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The problems of one character from 2060 go back a long way.

In 2022, a ransomware gang infiltrated the computer systems of a local power company, threatening a widespread blackout unless a cryptocurrency payment was made immediately. The company refused. The backup power system for a large city hospital failed while it was filled to overflowing with Covid patients. Ventilators and other equipment went silent, with too few nurses on staff even to disconnect the ICU patients in time to let them fight for their lives on their own. The casualties were estimated in the hundreds, though due to the medical aspects no precise figure could be given.

The identity of the culprits was unknown. A group of bereaved relatives won political and financial backing from the municipal government and eventually the corporate hospital network for a cold revenge. They set aside a large fund of money to be wisely invested. If the ransomware operator(s)' identity ever became known, the yearly interest on that fund would go to pay for a campaign of private investigation - of the operator, his spouse, and any descendants in perpetuity. This investigation, and any permissible sharing of that data with governments and relevant private entities, would be done to the limit permissible by law and available funds.

What would the details of such a fund (and administering institution) be, so that:

  • It was legally and publicly set up in the United States under 2022 rules.
  • It survived the breakup of the U.S. in 2032, including the end of the municipal government and its finances (much to the astonishment of a certain gangster who shouldn't have written boastful memoirs).
  • It has international reach to most countries.
  • It has flexibility to alter its practices to avoid being stopped by restrictive new laws and take advantage of things private investigators might be allowed to do in the future or in other countries.
  • Some detail on whether any comparable thing has ever existed, or what tactics would initially be off-limits, would be helpful.
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  • $\begingroup$ Why does the fund need to be American? I don't think it's too unusual to setup a fund in Europe for example, if it means more stability and possibly more money. Thanks to treaties and the EU still existing you can have all the funds accessible. $\endgroup$
    – Trioxidane
    Commented Jan 23, 2022 at 15:35
  • $\begingroup$ @Trioxidane - The people of the city were furious, so their municipal government was helping. The fund could be set up outside the U.S. or internationally if that makes sense given a municipal government was involved. If so, this aspect of the fund also should not be very obvious, since I'm supposing the operator interviewed with a large media outlet and reminisced about the good old days when he made big money off the Americans, not realizing his family would be affected. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 23, 2022 at 15:41
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    $\begingroup$ "Any comparable thing has ever existed": Scott Trust Limited, created by John Russell Scott with the purpose "to secure the financial and editorial independence of The Guardian in perpetuity, as a quality national newspaper without party affiliation." It is even an example of how such a trust can dissolve and re-form itself to work around changes in legislation. And, in general, you may want to look up financial endowment. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Jan 23, 2022 at 15:52
  • $\begingroup$ P.S. There is a moderately well-known financial instution called the Nobel Foundation, which gives away some 6,000,000 US dollars year after year after year to well-deserving investigators, writers, and peace makers. How does it work? $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Jan 23, 2022 at 16:00
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    $\begingroup$ Mike, just to set an expectation... you're asking a very, very, very, very involved Q. This kind of legal structure, in real life, can (and usually does) take hundreds of pages to describe and substantial bureaucracies to implement - not for the least reason is that while the legal base is U.S., ransomware can originate from anywhere, so the legalese must treat with international law, too. Is there any way you can scope this Q so it's answerable? Because right now it breaks the book rule and probably should be closed. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Jan 23, 2022 at 21:22

2 Answers 2

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There is some relevant discussion in Robert Caro's The Power Broker – see e.g. Chapter 28 on the power of public authorities. The gist is that certain institutions, like Robert Moses's Triborough Bridge Authority, can effectively wield sovereign power independent of the government that creates them, by basing their power on private contracts:

Authoritites could issue bonds. A bond was simply a legal agreement between its seller and its buyer. A legal agreement was, by definition, a contract. And under the Constitution of the United States, a contract was sacred... No one – not Governor, not Mayor, not State Legistature, not City Board of Estimate – could interfere with its provisions. If Robert Moses could write the powers which had been vested in him into the bond contracts of his authorities, make those powers part of the agreements under which investors purchased the bonds, those powers would be his for as long as the authorities remained in existence...
[Caro p.264]

So for example, no Mayor of New York could abolish tolls on the Triborough Bridge, because even though it's "public" infrastructure, those tolls are part of the private contract between the Authority and its bondholders.

Perhaps, then, you would set up your Vengeance Authority as a trust whose articles of incorporation oblige it to perform certain services for its beneficiaries. You might want the beneficiaries to invest at least a token amount in the trust themselves – this would form the "consideration" part in the "offer, acceptance and consideration" theory of what forms a contract.

Obviously there is no way to guarantee that a contract will hold under any future government; no amount of clever legalese will help you if the Khmer Rouge shows up. But historically, private contracts often do survive changes of government. A new regime is neither interested nor capable of reinventing every private arrangement overnight, and meddling in individuals' finances is dangerous ground for any regime (even the Soviet Union never entirely abolished private property). So as long as you can demonstrate that a contract exists, and its terms aren't illegal, then the new government will probably let the trust keep its money, and hold it to the terms of its contract.

