The Worst Ideas. Updates every Monday!

Your weekly source for terrible ideas.

Category: Law

Five underrated facts about dystopian totalitarian surveillance regimes! You’ll never believe fact #2!

Background:

The optimal tradeoff between privacy and security is a topic that is endlessly debated.

In the past, omnipresent surveillance was not feasible—but technology is now at the point where implementation of a 1984-esque surveillance state is actually possible.

On the one hand, it would be theoretically convenient to have immediate response to crimes and/or injuries, and perhaps take action to prevent some crimes before they even occur.

On the other hand, you might be sent to a faraway gulag because you opposed the interests of a politically-connected individual.

Proposal:

The problem here, of course, is the human element (see Figure 1).

monitor-computer-guy

Fig. 1: This guy (right) can monitor every aspect of your life on the video screens (left). This works fine until you become successful and he blackmails you!

But if an all-seeing computer system (like Skynet in the Terminator series) were in charge of things, we could could theoretically know that the surveillance system could not be misused, and would only be used for the programmed-in purposes (e.g., catching kidnappers and insane murderers).

Humans would write the rules for the system, but the raw data would (somehow) be inaccessible except to the analysis computer (Fig. 2).

Some example rules that might be applied:

  • If a car was used in a felony, check traffic cameras for its license plate number.
  • If a person has purchased explosive-manufacture-related chemicals, check their records for unusual activity and potentially flag them for further investigation by actual humans.
  • If a person declared no taxable income, but drives around in an 80,000 dollar car, check them for tax fraud.

Since these rules could be set by the legislature, they could be transparent and subject to review by the voters.

One downside: many countries operate on implicit rules like:

  • If a person supports an opposing political party, make sure to harass and imprison them.
  • If a person is a member of a disfavored ethnic or religious group, make sure to hold them to the strictest letter of the law.
  • Otherwise, don’t enforce any rules at all.

These informal enforcement rules might be less likely to survive if they had to be explicitly coded up and put on the official registry of surveillance rules. Or perhaps they would remain, and just be enforced with horrific robotic precision!

robot-wheel

Fig 2: This robot is totally trustworthy with your personal data, and has no ulterior motives or desires of its own (unlike a human).

seeing-eye

Fig 3: This unblinking “panopticon” eye will be a useful symbol to let you know you are in a safe and trustworthy robot-surveilled region! Stick one of these in your bedroom and bathroom to remind you that a robot is watching you at all times.

Conclusion:

When you lobby for omnipresent surveillance, make sure to imagine the predicable scenario where some irrationally angry neighbor or ambitious business rival now has a recording of every stupid thing you (and your friends/family) have ever done!

PROS: Would probably reduce many types of crime.

CONS: Terminator and/or 1984.

 

 

 

The secret that BIG CITY LAWYERS don’t want you to know! Never get convicted of a crime you committed again, with this one insane tip!

Background:

“Justice is blind” is a common, but incorrect, expression.

It is indisputable that that factors of age, sex, race, general attractiveness, style of dress, hairstyle, and more will factor into both whether or not an individual is convicted of a crime and in the severity of sentencing for those convicted of a crime.

defendant-mystery

Fig. 1: If the defendant were replaced by a featureless silhouette, it would be impossible for the defendant to be negatively impacted by existing prejudices.

Proposal:

Normally, someone accused of a crime is forced to sit in the trial room, but they typically have very little input into the actual trial.

Therefore, it’s not actually necessary that the person sitting at the defendant’s table actually be the defendant.

The proposal is as follows: the actual defendant can hire an attractive model (of a sex, race, age, etc. of their choosing) to represent them in the courtroom. This hired stand-in could be a well-spoken and attractive orator.

The jury and judge would never actually know who the real defendant was.

If this “proxy defendant” needs to take the witness stand, they could also be outfitted with a wireless earpiece so that the real defendant could supply information to the proxy, who would then actually be the one to relate it to the judge or jury.

