The story of the drug-running DEA informant behind the databases tracking our lives


Hank Asher in 2011.

Eliot J. Schechter/ Bloomberg via Getty Images

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Eliot J. Schechter/ Bloomberg via Getty Images

Hank Asher in 2011.

Eliot J. Schechter/ Bloomberg via Getty Images

You might not be familiar with Hank Asher. Who is Hank Asher? Asher, a former young pilot who lived in South Florida and Caribbean in the 1980s, fell into trouble with drug smugglers. He was never convicted for a crime. Asher asked F. Lee Bailey for help. He was a well known attorney who recognized that Asher’s connections and knowledge of the smuggling industry could be of great help to the DEA. Asher became an informant. He gained knowledge of the early DEA computers and was able to use them. What’s the big thing? Asher’s idea to collect and monetize a database of people’s information snowballed.

That eventually snowballed into an idea to collect and monetize a database of people’s information.

Funk explains that Asher started out in Florida, collecting the state’s entire public records of vehicle registrations, drivers licenses, and all other kinds of other information.

He eventually sold access to those databases to police forces, insurance companies, and other corporations that benefitted from having detailed information on the masses.

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    What did Funk discover in his interview with Ari Shapiro, host of All Things Considered

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Funk talked to Ari Shapiro, host of All Things Considered about Asher’s empire. He also described the demonstration Asher used to convince people to pay to access his database. This was not possible in the early 1990s when Asher was promoting his product. Every time he went up to a police chief, for example, and ran it, he was able to see everyone they knew, their relatives, their phone numbers, address history, any boats or cars they had — basically a dossier of their entire life. It would show everyone that they knew, including their relatives, phone numbers, address histories, boats and cars, etc. He replied, “Well that’s not the truth.” She then got red and said “Well, that’s true.” It’s hard to imagine now, but this was a huge revelation. And for cops, for insurance companies and eventually pretty much every corporation you can imagine, this was gold.Here’s how Asher used his database following the 9/11 attacks: Consider that many of the 9/11 hijackers had spent time in Florida, in South Florida, in places that Hank Asher knew and that his databases covered really well. He was already working with local police and had just developed a new system, Accurint. People like me, investigative journalists, still use it. He immediately started writing an algorithm in order to determine who the hijackers might have been. What were the inputs at that time? He scored the terrorist factor of the population. Five of the hijackers ended up on his list, the shortlist. What I want to know is not what

he did, but what we did as a nation and as a society with such things? This is Funk describing what the world might’ve looked like without Asher:
The important thing to understand about Hank Asher and those of his era created are these databases that started way back when, they haven’t died. This is Funk explaining what the world would have looked like if Asher hadn’t existed:

The most important thing about Hank Asher’s and those who were around him at that time is that these databases, which started back in the day, still exist. All these details you collect over your lifetime are still available to us. This kind of information differs from what we can find on the internet. The world would certainly be different. Asher, considered by some to be the “father” of data fusion, died in 2013. The internet will always have your address.