Friday, October 02, 2015

Surveillance: A Golden Age or Dark Days?

My friend and info-perceptive wiseman Peter Swire, who helped to formulate the post-Snowden NSA reforms issued by the Obama Administration, has a series of articles and white papers of interest to anyone who is serious about the core topic of our era.  First, he writes in Slate on The Golden Age of Surveillance: 

“In recent months, law enforcement, led by FBI Director James Comey, has waged war against the “going dark” problem — criminals using secure communications technologies, particularly encryption, to evade justice. Its solution to this problem is to encourage or require technology companies to build in back doors to allow the government to circumvent, say, encryption on your iPhone. But in reality, we are currently in a golden age of surveillance. The “going dark” argument should not be used as a reason to support back doors or other special access by law enforcement to encrypted communications.”  

I agree … only not in the way that he means.  Swire is speaking of legal and above-board means by which law enforcement agencies and other members of our Professional Protector Caste (PPC) can seek information they need, to do their jobs. Making back door access to encryption keys unnecessary.

 I would add that I never deemed it likely the government needs backdoors in order to see. Or rather, I would take odds that they already exist. The real purpose of such lavish public jeremiads by Comey and others -- demanding physical back doors and crypto keys that they'll never, realistically, be given -- may be to make others think there is a “going dark problem.”  

An unusual theory? Oh but I'm skeptical for good reason, having seen it all before – ever since the whole potemkin struggle over “clipper” in the early 1990s. It is blatantly plausible (and not sci fi) that there's more smoke than fire to this show.

== Back to the Swire Papers ==

Peter dials in even closer when he writes about “the declining half lives of secrets.”  Swire maintains that this time metric “is declining sharply for many intelligence activities as secrets that in the past may have been kept successfully for 25 years or more, are now exposed well before.”  

Cogently, he argues: “(that) means that “the front-page” test will become far more important to decision-makers. Even if a secret operation is initially successful, the expected costs of disclosure become higher as the average time to disclosure decreases.” 

This is a matter that I illustrated long ago, in my 1989 novel EARTH, wherein secrecy caching was seen rightly as a temporary and tactical measure, seldom useful beyond the couple of years that efficient law professionals would need, for legitimate investigations. Peter lays out the argument that intelligence officers and other PPC members need to adapt to this new era, when rapidity of information sharing and appraisal can be much more important than the convenience of locking secrets in boxes. I agree. (Though I have always made allowances for short term Tactical Secrecy.) 

He goes on to cite the decline in lifelong (loyal) employment in the Intelligence Community, which has in turn led to what I call the Henchman/T-cell Effect, in which contractors like Edward Snowden are drawn to violating secrecy strictures less by ideology or money or blackmail or any of the old lures, and more for reasons of either idealism or ego. (Generally some mix of the two.) While most members of the IC-PPC express rage at Edward Snowden, for example, 90%+ of Silicon Valley workers deem him to be a heroic whistle blower.  

“The gap between zero and over 90 percent is a sociological chasm,” says Swire. A chasm that the PPC ignores at great peril.

== The grinding process of reform ==

Peter’s third article may seem a bit self-serving, in which he calls passage of the USA FREEDOM Act, ending bulk collection, the biggest pro-privacy change to U.S. intelligence law since the original enactment of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in 1978. 

To be clear, he was one of five members of President Obama’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technology,  who essentially wrote major aspects of the new reform law.  And while I do deem its work to have been an improvement – for example making the FISA Court less of a star chamber farce by including adversarial processes, at last -- it truly was only the beginning of needed reforms.  

(Noting, of course, that even these partial measures would never have been proposed by a Republican president.) 

What should we do next?  The reforms I'd seek are different from those sought by most privacy activists. Instead of prescribing utterly futile and absurd things like concealment, obfuscation, hiding, or forbidding elites from looking at us, I would emphasize new methods of supervision. Rather than the silly concept of trying blind our PPC, restrictions that will simply be bypassed, then removed the next time there's a scare or panic... let them see, while knowing they are thoroughly seen. 

Methods like IGUS -- the Inspector General of the United States --  would offer us the win-win, allowing our professional protectors to do their jobs while ensuring they are never without independent eyes, scrutinizing their overall behavior. Supervision-sousveillance has a chance of staunching any drift, preventing PPC watchdogs transforming into wolves. 

In contrast, “reforms” that try to forbid our public servants from looking are doomed, over the long run, to be futile, or much, much worse.  

This too is an important read.  Peter Swire is one of those special examples of a fairly common phenomenon – men and women who actually think and know a lot about the public policy issues that they ponder deeply.  I hope he will be a cabinet deputy-secretary soon. And continue to be one of those who listens.

== Transparency Miscellany ==

Another revered friend, Vint Cerf, writes about his latest worry: that a Digital Dark Age might descend for an entirely different reason! Because many of our important records will be inaccessible in the future, because we will no longer have the ability to access the digital media on which it is saved.  And then there’s this: Vint Cerf Wants Your Help Re-Imagining the Internet.

And...  You probably lived under a rock if you haven’t heard that a team of hackers recently released the stolen database of people registered with, the adultery matchup site. The email database alone contains 36 million records. Among those records are 15,019 accounts using either a .mil or .gov email address, listed online... This is going to be interesting!

Call it an IQ sieve for public servants and other "adults."  Those who actually imagined that their participation in such a site would remain secret are probably not up to standards of basic intelligence we need especially in civil or military personnel. On the other hand… apparently did no verification on the signup page. For example, I would imagine (and hope!) that some of those 44 accounts were phony. Phony acounts also seem like a good way to get people you don't like into trouble, if you suspect the list will become public at some point.

And... Keep on eye on this: Increased privatization of border security, with a massive surveillance web consisting of balloons and drones, cameras, motion sensors, biometrics and face recognition systems.

