Sunday, August 31, 2014

Privacy vs Omniveillance

Media discussions of privacy, freedom and the information age are starting to get more interesting, as folks finally start to realize a core truth... that everything eventually leaks. That the reflex of whining and demanding shadows to hide-in will never work. The data we entrust to banks and retail chains?  The trade secrets that companies rely on for competitive advantage? The cherished spy programs of our governmental professional protector caste (PPC)? If these do not leak because of hackers, or accidents, then would-be (or self-styled) whistle-blowers will see to it, sooner or later.

It has long been pointed out that information is not like other commodities.  It can duplicate itself at virtually zero cost, and those copies can escape even without you noticing it's happened.  That is Fact Number One. Everything eventually leaks.


Fact number two is one I've tried to point out for decades.  That this is fundamentally a clash of values and civilizations.  The Western Enlightenment (WE) has always been the rebel and underdog, versus the 99% standard human (and zero-sum) pattern of top down control by hierarchs. (There was never much functional difference between leftist-communist oligarchies and right-wing wealth-inheritance oligarchies; both hewed to the endlessly-repeated feudal model.)  In contrast, the positive-sum WE has many disadvantages and instabilities, though it is also vastly more creative, successful and productive.  The one trait that tips the balance, though, is Fact Number Two: 


All enemies of the WE are lethally allergic to light. Go ahead and name one. If it is not allergic to light, then it probably is not an "enemy" at all, but a peaceful rival that can easily be incorporated into the diversity-friendly WE. (Indeed, the "western" part is already fading away.)

Which provokes our core question... is the world of information leakage one that we should (at a fundamental level) be fighting against... at all? Or actively encouraging?


Let's suppose we do decide to support an ongoing secular trend toward a world of accountability and light. Yes, this end-goal will stymie almost all bad guys. But does that mean we must bare ourselves overnight?  Or completely? Especially, must we do it before the other guy does?


Suppose we choose a path of moderate-pragmatic, incremental, gradually-increasing transparency... what are our options?


== Fretful oversimplification ==


privacy-commodityLet's start with an extensive article on : The Death of Privacy in the Guradian, by Alex Preston, on the psychological, social and cultural repercussions of loss of privately secret space:

"While outposts of civilization fight pyrrhic battles, unplugging themselves from the web – "going dark" – the rest of us have come to accept that the majority of our social, financial and even sexual interactions take place over the internet and that someone, somewhere, whether state, press or corporation, is watching."

Preston continues: "Perhaps the reason people don't seem to mind that so much of their information is leaking from the private to the public sphere is not, as some would have it, that we are blind and docile, unable to see the complex web of commercial interests that surround us. Maybe it's that we understand very clearly the transaction. The internet is free and we wish to keep it that way, so corporations have worked out how to make money out of something we are willing to give them in return – our privacy. We have traded our privacy for the wealth of information the web delivers to us, the convenience of online shopping, the global village of social media."

Death-privacyAll of this is true... and misleading and shrill.  Because it buys into zero-sum thinking, which is the fundamental enemy of everything the WE stands for.  The dismal (but deeply human) notion that every gain must have a paired loss.  That a "trade-off" between security and freedom, or between privacy and all that cool-stuff available online, cannot be evaded, and therefor we must choose the painful righteousness of the writer's simplistic prescription.

Let me reiterate. The Enlightenment's fecundity at problem solving came from refusing dichotomies... like the insane "left-right axis" that has lobotomized politics everywhere.Only people who decide that we can have our cake and eat it and share it with the poor and see the cake thereupon grow... only such people will come up with enough innovative approaches to get any cake at all.

Only they will save the world.


==Giving up Privacy==
In one of life’s ironies, I am “Mister Transparency…” yet I believe some privacy can and should be preserved. A whole chapter of The Transparent Society is about how the only way we can preserve a little secluded intimacy or confidential sharing may be if we live in a society where most of the people know most of what’s going on, most of the time. Only such openness will stand a chance of deterring snoops and busybodies and peeping toms.

