Wednesday, November 18, 2015

After Paris, can we be both safe and free?

Of course we are all still quivering, following the attacks in Paris last week that killed 129 people, not so very far from where my wife and I lived for a couple of years, as newlyweds during the 1990s.  Our hearts go out to the brave folk of Liberté, Egalité and Fraternité in la Ville Lumiere.  

Of course, reactions vary and I will start this posting by looking at a couple that stand out.  For example…

Anonymous, a loose-knit international network of activist hackers, is preparing to unleash waves of cyber attacks on Islamic State. A self-described member said in a video."We are going to launch the biggest operation ever against you,” said a man wearing a Guy Fawkes mask, in French.

Well, sure. But see this in a deeper context. We in the West have been raised by Hollywood's most incessant propaganda campaign -- Suspicion of Authority (SoA), which fills almost every film. (With secondary memes of tolerance, diversity and defense of eccentricity. What? You think you invented those values? You suckled them from media, all your life.) 

Our political differences partly revolve around whether we perceive Big Brother coming from faceless corporations or from faceless government bureaucrats. But both wings cite Orwell.

The Anonymous guys rail at both!  Which is fine... till they see our overall, macro SoA civilization under attack by those who don't share the SoA premise at all.  Then it becomes a matter of rallying together, in defense of the overall meme! Which is what Anonymous has declared they are doing by - for example - going after all the ISIS-related Twitter handles.  All right.  Sure. Go for it, guys.

Meanwhile, in another totally predictable effect of the Paris attacks, western intelligence services are pointing fingers of partial blame at the restrictions they face, in gathering and appraising information. We could prevent these things — they claim — if only they were allowed to see better. In this case, they note that they lost track of the particular cabal that perpetrated the Paris travesties some months ago, when the radicals switched over to communicating via PS4 game machines, which are encrypted. (Late note: this PS4 story is now disputed.)

Of course, just as predictably, the geek community has come out, in frantic rebuttal.  More on this, below.

== Why have there been so few soft target attacks? ==

Now here's a side thought that is rather jarring. Clearly there are things going on beyond our gaze. For example --

I remain perpetually perplexed over how few of these terrible crimes have occurred! Our parents from World War Two would be amazed at how some (not all; certainly not Parisians) fly into panic over losses that would constitute an hour’s casualties from that much-larger struggle.  (Note that, as after 9/11, it is republicans who are screeching in panic, unable to stand the idea of even women and children refugees coming to Alabama, while urban Americans - the likely targets - are much more calm.)

That perspective isn’t meant to minimize 9/11 or Paris! Rather, it provokes one to contemplate how rich the West is, in soft targets like these. Millions of soft targets, literally. The glass-half-full rumination is that we have, in fact, been terribly lucky. Or else, better protected than we can imagine. (Are there fans out there of the show “Person of Interest”?)

That thought spurs several more:

1) The intent of Daesh is -- as it was on 9/11 -- to frighten and daunt "decadent and soft westerners" into panic and retreat... or else into electing oppressive paranoids who might clamp down on the eclectic openness that is our strength.  But as Rebecca Solnit points out in one of the most important books of our time -- A Paradise Built in Hell -- average citizens simply aren't wimps. 

If ten or even a hundred times as many soft targets were hit, we'd simply do what our parents did. Adapt. Be resilient, determined... and win.

2) The amazingly low number of successful soft target attacks suggests that the intelligence services either have powerful means that we don’t know about, or else these terror groups are regularly betrayed by decent boys and girls whose conscience speaks louder than hate. I'd put money on both.

== The Return of the Ratchet ==

But let’s get back to the core issue here. Will the Professional Protector Caste (PPC) use this event to argue for back doors through commercial encryption? Of course they will.  Whether or not they actually need them.

Don’t get me wrong. I am friendly to techno-geeks and cyber transcendentalists. The Electronic Frontier Foundation is near the top of my list of heroic NGOs that I urge folks to join, using the modern power of Proxy Activism to protect and extend freedom. (If you are not a member of a dozen activist proxy-NGOs dedicated to saving the world however you want it to be saved, then shame on you.)

To be clear, I share EFF's central concern — that states and corporations are gathering power through ever-enhancing surveillance vision! 

And yet, I keep pointing out that the reflex nerdish prescription — to encrypt everything! — is foolish and doomed from the start. It plays into the plots of would-be Orwellians. Worse, it distracts our paladins-of-freedom from concentrating on methods that can work… we know because they are the only methods that ever worked, in the present and the past.

Among the dozen or so flaws in the Crypto Prescription is simply this — that fell events like the Paris Massacre will happen, and when they do, each event will undermine the public’s sense of adversarial skepticism toward the Protector Caste. 

Predictably -- and possibly sincerely -- that caste will use each event to demand new powers of vision, as they did after 9/11.  And, in what I’ve called the Ratchet Effect, these powers will eventually be granted, and never completely withdrawn, when panic ebbs.

Am I resigned that Big Brother is inevitable, as the only alternative to crime, terror and chaos?  

Dammit no!  That zero sum tradeoff is evil on the face of it.  Indeed, there is a positive sum way to have both security and freedom … to both have protectors who can see well enough to be effective and ensure that they are seen! And supervised well enough to prevent our watch dogs from ever becoming wolves. 