Potentially transformative… and in keeping with my own pleas to emphasize technology as a great equalizer. Campaign Zero, an offshoot of the Black Lives Matter protests, has released their prescription for reducing police violence. It includes a call for body cameras, increased "witness" filming of police activities, and a nationwide implementation of a Colorado state law that allows citizens to sue police departments for confiscating or destroying video evidence. 

Setting an example for innovative, 21st Century technique, investigative journalist Bryan Christy embedded fake elephant tusks with specially designed tracking devices. "China is the biggest consumer of illegal ivory.” Surprise surprise.  Some of you will recall a special, heroic scene about this, in EARTH.


SteveO said...

Self-destructing chips...

I have long wondered if high technology and weapons should have a cryptic self-destruct system. If it gets in the hands of people who mean us harm, some code is broadcast across the planet and it stops working. Difficulties ensue when we consider how to keep the codes out of the hands of crazies, but as they have to broadcast specific codes for each item, they would have to broadcast a very large number of codes across a large area, thus flagging their locations very cleanly.

What I like about this is that it flips a small insurgent's advantage (we don't know where they are) on its head. Easy for us to broadcast the kill code everywhere, and they get nothing from that, whereas if they use the same approach it helps us find them.

Paul Harper said...

Mr Brin seems to have an almost mystical view of the NSA. But the NSA is not made of magic. "Its tools are no different from what we have in our world, it's just better-funded." --Bruce Schneier

David Brin said...

Mr. Harper, it is very courageous of you to openly avow that it "seems" that way to you, given how silly you know that makes you "seem."

BTW no mysticism is required. One has only to look at the lazy, desultory way that the mighty pushed Clipper in the 90s and are pushing the backdoor thing, today. It is all for show. They clearly do not really care. But they know if they mutter a few things the indignant fury the will elicit will mask almost anything.

BTW anyone who quote Bruce Schneier proves he does not have a clue what's happening.

Jumper said...

You're doing it again, David.

David Brin said...

Jumper keep calling me out... though in this case I really think that a snarky use of "silly" may be a minor infraction.

David Burns said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mike Frank said...

Speaking of long term archiving of digitized information.

As you may know, most early movie companies saw no reason to save their films for posterity. In fact many of them knowingly destroyed warehoused films because they didn't want to pay for storage costs.

Walt Disney was different. He actively archived everything and sought to use the best archival methods available so his films could make be shown over and over again to each new generation. The major problem with traditional film stock is that it degenerates over time; colors fade/change and the film stock shrinks and warps. Ok, you can get around this by making new copies every few years or so, but the copying process wasn't accurate and introduced degradations. This meant that even with the most diligent archiving much of the library might be unusable in 100 years.

Along comes the digital revolution. Aha. Disney can make digital copies of everything. After all one's and zero's do not degrade and they can be copied with no errors.


The early video digitizing technologies could not capture all the resolution nor the color gamut of film. Then there was the problem that storage technologies kept changing. Storage mediums were becoming obsolete so fast that a film stored just a handful of years earlier could not be read by today's equipment. For example: can anyone's PC still read 5 1/4 inch floppy disks?

I have been informed that Disney has come up with a simple solution.

They store all their film and soundtracks on archival grade mylar film. This mylar film has been rated to stay stable for at least 100 years. And they go one step further. All color film is broken down into its three primary color components, with color stored on separate film strips. Basically this is the original three-strip technicolor process brought into the modern era.

David Brin said...

We have a commodore 64 that reads 5 1/4 " disks

Alfred Differ said...

The storage medium isn't the only problem.
There is also the issue of storage format.

The solution I use is import and reformat for stuff I want to keep around and keep to myself. Other stuff I have to let go and simply publish it. If others want to preserve it, they will. If not... goodbye.

Alfred Differ said...

With the OPM crack, I'm MUCH less inclined to give ANYONE backdoor crypto access to anything. The people who will actually wind up knowing stuff will be the criminals. Let them work hard to acquire the info they need to do things I don't like. I don't want to help them.

Erin Schram said...

Mr. Harper is correct that the NSA is not made of magic. Instead, Great Britain's GCHQ is made of magic. They have geniuses who are the intellectual heirs of Alan Turing, and they share their marvelous ideas with the NSA. It was fun.

David Brin said,
One has only to look at the lazy, desultory way that the mighty pushed Clipper in the 90s and are pushing the backdoor thing, today. It is all for show.
I was a newly-hired NSA mathematician during the Clipper chip effort. Half the laziness was because the NSA's Never-Say-Anything habit left them inexperienced in selling anything to the public. The other half was that despite our best efforts, we knew the Clipper chip would never be adopted enough to make a difference. The best solution we could design was not good enough.

Back doors cannot be hidden in cryptologic implementations for long. A back door creates a cryptologic weakness, and cryptanalysts know how to spot weaknesses. We should not weaken codes, because as every security expert is currently saying, the damage from ordinary people lacking secure communications is worse than the damage from criminals having secure communications. The Clipper chip was supposed to be resistant because learning the Skipjack algorithm inside it would require reverse engineering the chip itself.

Jumper said...

It just remains asymmetrical, which is an annoyance to me mostly for reasons of fairness. I wouldn't trust a patent search done on Google to remain private, for example. Greedy eyes are watching. Someone with fast legal ability can patent my invention faster than I can just from seeing my initial search.
There's a difference between public key and private key, too. I could manage a very secure system if I could pass keys person-to-person, but I mistrust the absolute reliance we're supposed to have in number theory making factorization of prime multiples out of reach.
Backdoors in chips are not insurmountable until they begin placing hidden radios on them. I realized a while back that floppy disks are a very handy way to maintain security: you can erase them with a magnet.
One's random number generator needs to be robust. I have a feeling NSA has a large catalog of common random number generators and neat mathematical tools to run from such a catalog. The user needs a private generator utilizing custom cellular automata run on random photographs, for instance.
I also realized a while back that the issue of "whom do I really trust" becomes as important as the security of your system.

Tim H. said...

