The Man Who Trapped Us in Databases

Hank Asher was a drug trafficker with a knack for numbers until he discovered how to transform Americans personal information into a huge business.

In tribute pages for Asher in his web site as well as on The Palm Beach Post -and in conversations with me throughout the years, as I became more and more obsessed with his work and career — my friends could not get enough of his charm as well as his boldness, his generousity, his impulsivity as well as his drinking, his insomnia, his late-night calls, his ten-mile stares, his utter disdain for niceties in social settings and his awe-inspiring, computer-like ability to process data and identify patterns. Asher was also described as a tumultuous, occasionally violent, but not always in his head. It was impossible to predict what he was going to do next, and you didn’t want to leave him.

This article is an adaptation of the novel “The Hank Show”How a Drug-Running, House-Painting D.E.A. Informant Created the Machine that Ruled Our Lives” that will be released on October. 3, by St. Martin’s Press.

One person described it as “the Hank show.” Asher was the star of the show; however, his fame has, over time, expanded to colleagues and friends as well as customers and associates and, eventually, everybody, everywhere. Asher was among the first and greatest data miners of the modern age. He constructed his own reality and then took the the world into it. He made his fortune from painting the growing forest of South Florida of condo towers and later as a runner of drugs feeding its ever-growing craving for cocaine. 

Asher would ask this question to many people, at first with a face-to-face conversation before moving on when technology improved and his knowledge of its capabilities grew as well — by means of data systems. As time passed, he was able to determine who you were, without even asking. I first learned about Asher just a few years following his demise. An editor from a magazine called me with an opportunity to work on the campaign to combat trafficking of children within Central America. As I looked into it I found that the organization leading the campaign had teamed up with an “data-mining software company” in Florida. I didn’t take the job; however, I did look into the business and later did a search for its founder. The more I learned about him, the more I realized that he might have have, through a flutter of his fingerscould have – read everything I wrote about myself.

A single of the Asher’s innovations -or, in more specific terms, one of his businesses’ innovations was the creation of what’s now called the LexID. My LexID is, as I found out was 000874529875. The unique sequence of numbers is a type of”shadow” Social Security Number, which is one of a variety of “persistent identifiers,” as they’re referred to, which are issued by not the government, but rather by companies in the field of data, such as Acxiom, Oracle, Thomson Reuters, TransUnion — or, in this instance, LexisNexis.

My LexID was created in the early 2000s, in Asher’s room for computers within South Florida, as many remain, and without my knowledge, it began tracking me. One of the first data points about me was my name, and another would have been my parents addresses in Oregon. My birth certificate, my driver’s license or teenage fishing permit — as well as the fact that these three were all matched -it was able to determine my sex as well as my day of birth. In the past I was born, it would have been capable of obtaining details of my address at the school which I was a student at, Swarthmore, which was tiny and costly, and it could have found my first employer full-time that was The National Geographic Society, quickly gathering more than enough data that could let anyone — at the time an individual human being -be able to infer of my personal information and future.

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