A new report from The Washington Post suggests the White House has been briefed on a potential new agency named ‘HARPA.’ This agency, in turn, would monitor your FitBit or other wearable data in real-time so it could tell if you’re a mass murderer.
No, we’re not joking.
HARPA, or the ‘Health Advanced Research Projects Agency,’ would be modeled after the government’s defense research agency, DARPA. HARPA would reside within the Health and Human Services Department, and have a director appointed by the President. It would have a budget, too, says the Post, citing three sources “with knowledge of conversations around the plan.”
First proposed in 2017 by The Suzanne Wright Foundation, HARPA is positioned on its website as an agency that will “drive innovation in biomedical research.” It’s an idealistic approach to solving lingering medial issues, like treating cancer, “that have not benefitted from the current system.”
Rather than stay that course, The Suzanne Wright Foundation approached the Trump administration again last week (after high-profile mass shootings, mind you; WaPo says HARPA has “gained momentum” in the wake of massacres in El Paso and Dayton) with a new idea: HARPA should include a project dubbed “Safe Home,” an acronym for “Stopping Aberrant Fatal Events by Helping Overcome Mental Extremes.”
Sources tell WaPo HARPA ran into “institutional barriers to success” as a standalone project, which apparently spurred The Suzanne Wright Foundation into making it a Trojan Horse for “Safe Home.”
Bob Wright, who founded the Suzanne Wright Foundation in honor of his wife (who passed away from pancreatic cancer), has positioned Ivanka Trump to run HARPA, and says: “The president has a real opportunity here to leave a legacy in health care.”
A proposal viewed by The Washington Post details how HARPA would develop “breakthrough technologies with high specificity and sensitivity for early diagnosis of neuropsychiatric violence” and that “a multi-modality solution, along with real-time data analytics, is needed to achieve such an accurate diagnosis.” Also:
The document goes on to list a number of widely used technologies it suggests could be employed to help collect data, including Apple Watches, Fitbits, Amazon Echo and Google Home. The document also mentions “powerful tools” collected by health-care provides like fMRIs, tractography and image analysis.
This data would then be used to create a “sensor suite” that would predict changes in your mental health to decipher if you’re at-risk of becoming a mass murderer.
Geoffrey Ling, the lead scientific adviser on HARPA and a founding director of DARPA’s Biological Technologies Office, says HARPA would use data from volunteers to identify “neurological signs” of “someone headed toward a violent explosive act.” He claims that, in four years, and with $0-60 million, “Safe Home” can get up and running.
Apparently, the “legacy in health care” The Suzanne Wright Foundation wants President Trump to leave is one of sloppy counterintelligence. Sadly, one source says, “every time this has been brought up inside the White House, even up to the presidential level, it’s been very well-received,” adding: “There is no doubt that addressing this issue helps the president deal with two issues he has yet to find real success on: one is the health-care front, and one is on the gun-violence front.”
Except HARPA/Safe Home does neither. It also follows the DARPA model, which is widely experimental, with projects decades in the making. The Suzanne Wright Foundation has not laid any groundwork for how it plans to collect data, or, oh, I don’t know, make a notoriously privacy-conscious company like Apple give up Apple Watch sensor data. It also doesn’t explain how it will source a volunteer group to give it an accurate picture of what a potential mass shooter looks like, or how it will then apply its findings to the population. The idea is to go full Minority Report, but it won’t tell us how it plans to do that.
In a paper titled “A Study of Pre-Attack Behaviors of Active Shooters in the United States Between 2000 and 2013,” the FBI says “physical health” was only “concerning behavior” in ten percent of cases. On average, shooters had 4.7 “concerning behaviors” associated with their actions. The FBI goes on to say “concerning behaviors” were most often picked up by the shooter verbally discussing issues, writing about their issues, or displaying it online. Most shooters “demonstrated concerning behaviors that were noticed in multiple ways.”
All told, HARPA/Safe Home is another meaningless instrument to side-step discussion of thorny issues such as gun laws. The government is shifting that discussion to unreliable self-reported precursors that could (read: will) take decades to yield results. HARPA/Safe Home is a different battle that doesn’t need to be waged, with opponents such as Apple who will simply not play nice.