Best bet for reading 5 1/4" disks would be an old PC, Pentium 1 or older, there are utilities to read non-PC disks and the 5 1/4" DS/DD or DS/HD will be back-compatible with older disks. And a quick anecdote, when Time-Warner acquired Atari, the suits decided that the details of the system should be a trade secret, Atarians worked it all out, but it took long enough that the system lost vital momentum in the marketplace, ceding sales to less powerful competitors.

Tim H. said...

Forgot to say that there's a wealth of PC utilities, even for off the wall stuff like reading 8-bit diskettes written by even more antiquated hardware.

locumranch said...

Has anyone else noticed that our host's solution for future shock is more of the same?

(1) If disturbed by irretrievable information loss by the adoption of new technologies, then the solution is the adoption of newer & better technologies.
(2) If threatened by the privacy loss inherent in transparent electronic media, then the solution is more transparency and universal loss of privacy.
(3) If bothered by the transparency-related loss of protected freedoms, then the solution is the transparent abnegation of those protected freedoms.
(4) If vexed by rise of Big Government bureaucracy, then the solution is more bureaucracy, increased oversight from a (hopefully) impartial Inspector General & bigger bureaucracy.
(5) If the locomotive that we call society is racing headlong for an inevitable crack-up, then the solution is more power to the engine, more speed & increased frontal momentum but never the judicious use of the brakes, cautious retreat or conservatism.

This is the mantra of the progressive, hellbent on achieving their idea of nirvana at any cost, first described in 1726 by 'Gulliver's Travels' satirist Jonathan Swift:

"In these colleges the professors contrive new rules and methods of agriculture and building, and new instruments, and tools for all trades and manufactures; whereby, as they undertake, one man shall do the work of ten; a palace may be built in a week, of materials so durable as to last for ever without repairing. All the fruits of the earth shall come to maturity at whatever season we think fit to choose, and increase a hundred fold more than they do at present; with innumerable other happy proposals. The only inconvenience is, that none of these projects are yet brought to perfection; and in the mean time, the whole country lies miserably waste, the houses (infrastructure; environment; climate; global fisheries) in ruins, and the people without food or clothes. By all which, instead of being discouraged, they are fifty times more violently bent upon prosecuting their schemes, driven equally on by hope and despair: that as for himself, being not of an enterprising spirit, he was content to go on in the old forms, to live in the houses his ancestors had built, and act as they did, in every part of life, without innovation: that some few other persons of quality and gentry had done the same, but were looked on with an eye of contempt and ill-will, as enemies to art, ignorant, and ill common-wealth’s men, preferring their own ease and sloth before the general improvement of their country".

It's as if Oppenheimer, upon letting the atomic genie out of its bottle, threw caution to the winds & advocated universal access to nuclear weapons technologies so every individual could apply MAD principles to local & international politics at whim, just as the bomb that is transparency threatens to fracture the polite lies, falsehoods & misrepresentations which form the foundation of human society, leading inevitably to disillusion, ruin, civil war & cultural meltdown.


Jonathan S. said...

I'm so sorry you're terrified of the future, locum. Perhaps you can find a nice Amish family who can take you in.

Mike Frank said...

Yup. We can still read 5 1/4" floppy disks with parts we have lying around the house, or that can be bought on eBay. But that is today.

What happens 100 years from now? Will anyone still have the antique 5 1/4" floopy equipment and will it still work? If it doesn't work will the parts and repair instructions still be available to repair it? If no parts are available can they be made? Will the plans for making them be available?

Then there is the disk format. There were literally dozens of different formatting techniques for floppies, each one unique in one way or another. Yes, there are programs (still available) that can move data from one format to another; I have used them, but will our descendants still have access to these programs and will they be able use them?

There are lots more arguments against storing data digitally as a permanent archive.

If Disney, with nearly unlimited $$$ resources, thinks that today's digital storage methods are not archival, I have a feeling they may be correct.

Mike Frank said...

Then there are the encoders. These keep changing, with newer video and audio encoders being able to store at higher frequency rates, larger dynamic range, higher resolutions, broader color gamuts and fewer digitization artifacts.

Over the course of the last four decades there have literally been dozens of audio and video encoding techniques, technologies and digital formats. Each newer technique has been better than the earlier ones but none so far provide for an absolutely faithful reproduction of the original.

Disk technology such as CD-ROM, DVD and Blu-Ray all have know degradation problems. They too are not good candidates for permanent/archival storage.

Let us not forget that digital media do degrade.

Magnetic tape loses coherence over time. This due to both magnetic loss and physical deterioration. Digital tape becomes unreadable faster than analog, as the natural demagnetization changes the 1's and 0's to, well, nothing.

Our libraries are rushing to archive everything digitally. In many cases they are trashing the original material after the digital transfer.

How vulnerable are we to losing a large portion of our heritage due to changes in technology, human error, human forgetfulness and the vagaries of natural and man-made disasters?

David Brin said...

Blah blah de (strawman) blah blah... and never the guts to offer plausible-pragmatic proposals for positive-assertive actions that might make a better world. Ever. Not even on a dare. Seriously guys help me out here and make the challenge yourselves, from time to time. I'm gonna be very busy the next month.... Thrive all and persevere.

Jumper said...

I would say we're more likely to lose portions of our heritage from those who don't understand the danger of such than from those who do. One example is old newspapers, which are more and more easily altered. Microfilm is one thing, being a fussy medium on actual film, harder to fake. Now it's digital, and any Orwellian malefactors can break into electronic archives and "change the past." Formerly newspapers maintained a "morgue" with sorted actual clippings, slowly yellowing, which served as "certificates" that, yes, this actually ran in the newspaper on a certain date. All that is gone.
Yet if you discuss this with a newspaper person, most will be clueless when you refer to the archive as a "certificate." The same applies to the digital cameras news gatherers have moved to: the film negatives used to be saved, and served as "certificates" that the event captured was really captured.
Other professions, we can thankfully note, have thought about these issues a bit more.

I still think someone, somewhere, should be printing Wikipedia on archival paper and storing it in a cave somewhere...

Duncan Cairncross said...