 It is precisely the method that gave us our current freedom… and that is being used as we speak, to apply accountability to authorities on the street. (Cell phone cameras are the technological engine behind #BlackLivesMatter.)

Alas, it seems so obvious.  Use the method that got us our freedom in the first place!  Reciprocal accountability.  

Let civil servants do their jobs, but so well-supervised that their jobs will be all that they do. 

For the life of me, I cannot conceive of why such an obvious thing proves so counter-intuitive to our very brightest. But the very concept seems to skitter -- like mercury -- across the nervous modern mind.


The Retired Journalist said...

So, "the radicals switched over to communicating via PS4 game machines". Wasn't the use of game machines for communications by the freedom fighters a plot element seven or eight years ago in Cory Doctorow's novel 'Little Brother' about teens fighting an overzealous Homeland Security agency?

Laurent Weppe said...

I'm not quivering. And until two years ago I lived near the place were the worst of the slaughter happened.

Daesh killed 130 people in a country of 66 million: they'll run out of kamikaze long before we run out of people: giving the executive branch exceptional powers is a pointless and potentially dangerous exercise: by the time the new measures are implemented, Daesh will have exhausted its resources and manpower and collapsed, like the Khmers Rouges before it, but the repressive tools will remain and our local authoritarians will start inventing excuses to use these to bully unionists, loud dissenters, or journalists who ask too many questions.

Anonymous said...

Excuse me, The Retires Journalist.

That story with the terrorists using the PS4 is not true.
The belgian home secretary spoke about the possibility of that three days before the attacks in Paris happened.
Also, the Forbes-author who wrote it, rectified himself:

“This was actually a mistake that I’ve had to edit and correct,” writer Paul Tassi told me this afternoon. “I misread the minister’s statement, because even though he was specifically saying that PS4 was being used by ISIS to communicate, there is no public list of evidence list of what was found in the specific recent raids. I’ve edited the post to reflect that, and it was more meant to be about discussing why or how groups like ISIS can use consoles. It’s my fault, as I misinterpreted his statement.”


The Retired Journalist said...

Thank you for the update. I appreciate the correction for the sake of accuracy.

Anonymous said...

Information needs to flow :)

I misspelled your name, The Retired Journalist, i beg your pardon for that.

Robert said...

Breaking electronic encryption will not work. A case in point is in the latest Manticore Ascendant books by David Weber, Timothy Zahn, and crew - in which the villain uses an encryption system that is mostly on paper rather than electronic - because if it were electronic, it could be hacked.

So if terrorists use a double encryption, one part electronic and one part paper? You break the electronic encryption and still have a paper one which may be a one-shot deal. It's more work, but it's safer from being broken, in theory. (Naturally, science fiction writers come up with these things!)

Rob H.

A.F. Rey said...

I was listening to NPR the other night, and they were talking to the head of the emergency room of the hospital nearest the rock concert massacre, where they had to handle all of the casualties from that shooting. It sounded like they did a bang-up job (I believe he said the didn't lose a patient who was alive), but one comment particularly struck me.

The head surgeon said that they normally didn't see shooting victims--maybe one.

"One a week" the interviewer clarified.

"No, one a year," he said. "We are not America."

It got me thinking about the current ruckus by the Right about preventing Syrian refugees from entering our country because they are "too dangerous." Some terrorists might infiltrate our nation with them and then kill people, like in Paris.

But considering that, in 2013, over 14,000 people were murdered in this country, over 9000 by firearms, it is hard to believe that the party that blocks any increase in gun registration to keep weapons out of the hands of loonies is really all that concerned about protecting Americans. They find our killing rate quite acceptable in that case.

But if a terrorist were to kill a hundred or so people--increasing our murder rate by maybe 1 percent!--that is worth denying 10,000 people refuge.

I finally realized that these politicians are nothing but a bunch of sniveling cowards, who would rather see 10,000 people suffer than to expose themselves to maybe 1 percent greater chance of dying.

Alfred Differ said...

Let civil servants do their jobs, but so well-supervised that their jobs will be all that they do.

For the life of me, I cannot conceive of why such an obvious thing proves so counter-intuitive to our very brightest. But the very concept seems to skitter -- like mercury -- across the nervous modern mind.

I suspect there is a Belief blocking the mental path. Think about your idiot plot complaints where the social institutions are always portrayed as stupid. Someone who BELIEVES that to be true isn't going to believe the People will supervise the PPC properly. They are more likely to believe that our short attention spans will leave the PPC unsupervised or only occasionally supervised.

It's not easy to believe that social T cells will always be here or that they will be able to draw the attention needed from the rest of our social immune system. It's easier to believe in stupid social traditions when one suckles on SOA.

Alfred Differ said...

@AFRey: They aren't cowards. They simply aren't including those folks within their horizon of inclusion. We all have a boundary between Us and Them. We defend Us. We feel sorry for Them.

A.F. Rey said...

But what would you call someone who would deny safety to someone else to be 1 percent safer? Even if they are one of "them."