But some folks are far more transparency-radical! They “get” that all of our enlightenment innovations — like science, democracy, markets, justice, art and personal freedom thrive best in light… so they demand that it ALL be laid bare! As a moderate pragmatist (though perhaps a militant one) I find such zero-sum passion unnerving. But such people merit our attention.

In one extreme example...

photo-mainNoah Dyer, a professor at Tempe’s University of Advancing Technology, wants to “live without privacy for a full year” by paying a camera crew to film him at all times. “The way I see it is that we’re going to lose our privacy, but that’s going to be awesome. The society that most quickly embraces not having any privacy is going to have the biggest evolutionary advantage. All of their citizens are going to be able to act in their own best interest based on totally accurate information.”  ( Why We Care About Privacy.)

Dyer is getting a lot of press for a hackneyed and simplistically predictable stunt that we've actually seen before… posting online absolutely everything about his life, from his email passwords to bathroom breaks and sex.  

Pardon me for yawning, but if you expect “Mr. Transparency” to get excited about this, either way, sorry about that. Likewise the frantic, “danger, Will Robinson!” hysterics of this reporter who writes about Dyer, in the Atlantic.  Please.

== More zero-sum contempt == 

TheCircleMuch attention has also been given to Dave Eggers's book -- The Circle -- portraying a future in which Dyer's view is dominant and the plot-propelling oppressive nosiness comes not from a single Big Brother state but from millions of insatiably nosy little brothers, nagging and judging and chivvying those who seem reluctant to "share everything." Most people don't realize that this failure mode... and not an orwellian state ... is the scenario taking place in Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451."  In the Eggers book, his heroes desperately seek a little privacy or space to be themselves, to be unique and autonomous human beings.

Of course, this zero-sum, either-or kind of thinking is poisonous. It is just as oversimplifying as any would-be tyrannical system, clothing itself in sanctimony, by portraying an "opposite" that can be nothing but vile.  A strawman that Eggers sets up in order to be knocked down.

In fact, We do not have to choose between triplet fangs: Big Brother surveillance or stripped-naked little-brother coveillance, or (heaven forbid) the MYOB (mind your own business) rage of privacy "defenders" who just play into Big Brother's hands, by denouncing cartoon versions of transparency.

In fact, the society of nosy jerks portrayed in The Circle will not happen, because your neighbors would hate it just as much as you hate the thought of it!  Eggers's portrayal of his fellow humans and citizens is depressing not because it might come true, but because Eggers and the critics who praise him actually seem to believe (in their sanctimony) that their neighbors would put up with such a world... instead of using transparency and openness to catch the voyeurs and say "hey man!  Back off."

Well, well.  Perhaps they are members of a different species than you and me.

== More shallow privacy articles ==


Is there anyone out there even slightly interested in probing this important matter with nuance and a positive-sum frame of mind?  Maybe suggesting ways we that can win-win?


Jacob Morgan’s rather shallow article in Forbes suggests that “Privacy Is Completely And Utterly Dead, And We Killed It”  -- without contemplating at all whether there are types of privacy, and whether some kinds might be protected, even enhanced, in a mostly transparent world, wherein we are empowered to watch the watchers and to catch the peeping toms.


As I mentioned, in the Guardian, Alex Preston falls into the same zero-sum thinking: “Google knows what you're looking for. Facebook knows what you like. Sharing is the norm, and secrecy is out. But what is the psychological and cultural fallout from the end of privacy?”


At least a little better than those dismal jeremiads... read the article: Why We Care About Privacy. And yes, my positive-sum temperament makes me believe we can gain the advantages of a transparent society without going this far, still, it is a refreshing contrast against the usual zero sum reaction to the info-age… railing laments and demands for levels of privacy that only ever existed in our minds, plus shrilly silly-unrealistic demands that the mighty “stop looking at me!”

As if such wailings ever stood the slightest chance of working. We will never blind the eyes above us.  But we still have a chance to strip them naked.  And look back.