I think you are worrying too much about digital storage
The price of storage keeps dropping so we tend to buy a lot more each time

The net effect is that each time we upgrade we can store all of our previous information on less than 10% of our new storage

So each new generation of digital storage has the previous generation tucked away in a corner.

If people with "historical data" do the same then the whole issue of storage media becomes moot
Reading the old files should also become trivial as the program to convert to the new standard could also be stored
If you want to access old data you may have to go through multiple iterations but the route should still be available

There will be a lot of old data back from when it was expensive to store information which may have been lost but with storage at $1/Gigabyte we have no excuses for not keeping almost everything

Jon Roth said...

More gerrymandering news:

Mike G in Corvallis said...

Our National Archives and Records Administration and the British National Archives have been working on the problem of loooooong-term storage of records for the past two decades. (I believe NARA has been tasked to store and retrieve all government records for the next two centuries. I doubt that whatever the NSA has is covered by that, though.) There's lots of information on the Web about how to do this, even in the face of continual storage medium and format changes. See "Electronic Records Archives" on Wikipedia for links; "Persistent Object Preservation" is a useful keyword if people want to read up on the problems and solutions. There's a very early overview of the problems at .

Dr. Brin, I believe you've met Reagan Moore, formerly at the San Diego Supercomputer Center and now at the University of North Carolina -- he's one of the big names in the field.

locumranch said...

'More of the Same' is hardly a "plausible-pragmatic proposal for positive-assertive actions". What I am counseling is restraint, the equivalent of frequent measuring before cutting once, rather than rushing to judgment or, more specifically, allowing those decisions to made for us by an increasingly broken, unresponsive & impersonal social-industrial complex, to acknowledge that history tends to repeat itself, especially when previously failed ideas are repackaged as something fresh, to realise that is always acceptable to go backward before proceeding in a novel forward direction, and to recognise that a 'newer' world does not necessarily imply "a better world".


Jumper said...

Alabama will demand voter ID and then closes ID offices in black areas.

TheMadLibrarian said...

I'm in favor of belt-and-suspenders archiving. We keep paper copies of our local paper stored in a climate-controlled room, one of the most complete collections in the state. We also have copies on microfilm, and I would dearly love for us to have it available as a digital, searchable database. It all boils down to what amount of effort and money are people willing to put forth to preserve history, from primary documents down to ephemera like garage-band posters.

Alfred Differ said...

@locumranch: Our host offered a solution for future shock? Where? I don’t see one in his words or even his attitude. Your active imagination is seeing one in his words. He’s talking about something rather different relating to possible threats to our freedom. He proposes an approach to dealing with those threats, but not a solution. It’s more of a framework for solutions we might find through pragmatic experimentation.

You are building straw men.

Regarding your future shock concerns, though, try them on one at a time. Do YOU have a solution to propose for them? It doesn’t have to be all that good or well thought out. Once it is out there, there are plenty of smart people around who can help improve it.

1) Information Loss: So what do we do regarding something that has happened all through our history anyway? My suggestion is “Don’t sweat it.” We are getting better at preserving what we learned and I suspect that will continue. Relax. The more people want to preserve, the more money they will willingly spend on the effort and that cash draws the attention of innovative people. The tech we need might be ‘notyetium’, but we can buy ‘cotsium’ and purchase a time delay in the process.
2) Heh. You should capitalize it. Say it like you mean it. UNIVERSAL LOSS OF PRIVACY! What nonsense. There are no AI’s out there yet, thus the attention a person has is a VERY finite resource. Your privacy will remain intact from the simple effects associated with opportunity costs. If you aren’t worth looking at, no one will bother doing more than a cursory glance. That is the historical norm in large communities. In tiny communities, you are inherently interesting. Since people are moving into cities at about a million a month across the world, the trend is toward your business being of less and less value to an observer. Obviously, software agents change this, but not fundamentally. They are simply cheaper in terms of opportunity costs. They still consume computing cycles like we do. Attention IS FINITE.
3) Transparency related loss of freedom: Okay. This can happen. What do YOU propose? Please don’t tell me you want to blind other people. I’ll just reach for my sharp stick and try to blind you first. Poking people with sharp sticks involves taking their freedom, so I’ll summarily reject that proposal. I’ve read the proposed ideas our host placed in his book almost 20 years ago and don’t think much of them or any of the others by other authors. Crypto-taxes are a nonstarter with me. Surrender to our overlords is even less palatable. Hiding from the civilization that made it possible for me to survive the bug that should have killed me before I was 5 years old or the auto-immune disorder that REALLY should have done the job a couple years ago strikes me as really stupid, so again… nonstarter. If you don’t have a solution, suggest a framework as our host did.
4) Big Government Bugaboo: Heh. In Inevitable Empire complaint. Ah well. We inherited a world of people who don’t seem to mind TOO much that we did. If Europe had managed to avoid self-slaughter, our bureaus would be a lot smaller. They didn’t. We did. The funny thing about this complaint is that your big government faces the same opportunity costs mentioned earlier. If you are interesting, they will bother assigning a rare resource to observe you. Do you WANT to be interesting? The most important ‘maturity’ lesson I learned while growing up is that I wasn’t anywhere NEAR as interesting to others as I thought I was. What a blow! What a relief! So… I’ll admit I’m not interested in your solution. I have no intention of assigning it any attention. Join some of my libertarian friends and learn about dogmatic diversity.
5) OMG! We're all gonna die horribly! Pfft. Fear mongerer. You are accused!

Bullet lists like the one you offered smack of Platonic chains designed to lead the reader by the nose. No thanks. Try telling the stories you usually write. They are more fun.

Zepp Jamieson said...

