There is a push on for the creation of another unconstitutional federal agency that would create systems to identify “early signs of changes in people with mental illness that could lead to violent behavior.”

Coupled with “red flag” laws, this sounds like the beginning of a dystopian nightmare.

According to the Washington Post, the proposal is part of a larger initiative known as the Health Advanced Research Projects Agency (HARPA). The agency would operate under the Health and Human Services Department. According to the HARPA website, the agency would be modeled after the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) that operates as a research arm for the Pentagon.

HARPA would work with private companies, other federal agencies, and academia, to coordinate and promote health-related research. According to the HARPA website, the federal agency would “develop biomedical capabilities – detection tools, treatments, medical devices, cures, etc. – for the millions of Americans who are not benefitting from the current system.”

In the wake of the recent highly publicized shootings and calls for the federal government to “do something” to prevent gun violence, supporters of HARPA have proposed adding a “SAFE HOME” project to HARPA. SAFE HOME stands for “Stopping Aberrant Fatal Events by Helping Overcome Mental Extremes.”

You have give the people pushing HARPA credit for their ability to seize on tragedies in order to garner political support for their proposal. The HARPA plan apparently hadn’t really gained much traction since it was initially proposed in 2017. By focusing on gun violence, the supporters of HARPA may have found the political lever they needed to push their plan forward and get the agency created.

The SAFE HOME plan sounds innocent enough, but it would create the foundation for further expansion of the U.S. surveillance state and accelerate the erosion of privacy rights.

According to the Post,  the agency would work to “develop a ‘sensor suite’ using advanced artificial intelligence to try to identify changes in mental status that could make an individual more prone to violent behavior.” The document outlining the plan lists a number of technologies that the agency could use to collect data, including Apple Watches, Fitbits, Amazon Echo and Google Home, along with  “powerful tools” collected by health-care providers such as MRIs, tractography and image analysis.

The Post article emphasizes that the project would not collect an individual’s information without their permission. But since users generally agree to allow companies like Google and Apple to share their private information when they accept terms and conditions, it seems likely the federal agency would have access to reams of private data whether you wanted them to or not.

Despite assurances that “the government is simply trying to identify risk factors when it comes to mental health that could indicate violent behavior,” the HARPA proposal should raise huge red flags. (pun intended)

One has to ask the question: what will the government do once it identifies these “risk factors?” It won’t simply publish a paper. It will use the information as a basis for action. It seems almost certain the federal government would use the risk factors developed by HARPA as criteria to justify gun confiscation under proposed “red flag” laws.

As Michael Boldin has said, from the income tax to the “PATRIOT” Act, proposals for new federal programs and powers always start small. Then they eventually end up used against everyone. John Dickinson, the “Penman of the American Revolution,” warned us to “Oppose a disease at its beginning.”

Mike Maharrey

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