… first a couple of transparency-related announcements.
THEWORLDPOST looks like a bold endeavor -- a joint effort of the Berggruen Institute and the Huffington Post -- to create a news and opinion site suitable for people who might actually influence events. Launched at Davos… it contains in one of its inaugural issues my appraisal of the NSA Imbroglio and how to fix it: Check NSA Surveillance with Citizen Sous-veillance -- monitoring from below.
Specifically, I dissect the 46 proposals made by the Presidential Commission and divide them into three categories… those that are for show, those that set up decent procedures… and those that might actually work, helping us achieve the win-win of a positive sum outcome -- preserving both freedom and public safety.
The European magazine ran an op-ed in which I tried (for the upteenth time) to explain the difference between two methods of keeping freedom -- hiding from Big Brother… or holding Big Brother accountable. And I will keep trying to explain till it sinks in.
Do see the end of this missive for more links to media that are paying attention to what might work.
== More transparency insights ==
As Americans have grown increasingly comfortable with traditional surveillance cameras, a new, far more powerful generation is being quietly deployed that can track every vehicle and person across an area the size of a small city, for several hours at a time. Though these cameras can’t read license plates or see faces, they provide such a wealth of data that police, businesses, even private individuals can use them to help identify people and track their movements.
And the debate continues, with this fascinating Pew Poll result: A majority of Americans now believe total anonymity is a pipe dream, despite wishing it were otherwise.
An excellent TED Radio Hour on NPR discusses many parameters for "The End of Privacy," and refreshingly only includes one of the typical whiners demanding "don't look at me!" without offering any clue how that might happen. Instead, most of the speakers addressed how we might surf this new wave as knowing, assertive citizens. Yay NPR.
Still, occasionally something practical comes along to help individuals assert a little power over their own lives… here's an Android App that warns when you're being watched.
Just remember that each pragmatic measure of concealment will be temporary! For example: Through a Scanner Darkly: NameTag is an app for Google Glass that offers a face scanner for encounters with strangers. When you snap a photo of a passerby -- the image is sent to the company’s database. When a match is located, the ID loads in front of your left eye -- personal data that might include the stranger's name, occupation, Facebook profile…and possible records in the national sex-offender registry. Of course Google disowns any relationship and discourages face-recog. But the world of EXISTENCE is on its way….
And they will stare! From a vantage of 10,000 feet, the US Army's experimental aerostat (unmanned blimp) will cast a vast radar net from Raleigh, N.C., to Boston and out to Lake Erie, with the goal of detecting cruise missiles or enemy aircraft so they could be intercepted before reaching the capital. Tested in Afghanistan and along the U.S. border with Mexico, these systems are becoming vastly more capable. In this test, only radar and not cameras will aim Earthward. But be ready for the future. And hiding will not be an option. Save your anger and militancy for what matters. Again… nothing will stop us from being looked at. We need to demand ways to look back.
== On the horizon ==
Bruce Schneier suggests that the coming "Internet of Things" will open upon a whole new world… universe… of places for clever hackers to get into our systems. Why bother trying to penetrate our computers, when so much is in the cloud and in the back and forth that we send-receive? Schneier suggests we’re in for a security disaster as hackers figure out that it’s easier to hack routers than computers. Worse, routers are made cheaply, at low margins, by companies that have no inventive to made them interactively update their security… the way Apple or Dell or Microsoft set up your home computer to do. "The result is hundreds of millions of devices that have been sitting on the Internet, unpatched and insecure, for the last five to ten years."
"And the Internet of Things will only make this problem worse, as the Internet — as well as our homes and bodies — becomes flooded with new embedded devices that will be equally poorly maintained and unpatchable."
A very good point. Bruce is at his best doing this. Pointing to new technologies or else a lazy trend and (when he stays practical, without arm waved generalities) saying we need to talk about this thing here.
Okay, this is going to change those Hollywood chase scenes. The European Union is secretly developing a "remote stopping" device to be fitted to all cars that would allow the police to disable vehicles at the flick of a switch from a control room. Urgh. Oh no you don't! Not till we get people of our own in the control rooms! (This innovation brought to you by those UFO aliens who want to stop us all from using vehicles to escape the zombie apocalypse.)
An interesting and refreshing "yes, but…" turning of a mirror on a tell-all tattle-tale. Mind you, there are good reasons to wish the TSA would just go… improve a bit. But always look at the messenger, as well.
== More Brin-snippets ==
This 10 minute podcast -- The Role of the Internet in the Future -- about Transparency and why the Internet Miracle happened -- is one of the best excerpts from an interview I gave a European television station during a recent conference in Lithuania on the digital future.
Another excerpt -- On Openness, Privacy and Surveillance -- explains the most difficult concept of the information age… yes… once more time hammering on what ought to be obvious. That we should stop whining about how much elites can see… and instead be militant about looking back at them. And yes, I suppose the number of times and places listed here -- where media have asked me to explain this -- may in itself be cause for optimism! I hadn't thought of that, till now. Perhaps, indeed, it's getting through.
And this one -- Technologies Making a Difference in the Future -- talks about technological advances that have expanded what human beings can see, know, and touch.
== World Don't-Look-At-Us Day ==
On Tuesday -- February 11 -- the Electronic Frontier Foundation will join thousands of other websites and organizations -- plus millions of individuals -- in an Internet-wide digital protest, demanding an end to mass surveillance: The Day We Fight Back. Visitors will be prompted to contact members of the U.S. Congress or sign a global petition opposing mass surveillance with a banner that can be inserted into any site.
Let me be clear where I stand on this: "The Day We Fight Back" is an important event in one (and only one) way… in that it will provide society's elites with a metric for how seriously the public takes the matter of non-symmetric transparency… the kind that only shines down upon the people with surveillance. I urge you all to take part, sign petitions and all of that. Better yet, fork over a few bucks! Join EFF and ACLU and other orgs who offer to amplify your voice through the democratizing and equalizing miracle of proxy power activism.
Nevertheless… I do feel compelled to add this. A measure of general public displeasure is ALL that this event will accomplish, for one simple reason. Our most vocal defenders of privacy and liberty -- like EFF and the ACLU -- are perfectly right to declare that these precious things are under threat! But those defenders remain generally clueless about what measures - specifically - have a snowball's chance of making a difference. Which steps might offer any hope at all, or any possibility of helping to stave off Big Brother.
"Don't look at us!" That is the reflex response to surveillance -- not just by governments but also corporate, aristocratic, criminal, technological and foreign elites. And it's worthwhile joining in that shout, as a conversation-starter. But there is not one example from human history when whining ever worked.
There is another way -- emphasizing our power to see and supervise and watch the watchmen. Sousveillance is the answer to surveillance. The EFF and ACLU should be part of shifting the specific, militant demand -- not to blind our professional Protector Caste (which cannot even conceivably work) but to apply fierce supervision, which might render their omniscience powerless to actually harm us.
Alas, I must again lament: this concept has proved almost impossible to convey or teach. And so we are left with the sole solution on the table. To complain… and to hope that the Powers will be nice. That they will listen and nod agreeably and promise to stop looking… just a little. For a little while.