That's cowardice to me.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Terrorism is not a real problem - unless we make it into one

Here is an analogy for you guys

We are in a nice house being plagued by a really nasty field mouse – it is getting in and shitting places

Obama is hunting it with pump action shotguns and a flame thrower while holding back the GOP who want to try Tactical Nukes – except for their extremists who want to go straight to Hydrogen bombs

It's our response that could make it a real problem
You could argue that WW1 was caused by a terrorist act

Given that terrorism is an eternal not very serious problem

The main reason for “the rise of Islamism and Muslim extremism” is the way that the USA has been subverting progress and supporting nasty dictators in the ME culminating in the Shrubs stupid war

Climate change has played a part in the severe drought but US interventions in the area have been much much more of a reason

The Arab cultures have actually responded in a relatively quiet way – imagine if you had done that to Scots or Germans

Tony Fisk said...

Of note is how standard it has now become among populations to respond to terrorism by not letting it rule their lives. Of course, it makes the news*, and politicians pontificate about retaliation (oh, and incidentally, cancel big climate marches. Shame about that). The citizens of Paris, however, deliberately elected to return to their standard cafes within a day.

*On Australia's "The Project" Waleed Aly's comments were pretty spot-on.

Zepp Jamieson said...

Why have there been so few "soft targets"?

Answer: There haven't. Such atrocities occur on a daily basis in Syria, in Nigeria, in the Sudan, in Liberia, and dozens of other spots. One Syrian refugee who had just spent 17 days walking across Turkey to Germany turned up at the French consulate to sign the condolences book and told the media "Multiply this times a hundred and make it every week, and you have the situation in Syria."

Alfred Differ said...

@Duncan: Too much blame for the US I think. With a little effort, we could include everyone involved in colonialism. The US is pretty mild comparatively. What W did was stupid, but only with the nation building task he tried to take on.

I agree with you about us making terrorism a bigger problem than it is. My teeth contain the radioactive evidence of above ground testing done during my birth year. This terrorism stuff is peanuts compared to the world war that almost happened shortly after I was born and the cold war that did happen.

Alfred Differ said...

@Zepp: That still isn't many. We expect casualties in a war zone. We don't expect them outside the war zone.

I don't doubt things are bad in Syria and Iraq. Everyone who pays attention knows.

LarryHart said...

Duncan Cairncross:

Given that terrorism is an eternal not very serious problem.

In the aftermath of 9/11, I believe there was one at least subconscious fear that has colored our attitude toward "terrorism" ever since. That is the perceived certainty that some future terrorist attack will involve a live nuclear weapon.

Nothing else seems to justify our response.

Zepp Jamieson said...

@Alfred: That still isn't many. We expect casualties in a war zone. We don't expect them outside the war zone.

Calling it a 'war zone' doesn't mean civilians are no longer soft targets when they are being systematically targeted. ISIS is particularly savage with that tactic, and as I'm sure you know, 'war zone' or not, it's a crime against humanity.

JamesKlock said...

Yeah, as a Chicagoan, I have to admit, I have thought, "130 murders on a Friday night? What's new?"

Of course, what's new is that it's middle-class white people being murdered. When black people die, the US seldom cares.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Alfred

You are quite right - the Brits started making the mess - but the USA has carried on the tradition in fine style!

A nuclear terrorist attack would be appalling - BUT
It's not that likely
(If somebody had treated the Scots or Germans that way it would be much more likely)
The attacks so far have been unsophisticated
And horrible as it is to say it would probably not cause as many casualties as you may expect
Almost certainly less casualties than in the Iraqi war for instance

locumranch said...

In search of a discontinuous narrative, the West has chosen to label what happened in Paris as an unprecedented senseless tragedy when, not 3 years before, it chose to celebrate a number of near identical violent uprisings in the Middle East as an 'Arab Spring'.

Back then, the West chose to call those violent uprisings 'good' (and 'democratising' even) even though they led to bloody revolution & social breakdown. Not so 'good', is it now, when the armed rebellion of the put-upon, marginalised & oppressed spreads to traditional western 'safe-spaces'?

So, preferring illusion over precedent, an inclusive but cowardly West will most likely create a more 'pro-active' Professional Protector Caste, newly empowered to protect each & every one of us from ourselves, until the bloody circle of marginalisation becomes complete, and further revolution is justified.

Good Walls make Good Neighbours.


Deuxglass said...

Speaking from France the restrictions put on the police and on the Justice Department have been very extensive making it quasi-impossible to prevent attacks like this. Just a few weeks ago there was a massive demonstration by members of the police, the biggest since the early ‘80s, against the government’s policy of extreme laxness on applying the laws on the books concerning incarceration of dangerous individuals. Literally when the police arrest someone they are back on the street in a few hours even if they have a long history of violent acts and arrests. It was a conscious act by the Justice Minister not to apply the laws that brought this protest about.

Those restrictions are gone now and in fact has swung 100% in the other direction with the establishment of ”L’Etat’ d’Urgence” of which I spoke earlier. Now the police and the security agencies can arrest and incarcerate anybody at will for as long as they want and without any legal representation whatsoever. The only restriction is that these arrested people cannot be held in camps but I am sure that the interpretation of what is a “camp” is very wide. Thousands have been rounded up and no official figures have been released as to how many or who they are. Essentially the President has full powers over just about everything including the press. You can see it happening now. There is no discussion on TV or radio about what the “L’Etat d’Urgence” means when it comes to liberties of the individual. It is as if everyone has suddenly become extreme right-wing when it comes to security issues and I am sure most people have but nevertheless there should be some people somewhere who have a dissenting view but they are gone from the media, absolutely gone.

