News and Commentary

REPORT: Trump Admin Considering Program That Would Use Data Harvested From Smart Devices To Prevent Mass Violence
Hajime Shimada shows off his newly purchased Apple Watch outside boutique store, Dover Street Market Ginza on April 24, 2015 in Tokyo, Japan.
Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images

On Thursday, The Washington Post published a report alleging that the Trump administration has been presented with a project that would use technology as a means of collecting data on human subjects in order to prevent mental health-related violence.

The outlet states that a new governmental agency would be created, called the Health Advanced Research Projects Agency, or HARPA, and that the agency would be Russian-dolled inside the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

According to the report, the HARPA agency was initially proposed by the Suzanne Wright Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing the process by which treatments and cures for various diseases are uncovered and implemented.

The foundation states that HARPA is “modeled after the spectacularly successful DARPA unit at the Department of Defense, [and] would leverage federal research assets and private sector tools to build new capabilities for diseases that have not benefitted from the current system.”

Following the recent shootings in El Paso and Dayton in which 31 Americans were killed, the foundation once again approached the Trump administration, reports The Washington Post, offering a new program within HARPA, which would use “breakthrough technologies with high specificity and sensitivity for early diagnosis of neuropsychiatric violence” in order to potentially help prevent instances of public violence, such as mass shootings.

Robert Wright, the founder of the Suzanne Wright Foundation, is the former chairman and CEO of NBC, and is reportedly close with President Trump.

The program, according to anonymous officials cited by The Washington Post, would be called “Stopping Aberrant Fatal Events by Helping Overcome Mental Extremes,” abbreviated as SAFE HOME.

The Post continues:

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.

The project would allegedly be volunteer based, spanning four years at a cost of between $40 – $60 million, according to Dr. Geoffrey Ling, founding director of DARPA’s Biological Technologies Office and CEO of NED Biosystems.

President Trump has been focused on mental illness in the wake of the recent spate of shootings.

During a rally in New Hampshire on August 15, the president stated:

We are working very hard to make sure we keep guns out of the hands of insane people and those who are mentally sick and shouldn’t have guns – but people have to remember, however, that there is a mental illness problem that has to be dealt with. It’s not the gun that pulls the trigger; it’s the person holding the gun.

The Daily Wire reached out to several professors of law to get their input as it pertains to the ethics of this proposed program, as well as the potential for Fourth Amendment violations.

Professor Sherry Colb of Cornell Law School said:

You ask a very interesting question, and at the moment, the law is unclear. On the one hand, having the government gather personal recordings about you from inside your home seems like an outrageous invasion of privacy that ought to be considered a Fourth Amendment violation. On the other hand, the U.S. Supreme Court has long held that when private individuals surrender personal information to third parties and the government subpoenas that information from the third parties, there’s no Fourth Amendment violation. It’s called the “third party doctrine,” and examples include bank records and telephone numbers called (collected by—and then handed to—the government from the provider).

The fly in the ointment is that the Court recently said that gathering cell site data about a particular suspect’s whereabouts over time (or, technically, his phone’s whereabouts) does violate the Fourth Amendment if there’s no warrant, so the Court may be prepared to dial back on the so-called “third party doctrine” when it comes to invasive tech.

NYU Law School Professor Barry Friedman noted that while the previously described voluntary nature of the initial program wouldn’t violate the Fourth Amendment, anything involuntary would have “profound Fourth Amendment implications.”