As an additional point: it’s frequently possible to determine a defendant’s sex and race by just their name. This can be solved by assigning randomized names and/or numbers to the defendant and others involved in the case. (In fact, this is already done for jurors in America—”Juror Twelve” is unlikely to be a person’s actual name.)

person-jury-attractiveperson-jury-ugly

Fig. 2: Even the most fair judge is at least somewhat influenced by the appearance of the defendant; for example, the be-suited golden man at left is unlikely to be judged as harshly as the unkempt gremlin at right.

PROS: Allows justice will actually be applied fairly, regardless of the appearance of the defendant.

CONS: Would further increase the advantage of wealthy defendants.

Voter suppression with a twist! Add SECRET disqualification questions to the ballot in order to save democracy! Definitely there would be no possible way to misuse this. Plus: you’ll never believe what kind of animal was nominated as ambassador to Australia!

Background:

Voter suppression has historically been a popular method of “adjusting” election results.

It comes in many forms. For example:

  • Do supporters of your opponent have 9-to-5 jobs? Easily solved—set up the polling places from 10 AM to 4 PM (with a break for lunch) in inconvenient places!

  • Are your supporters richer than your opponent’s supporters? No problem—poll Tax!

  • Want to selectively disenfranchise arbitrary groups of your choosing? Literacy test / civics quiz!

  • Do your supporters all own exotic reptiles? Make sure to require two forms of ID (to prevent voter fraud), but allow a card from the National Organization of Snake Aficionados to count as one form of ID.

  • Etc.

There are, of course, hundreds of variations on this idea.

Proposal:

The not-immediately-nefarious goal here is to make sure that a voter understands the ballot, at least slightly.

ballot-disqualifiers-1

Fig. 1: This ballot only has 6 questions, but I’m a busy individual with no free time to search online for a summary of them. I’ll just vote randomly, or vote based on whichever one-sentence summary of each item looks the best. But wait—an informed electorate is important to democracy, and I’m sabotaging this process with my intentionally bad votes!

In order to make sure that the voter is making an informed decision, we will add multiple fake “ringer” candidates to the ballot. A voter who is voting randomly will probably end up voting for one of these candidates, but someone with even the most basic understanding of the ballot will avoid these obviously-terrible options.

The key component is that a ballot that votes in favor of one of these (intentionally) terrible ringer options will be automatically discarded—it is assumed that the voter is not actually taking their civic duty seriously.

Example:

  • in addition to the traditional candidates, the ringer candidate ROBOTOZAR THE METALLIC is added.
  • Robotozar’s electoral platform is listed as “DESTROY ALL HUMANS AS PAINFULLY AS POSSIBLE.”
  • Then, any ballots that include a vote for Robotozar would be disqualified.
  • This will save representative democracy, as well as humanity in general.

For areas with direct voting on ballot measures, we could have “ringer” measures as well, such as:

  • Recall the current ambassador to Australia, and send a horse as the new ambassador. 🇦🇺🐴
  • Change voting eligibility: only snakes may vote in subsequent elections; intent is determined by divination of their slithering. 🐍👀

ballot-disqualifiers-2

Fig. 2: The two disqualifying “ringer” questions on this ballot (described above) are highlighted in orange.

Conclusion:

Saves democracy.

PROS: Could cause more careful reading of ballot measures.

CONS: What if a horse actually turned out to be an amazing ambassador?

Life hack: use a wedge of Gouda cheese as an eco-friendly doorstop to save space in your pantry. BIG DOORSTOP hates this tip!

Background:

Doorstops are pretty convenient for holding doors open.

doorstop-or-cheese

Fig. 1: A doorstop. Or a wedge of cheese. OR PERHAPS BOTH??

The issue:

But sometimes, propping open a door is FORBIDDEN due to fire regulations—the door might need to be closed in order to slow the spread of fire (Fig. 2).

Although there exist magnetic doorstops that connect to the fire alarm, it’s very likely that the door that you want to prop open isn’t set up this way. Read on for the solution!

doorstop-problem

Fig. 2: Unfortunately, this door needs to be able to close in case of fire (left), so the doorstop at right is forbidden.

Proposal:

A new, futuristic type of electrical doorstop can be set up to automatically detect fire alarm conditions and get out of the way (allowing the door to close).