“L’Etat d’Urgence” will be in place for three months and will certainly be extended for a much longer time. The President Hollande announced that he wants to change the Constitution in order to in his words "adapt it to the present situation”. Clearly he wants to make some of these powers permanent. Personally I am in favor of the “L’Etat d’Urgence” because there is an extreme danger that warrants exceptional measures but I do know that when things calm down we will have to claw back the liberties we gave up and that it will not be easy.

One thing aside, the Jihadists have before now relied on the western democracies as being societies where rule by law is paramount and that these laws are very slow to change. What they didn’t count one is that in emergency situation, these laws can change suddenly and radically removing their ability to use law as their ally.

Laurent Weppe said...

"Just a few weeks ago there was a massive demonstration by members of the police, the biggest since the early ‘80s, against the government’s policy of extreme laxness"

The cops were not protesting against "laxisme" (the government applies the law to the letter): they were protesting against excessive overtime, short-staffing, and degraded facilities and gear.

For those who aren't familiar with french politics, here's a summary:

Both Chirac in 2002 and Sarkozy in 2007 campaigned on a law & order platform, but once he was in charge Sarko implemented measures that were in complete contradiction with his campaign rhetoric: he:

1. Reduced police personnel
2. Redistributed the remaining cops to cover in priority the affluent neighborhoods at the expense of the blue-collar ones.
3. Ordered the ministry of interior's services to deliberately falsify their statistical studies in order to hide the predictable consequences of his policies.

While sabotaging the work of the police, his administration also:

4. Increased the severity of several custodial sentences in order to look tough on crime
5. While diminishing the resources of the prisons administration (France was already the western european country which spends the less money on prisons, leaving them with reduced and underpaid staffs and obsolete equipment before Sarko was elected, and he worsened the already dire situation)

Once Hollande succeeded Sarkozy, he stopped the hemorrhage of fundings and workforce, but that only stopped an already bad state of affairs from getting worse, and he didn't increase fundings as much as needed because the austerity fetichists who dominated the administrations of most EU member states where breathing down his neck, so the cops eventually started protesting about their cars and computers' state of disrepair and excessive overtime.

But the whole "Taubira and Hollande are soft of crime" bullshit spewed by the inept higher-ups of the Parti des Gosses de Riches and mindlessly repeated by part of the french media and public are little more than barefaced lies: for instance since Hollande became president, prison furloughs have been diminished by 22% (the Sarko administration delivered a lot of furloughs -and increased sentence remissions- to mitigate the risks of prison mutinies risks that had been increased by its own policies -with the increased remissions negating the effect of the heavier sentences-), there's been 228 evasions in 2014 (under Hollande) compared to 343 in 2010 (under Sarko): like the US, the french Left is simply more competent in matters of security (not being dedicated to protect the upper-class at the expense of the Hoi Polloi does help), while the french Right exploits complacent media to bamboozle an inattentive public.

Jumper said...

Do the Kochs Have Their Own Spy Network?

Tim H. said...

A thought occurred to me, but John Scalzi says it better:

Douglas Fenton said...

Laurent Weppe,

As usual you are using disinformation. The movement started when a prisoner who was out on a weekend pass and who decided not to go back shot and gravely wounded a police officer. There was a wave of emotion throughout the police because they see this happening all the time. All of the police unions said THE cause is that when the “police arrest the judges release” making their job impossible. Even the left-wing unions said the same thing. They said this publicly in the papers and on TV. You know that yet you are deliberately twisting it into just a problem over pay. If you want sources then I can give you plenty.

If you love Hollande and Taubira that’s your affair but don’t try to twist the facts especially ones that are so easy to verify.

Howard Brazee said...

Do the powerful *want* us to be free?

When all our wars in my lifetime (born 1951) have failed to accomplish their stated objectives, we have to assume that the stated goals aren't the real goals.

Lorraine said...

That zero sum tradeoff is evil on the face of it. Indeed, there is a positive sum way to have both security and freedom … to both have protectors who can see well enough to be effective and ensure that they are seen!

Another positive sum way to accomplish this is simply crowdsourcing the firehose. The cost to the PPC is loss of classified information to the public domain. The relavant calculus is whether trading some of the intel trade's trade secrets ("sources and methods"?) for vastly increased analytical capabilities means better or worse capabilities when it comes to threat detection, inability for attackers to get away with it, etc. The talking heads with realpolitik resumes who the TV networks love to hire as "security consultants" are on the stump demonizing open source and hacktivist culture and asking for federal veto power over use of encryption by private citizens. That and encouragement of informant culture, civilians being on the lookout for "anything suspicious," etc. One can only reasonably assume their real intention is to engineer a third quadrant society (or whichever quadrant in the 2x2 grid in Transparency Society corresponds to the authorities having decisive informational advantage over the population).

Alfred Differ said...

@Zepp: The ‘life’ of a civilian in a war zone sucks. No doubt about it. What I’m pointing out is that there is less of this recently. It’s been a couple generations since Europeans have engaged in general slaughter of each other. The war zones haven’t gone away completely, but they are smaller and less common. On top of that, civilian deaths outside those zones have gone down a lot too.

I’m all for saving even more people, but we should give our parents a pat on the back for getting us where we are so far and our children the encouragement they need to take it farther. It’s working.