This is a bit off tangent, but I was reading an article in today's Guardian about how the discovery of water on Mars and various outer system moons might spur exploration ( ), and came across this comment by a reader in the Comment is Free section, and realized it would be a perfect fit for the position of Professor Brin's blog:
" by ZigCOM:

It is just incredible how we, the humans, with all our faults (and they are so many) have such unique capacity to marvel at our universe, ponder over our own origins, look for patterns, put together incredibly complex machines and vessels in our perpetual quest to answer some of the most fundamental questions ever posed: is the pulse of life unique only to our world? Or did it evolve elsewhere too? And if it did, how similar or different is it to us? How do we find it? How can we study it? Will it make us better for it? Or worse? .. One thing's for sure - we are born risk takers. Dreamers, shakers and movers that will hopefully and mercifully find some kind of bearable equilibrium with our own selves ."

Alfred Differ said...

@Locumranch: (Measure frequently / cut once)

Nice idea. Non-starter for me. It makes a huge assumption regarding the existence of a design acting as a social guide. We don’t have one even though many think we do. At best, we have several guides that are those re-packaged ideas of olde. Since we tend not to agree at the macro-scale on which guide to use, you’ll need a plan that enables YOU to use YOUR guide while leaving room for all those other fools to use their own.

We don’t cut once. Ever. We each cut as we choose. The smartest among us DO measure often before cutting, but it’s still a bit of a crapshoot since they are usually using a partially understood guide.

I get your complaint about the faith statements some make about a new world being inherently better. That isn’t necessarily true. It’s a belief that many consider to be justified, but many don’t. So what? Follow your own guide! Cut as you choose. Let others use their own, though, and let them be. They’ll learn soon enough whether they were the fool or you were.

Paul SB said...

Alfred, you must have a lot of time on your hands to spend it answering the same tired old, unchanging Luddite rants. An ego of that size and age is not going to be persuaded by logic, only by tragedy, and likely not even that. Your answers are thoughtful and interesting, but wasted on the willfully ignorant.

Alfred Differ said...

Heh. I don't mind talking to people even if they don't hear what I'm trying to say. It helps me organize my thoughts if nothing else.

I used to teach at the college level, so I learned to deal with students falling asleep on me. It's nothing personal really. If they don't want to know, that's fine. I'll talk to anyone else in the room or even my own mental reflection. 8)

It also helps that I can type at a good clip. I thank my mother occasionally for convincing me to learn young and admit yet again that I should have taken her advice regarding short-hand. It would have saved me grief in classes where I couldn't write notes that were good enough.

David Brin said...

My "plan" is to maximize diversity of competitive-cooperative opportunity so that our five arenas -- markets, democracy, science, courts and sports... and the nascent 6th - the Web -- can do their positive sum thing via the enlightenment's core method... letting competitors discover, point at and cancel out each others' mistakes while allowing good stuff to combine additively - even multiplicitavely - without being repressed by the cheaters who ruined this synergy in every other human society.

Government can play a role in this... as Adam Smith's prescribed cheating prevention system... but we in turn must hold it accountable or it will become a nest of cheaters. But government is an enabler, not a major source of competitive creativity.

" I’ve read the proposed ideas our host placed in his book almost 20 years ago and don’t think much of them or any of the others by other authors."

I'd love to see you paraphrase what you 'didn't think much of.' The core recommendation is general reciprocal accountability and flat-open-fair competition, amid a generally rising civic value system of tolerance, appreciation of diversity and eccentricity.

Attempts to twist THAT into homogenizing and choice-limiting tyranny are hilarious, since it is the exact and diametric opposite. Hence on this occasion I simply shrug off l's pathetic attempts to paraphrase (strawman) my "positions." As usual, he aims his salvo at a construct of his own making.

Still, on this occasion the reason is clear, and reason for empathy. He cannot remotely comprehend even the concept of positive sum interaction systems. Knowing that others can see this color and he cannot is a cause of fear, and fear makes some people scream.

Alfred Differ said...

I see your suggestion for using our markets as more of a framework for plans than a plan by itself. You have your 'modest proposals' in the book and that's a nice feature, but the framework is the gem. What you are doing in the book is a bit like some economists do (I wish more did) when they sketch the constraints within which our markets operate, but say little about what actually works let alone what will actually happen. When you say the cameras will keep getting smaller and there is no stopping them, you describe a constraint on the framework. When you describe how everything leaks, you demonstrate another constraint. Someone taking notes would finish with quite a number of them that match well with what you write about here.

As for paraphrasing, I'm willing. The one I've thought about most recently starts on pg 249 and involves a reasonable suggestion to impose a small penalty for the use of non-financial encryption. The 'tax' discourages its use and is far better than prohibition attempts any student of history will know are doomed to failure. Twenty years ago I might have thought this was a plausible idea, but I think the organized criminals have trashed it quite completely. I don’t really fear the government. Nor do I fear my neighbors knowing lots of things about me. My issue is with the criminals who hijack my assets to do terrible things to other people. I need decent encryption in the basic protocols we use on the internet in order to protect my assets from them. Asking for that isn’t just an extension of the exception you made for financial crypto. Every port on my machine is a door through which they attack me, and if they get through, a way to attack you and those you love. If I don’t demand safe standards for the basic functions we use on the internet, I’m not defending the civilization we’ve built from the criminals. If I have to pay to defend you from my participation in this civilization, I have a disincentive. See the problem?

I get that openness might let us find the criminals, but I have qualms with being so open that they can use my assets in support of human trafficking, terrorism, and certain examples of political speech I don’t support. Avoiding THEIR use of MY property shouldn’t cost me extra. There is no social benefit I can see when they do that, so my ACTUAL incentive would become to run honeypots. That’s a negative sum solution.

Duncan Cairncross said...

"My issue is with the criminals who hijack my assets to do terrible things to other people. I need decent encryption in the basic protocols we use on the internet in order to protect my assets from them."

OK now you have lost me
What "assets" can somebody have on the internet that "criminals can use"???

Please explain

Alfred Differ said...

Your PC, router, and mobile devices.
Eventually your car, fridge, and probably even your toaster.

Alfred Differ said...

...not to mention your home security system, your baby cam, and your smart thermostat.