The primary idea is that the “collapsable fire-safe doorstop” has a microphone, and if it detects the sound of the fire alarm, it will instantly flatten down to a wafer-thin state, allowing the door to swing closed (Figures 3 and 4).

doorstop-diagram-side-view.png

future-doorstop.png

Fig. 3: The collapsable fire-safe doorstop. A) Microphone and optical sensor, for detecting a fire alarm. B1/B2) Hinged doorstop pieces. The red hinge between B1 and B2 will open in case of fire. C1/C2) Flat end caps for the doorstop. D1/D2) A hook mechanism that normally keeps the doorstop in a wedge shape. It will unhook in order to let the doorstop flatten itself.

doorstop-diagram.png

Fig. 4: The doorstop detects a fire (top) and disengages the hooks that keep it in a triangular shape (middle), finally flattening out to allow the door to pass over it (bottom).

The doorstop would need to be battery powered, but it could presumably run for months or years on just a single watch battery. The closure mechanism (the gray hooks in the figure) could presumably also be set up to require a tiny amount of electrical power in order to stay connected. In this way, the doorstop could automatically flatten when the battery ran out, which would prevent a dead battery from being a fire hazard.

fire

Fig. 5: Do not open a door with a fire on the other side unless it gives the correct password.

PROS: Allows you to prop open that one annoying hallway door that everyone is opening and closing constantly.

CONS: It’s yet another electronic gizmo that requires battery monitoring and replacement.

THE CITY GRINDER: The one relentless trick that will DRAMATICALLY CHANGE your property values! Read up before you buy property, or soon you will weep bitter tears of despair!

Background:

Modern cities face a number of issues due to old buildings. For example:

  • Housing that isn’t up to code
  • Abandoned buildings
  • Absentee owners who don’t maintain their property
  • Urban decay

Proposal:

Fortunately, with an amazing new idea, we can revitalize urban development and create guaranteed construction jobs.

Specifically, the proposal is as follows:

  1. Build an elevated circular track around City Hall (or some other centrally located building).
  2. Next, build an enormous miles-long spiked roller that rests on this track (Fig 1). The outer edge of this “city grinder” should reach to the farthest extent of the city.
  3. The city grinder will now make a slow revolution around the city, consuming everything in its path.

city-grinder

Fig 1: The “city grinder” is a giant spiked roller (left) that levels everything in its path. It is mounted on an elevated circular track that is centered on city hall (right; the building with a yellow roof). In this example, the roller is traveling counter-clockwise (see arrow). Not shown: the roller should actually be rotating quickly in order to grind the buildings it encounters.

The actual time required for a full rotation could be set based on the circumstances of the specific city. Perhaps 100 years for a full rotation would be reasonable.

Although this idea may seem unorthodox, it isn’t without precedent: some places have 99-year leases or even 999-year leases instead of permanent ownership.

Thus, the “city grinder” is just a strong formalization of the 99 year lease—instead of a property reverting to government ownership after 99 years, instead it is ground to dust.

city-map

Fig 2: An example of city grinder transit over a 100 year period (as indicated by the numbers; note that the grinder is in the top-right corner of the map in both 1900 and 2000). The star indicates the city hall (or other “center” location). At 100 years for a complete revolution, the city grinder will only need to cut through 3.6 degrees of the city per year. For a circular city that is 10 miles across, the outermost (fastest) point on the city grinder would be traveling at a mere 4.5 feet per day (or 1.4 meters / day). (City circumference = π × 10 miles = 31.4 miles. 31.4 miles / 100 years = 4.5 feet per day).

The only remaining logistical question is: how does traffic pass through the region being ground up? Luckily, this can be easily solved by breaking up the roller into many independent-operating sections that can be elevated. So only a small portion of the city grinder would be blocking traffic at a given time, and this segment could easily be driven around. This wouldn’t be any more difficult than dealing with railroad crossings, which all cities already handle.

PROS: Prevents accumulation of obsolete and decaying buildings in a city. Improves urban beautification. Architects and construction workers will have guaranteed employment.

CONS: The roller may be expensive to operate and maintain.