== Can we see what’s watching us? ==

mann-computer-visionTo illustrate how pervasive omni-veillance is becoming.... Computer vision is embedded in toilets, urinals, hand- wash faucets, as well as those domes in the ceilings that monitor you in buildings like banks and casinos (and soon everywhere.) Now, sousveillance maven and Toronto professor Steve Mann has a fascinating paper describing methods to easily reveal the scanning field of such visual sensing systems: The Sightfield: Visualizing Computer Vision, and seeing its capacity to "see:"

“Moving a wand through space, while tracking its exact 3D position, makes visible the otherwise invisible “rays of sight” that emanate from cameras. This capacity to sense, measure, and visualize vision, is useful in liability, insurance, safety, and risk assessment, as well as privacy/priveillance assessment, criminology, urban planning, design, and (sur/sous)veil lance studies.

Mann concludes, "The device may be used cooperatively, e.g. by a user or owner of a surveillance system to visualize the efficiency of their own cameras, or uncooperatively, as a video "bug sweeper" which uses video feedback to detect a hidden surveillance or sousveillance."

There is hope.  If we insist on a general ability to see, that will include the ability to spot voyeurs.  If we start designing systems right, then we will be able to do what assertively brave humans have always been able to do, when some busybody stares.  Tell them: "Hey bub.... back off."


POSTSCRIPT: Following up from last time.

America’s police departments need greater accountability—and it must come from outside the forces.

Yes... though with less sanctimony. Do this progressively, pragmatically, irresistibly, with some sympathy for the 85% of cops who are sincerely trying to do a really, really hard job.

34 comments:

LarryHart said...

From the last post...

@Dr Brin,
I can't explain why I became a fan of "Rocky Horror". It's not the kind of thing that generally appeals to me, but it just happened to do so at the right time. The crowd at the midnight showings had much to do with it.

@locumranch:

LarryH poses a very interesting question: "Is there anything you don't think is shit?"


This is a difficult and excellent question, one that I propose to answer forthwith through the application of Set Theory.


[much bloviation]


So, that’s LarryH’s answer:


Yeah, that's what I thought.

You think you're such a superior speciman who can "tell shit from Shinola", but what you in fact do is call everything shit. You're going to be correct by random chance some times, but so what? I could get the same predictive result by flipping a two-headed coin.

Tony Fisk said...

Also, MP logic was wrongly interpreted:

Witches burn.
Wood burns.
Therefore witches are made of wood.

Wood floats.
Ducks float.
Therefore wood weighs as much as ducks.
Therefore witches weigh as much as ducks.*

The question of whether or not ducks burn was not considered.

Now then, next topic...

(Ha! I am being asked to prove I'm not a robot by typing the number '113'!
Readers of Gunnerkrigg Court would understand the logical inconsistency of this action.)

*Also pays to proof-read logical arguments, hence the re-post.

Greg Ranzoni said...

Hmm, i find it a little more of a coincidence that David posted this blog and within a few hours there was a collection of private celebrity photos leaked.

Anonymous said...

Well, a positive effect of feeling observed is that we behave more honestly, apparently:
https://www.staff.ncl.ac.uk/daniel.nettle/ernestjonesnettlebateson.pdf

Jumper said...

Every time I came up with a great idea in recent years, I would do a patent search on Google and find nothing. A week later someone would have the invention for sale out of Taiwan and patents pending as of a few days after my search. Someone reads those searches. I don't even bother anymore

Paul451 said...

Speaking of "types of privacy": Noah Dyer's experiment has nothing to do with exploring privacy. It's only about exhibitionism. Dyer chooses to expose his life, and has the power to end it when he wishes. That does not in any way reflect the experience of people losing privacy. (Including the people who are forced to participate in his little experiment without consent or control.)

There's a vast chasm between an exhibitionist choosing to stand naked in the street, and a voyeur forcing other people to publicly strip for him. It's pathetic that Dyer can't see that. It's pathetic that he thinks he's the one giving up privacy.

howardbrazee said...

The important piece of openness which we need is to know what our "public servants" are doing. As long as politicians can make their decisions and bosses secret, if and when we finally find out - it's too late.

We're supposed to be their bosses - we need to know what they're doing.

Jumper said...

locum, please locate an exotic 4-sphere for me and falsify the smooth Poincaré conjecture. I really do need the answer, actually.