We are heading toward an internet of things that will mostly operate unsupervised by their owners. We can arrange for Focused individuals to watch all this stuff (shudder) or we can protect it all from being repurposed by those who would harm us. I want both protection (hiding) and equipment that hunts for those trying to repurpose my stuff (openly aggressive). Basically, I think the biological model for diversity of life applies best.

Deuxglass said...


You said

“It's as if Oppenheimer, upon letting the atomic genie out of its bottle, threw caution to the winds & advocated universal access to nuclear weapons technologies so every individual could apply MAD principles to local & international politics at whim, just as the bomb that is transparency threatens to fracture the polite lies, falsehoods & misrepresentations which form the foundation of human society, leading inevitably to disillusion, ruin, civil war & cultural meltdown.”

This is one of the better examples of a strawman argument that I have seen. You take Dr. Brin”s position and you substitute it with your own distorted and exaggerated version and then attack this false representation to prove your point.

The five points you give are the attack on your distorted version that you have created.

1)“If disturbed by irretrievable information loss by the adoption of new technologies, then the solution is the adoption of newer & better technologies “

Although it sounds like something deep in reality it means nothing. You are just stating the obvious in an wordy, pretentious way. My answer to this is “duh” or maybe “no shit, Sherlock”.

2)“If threatened by the privacy loss inherent in transparent electronic media, then the solution is more transparency and universal loss of privacy.”

In this you start the distortion process. You first take something he proposed (then the solution is more transparency) and then tying it to something he never said (universal loss of privacy).

3)"If bothered by the transparency-related loss of protected freedoms, then the solution is the transparent abnegation of those protected freedoms."

The process continues. This is where you exaggerate his position and distort its meaning. The part “transparent abnegation of those protected freedoms” is where you argue that Dr. Brin’s position advocates the renunciation of all freedoms which is something he has never said nor implied and is in total opposition to the force of his position.

4)“If vexed by rise of Big Government bureaucracy, then the solution is more bureaucracy, increased oversight from a (hopefully) impartial Inspector General & bigger bureaucracy.”

Here you took something he said in his post (“Methods like IGUS would offer us the win-win, allowing our professional protectors to do their jobs while ensuring they are never without independent eyes, scrutinizing their overall behavior. Supervision-sousveillance has a chance of staunching any drift, preventing PPC watchdogs transforming into wolves.”) and turned that into claiming his position promotes the creation of a huge new bureaucracy. In reality Br. Brin’s position hinges on citizen groups overseeing Big Government and not on the creation of a new bureaucracy. You cherry-picked to continue your distortion.

5)“If the locomotive that we call society is racing headlong for an inevitable crack-up, then the solution is more power to the engine, more speed & increased frontal momentum but never the judicious use of the brakes, cautious retreat or conservatism.”

You finish with a false analogy hoping to prove your point. Society is nothing like a locomotive and anyone with a bit of brain knows this yet you represent it as a universal truth.

To sum it all up your strawman argument is really quit amateurish. I have seen some that are much more subtle and refined and far more difficult to counter. I suggest you go back to the drawing board and come back with a straw argument that is challenging rather than this pathetic attempt.

Duncan Cairncross said...

My toaster is going to ... do terrible things to other people?

I can understand preventing crims from stealing such things and it is possible that somebody could take over my puny computer resources to send spam - but terrible? Human trafficking? Terrorism?

Jumper said...

locumranch, you simply have chosen the wrong venue for your evangel of pessimism and doom. So far this crucible hasn't caused your dross to be eliminated. Try calcium supplements? I suspect an Applewhite would do better elsewhere, that is if "success at failure ©" is the goal.

Jumper said...

Duncan, I think he means participating in the dark web.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Jumper
I had to google "the dark web"
And I still don't see how my "assets" can be used for nefarious purposes,
Spam and anonymity I can see
But even those are more dependent on malware than on any form of personal encryption

"your home security system, your baby cam, and your smart thermostat"
Anybody who puts any active system on an uncontrolled web is a loony!
My home security - passive camera system
Baby cam - long past that time of life
Smart Thermostat - I have a hydronic system with 50 tonnes of concrete as a thermal flywheel - so my thermostat is exceedingly dumb

Paul SB said...

Duncan, a clever enough hacker can steal financial information, which could then be used to funnel information into organized crime or terrorism (or even the GOP). I have heard some concerns that hackers could get into the operating systems of the up-and-coming self-driving cars and use them as assassination tools. Maybe someone could hack into a substantially automated home and set the toaster to run continuously in the middle of the night, causing a fire. The possibilities are there, even though few may apply to you personally.

TCB said...

Off today's topic, but of interest here:

As you all may have heard, there was another mass shooting, this time at a community college in Oregon. A good trend: the idea of not mentioning the culprit's name, while certainly not universal, is getting real traction.

I listen to an awesome liberal talk-radio station in Asheville, North Carolina, and we really need more than a few such channels to counter the universal coverage of right-wing talk radio BUT I digress... anyway, on the half hour they have a brief headline feed from ABC News, and I noticed that I could listen to both the ABC feed and the talk show in between, which was discussing the incident, and never once heard the perpetrator's name!

Never once! I think the host of the particular program I noticed was Thom Hartmann, and he explicitly refused to mention the name; the feed did likewise; and we have the local sheriff out there expressing the same sentiment.

Good for them.

locumranch said...

Irony abounds in your replies, especially the accusation that I am an 'Old Luddite', as the Luddites were anti-oligarchic UNION men and, as such, were the forefathers of what has become Modern Progressivism, so those of you who condemn my conservative views as Luddism are (in essence) by accusing me of being too progressive.

Alfred then sums up my views succinctly: Of "plausible-pragmatic proposals for positive-assertive actions', our host offers "an approach to dealing with those threats, but not a solution" which consists of (1) 'going with the flow' (how stereotypically Californian!) rather than resisting the technological tide. (2) viewing reality through positive sum rose-coloured glasses and (3) by "maximiz(ing) diversity of competitive-cooperative opportunity (by using bigger government as a) cheating prevention system (which) we in turn must hold it accountable or it will become a nest of cheaters", a very conservative view that amounts to 'more of the same' system that we currently have in the West (a view I agree with, btw), giving rise to even more irony in these discourses.