In support of your fourth item (and common sense), your Vengeance Authority will need human officers with the power to make changes, and that will always carry some risk. The usual solution is to arrange to pay for external auditors and lawyers who can keep these officers honest, which should work well enough as long as there is a working legal system somewhere. The Vengeance Authority can choose to move its funds (and auditors) to a more stable jurisdiction if the US enters a Mad Max phase.

Having "international reach" doesn't seem like an issue. Neither the US nor its successor state can decide what is legal in other sovereign countries (whatever some Americans may think), but if you're just talking about hiring people to provide commercial services in other countries, that shouldn't be a problem anyway.

There are certainly examples of this sort of thing. The Corporation of London, for instance, is a kind of medieval guild thing which has owned London's financial district since before the UK (or even England) existed, and makes its own laws, albeit mostly silly ones that no one cares about. And there are lots of wealthy religious orders that have persisted while governments come and go around them. I imagine the legal infrastructure that supports wealthy descendants like the DuPonts and the Rothschilds touches on some of the same issues. And of course the Simon Wiesenthal Center had a mission somewhat similar to what you describe, though I don't know anything about its constitution.

(But the Simon Wiesenthal Center never hunted people for being descendants of nazis – that's much more morally dubious, and probably the part that would attract the negative attention of governments. If your foundation get labeled as terrorists then the respect for private contracts might not be enough of a shield).

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Frame Challenge

The families of the victims and the municipal government initially want vengeance, so the original proposal is what the question describes. AS the initial shock and horror begin to fade, questions arise.

  1. So we're going to follow some hackers descendants for dozens (hundreds?) of generations for what? Inform the authorities on every tiny thing they do wrong?

  2. How about catching this group and future group be better? Wouldn't aiming to prevent more crimes like these be a superior way to remember the victims?

There was counterpoint to these points. People who would commit such a vile crime might teach the next generation to follow in their footsteps.

A compromise was reached. Anyone who could be in any way connected to the cyberattack on the hospital would be monotored forever. Every tiny thing they did wrong would be leaked to the authorities immediately. At least one finally quit driving because of the unbelievable number of parking tickets accumulated, visits by the Library Fine Enforcement committee, excessive numbers of tax audits, etc.

Monitoring ceased after 2 "reasonably clean" generations. For example, one of the original criminals had 2 chidren who took differeny paths. One showed no criminal tendencies and had one child. That child showed no criminal tendencies by the age of 40. That part of the family tree is archived and monitoring ceases. The second child of the original criminal seems ok, but has a child whe decides to follow in grandpa's evil footsteps. Monitoring of that branch continues.

Immediate family members of these people would be watched for any signs of serious criminal behavior. If none happened, evidence of minor infractions was accumulated, but no action was taken. If any seriously bad behavior was detected, they joined the original group in jaywalk ticket hell.

As the organization's funds grow, it also begins trying to learn about other cybercriminals. If those can be exposed, prison is the best place for them. If not, sooner or later some will violate a homeowners association policy, others will accidentally drop a piece of paper and get a littering ticket. Others will have infidelities exposed in the most embarassing possible ways. If they decide to try a big crime so they can start a new life, the police will be informed in time to avoid any innocent casualties.

Technically, much of the could violate local rules regarding stalking, so the organization can't reveal it's exact purpose. Instead, it is divided into multiple pieces.

One piece raises funds for scholarships for disadvantaged students. Aptitude tests are given to all candidates. Job placement assistance is ALWAYS provided to each person after college or trade school. A surprisingly high number are trained in accounting, bookkeeping, database operation and similar skills. After a few jobs to get some basic experience, they are aided in getting positions at insurance companies, credit reporting agencies, the census bureau, and anywhere else with far too much data on far too many people (Some social media companies come to mind).

The organization also has a commercial branch offering home and business security devices. Even if you can't get a camera inside a criminal's house, being able to access cameras in their neighborhood has uses.

The trick is to have a combination of investment funded trusts and foundations, a few organizations to collect money for causes, and some real for profit businesses. Each one serves as a piece of the "Let's make bad people very unhappy and make sure their evil ways haven't been passed down to kids and grandkids” puzzle. Only a few people know enough to see the whole picture. Since it's in little pieces, moving or dupicating parts to other regions can be done in smal steps.

P.S. This answer is for entertainment purposes only. Unless you are Bruce Wayne, don't even think about trying anything like this out in real life.

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  • $\begingroup$ @SquareCubeLaw - Thanks for the edits. I frequently rewrite my sentences to try to improve them, but often end up leaving some lingering wreckage from the original version. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 26, 2022 at 11:17

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