LarryHart said...

Tony Fisk:

(Ha! I am being asked to prove I'm not a robot by typing the number '113'!
Readers of Gunnerkrigg Court would understand the logical inconsistency of this action.)


I've often wondered what an Asimov-type robot would do when faced with the admonition to "Please prove you're not a robot".

I mean, if he just did what you or I do, which is to type in the letters and numbers we view with our optic sensors, he'd get through just as you and I do. But it would hardly "prove he's not a robot" since he's...y'know...a robot.

If he actually took "Please prove you're not a robot" as a Second Law level command, it might as well say "Solve to the last digit, the value of pi". Or "Lift a rock that is so big even you can't lift it"

So what does an Asimovian robot do when commanded by a human to do something which is not simply difficult, but logically impossible?

LarryHart said...

Jumper:

Did you ever do a search for something ridiculously impractical just to mess with 'em?

Might as well have some fun with it.


LarryHart said...

@Jumper,

That post above was meant as a response to:

Every time I came up with a great idea in recent years, I would do a patent search on Google and find nothing. A week later someone would have the invention for sale out of Taiwan and patents pending as of a few days after my search. Someone reads those searches. I don't even bother anymore.


Sorry.

The response (repeated):

Did you ever do a search for something ridiculously impractical just to mess with 'em?

Might as well have some fun with it.

locumranch said...

David's transparency posts keep getting better, slicker & harder to nitpick, probably as a healthy response to criticism, yet -- by his continued insistence that "All enemies of the WE are lethally allergic to light" -- he continues to indulge in typical 'I am the World' (american) ethnocentricism, for truth be told, the only enemies of the Western Enlightenment who are 'allergic to light' are the "we" who have already 'bought in' to the Western Enlightenment mentality.

World demographics tell this tale well: Of the more than 7 Billion humans on this planet, only about 2 Billion share the Judeo-Christian (aka 'WE') mentality; Islam comes in a close second with slightly less than 2 Billion; and Hinduism (1 Billion strong) comes in a distant third. All & all, the followers of the WE are outnumbered by almost 4 to 1.

World News (esp news of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict) tells the rest of this story: Rather than being 'allergic to light', the Islamic mentality glories in it, believing that their non-western culture (called ‘unenlightened’ by the West) is superior to that of the West by virtue of being less ‘light-allergic’, allowing its followers to boast about their divinely-sanctioned culture of tyranny, deceit, cowardice, enslavement, rape & murder.

And the flaw in the WE mindset?

As evidenced by the puerility of our best & brightest, our flaw is one of Right & Wrong (moral dichotomy), an issue that matters not a whit to the non-western mentality, so much so that many of us continue to waste their time by either indulging in smug moral oneupmanship or fingering their theoretical 4-holes, rather than concerning themselves (ourselves) with the more practical notion of Moral Functionalism.

Functionalism: It created the Enlightenment; it gave us Science & Empiricism; and it built the Ascendant West.

We owe everything good to it.



Best.

LarryHart said...

locumranch:

only about 2 Billion share the Judeo-Christian (aka 'WE') mentality


I think it's a mistake to equate "Judeo-Chritianity" with the Western Enlightenment, when so much of the Enlightenment has to do with getting beyond slavishness to religious doctrine, including our own.


And the flaw in the WE mindset?

As evidenced by the puerility of our best & brightest, our flaw is one of Right & Wrong (moral dichotomy), an issue that matters not a whit to the non-western mentality,...


Islam doesn't concern itself with Right vs Wrong? Us ve Them? Themselves vs the House of War?

I don't get it.

sociotard said...

One for Dr. Brin's reading list:

"What Stays in Vegas": The World of Personal Data—Lifeblood of Big Business—and the End of Privacy as We Know It

Anonymous said...

"In fact, the society of nosy jerks portrayed in The Circle will not happen, because your neighbors would hate it just as much as you hate the thought of it! Eggers's portrayal of his fellow humans and citizens is depressing not because it might come true, but because Eggers and the critics who praise him actually seem to believe (in their sanctimony) that their neighbors would put up with such a world... instead of using transparency and openness to catch the voyeurs and say "hey man! Back off."