@Duncan: My mother emigrated from London, so I don’t get to duck anything. The best I can offer is we haven’t repeated some of the British mistakes, but I don’t think they would either if given a chance to re-do things.

I suspect that part of our avoidance of certain mistakes is that we came along later AND that we weren’t situated right next to other colonial empires. There are no existential threats on our borders and only one internal power bloc strong enough to push us into civil war and they ‘lost’ long ago.

Alfred Differ said...

Good Walls make Good Neighbours.

Good Marriages turn Good Neighbours into Good Families who should not be divided by walls.

David Brin said...

Clinton's Bosnia campaign was swift, efficient, costing zero US lives and low budgetary impact, yet delivered to Europe its first real peace in 4000 years and vastly increased US popularity, influence and prestige. It ended all Russian talk of "claw back" of the Baltic States. Oh, and it stopped the genocides. Cold.

Although I hate GHWBush (Senior with livid passion for what he did at the end of the first Iraq War, that war did achieve the openly state objective of kicking Saddam out of Kuwait and reducing his regional threat. GHWB's heinously evil betrayal of the Shiite Arabs of Iraq led to a million deaths and drove them into the arms of Iran and created the mess we now see... but the stated objectives (as commanded by the Bush Family's liege lords in Riyadh) was achieved.

Jon S. said...

Mr. Fenton, police unions here in the States have been fervently resisting the idea of body cameras. Supposedly it's out of concern for the privacy of both criminals and victims; however, that doesn't hold up in the face of repeated release of information on criminals and victims when it's in the interest of the union. Instead, it seems more closely related to the so-called "Ferguson effect", in which police are supposed to be afraid to do their jobs for fear someone will record video of them. (Note that there are a large number of individual officers who strongly disagree, my brother among them - they'd love to have a video record of their interactions with the public, in order to disprove any accusations against them. The official union stance is what it is, however.)

Don't count on what union leadership says to necessarily reflect the actual situation, or even the opinions of the union's individual members.

raito said...

I really, really dislike titles like the one we're commenting about. As if Paris somehow changes the question (it doesn't).

My opinion? No, you cannot be both safe and free. Unless you make the other guy unsafe and unfree, and that's wrong. Part of being part of a society requires less freedom, because the other guy gets his, too. We assume that there's a (ahem) positive-sum tradeoff. Unfortunately, but predictably, the overlords of various sorts try to oversell the benefits of tradeoffs that benefit them more than us.

It's really pretty simple. Bad guys don't follow any rules. Good guys do. It's what separates them (leaving aside whether the rules are good or not). This means inherently that the good guys must be superior in some fashion to the bad guys in order to win (and superior can be in sheer numbers).

As far as encryption goes, one-time pads are not generally breakable. But it does require some channel to get the pads to both sides of a communication. And it's a better plan for the bad guys if there's no connection that can be traced.

Alfred Differ,

I'm not raising children. I'm raising adults. It just takes a long time. And I'm trying to raise them such that they will make substantive, positive changes in the world. At this point, I'm just a booster rocket for my DNA and my view of what I want humanity to be.

Jon S. said...

Oh, and as for encryption: The most recent reports indicate that the Paris attacks were coordinated by SMS, a transmission method that can only be called "encrypted" in the loosest possible sense of the word. It's masked by the fact that there are so very many text messages of all sorts, even the Justice League in the comics would never be able to track and interpret them all, much less people in the real world without access to alien supercomputers.

To be sure, our spymasters will indeed claim that with better decryption measures and dangerous backdoors into every system, they could stop all these attacks, but there is absolutely no evidence that this is so, and some evidence that it is not.

David Brin said...

raito WE are disproof of the zero sum thinking you espouse. No people have ever been as safe and no people as free. They rise together and fall together. And we did it while -- unevenly -- helping others to be more safe and free.

Douglas Fenton said...

Jon S,

The police in France are highly unionized and the number of police that protested throughout the country did represent a significant percentage of the total police. All levels were represented from municipal police up to the top levels and all political tendencies were present. The gendarmes did not come because although they do mostly police functions they are officially under the armed forces and therefore do not have the right to join in the demonstrations or be unionized. This time the union heads and the rank-in-file saw eye to eye and support was widespread.

French police have been testing cameras but turning them on is up to the individual. Of course with the “L’Etat d’Urgence” the police are no longer under any obligation at all when it comes to cameras or anything else for that matter. Now if you film a policeman he can confiscate you phone legally and immediately. I take it you are a policeman so I you can understand what you could do if the rules are lifted. As a citizen I know that the need be able to work fast is necessary because of what happened but it should be temporary because excesses will eventually creep in. It is a confusing situation here now.

Anonymous said...

Let's see, let's see, some numbers... 129 from terrorists versus 3,250 in French road deaths (2013). That's, what, an order of magnitude lower? Wake me up when terrorists can actually compete with random road carnage. Meanwhile, America! Terrorists have racked up, in 28 years, January 1985 to May 2013:

3,487 deaths

Car sitters, in contrast, over 1985 through 2012 harvested the bumper crop of:

1,154,995 deaths and free. Now, as a challenge, I could recommend going a decade or two without a car in America. Oh, not up for that challenge? With such a safe and free environment as is America, why not? Don't want to test your luck as a pedestrian on some overbuilt stroad?

LarryHart said...

