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THE HANK SHOW by McKenzie Funk


How a House-Painting, Drug-Running DEA Informant Built the Machine That Rules Our Lives

by McKenzie Funk

Pub Date: Oct. 3rd, 2023
ISBN: 9781250209276
Publisher: St. Martin's

A biography of the influential yet largely unknown “father of data fusion.”

Journalist Funk, author of Windfall, diligently exposes the legacy of Hank Asher (1951-2013), an entrepreneur who built an advanced data-processing empire from the ground up. Drawing on extensive research and interviews with colleagues, friends, and family members, the author reveals Asher’s origin story. Funk describes his “profane but charming” demeanor as similar to that of Donald Trump, and he chronicles Asher’s drug-running operation in the Caribbean. For the people who interacted with him, there was “little middle ground”—he was either loved or hated. Funk ably tracks the inception and rise of Asher’s “identity machines” from the 1980s, as he built military-grade supercomputers from consumer PCs. In the 1990s, one of Asher’s companies, Database Technologies, was involved in the creation of an exclusionary database that purged voter registration rolls and skewed the 2000 presidential election. Asher capitalized on the exploding amounts of digital data during the great internet boom; after 9/11, he retooled his company, Seisint, to identify possible violent extremists living in the U.S. From his massive mansion in Boca Raton, Florida, he promoted his database, known as the Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange (MATRIX), which represented the beginning of an ominous new era of analytics targeting a citizen’s propensity for criminality. Federal and state agencies, newly invigorated by the war on terrorism, latched on to the potential of the MATRIX technology, regardless of its real-world likelihood to be exploited as “predictive policing.” Asher, who died at 61 after dwindling many of his assets, survives today through the legacy of his tech wizardry, which echoes through our current systems of investigative policing and numerous other data networks. Readers concerned with the modern dismantling of personal privacy and rampant data-gathering will be riveted by this meticulous report.

A deeply unsettling exposé of an exploitative tech genius.