Besides, most people just aren't that interesting.

Tom Crowl said...

"the only way we can preserve a little secluded intimacy or confidential sharing may be if we live in a society where most of the people know most of what’s going on, most of the time. Only such openness will stand a chance of deterring snoops and busybodies and peeping toms."

Absolutely true... and interestingly this WAS the condition through most of our evolution!

Hunter-gatherer societies inevitably have (and had) a very different concept of privacy. A small group living in close proximity... and mutually inter-dependent... is composed of individuals who know pretty much everything that everybody does, has and thinks.

Moreover, the inherent egalitarianism in such small groups(perhaps idealized but nevertheless true).. was inevitable because of the active and continuous feedback that made any other division unsustainable.

Was the brief life of the middle-class was similarly a product of increased feedback (unions, Party precinct-workers, etc.)... which collapsed with the rise of Corporate dominated Parties?

Money at its root is a technology for creating chains of decision.... and on a very fundamental level I'm convinced that liquefying transaction (one-click monied advocacy) is necessary in a technological society to avert the narrow dominance of concentrated wealth.

Alex Tolley said...

"the only way we can preserve a little secluded intimacy or confidential sharing may be if we live in a society where most of the people know most of what’s going on, most of the time. Only such openness will stand a chance of deterring snoops and busybodies and peeping toms."

have you ever lived in such a situation where small groups "know" everything about you? Not pleasant in my experience.

An extreme example of snooping is North Korea. No one dares say anything that might get them into a prison camp. What a happy little [transparent] place.

The Transparent Society was published in 1998. 15 years later, we are seeing the actual technology deployed on a wide scale. It is no longer an intellectual exercise. The "inevitability" argument has been pretty much won. What is not clear is where it ends and what society has won and lost. Despite small victories in sousveillance, the hand wringing over the authoritarian use of surveillance is dismissed. The suggested IG oversight is not forthcoming, and is unlikely to work as the ubiquity of snooping and the political dimensions overwhelm any such top down control. There are now so many modes of snooping that what this discussion needs is to address those concrete examples. For example, what should be the policy on "Stingray" snooping on cellphones. Is it "inevitable" that our phones and their content can be spied on, what constraints should there be and what reparations can be extracted easily for illegal use? Snooping with drones is going to be the next big thing after NSA snooping and information transfer to police agencies.

Dr. Brin likes to talk about a "protector class". But what does this expanding class protect us from, and by what means? Have they become a parasite class, creating a self reinforcing situation to feed on?







locumranch said...

Obviously, the job of the Protector Class is to protect us from ourselves, to protect us from a designated other, to promote appropriate behaviour, and to punish those who trespass against appropriateness, the definition of 'appropriateness' being a matter of some debate.

Most of us hope, as David does, that 'appropriateness' will conform to our Judeo-Christian heritage, moderated in part by the so-called 'Golden Rule' but, as membership in the WE amounts to little less than 25% of humanity, it is unlikely that our WE definitions of appropriateness will be shared by a greater world.

And, as differences of opinion tend to exist even in the most cohesive of societies, social fracture is the most likely outcome, followed by balkanization & demonization of the designated other, as different communities institute and selectively enforce different rules for various tribal subsets.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.



Best

Paul451 said...

LarryHart,
Re: "Prove you're not a robot"

IIRC, in Asimov's work, you can order a robot to lie. If "Prove you're not a robot" is taken as an order, it may carry the implicit requirement to lie.

Example, Little Lost Robot. "Prove you're not a robot" seems not much different than "prove you are a different kind of robot" (actually the order was "get lost".)

Liar Liar lied. And Evidence implies that a robot can be built specifically to impersonate a human.

A.F. Rey said...

In case you're interested (since I know you're a fan), FiveThirtyEight has an interview with Randall Munroe, author of xkcd, about his new book, What if?

http://fivethirtyeight.com/datalab/xkcd-randall-munroe-qanda-what-if/

atomsmith said...