Protect your car from car thieves with this ONE WEIRD TIP from a banker! Upholstery cleaners love it!

 

Background:

Bank robbers have occasionally been foiled by dye packs, which can be placed into a bag of stolen cash and then detonated as the robbers make their escape. The dye sprays out everywhere and contaminates the stolen money, making it valueless.

 

dye-subset

Fig 1: The bag of cartoon money (top left) is rendered worthless by a dye pack that stains all the money into un-usability.

Proposal:

What if we could apply this same technology to deter car thieves?

Basically, instead of just a regular dome light, a car would have a dome light plus a set of dye-spraying nozzles that could spray a permanent ink all over the car interior (coating both the occupants and the seats).

There are several possible variants for how this would be deployed:

  1. Most expensive: the car could have a theft-tracking device that would allow the car’s lawful owner to remotely deploy the dye pack with a pre-configured password (hopefully not 0000). This would probably require a subscription service, so it could be expensive (and if you were willing to pay a monthly fee, you should probably just get a regular theft-tracking service).
  2. Slightly less expensive: the car could have a Wi-Fi antenna, and it would automatically connect to public wireless hotspots that happened to be driven by. The car would check a specific web site to see if it had been reported as stolen, and deploy the dye pack in this situation. This would not necessarily require a subscription service, but would probably be hilariously prone to hacking.
  3. Self-contained solution with no network connectivity required: whenever you start the car, an alarm beeps for 60 seconds (similar to a home alarm), indicating that you need to input a “disable alarm” code before you start driving. If the car is in motion AND the alarm code has not been accepted, the dye pack will spray dye everywhere. Does not require a data plan or other subscription service!

The dye pack deployment may need to be restricted to times when the car is completely stopped, so that it doesn’t cause a deadly hazard to other drivers if it deploys while on the highway.

Conclusion:

PROS: Substantially reduces plausible deniability of receiving a stolen car. While a normal stolen car might seem like a legitimate purchase, an obviously-covered-in-ink one probably would not be.

CONS: Option #3 (above) would be the bane of all valet parkers.

Prevent fat cats in Washington from running the government, using an anonymous election system that could theoretically elect a literal fat cat!

Background:

Corruption is a problem that seems inescapable in every form of governance—even in the best-run governments, there’s always going to be at least some incentive for certain individuals to use bribery, threats, and blackmail to advance their own agenda.

This can be difficult to address with traditional forms of government.

The proposal:

It would be difficult to bribe or threaten a ruler if the identity of this individual was unknown. Previously, this was not feasible (perhaps all senators could wear masks and long flowing robes to conceal their identities, but realistically this is not a practical solution).

But with modern technology, it is now possible for all legislative meetings to be conducted remotely over the Internet, either by text or by audio (with an anonymizing voice-modulating filter applied to the audio stream).

Each legislator could possess an encryption key that would verify that they were in fact the individual in question (or at least that they were someone who had stolen the key).

With the identities of members of government now a secret, it would not be possible for them to be influenced by bribery or threats. (This has been done in the past for juries in particularly dangerous situations: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Innominate_jury )

anon-table.png

Fig 1: In this anonymously-run government, there is no possibility of legislators being pressured by threats, blackmail, or bribery.

In a representative government, elections could still occur as before, except with candidates being replaced by an anonymous silhouette and a written up statement of the candidate’s political platform. This would also even the playing field in elections, as the physical appearance of the candidate would no longer be a factor in the election.

An alternative option would be to randomly fill offices with willing citizens (sort of like a voluntary version of jury duty). This is called “Sortition” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sortition) and would avoid the problem of having to conduct elections in an anonymous fashion.

There would probably also have to be some system in place to discourage people from just selling their position to the highest bidder, which would otherwise be extremely easy (and nearly undetectable).

Conclusion:

Democracy has been slow to adopt the new technologies of the Information Age. Next time this idea is on a local or national referendum, you should vote for it and see what happens!

PROS: Reduces sex / race / appearance / class / income bias in government. Could make it easier for legislators to make necessary but politically unpopular decisions.

CONS: A legislator who lost their encryption key would be locked out of the government for the remainder of their term.