Human Barcode

Paula LabrotBy Paula Labrot      May 14, 2021

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Human Barcode
“IBM and the Holocaust” by Edwin Black is a stunning, shattering warning to the modern world of the dangers involved in data collection and a bitter reminder of why privacy is important. The shocking information that the tattooed numbers on the arms of Nazi victims were, in fact, ID numbers used in IBM data bases, has been one of the best kept corporate secrets I can ever remember stumbling on and points to the importance of tech literacy in the starkest of terms. A Little History Thomas Watson was born in 1874 in Campbell, New York. He was a salesman for the National Cash Register Corporation before he assumed management of International Business Machines in 1917. Watson built IBM into one of the world’s largest corporations. Kevin Maney wrote in his biography of Watson, “Watson wasted no time in creating the foundation for the culture that made IBM famous. He urged his men to dress in a style similar to the customers they called upon. He instituted sales quotas and contests. His meetings with his sales staff took on the air of revivals.” Watson was devoted to his employees and dedicated to research and development. He kept IBM on the cutting edge of technology, successfully navigating the company through the transition from paper-based to electronic information processing in the 1940s. Watson was a ruthless competitor, wiping out competition whenever and however he could. For sure, no one was going to take over his vast company profits in Hitler’s Germany. How Data Collection Was Used by The Nazis During the 1930’s, once Hitler came to power, systematic, state-sponsored data collection began through German national census taking. The persecution and murder of millions of Holocaust victims were greatly accelerated with the help of IBM data sets and technology, according to, that has created a terrific series called “Turning Points in Privacy.” ( IBM provided the training, technology and was the sole provider of the punch cards on which information about every individual in Germany was compiled…names, dates of birth, religion, relatives, friends, health records, assets, business affiliations, skill sets (very useful for slave labor) and more. The information was so detailed that it became difficult to hide one’s heritage, even if it were diluted by generations of mixed marriages. Under the policy of the Aryanization of Germany, the first use of the collected data was to determine who should be sterilized in order to take weak genes out of the pool…the mentally challenged and physically disabled were the first victims. Government control became more and more centralized. Information—collected, sorted and quickly accessible—made it easy to seize Jewish businesses, bank accounts and assets. The web of one’s life represented on those punch cards, including friends who might try to shield victims of the Reich, made it extremely difficult to hide anything or anyone. The tattoos on prisoners were human bar codes. Thomas Watson was fully aware of what was going on in Germany. While most companies boycotted doing business with the Nazis, IBM profits were not sacrificed. From helping the trains carrying prisoners to the concentration camps run on time, to sorting out the victims at the camps by skill set (slave labor assignments), health records (ability to work, be used for medical experiments or sent for euthanization), IBM actively and profitably contributed to the torture and death of millions of souls at the hands of the Nazis. Lessons We Should Learn IBM has survived and flourished despite this dark chapter in its history. Only recently has this information come to life, thanks to the exhaustive, well sourced and documented work done by Edwin Black and people of conscience around the world. It is easy to see the parallels in today’s amoral, profit-at-any-cost-driven tech industry. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google, Apple, Microsoft, IBM, Amazon and other top tech companies are behemoth multi-national corporations collecting population data on a world-wide basis. Their cooperative deals with repressive regimes like the CCP in China make it clear that the ruthless pursuit of profit modeled by Thomas Watson found a secure home in modern leaders like Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Jack Dorsey (Twitter), Sundar Pichai (Google), Larry Page (Alphabet), Tim Cook (Apple), and many others who put profit before any other consideration. I would like to acknowledge the employees of Google who have protested the involvement of their company in creating a censored search engine for China and participating in Department of Defense projects. Thousands of employees at Google urged the company to back out of “the business of war.” In 2019, The “Thanksgiving Four” a group of employees that were dismissed in what they consider retaliation for their attempt to organize workers, filed suit against Google with the National Labor Relations Board. People of conscience… you have to love them. Knowledge Is Power It’s important for you to learn to be private…not an easy assignment in this highly connected world. Use Signal and use Tor. According to J.M. Parup writing for, “Signal is an encrypted messaging app that lets you send text messages and voice memos as well as voice calls and audio calls. It looks and feels just like any other messaging app but under the hood uses encryption that, to the best of our knowledge, not even the National Security Agency can brute-force.” I have it on my own phone and use it when talking to my open-source contacts. Download Tor as your web browser, especially for your mobile phone. It cannot guarantee anonymity, but it is as close as we get at present. And use a VPN…I use ExpressVPN. Parup suggests using “zero knowledge services, [because] Google can read every email you send and receive. Office 365 scans everything you write. DropBox opens and examines everything you upload. All three companies—among many others—are PRISM providers, per the Snowden documents, meaning they cooperate with mass surveillance programs. If Google can see it, so can folks in Washington. You have no privacy on any of these services. Alternatives are Spider Oak instead of Dropbox and Protonmail for email.” Nothing is perfect, but better is better. Use an Ad Blocker to stop cookies from tracking you. I have AdBlock on my computer. And, for heaven’s sake, be careful what you post online! Parup writes, “Consider also that sharing a particular detail about your life may not appear sensitive on its own but, taken in aggregate with many other shared personal details, can build up a picture that you might hesitate to put onto a hostile internet.” No Going Back It is what it is. Technology, that is. We are not going back, so go forward and get the best out of it. Increase your tech literacy every chance you get. Remember, knowledge is power…and Power to the People! Vamos a ver!
Paula Labrot
      May 14, 2021

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