So what does an Asimovian robot do when commanded by a human to do something which is not simply difficult, but logically impossible?

There's really no reason it can't detect this situation and just say: "Insufficient moral clarity for meaningful answer."

LarryHart said...

Paul451:

IIRC, in Asimov's work, you can order a robot to lie. If "Prove you're not a robot" is taken as an order, it may carry the implicit requirement to lie.

Example, Little Lost Robot. "Prove you're not a robot" seems not much different than "prove you are a different kind of robot" (actually the order was "get lost".)

Liar Liar lied. And Evidence implies that a robot can be built specifically to impersonate a human.


I'm maybe being too literal, but I see a difference between ordering a robot to "Pass for a human" and "Prove you are not a robot."

The first can be accomplished by lying. The second is a logical impossibility (since the robot is in fact a robot).

LarryHart said...

atomsmith:

So what does an Asimovian robot do when commanded by a human to do something which is not simply difficult, but logically impossible?

There's really no reason it can't detect this situation and just say: "Insufficient moral clarity for meaningful answer."


Maybe there's no reason it can't, but I don't recall any of the Asimov robot stories proposed anything like that response.

I've read most if not all of Asimov's old robot stories, and I don't remember the issue of a human giving a robot a direct order to do something impossible ever coming up. So it just makes me wonder what Asimov himself would have thought of such a connundrum.

One possibility that occurs to me is that a robot would not interpret a logical contradiction as a true command. In other words, as far as a robot's Second Law circuits are concerned "Lift a rock too big for you to lift" or "Prove you're not a robot" would be interpreted the same way "Ga-ga-goo-goo" would be. The robot wouldn't disobey the command, nor would he tie up resources trying (and failing) to do so. It simply wouldn't register as a command.

But I have no idea whether Asimov himself would have gone in that direction.

LarryHart said...

locumranch:

Most of us hope, as David does, that 'appropriateness' will conform to our Judeo-Christian heritage, moderated in part by the so-called 'Golden Rule' but, as membership in the WE amounts to little less than 25% of humanity, it is unlikely that our WE definitions of appropriateness will be shared by a greater world.


I still think you're incorrectly conflating "Western Enlightenment" with "Judeo-Christianity", whereas in fact, radical Christians--the ones who insist that the USA is a "Christian Nation"--can be some of the fiercest Romanticist enemies of the WE.

It's true that the Enlightenment is more associated with nominally Christian countries, but I'd say that in those countries, the Enlightenment is winning over the forces of Christianity, not that the two are interchangeable.



David Brin said...

Alex T said: “have you ever lived in such a situation where small groups "know" everything about you? Not pleasant in my experience.”

Blatantly, Alex, you have neither read The Transparent Society nor anything else I’ve written on this. The societies you refer to were asymmetrical. Allowing Lords, thugs and gossips to bully 99% of our ancestors. I dread this as much as you do! But cowering from the lords et al never worked.

To show the opposite, I recommend you listen to the song “Harper Vally PTA.”

Seriously and truly, I believe you just miss the point.

“An extreme example of snooping is North Korea.” Proves my point. This kind of evasion and argument by non-example is what we regularly get on Fox.


Locum is much better, but still unrelentingly zero sum. He and Alex refuse to notice their OWN reflex to criticize their own civilization’s faults… a reflex we teach to most of our children and that pervades nearly all Hollywood tales. Sure, we got jillions of confromists and fascists anyway. But other jillions are like them.

In between those extremes are a few who understand that self criticism is THE core strength of the WE. It is the thing that makes the WE different and — yes — better. Because anything you complain about might (maybe) be improved and any diversity you complain that WE lack might be incorporated.

It is the multi cellular civilization. The only one that taught guys like you to reflexively despise sentences. like the one previous to this one.

Alex Tolley said...

Blatantly, Alex, you have neither read The Transparent Society nor anything else I’ve written on this. The societies you refer to were asymmetrical. Allowing Lords, thugs and gossips to bully 99% of our ancestors.

