns and other recorded financial and social interactions. Unexpectedly, the computer says that your organization's financial and social profile is like that of the Ku Klux Klan; the John Birch Society; another environmental group; an emergency assistance association, and the American Legion.
You're all in the same "bloc," the computer says, the study is publicly available and the guilt-by-association consequences are all too obvious.
This example is real-part of a study recently reported in a scholarly book whose findings are impeccably qualified. If graphically illustrates possible problems created by block modeling-a powerful new information technology for classifying individuals and organizations based on large amounts of seemingly mundane data on transactions and relationships.
While the craft of block modeling is inaccessible to all but a few information "elite," its powers have not been lost on highly placed individuals in foreign and domestic corporations, as well as nonprofit organizations and government agencies Those who use block models exploit them as an efficient way to sort the good from the bad from the indifferent-whether people, programs, divisions or rival groups. Applications of block modeling and sister technologies already number in the hundreds. Blocks modeling is coming of age and possible applications include management (separating fast-track from slow-track employees), banking (studying electronic funds transfers and other cash flow patterns), professional sports (figuring out the pro draft), law enforcement (investigating conspiracies) among others.
But despite the versatility and broad appeal, genuine problems can arise. Computer-generated classifications have a strong mystique. And it can be hard indeed to fight a computer classification whose hallmark is naming names through a computer analysis of ordinary activities.
The classification problems truly come to the fore in the national political arena. For example, a study of Washington special interest groups has been using a kin
dred method to probe similiarities among more than 70 organizations on the basis of shared "issue interests" in health-related areas like Medicare and abortion. The resulting computer diagram lumps the Environmental Defense Fund with the American College of Cardiology and Merck & Company in a location far removed from major labor organizations like the United Auto Workers and the A.F.L.-C.I.O. One need not be a lobbyist or P.A.C. specialist to sense some of the political electricity of this placement, or possible action implications.
But what defense does an organization or employee have against the possible misuse of block modeling or sister methods. One should not look to Congress to pass a law. Waiting for legislation is like waiting for Godot. One should also not expect easy recourse through the traditional civil lawsuit. In fact, the law has yet to define limits to the block modeling enterprise and little legal fault can currently be found with most of the means of gathering the needed information for its use.
Still, protective rules need to be fashioned, even if they must sometimes fit in the nooks and crannies of legal categories-a new clause in a union contract for example. In most situtations, an employee should at least be notified if he is the subject of something like a block model analysis by his employer. If you are an unsuspecting victim, there is no way to defend yourself. Then, focusing on rules for employee protection, a range of unique problems must be dealt with.
For example, the thrust of early computer-oriented privacy legislation from the 70's was giving people the right to examine information in their own "files." The privacy gains were genuine, but from a standpoint of block modeling, they are largerly irrevelent. That is because block modeling classifies people on the basis of where they fit in a far larger web of relationships.
Therefore, one has to be concerned with many more "files" than just one's ownsome belonging to people one has no direct connections with. One is thus vulnerable to all the problems of these third parties, including inaccuracies in their files. But if the third parties' privacy rights are to be respected, much of this relevant information must remain inviolate.
Thus, individuals being classified through a block model or similar method need to be given a carefully calibrated set of rights to information in order to interpret their assigned positions and repond accordingly.
This information should at least include some basic knowledge about the data base, including the scope of the population being modeled as well as what specific types of data have been, or will be, included.
Such data gives a crucial basis for understanding one's recourse. For example, if the block model put you in an unfavorable category, and used such data as whom you bowled with or went to parties with, this use of non-job related information could be attacked as gratuitous.
One might contemplate giving an employee access to the full data base stripped of personal identifying information except his own location in it. However, the wide availability of precisely such tools as block modeling makes recovery of identities from even such apparently "stripped" files a real privacy risk.
Still, one may disclose the structural role of the different blocs without dipping down to a level of individual identities. This last type of information, combined with a specific right to know your individual bloc location, can be enough to give a respectable road map for defense against the worst implications of guilt by association. Very importantly, effective ways also need to be developed to permit members of the same block to get together to mount a common defense. In contract to abuses like "redlining" or race, sex, or age discrimination, the new technologies frequently pick out less than obvious groups whose members may easily fail to recognize they are being targeted in common.