Duncan Carincross:

A nuclear terrorist attack would be appalling - BUT
It's not that likely
(If somebody had treated the Scots or Germans that way it would be much more likely)
The attacks so far have been unsophisticated
And horrible as it is to say it would probably not cause as many casualties as you may expect...

I'm not arguing against you.

I didn't mean to imply that I am personally shaking in my boots over the possibility of a terrorist with a nuke. But I do think that that possibility is the image that pervaded the national consciousness after 9/11--that if terrorists were determined to do us harm, sooner or later, they'd find a way to do so with a nuclear device. And I think that possibility--and no other--is the reason why "terrorism" became something that had to be fought with every bit of blood and treasure available.

The attacks of 9/11 themselves probably could never be repeated, as the airline passengers would never again just sit by and hope for the best. Hurricane Katrina probably did more actual damage than 9/11 did, but no one fears that the hurricane will learn from its mistakes and try harder the next time. What elevates "terrorists" from petty thugs to Nemesis Of Civilization is the near-certainty that they will eventually wipe out a major metropolitan area with a nuke.

I'm not asserting that this is a rational, justified position. Just trying to explain where (in my opionion) that elevation comes from.

Ted Lemon said...

The lack of more attacks of this sort is easily explained by the simple fact that most people don't want to die. Notice that all the attackers in this case died, as did the attackers in Beirut. Recruiting people who will willingly kill themselves isn't impossible, but it isn't easy either.

I don't _know_ that this is why we have seen so few attacks, but it makes more sense than the alternate narrative: that the surveillance folks have actually prevented thousands of such attacks, but can't show any evidence that they have done so.

It's really attractive to think that some magic Bayesian algorithm will be able to peruse the giant pile of data that the surveillance state is continually producing and identify emergent threats in a timely manner, but if that were so, it would be virtually impossible to defend against. Because of this, there would be no reason to keep it so secret that not a single reliable whisper of such a technique would have surfaced to date.

Do we hear about this from Snowden? No, just the opposite: we hear a tale from Snowden of massive data capture, occasional lucky treasure troves stumbled on that have nothing to do with national security (c.f the Venezuelan oil company communications), massive privacy violations (c.f. LoveINT), and nothing but empty scaremongering from the people whom we would expect to be showing up to congressional hearings well-armed with data to support the success of their programs, if they were in fact successful.

It would be nice if we could simply reject every government program that, in order to succeed at the task for which it is supposedly intended, requires that P=NP. I think that the government mass surveillance program is such a program. It simply doesn't make sense to see this program as actually being intended to identify emergent threats, when there are several perfectly viable alternatives.

The first and most obvious one is simply that it employs a lot of people, and those people, and their managers, want to keep their jobs and expand their fiefdoms. Another reason is that while these programs can't possibly hope to identify emergent threats, they are _great_ for collecting intelligence once a target has been identified. If you want to take down a drug kingpin, mass surveillance has at least some hope of getting you information you couldn't otherwise obtain, even if the kingpin's organization does a fairly reasonable job of information hygiene.

If your argument were that mass surveillance were a good idea because it could be used in this way, I would have some sympathy for that, at least to the extent that drug lords such as the ones operating south of the Texas border in Mexico are brutally murderous and ought to be squashed. Unfortunately we don't seem to see any evidence of real success in squashing them, so again this program doesn't seem to serve _that_ purpose. Indeed, the fact that they continue to operate with relative impunity suggests, again, that mass surveillance really isn't that effective.

What mass surveillance does accomplish, however, is to get regular people who just want things to get a little bit better through perfectly legal and gentle political action to be careful what they say. This is why groups like the ACLU and the EFF are concerned about it. I think they are right to be concerned, and I wish you would show a bit more skepticism. It would be nice to think that our trusted civil servants do not abuse their power to suppress legitimate dissent, but today's news would suggest otherwise.

Ted Lemon said...

BTW, the more charitable, and likely actually true reason why so many people in the deep government think that this program is important is that they actually believe it can work, even though they know it hasn't been effective _yet_. This delusion is understandable: we all want to make the world a better place, and in that sense I think that your willingness to assume that at least most of the people working on this program have our best interests at heart is reasonable, and likely true. If this program were intended to produce a police state in the style of 1984, the situation we would be seeing would be a lot worse than it is.

The problem is that the cost of all this mass surveillance is substantial, and I think that these well-intentioned civil servants really are kidding themselves, believing in an intelligence El Dorado that isn't actually possible, but would be so great if it were. If we could have honest public discussions about these programs, we might be able to identify the pony buried within. But we aren't having any such discussions.

matthew said...

Using encryption does not solve the problems caused by the existence of metadata. The US already admits to using metadata without incriminating content to target "signature strikes."
Encryption is a honeypot. Let the Doctorow's of the world believe that encryption allows untraceable communication. But communication is like a collapsing wave function - the moment you are communicating, you are detectable.
If the US believes from metadata that you are corresponding with a terror group then you WILL be a suspect, even if your correspondence is asking about the weather in Yemen, or the price of wheat in Bulgaria, or what time to meet in WoW for an instance. It matters not.

raito said...

Dr. Brin,

'More safe' and 'more free' are different from 'safe' and 'free'. (Though, yes, 'more' is better than 'less')

Please don't ascribe any zero-sum aspirations on me.