As I've said before, I have read TS, but I only recall a fraction of it. That doesn't a priori invalidate my arguments about what you have written since. I also don't need to [re]listen to an amusing song when I have direct experience of living in a small community (a small island, pop. ~ 50,000). Reality trumps fiction.

Contrary to your assertion, I do not see N. Korea as irrelevant. It is a model of what can happen (not will happen - in the US) when coercive and intrusive state power is asymmetric to the population's. It is a real life "1984". Although extreme, it also has it counterparts in much of the globe.

So I ask you again to address current, snooping events. The technology has vastly improved since TS was written and is being deployed today. We no longer need to speculate on outcomes, as we can observe them. For example, IIRC, one assertion in TS was that ubiquitous public surveillance makes us safer. Does the data back this up (X-sectional, not longitudinal)? Who are the watchers (not just the "protector class") and who is watching (and sanctioning) them? Currently we seem to have a variant on Parkinson's Law, i.e. use of military and surveillance technology expands as its potential supply to the authorities increases.As I've said many times before, power asymmetry matters in the social context.

Alex Tolley said...

So is this a "busybody" example of surveillance? Depending on your viewpoint, the outcome was good or bad. Personally I think this was lynch mob behavior and the initial punishment more appropriate. What is the obvious lesson from this - if you are going to do publicly unacceptable things, avoid the public (surveillance) eye. The "inevitable" consequence of ubiquitous surveillance will be to apparently normalize public behavior. As we have seen with countless embarrassing videos, public/private behavior will become widely publicized (an example of "everything leaks"?). Will this improve behavior or just push real emotions to be expressed more surreptitiously? My guess is the latter. Maybe that is all we can hope for. My sense however, is that people will become more attuned to interpreting subtle behavioral cues than they are today, a rather un-US trait. [The parallels between this and how citizens behave in N. Korea are obvious].

Robert said...

Dr. Brin, I'm afraid some of your phrasing is overtly confrontational and dismissive of late. Please, could you try working under the "assume" rule - or in other words, never assume. Argue your points to educate, not chide. Because you risk driving off people who see you as dismissive of the other opinions.

Or to put it another way, you successfully managed to get me to stop looking at the Clinton Presidency with a knee-jerk response. You did this not by dismissing my concerns and talking down to me, but instead challenging me to think, using statistics and facts to back up your point, and letting me do the rest.

If you'd just dismissed me and called me an idiot then I'd not have listened to your perspective on the Clintons and would still consider Mr. Clinton's presidency to be corrupt and full of graft, as per the Fox News line of attack.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Rob thanks for your chiding, which I will need on occasion, given the time pressures -- and testosterone - that militate toward grumpy and swift reactions. I respect you - and Alex - and consider you to be thick skinned peers.

Alex does frustrate me, but seemingly deliberately missing the point. His caricature of his current civilization - as being one or two steps short of North Korea -- is hilariously inaccurate, given that Americans and westerners and even Chinese folks can express themselves more freely than ever and have access to ever-more tools of reciprocal accountability and sousveillance. Yes, the Chinese government is strenuously resisting the trend, but with only mixed results.

I am extremely aware of counter trends that militate toward a return to hierarchical oligarchy... have ANY of you ever seen any public figure rail against those trends, more than I have?

But it is one thing to do Paul Revere. It is another to do Chicken Little. Raving that the sky is falling... without avowing the prodigiously positive counter-trends... is simply unhelpful. It implies we are already in N Korea. Which simply discredits you and your warning.

Alex refused to even consider the meaning of "Harper Valley PTA." And clearly his reading of The Transparent Society was so long ago that he has forgotten the point. (His one sentence summary was - in fact - wrong about the point of the book.)

We all fear a return to the nosy, oppressive villages that 99% of our ancestors lived in. But 1% or so of those villages were great. People cared for each other but respected each others eccentricities. That 1% village is the american dream seen in Andy Hardy movies. But there is only one way we can get it. Only one way to avoid the 99% oppressive villages which I fear AT LEAST as much as Alex does!

If you actually thought about the meaning of Harper Valley... and saw that it is EXACTLY the way we are today... he would not have snarked.

Alex Tolley said...