I am a Luddite insomuch as this: I believe that technology exists to serve man rather than man exists to serve technology, that (either) we must seize the opportunity to harness those new technologies that are harmful to our wellbeing, repudiate them in part and/or entirety or, through (what amounts to) worship, allow them to enslave us as dependent gears in our own machinations.

Again, I give you Oppenheimer's Atom Bomb as the prime example: We (either) repudiate it as the 'Destroyer of Worlds'; we serve it as a fickle, untrustworthy & semi-divine nuclear master (as in Fukushima); or we harness it to take us to the stars (as in Project Orion). The choice is ours, knowing that every (metaphorical) blade we create is double-edged, cutting both ways with the capacity to either free us or enslave us (as in 'kill or cure').

David appears to fall into the Worshipper-Slave class (perhaps, though, as a priest rather than a little person) -- as evidenced by his Internet that becomes Gaia/goddess in 'Earth' -- whereas I prefer Master (first) or Repudiator (second).

David Brin said...

Alfred, the whole purpose of transparency is to allow reciprocal accountability and the principal benefit is catching malefactors. The scenario you presented is based upon the premise that the criminals are concealed behind cypher fog or their own. That is what allows them to commit predation. Removing them from the societal ecosystem is better protection than cyber walls used by the public, of questionable provenance and whose effectiveness they (inherently) cannot verify.

Mind you I am happy to negotiate pragmatic screens for individuals and public use in the real world. I am no nakedness fanatic. I simply know that it is over the long run more effective to concentrate on holding badguys accountable for their actions that crouching behind shields that may be made of paper.

As for IGUS, the Inspector General of the US would be almost completely separate from what we now call “government” with a budget approved ten years at a time and hence not manipulable by Congress or the Administration. And in every mention of IGUS I add “this is not enough! There should also be randomly chosen citizens who get to look under some of the layers and report back to the rest of us.:

One of these days this guy locum refers to as "our host" (as in "our lord?") should speak for himself here. He sounds like a dogmatist, a zero-sum, would-be oppressor and imposer of progressive uniformity and a very unpleasant fellow, who promotes lots of concepts that are diametrically opposite to my own... My suspicion is that he's made of straw, but he is so far away from me that I have to squint at him w-a-a-ay over there!

I think I'm gonna ignore this drool for a while.

Paul451 said...

Re: Hijacked toasters sending spam.

You're about a decade behind. There's a multi-million dollar industry leasing out zombie botnets of hijacked computers. Millions of hijacked computers acting as a distributed super-computer under the hackers' (or their clients') command. Pretty much every major hack, denial-of-service attach, every DNS-server redirect attack, etc etc, uses botnets, including state-sponsored hacking/DDOS. It's not just anonymity, it's power. The more machines they control, the easier it is to brute-force hack into more protected systems, and to scan/attack more computers to add to their network.

(In addition, there's apparently a lucrative trade in computer ransom. When your system is hacked (usually via that zombie-net), they encrypt your files and then send you a message with a price and a method of payment (usually using hijacked bank accounts and international transfers. These days, probably bit-coin plays a role.) So maybe think about how long it's been since you backed-up. ...And how long since you've checked your backups on an independent system, since the crypto system are smart enough not to immediately trigger the shut-down, it seamlessly encrypts and decrypts drives you connect to your computer for awhile before stopping working. You try to restore from backup, oops, you backup drive(s) are also encrypted.)

Once you start putting billions of (inevitably) poorly secured, always connected computers-in-mundane-devices out there, they will inevitably serve as the core of the next generation of zombie botnets.

"Anyone who connects..."

You often don't have a choice any more. You buy a printer, it has wi-fi, even if you plug it in. You buy a camera, it has wi-fi, bluetooth, and seeks out nearby networks automatically (to make things "easier" for you). It will only get worse.

LarryHart said...


Irony abounds in your replies, especially the accusation that I am an 'Old Luddite', as the Luddites were anti-oligarchic UNION men and, as such, were the forefathers of what has become Modern Progressivism, so those of you who condemn my conservative views as Luddism are (in essence) by accusing me of being too progressive.

You may be "liberal" in a sense, valuing human dignity above corporate efficiency, but that's hardly a "progressive" position, as you are attempting to stand athwart history yelling "Stop!", one definition of conservatism.

If anything, you've identified a realm in which progressivism and liberalism are opposed.

Jumper said...

Imagine torrent software such that you receive double encrypted packets, decrypt and re-encrypt it, and pass it along not knowing whose it is or what's in it. In return others do this for yours. Your secure comm happens to be sweet sexy-talk with your girlfriend. The other stuff you're re-transmitting is from heroin smugglers and human traffickers. I don't want to participate, even if I give up the use of this method for my own secure comm.

Duncan Cairncross said...

I just don't buy it

If I wanted to communicate with my criminal gangs around the world the LAST way I would do it is by encrypted computer communications

Think about it - you are relying on your henchmen to be smart and computer literate while sending messages that leave what appears to be everlasting evidence of their passage

There are many ways of sending information that are much more secure and less risky especially if your henchmen are NOT computer wiz kids

Yes there are crimes that computers are used for
Hacking, denial of service, Spam...

Jumper said...

What was the basis of the Silk Road site? I guess plenty were using it, but I'm no expert.

Jumper said...

Here's an alternative to Facebook. It's basically like ProComm used to be, private from everyone except your carrier and certainly not "secure" but at least as far as I know, no long list of corporations have free reign over your routine communications.

Jumper said...

Duncan, carrier pigeons can only go so far. What other methods do you have in mind? I suppose the postal service is an option...

SteveO said...

Duncan, I suppose it is to your credit you don't know!