In any case, it may be semantics we're arguing. I certainly agree with you in the statistical case. But in the personal case, there's an awful lot of stuff that people are free to do that reduces my safety if they choose to do them. That they routinely choose to not do them is something, though.

Ted Lemon said...

Matthew, the point of wanting to have encryption is not so that we can avoid NSA surveillance. Get real. The NSA has deep pockets, and good reasons for engaging in surveillance of specific targets. If you become one of those targets, they will probably figure out a way to get your data, because the encryption is, let's face it, _never_ the weakest link.

The problem we have now is that encryption is actually fantastically useful for things like buying TVs online. Put a backdoor in it, and not just the NSA will walk through. AFAIK the NSA doesn't really care about me, but fraudsters do, for the simple reason that I have things that they would like to take from me. And botnet operators do, because the CPU sitting on my desk is valuable to them, as is my network connection. And the personal banking details I may have on my home computer are certainly valuable as well. If I were a young woman, or the boyfriend of a young woman, I might have valuable photographs stored on my computer as well.

So the problem is that when the government argues for back-doors of this sort, what they are really doing is pleading the case of the fraudsters, not their own case. Sure, they might get some incremental benefit from being able to back-door more communications, but the real beneficiaries are criminals. It's sadly ironic to see government security folks pushing a policy that would make most of us _far_ less secure, but that is what they are doing. You are many orders of magnitude more likely to be defrauded than victimized by terrorists.

Paul SB said...

Alfred, I think I get what A.F. Rey means by cowardice. Politicians' careers live & die on PR. Mass shootings & terror attacks garner a whole lot more attention than the average Joe or Josephine dying of a gunshot wound in a domestic quarrel, armed robbery, or as a traffic fatality, especially if they are not ethnically correct for whatever nation you care to look at. Average shootings, murders of any sort, assaults etc. have become so mundane that they no longer activate our collective loss aversion. But a mass shooting attracts huge numbers of cameras & reporters - things that are far more important to most politicians than the cold, hard facts. A leader who stands on cold, hard facts and tries to make changes that might not be popular but genuinely help their constituents is brave. Those more cowardly politicians who always do the predictable thing see them as a threat and will snipe at them constantly, trying to shape the memescape to paint them as fools or dangerous. Although I get what you are saying about spheres of inclusion, I think A.F. Rey has a very good point here.

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

It’s been a couple generations since Europeans have engaged in general slaughter of each other. The war zones haven’t gone away completely, but they are smaller and less common.

When George W Bush was trying to get everyone on board for the Iraq War, his administration ridiculed "old European" countries like France and Germany for being to pacifist. I was horrified at that thought. "You should get down on your knees and praise God that we've lived to see the day when Germany could be considered too pacifist!"

locumranch said...

From an individualist (and/or libertarian) perspective, the very idea of a Permanent Protector Caste (PPC) is conceptually flawed zero-sum proposition, trending towards either authoritarianism (offering the polity the protection they 'should have' instead of the protection they desire) or an aristocracy (the original hereditary PPC), much in the same way that a 'standing army' self-perpetuates as an increasingly belligerent military-industrial complex.

As in the Prisoner's Dilemma, our host also forgets that any 'positive-sum' proposition presumes a mutuality of positive-sum intent, so much so that it takes only one untrustworthy & ill-intentioned participant to turn a potentially 'positive-sum' interaction into a 'zero-sum' dust-up or a 'negative-sum' catastrophe, which is something you should all remember when you decide to celebrate diversity with a would-be martyr wearing a suicide vest.

Good Walls make Good Neighbours out of Bad Neighbours by excluding them; and, in regards to either Good Marriages or Good Families, you better be damn sure to invite the right one in or neither is possible.


LarryHart said...

In "Mending Wall," Frost writes a contemplative poem based on the activity of going out with his neighbor each spring to mend the stone wall that divides their property. Frost himself doesn't really like the wall--he feels it is unnecessary, unfriendly, outdated, and a bit rude to have. However, his neighbor, who seems to be steeped in tradition, says, "Good fences make good neighbors." This is an old saying that seems to imply that you can be better neighbors if there are boundaries; that way, you don't end up fighting over what property is whose. It helps create lines, which eliminates potential conflict.
Frost, however, disagrees. He gives several reasons for this in his poem, but the main reason is that their properties don't really need them.
Trees don't need to be fenced in or out--they don't steal or interfere with anyone, like someone's dog would, if unchained or fenced. He also mentions that sometimes fences are put up to keep the cows in, but, "here there are no cows." They don't have animals to keep in or out, and no property disputes. He also asserts that there is something ominous and unkind in a wall--he says that a wall implies you are keeping something dangerous away, or dangerous in, and that's not very pleasant. In the end, he even compares his wall-loving neighbor to "an old stone-savage," symbolically indicating that keeping walls is a rather savage ritual that is only needed in more dangerous times.

Just sayin'

A.F. Rey said...

Thanks for the kind words, Paul, but I was thinking more in term of threat levels.

The refugees from Syria are, well, refugees. Displaced, owning whatever they can carry, they are just looking for a safe place to live. I saw one analysis that estimated that around 98 percent would be women, children and senior citizens, with only around 2 percent men of fighting age. These are the "threats" that certain conservatives are trying to exclude, even after they are vetted (a process that could take up to 2 years).