Alex does frustrate me, but seemingly deliberately missing the point. His caricature of his current civilization - as being one or two steps short of North Korea

How in the world did you understand that from my comment? Let me be absolutely clear. N Korea is a lesson of what can happen in extremis. I thought that was made abundantly clear by my reference to "1984", which no one would have thought England was a couple of steps away from in 1948. Also, the surveillance technology doesn't stop at US borders. There is a big world beyond the US to think about too. I look at other countries as different experiments in what can happen. "What if" scenarios that may, or may not, be possible in the US.

Alex refused to even consider the meaning of "Harper Valley PTA."
AFAICS, looking at the lyrics again, it seems to me the meaning is:
1. Small town values can be very narrow and conformist publicly.
2. People think they have secrets, but they don't.
Living on a small island was bit like that, but without the blatant hypocrisy. But then it wasn't an American island, the hangups were different.


And clearly his reading of The Transparent Society was so long ago that he has forgotten the point. (His one sentence summary was - in fact - wrong about the point of the book.)
Fair enough, although I could swear that was the theme of one of the chapters (not a summary of the book). Faulty memory.

And I still want you to address specific cases :)

David Brin said...

Alex thank you for paraphrasing Harper Valley PTA in order to explore what your understanding was... and yes, by doing so, you bracketed exactly where and what I believe you simply missed, entirely.

The song is not about the oppressive village.

It is about a mom, who is safe and protected by law and armed with reciprocal knowledge and therefore retaliates and "socks it to" the bullies, making her daughter proud enough to sing about her from the rooftops.

That only happens when there is a new, baseline level of confidence in reciprocal accountability, so that warriors for the Good Village can start stomping down the Old Village.

And yes, sorry. I hope this explains it.


----

onward to next blog

Jumper said...

Here
http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/2014/09/snowden-sousveillance-and-social-t-cells.html

Dann F said...

The VALUE of PRIVACY

One aspect of privacy that you may have failed to consider is this. The ONLY right given to the US citizen and others by the US Constitution is the right of protection of Copyright and Patent. {All other rights are declared by the Declaration of Independence to come from Deity.}

That right to exclude others from using the product of our own mind and to prosper therefrom is based on a strong element of privacy. In my way of thinking, that element is the driving force that makes the “positive sum” status of a free world possible.

There are some (too many) who are willing to wait for someone else to make the new and better product or (like you) write the next great American novel. Then they can just buy it or watch it on TV. While there is a strong internal drive to create in many humans (perhaps a little in all), that drive is, like love, insufficient to feed us. That drive certainly can start us down a path to $ucce$$, but it provides little or no protection along the way.

I would ask you this question: Would your publishers pay you if they could publish your work for free, or for half what they pay you now? Or would Amazon succeed without that protection for their authors?

Yet the basis of those valuable mental products is a degree of "Privacy" inferred in the Constitutional protection. For if my files containing the first ten chapters of my book titled "The XXXX, The second half of the Life of XXXXXXXXXX " were made public then anyone with more spare time than I, could just copy them, fill in the gaps, and beat me to a publisher at a lower per word rate than I would ask.

Where would my incentive to continue writing be? Or for that matter, where would the thief's incentive to even finish the work be be, since he would have no privacy and another thief could steal it from her and get to market yet another earlier and another penny cheaper?

Any new product developed by large companies falls in the same category. I have worked for Procter and Gamble and for the Federal Government DOE. What I found was that the security at P&G was much better and much less expensive than that of Nuclear research facilities... all based on Privacy.

Creativity is 95% perspiration -- mostly expelled in Private. The creation itself does not burst forth full grown in an instant. It must be Privately prepared and packaged before going to market. Take away that Privacy and why bother, just toss me the remote?

Jabr said...

"Every time I came up with a great idea in recent years, I would do a patent search on Google and find nothing. A week later someone would have the invention for sale out of Taiwan and patents pending as of a few days after my search."

I've found it often happens even quicker than that. A few weeks after I search for my ideas and find nothing, I try a search with slightly different terms, and lo and behold, I find someone else publishing the same idea, in several cases more than a hundred years ago.