Currently, technical progress in block modeling is making it possible to conduct an aggressive defense by showing that in some cases there is an equally good block model leading to very different classifications. In other words, there's more than one way to structure the given data-so that one block model might, for example, stress conflicting factions while a second identifies options for negotiation or cooperation. Thus, responsible users of block modeling methods should also be prepared to disclose major alternative ways of organizing the data.
In the meantime, possibly the most important 1984 New Year's resolution is to remember that each time you pick up the telephone or send electronic mail in your office, you may be adding to somebody's computer data base-and computers never forget.
Reliance on documentary identification such as computer records, identification
A distinctive feature of advanced industrial societies is the importance of personal documentation in relations between individuals and organizations. By personal documentation we mean two things: (1) the identification cards, certifications, licenses, and other organizationally generated tokens of identity held by private individuals; and (2) the data on persons developed by organiza tions and stored in computers or tiles for use in dealing with these people. These two forms of personal documentation usually work together: issuance or use of the first requires creation of, or recourse to, the second. Together, the two structure ongoing exchanges of information between persons and organizations which, we argue, bear importantly on the interests of both parties Many social scientists have studied these exchanges and expressed concern about their effects upon individual privacy and autonomy (Rule, 1974; Rule et al., 1980; Shils, 1975; Westin, 1967 Westin and Baker, 1972; Wheeler, 1969).
Social scientists are not the only ones to note the growing impact of personal documentation It is practically impossible for an adult to live in the United States without frequent recourse to such things. One finding of our research underscores this fact: in 1976 and 1977 we surveyed 192 randomly selected households in Brookhaven Town, New York, and found an average of 28.8 different kinds of personal documents per household. The documents most often reported were Social Security cards, insurance policies, driver's licenses, birth certificates, personal checks. insurance payment records, marriage licenses, insurance identification cards, bank statements, tax returns, and savings passbooks. Social Security cards, the most widely held of these, were reported in 98 percent of the households; savings passbooks, the least widely held, were reported in 87 percent. When documents such as these are lost or accidently destroyed, the resulting in
The authors thank the National Science Foundation, Division of Math and Computer Science, for a re-
convenience dramatizes the importance of the documentary link between the individual and the relevant organizations.
This paper presents a study of six of the most widely held personal documents in the United States: birth certificates, driver's licenses, Social Security cards, passports, bank books, and bankissued credit cards. Each of these documents marks some kind of ongoing relationship between the individual holding them and the organization relying on them. Normally these relations entail complex claims and responsibilities between the two parties – claims and responsibilities specified and governed at least partly by information from the written or computerized records. Many aspects of these relations involve what we call mass surveillance and social control (Rule et al., 1980).
By surveillance we mean any systematic attention to a person's life aimed at exerting influence over it. By social control we mean efforts to define and bring about "correct" actions or statuses. Surveillance and social control are ubiquitous social processes, but our concern here lies with their mass forms—that is, surveillance and control by organizations over large, otherwise anonymous publics. Such relations need not be malevolent or disadvantageous to the latter. A preventive health care system entails surveillance and control just as much as a system of political repression. Mass surveillance and social control, moreover, are often just two aspects of much more multifarious relationships between individuals and organizations — as indeed is the case in the six personal documents we studied.
There are two kinds of social control processes involved in these six personal documents. First, they enable organizations to exclude "inappropriate" individuals from roles or privileges to which they are not considered entitled. Second, they enable organizations to take coercive action against those whose behavior they consider threatening. Examples range from simply depriving minor violaters of their documentation - as in revocation of driver's licenses to arrest or imprisonment for tax fraud or other illegalities brought to light through bank records.
