In the year 2015, its worth questioning documents that come to you electronically.. scanned from their original print version. Today, the Rochester Police Department released documents outlining both RPD policy with and the effective use of TASER Electronic Control Devices (colloquially: shock-the-shit-out-of-you Tasers). The header of the doc (scanned for reading here) shows a publish date of 2015. The documents inside, however, seem to have been produced some time in 2012 and cite 2011 data as current.

View this document on Scribd

In the Executive Summary section, p. 4, pains are taken to demonstrate how little the RPD uses TASERs. It notes that only 8% of all “use of force” situations used the TASER and that less than 0.4% of RPD arrests involved them. Furthermore, it notes, Rochester’s Police Department only issues 18% of it’s total police force TASERs. This puts Rochester on the low end of NYS metropolises using TASER technology, according to p. 8.

Sidenote: what the fuck, Greece?

The problem is that this data is all 4 years old and the TASER program in Rochester is only 13 years old. If there were 0% of officers using TASERs in 2003 and 18% using them in 2011, are we to assume that now 29% of officers with TASERs? Because that seems to be the rate of growth, based on the data. That same page notes (see footnote) that the “current budget” in 2012 would have increased that number to 50%, do we know if that happened?

Every other statistic bulleted in this report or impressed upon the media when they released it is called into question by this fact alone. Sure, small numbers are small. But only if they stay that way. What changes about these numbers when we change – to say nothing of double – the scale?

This report is supposed to quell concerns in the media about the effectiveness of TASER equipment, but it leaves a lot to be desired, even if we overlook the antiquity of the data.

What stands out the most is that the bullet point the RPD wants to stress – that the TASER has been 89% effective in “use of force” situations – seems like the impressive way to say that the TASER has been ineffective another 11% of the time. By what benchmark were the other 11% ineffective? What was the next step in those situations?

Helpfully, the RPD also includes (p. 31) a “Use of Force Matrix,” which appears to be part of a training document showing the desired escalation of force by police officers in the field. As you might expect, the TASER appears near the very top of this matrix. Above that scale, officers are instructed that deadly force, “Impact Instruments” and the illustrative term “Groundcuffing” may be used.

But this just raises the question: if TASERs are only effective 89% of the time, are we given to understand that the ineffective cases graduate to lethal force? The report shows several cases of TASER use, but none of them deemed ineffective, so we don’t know based on the report.

I don’t think I’m looking too deeply into numbers and certainly, these are the sorts of questions that can be reasonably asked in a reasonable press conference and dispelled with reasonable answers. But how much of that will actually happen between now and when the story’s dead?

Google has published another transparency report, showing the number of court, police and other requests for data removal that they’ve received over a six month period. The report includes a blog post and a handily-filterable chart. The results? Well, surprising or not, the United States is second only to Brazil in the number of court-ordered removal requests to Google’s offices. And whereas Google complied with 69% of Brazil’s requests, they complied with only 40% of the US requests.

On the subject of police and other requests, the United States stands in third place behind South Korea and leading the pack, India. Clearly, India has some unreasonable requests, as Google complied with only twenty percent. But they complied with 80% of S. Korea’s requests compared to a dismal 44% of the US requests.

It’s hard to get too worked up over these numbers, as we’re accepting a private company’s interpretation of law and privacy. It would also be interesting to see these same numbers normalized by population: its hard to imagine a scenario where Switzerland would make more removal requests than the United States, given the huge difference in population. There is also a potential content disparity: studies have estimated that 68% of content on the web is in English, with a large share of that coming from the United States. Mo pages, mo problems.

Still, it does make me curious just what the United States is requesting and what branches and levels of our government are making these requests. It would be easy – and misguided – to assume that the Black Helicopter crew at the NSA was secretly conducting cyber-info-warfare on the populace. But since the report does not specifically differentiate between federal and local governments, its hard to know exactly where the requests are coming from.

Government – Google Transparency Report

Like other technology and communications companies, Google regularly receives requests from government agencies and courts around the world to remove content from our services. In this report, we disclose the number of requests we receive from each government in six-month periods with certain limitations.

Think you deleted that message about scoring pot from your buddy on Facebook? You might be surprised to find out that no, you didn’t. Quick: smoke now, before the cops show up. I’ll wait.

You cool? Ok, so here’s what a German law student discovered about the information Facebook’s got on you. Not only did he find 1200 printed pages of documentation on himself, but he also discovered messages sent through Facebook which he had “deleted.” Those messages still existed, but were flagged as ‘deleted.’ In other words: while the law student could no longer see the message, anybody else with access to this data could. And he found out that it was all available through a form on the web:

IdentityBlog – Digital Identity, Privacy, and the Internets Missing Identity Layer.

While I’m not at all immune to paranoia under certain conditions, I’m not inclined to think of this as a show-stopper. The fact is: data such as this is already being collected about you every day. Google Analytics tracks what many would find a frightening amount of information on you just by visiting a website. Now Facebook is as well.

In fact, as we go forward, I’m finding it hard to even accept the idea of some sort of universal data retention law. The sheer volume of data available and shared on a day-to-day basis seems to make the concept impractical, requiring not just Facebook but any owner of any website to delete massive amounts of data on a regular basis or be subject to, dare I say it, “privacy trolls.”

What the article points to, if nothing else, is the lack of understanding we have for what data actually is. You cannot make an educated decision about how your data should be kept private or not without understanding what data actually is and means.

One of my favourite haunts on the Internet is, where Nathan posts some of the coolest charts anywhere on the Internet. As a political blogger, I’m very used to looking at trendlines for public opinion, economic indicators and the like. But when I get to use some of that – admittedly limited – analytical prowess to view completely different types of data, its a real treat. For example:

Visual evidence that movies are getting worse.

Nathan’s contention is that, because the polarization increases over the years, that means that the movies are getting worse. The theory being that if everybody loved it, the movie must have been better.

That would probably be true if there were no other factors involved. But I rather think that the price of the movie – and its attendant expectation level – is also a powerful driver of the division. If I get to watch a movie for three bucks on a Saturday afternoon, I’m less likely to require it to blow me out of my seat. But if I have to shell out eight bucks? I better get a fucking cameo.

Which brings up another big thing for me: comedies should be no more than an hour and a half, period. After that, you’ve just overstayed your welcome and played the joke out. But I think the pressure to make a movie worthy of the huge sums they make us pay compels directors to include more of the movie than should have been.

As ever, I should be much, much less surprised by the things I see in business news than I am. That is particularly true on the issue of entitlement spending. For example, the below-linked article insists that, since “growing our way” out of the problem is not going to work, the only other solution is to cut entitlement expenses:

HERE IT IS: Your Short Course On Why The US Is Screwed.

The trouble with the logic in this article is: he offers only one very obviously false choice as an alternative to his predefined conclusion. Saying “his” predefined conclusion is, of course, being generous: it’s just the stock answer for all things spending-related in the Republican Party.

So, growing our way out of the spending deficit we find ourselves in will not work. That is true. But what about reforming health care to bring costs down? Oh, right. They killed that, didn’t they?