Sunday, March 18, 2007

Information systems for genocide

Hollerith tabulatorJesus' General is the triumphant überblog of the blogosphere. After the Coloniser of the Year award comes this powerful Sunday sermon from Austin Cline on the history of US corporate complicity in genocide:

By mid-1944, the Nazis had Hollerith Departments (Hollerith Abteilung) "installed at the main concentration camps at Mauthausen, Ravensbrüch, Flossenbürg and Buchenwald." The SS Hollerith cards included codes for the grounds for confinement (Jehovah's Witness=01, homosexuals=02, Jews=05), birth date, gender, ethnicity (Reich German=0, Ethnic German=1, Foreigner=2), labor capacity, occupation, and reason for departure (execution=3, escape=4, special treatment=6). These IBM Hollerith numbers would be tattooed on the arms of people entering Auschwitz

All of this information was sorted and tabulated to make the administration of the massive camp system possible. Dachau alone was using 24 IBM machines by the end of the war. These machines were, in many ways, both the origin of the "surveillance society" and an example of everyone's fears about what happens when powerful authoritarians have too much access to too much information about us.

Of course, in the Brave New Labour World, national ID registers, centralised medical records, child surveillance systems and countless other databases could never be abused in this way.

1 comment:

Watching Them, Watching Us said...

See "IBM and the Holocaust" by Edwin Black

The Department for Work and Pensions and HM Revenue and Customs (formerly the Inland Revenue) have a permanent Statutory Gateway linking their IT systems via something misleadingly called the DWP Longitudinal Study.

The very first statistical research project on this combined dataset was one, presumably with the best of intentions, to monitor the effectiveness of the DWP's employment policies on ethnic minorities, to see that they were not being unfairly discriminated against.

They do this (on an ongoing basis) by feeding the combined DWP Social Services and the Inland Revenue 24 years tax history into a Geographical Information System !

A future Government could abuse this IT database infrastructure to not only produce lists of people to arrest, deport, ethnically cleanse, discriminate against or exterminate, but could "efficiently" plan the best transport logistics and print out travel routes and maps for the arrest teams as well.