It is pretty easy to "spoof" the origination point, and only a little more complicated to completely hide both behind anonymizers. Even if they screw that up, while there might be a trail it takes a lot of work to figure out something like where an email started and ended up. For example, communications are broken up into packages which go all over hither and yon to end up at the final place. It doesn't need to be perfectly secure solution, it only needs to be hard enough to track down to allow the bad guys to move in the meantime. There is an unbelievably huge amount of data moving around, soit is the proverbial needle in the haystack problem.

I don't know much about it my own self, but I had a friend who was in the "white hat" hacker biz that passed this along to me.

locumranch said...

Once was the day when the term 'progressive' (aka 'leftism; socialism') coincided with 'liberal' US idealism ( aka 'favouring individual liberty') , but those days are long gone, brought down by a greater than 80 year trend toward institutionalised New Deal social policies, allowing for more irony as US Progressives (Dems) have traded agendas with US Conservatives (GOPs), because it is now the once-conservative GOP which wishes for 'change' and a new social direction, whereas it is now the once-progressive Dems who are made 'resistant to change' (aka 'conservative') by their desire for ever-increasing conformity, 'more of the same' and 'business as usual'.

In part, this explains why US Republican party has fallen into chaos & disarray and why, slowly but surely, it has (and will) become increasingly radicalised, while the US Democrats have (and will) become increasingly inflexible, stodgy & uncreative conformists, the same process being mirrored (yet more advanced) in the EU's incredibly self-destructive & doctrinaire immigration policies, leading to the inevitable rise of the Jackbooted Progressive in both locales.

I would point out, also, that the days of internet encryption are numbered, as the liberal-minded and/or criminal element revert back to analog communication, most likely through the use of untraceable 'burner' cell phones, in a manner most analogous to the internet's 'reCAPTCHA' system.


sociotard said...

So, does a climate scientist weigh more than a duck? Because I hear a witch hunt.

In turnabout, House Republicans say they’ll investigate climate scientist requesting federal investigation

Paul SB said...

Perhaps they will try to build bridges out of them, like the famous Alaskan/Republican bridge to nowhere.

Paul Harper said...

Sorry if I appeared snarky in my initial comment. That was not my intent. As noted in this article, the tone of electronic communication can be lost.

The conclusion I continue to draw from the "Tor Stinks" slide (among others), is that the NSA has limitations on its ability to crack properly implemented encryption and to analyse all the data that it gathers. Inside NSA, Officials Privately Criticise "Collect it All" Surveillance:

The keyword is properly implemented. This is why the NSA and others tend to attack the endpoints or to socially engineer their targets rather than attacking encryption. Plus many, but not all, of their attack tools are just dumbed down gui versions of programs like Metasploit, but designed to be easy enough for an enlisted military person with limited training to use. I am still not seeing any .

Erin Schram's anecdote was interesting and makes a lot of sense.

It has to be said that those Snowden slides were snapshots of the NSA/Five Eyes from several years back now. The Five Eyes are well resourced and have some smart people working for them. They will have moved on since then.

As in the exchange in the recent moderated discussion you had with Ramez Naam and Peter Schwarz, the only evidence I see from your side is "That's just my personal belief..." See exchange after 40:00 - 48 minutes.

This seems out of character for you. I can't imagine you relying on your personal belief on other topics. One of the reasons I read your blog is you usually have good evidence for your views.

I agree that there is an important role for sousveillance for looking back at power.

But I lean to Ramez Naam's view that we should do both.

Finally (in case I come across this way) I would like to state I am not one of the people who think the staff of the NSA and the Five Eyes (or other PPC's) wake up in the morning and think "How can we subvert the US Constitution and the Magna Carta?" Those agencies have played a huge role in preventing nuclear war with their activities related to verification. The PPC's will continue to be able to do targeted surveillance. It is the ineffective and damaging bulk surveillance I take issue with.

My main issue with the PPC's is that they are deliberately undermining the security of the Internet for all, in order to make surveillance convenient. As we move into an Internet of Things this will not be a good thing. So this comment doesn't turn into a novel see Shane Harris: or Peter W. Singer


KB said...

@Paul harper
"It is the ineffective and damaging bulk surveillance I take issue with."

Same, but for different reasons. When I was an analyst, I didn't want all that crap, nor did anyone else in my office. The signal to noise was awful, and not worth diving into a haystack of needles to find one particular needle. The collection you're referring to was stood up in reaction to one use case (9/11), with nary a thought as to how it might help anyone else. (It didn't.)

The sort of oversight Dr. Brin talks about was at an all-time low when I was there, meaning no one ever had to answer for such low efficacy. No one ever had to testify as to why 98% of this data was never touched. The agency only had to answer to politicians demanding Something Be Done, and so it was. Which incidentally accounts for officials' plaintive wails that they were just doing their jobs, however maddening that is to you and me. I would have killed for an IG to hold their feet to the fire on only collecting from a source likely to pay dividends.

"They will have moved on since then. "
You underestimate the degree of factionalism and paralyzing fear an organization of 60K can exhibit. I would point to the recent withdrawal of the CIA from China as an example of prioritizing one's org over its actual mission. I know the absurd money we spend on these agencies suggests it must be reaping some returns, somewhere. . .but I don't think that necessarily follows.

"designed to be easy enough for an enlisted military person with limited training to use."
Now you've gone and hurt my feelings. Seriously though, I had two years of training, and later brought four years of experience to the table when I went civilian. And I was one of the least educated, least qualified in my office. Sorry to nitpick, but it can be irksome when folks bring slightly outdated views of the military to a discussion.

Paul Harper said...

@KB I did say "many, but not all".

I am not dissing military people. It is a case of economics and how long you are going to have the people for. A lot of ex-military people transfer to information security and do well at it because of their mindset as much as their education.

Also a lot of corporate software tools like Core Impact probably don't achieve more than a skilled person with Kali or Burpsuite but they cost a lot more. But they have an easy to use Gui and are point and click.

KB said...

I take your point, and maybe I'm a little too sensitive on that issue sometimes. Sorry to derail a good talk.

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