Personal documentation thus serves organizations by providing grounds for certainty in dealing with large numbers of otherwise anonymous individuals. It enables organizations to know what resources and actions they should apply to which individuals. Which motorists are entitled to renewed licenses, and which are wanted for serious motoring offenses by the police? Which credit card holders are entitled to the most generous credit privileges, and which are liable o arrest for fraudulent credit card use? Which passport applicants are entitled to the document as native-born citizens, and which applicants are illegal aliens seeking to travel back and forth to their country of origin? Recourse to personal documentation represents an effort to generate certainty about people in settings like these, where such certainty would otherwise be a problem for organizations.
Generating certainty about people is a problem for organizations where the interests of individuals and organizations are apt to conflict. Passports help representatives of the state distinguish between those entitled to enter their country without hindrance and others. Credit cards facilitate purchases by authorized consumers only, and control the amount of credit available to them. Whatever their other purposes, most forms of personal documentation exist at least partly to help organizations discriminate in their treatinents of individuals. Most people, most of the time, may not be tempted to circumvent such discriminations - but those who are must be dealt with.
This study explores the origins, workings, and future of mass surveillance through personal documentation. How have these six documentary systems and others like them evolved? What are their strengths and weaknesses as sources of certainty for organizations dealing with the public? And what are the prospects for further growth and development in these respects?
We spent several years trying to find answers to these questions. From 1977 to 1980 we conducted interviews and observed encounters between the public and those who issue documents
at more than 34 different bureaucratic sites in the United States. These included such diverse settings as a small bank in New York State; a large bank headquarters in San Francisco; offices engaged in passport issuance in the Waŝington, DC. vicinity; offices of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare in Maryland; and local, county, and state birth certification offices in New York. In many cases, these interviews and observations entailed repeated visits to the same site; a minority of the interviews were by telephone. Most interviews were with middlelevel officials responsible for managing the issuance or use of personal documentation in one specific location; some were with higher-level officials more concerned with broad policy than with day-to-day operations. In addition, we analyzed a variety of published and unpublished reports on the organizations depicted in this paper.
First we chart the origins of these documentary systems and the broad patterns of their historical development. Then we look at the strengths and weaknesses of these systems as instruments of surveillance and social control. Finally, we show how the continuing perfection of technology and organization promise growing efficiency for organizational interests over the years to
HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENT AND SPONSORSHIP
Mass use of personal documentation is a relatively recent historical development in the United States. Of the six documents we studied, three – Social Security cards, driver's licenses, and credit cards-did not exist at the beginning of the 20th century. The other three-birth certificates, passports, and bank books – were restricted to much smaller subsets of the population than they are today. The growth in coverage and importance of these personal documents mirrors the growing role of direct relations between centralized organizations and private individuals.
Birth registration and certification have been carried out by government agencies in North America since well before the American Revolution. One of the earliest laws requiring registration of births with government agencies (as distinct from recording in parish registers) dates from Virginia in 1632 (U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare, 1954-3). But we estimate that the majority of births in the United States remained unrecorded with any government agency until at least the end of the 19th century. In 1903, the U.S. Congress passed a joint resolution requesting states to develop a uniform system of registering births (1954:8). Since the... federal authorities have been urging the states to increase the coverage and rigor of their registration and certification procedures. Individual states were declared part of a birth "registration area" when they had registered an estimated 90 percent of births within their boundaries (1954:8). The first states to meet this criterion- generally older, more urban ones such as Massachusetts and New York - did so in 1915; the last - Nevada, New Mexico, South Dakota, and Texas - did so between 1928 and 1933 (1954:13).
By 1950, census officials estimated that 97.9 percent of all births in the United States were being registered (U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare, 1954:12). Today, documentary requirements make it difficult for anyone born in the United States to do without a birth cer tificate; it is often essential for access to schooling, insurance, and pension coverage – as well as in applying for a variety of other personal documents. Issuing birth certificates remains a state responsibility; in 1976, there were at least 7,000 offices across the United States authorized to issue certificates or copies (U.S. Department of Justice, 1976:17). States vary enormously in the degree of centralization and rigor they apply in issuing birth certificates, according to state and federal officials we interviewed. Some states issue only through a single central office, while New York State, at the other extreme, maintains some 1,500 issuing locations. According to a