And then I looked at the level of violence in our country. Even if one or two terrorists slipped by and did an attack like in Paris, it would hardly be a blip in the number of murders in our country. 129 people would increase our murder rate by maybe 1 percent.

When you consider the threat the refugees pose, you have to ask, what are these conservatives afraid of? Sure, they are "the other," but even being an outside group, what threat are they really?

The answer is, practically none. We would at best be 99% as safe without them, and perhaps even safer.

So what kind of person would exclude them? What kind of person would deny a home to a few thousand of the millions or refugees that have been displaced by the war in Syria? Only those who would jump at shadows.

Their fear is not based on reality. And those who fear illusions, monsters made up in their own minds--well, cowards is actually a kind term for them, don't ya think? :)

Jumper said...

Tit-for-tat only keeps things zero sum when confronted by a very perverse opponent, which we can posit, sure. You could argue that's just normal, not a catastrophe.

Good thinking by raito on the necessary conduits for one-time pad transmissions.

Jumper said...

Damn no edit function; I would have added this. David, you'll want to have a look:
Christianity as international game theory revolution (and other religions).

Also, I want computer safety / privacy from the reckless corporations, mostly. They will talk themselves into believing, for example, "surely our list of identified Jews and their addresses and networks, which we only want for targeted advertisements, can't hurt anything nowadays." And many horrific other examples.

Alfred Differ said...

@raito: That 'they' routinely choose not to do them is actually evidence that bad guys follow rules too. They just don't follow the ones we want them to follow, so there we have a locumranch-style division between us and them, right? The more evil they are, the more variance there is between their rule set and ours.

Raise good adults then. 8)
I'm also using the 'marriage' term very loosely.
As long as the adults involved agree to raise other good adults, that's the point. Sort of a Hapsburg point though their rule set and mine diverge in important ways.

Alfred Differ said...

@A.F.Rey: When you consider the threat the refugees pose, you have to ask, what are these conservatives afraid of? Sure, they are "the other," but even being an outside group, what threat are they really?

The answer is, practically none. We would at best be 99% as safe without them, and perhaps even safer.

Personally, I agree with you. However, when I try on one of their personae I can see the error they would think you are making. What threat are they defending against? Toxic Ideas. Think like a conservative for a moment. They BELIEVE in such things in a way that tends to be immune to evidence and argument. Those who don't believe are considered gullible at best.

David takes a swing at the toxic idea idea in his Transparency book. Neatly done too, but not in a way that convince any Believers.

Alfred Differ said...

@locumranch: Being a bit of a libertarian myself, I'll let you know that the PPC is ideologically flawed but not in the zero-sum sense. There is no doubt that a society can be organized to contain a PPC and still be positive sum. What is objectionable is the permanence of the caste and the coercion monopoly they are expected to own.

locumranch said...

In regards to Larry's cliffnote-based attempt at literary criticism, (first) I concede that walls would be unnecessary in any ideal threatless circumstance, (second) I point out that no such conflict-free ideality exists and (third) I offer in consolation that "We will always have Paris".

To Alfred, I counter that an empowered PPC necessarily implies a disempowered polity (zero sum), whereas any potential conflict between a PPC & its polity is distinctly negative-sum.

To AF Rey, I say that your estimates on immigrant violence are absurd, the equivalent of arguing that the 33,000 (or so) of annual US firearm-related deaths are statistically insignificant once we divide by 400 Million (the total number of US firearms in circulation), giving a relative risk of death by US firearm of LESS than 0.01%.

Remember Paris & Build Walls.


Duncan Cairncross said...

"Remember Paris & Build Walls."

That is right!
Change everybody's life for a tiny tiny danger - while we are at it we should ban all swimming and all horse riding
Both of which kill more people!

Instead of which just grow a pair and stop panicking over tiny risks while ignoring huge ones (the CO2 crisis)

Douglas Fenton said...

Dr. Brin,

You asked “Can we be both safe and free?” and that is the toughest question in the book. The question contains two broad concepts that mean different things to different people. Let’s tackle the concept of freedom first.
Freedom is not one sliding scale. It is a multitude of scales such as in a music mixer in which each track produces a certain specific sound and can be modulated up and down. The resulting mix hopefully produces something that sounds good to the ear and the same thing can be applied to the general concept of freedom in society. In reality it means freedom to do what and by how much for a specific act which would correspond to an individual track in music. Let’s take freedom of speech as an example. In Western democracies this track is jacked way up therefore you can say what you want whenever you want. The Founding Fathers in their wisdom made it so that the most important freedoms were permanently locked in the high up position by writing them in the Constitution. The basic freedoms enshrined in this document are 1) Freedom of Religion 2) Freedom of Speech 3) Freedom of the Press 4) Freedom of Assembly 5) Freedom of Petition 6) The Right to Bear Arms 7)The Right to Equal Justice 8) The Right to Own Private Property. These rights are permanently jacked up near the stops and as long as they are up there then we can say we are free.
Now let’s look at the safe part and define that as freedom from malicious injury or death caused by another party. To do that we have to have agents such as the police and they must have the means to do so as long as these means do not contradict the basic freedoms. These agents use physical tools like guns and so forth but their most valuable weapon is information and they use it much more than the physical instruments. This brings in a very important fact. The Right to Privacy has never been considered one of the basic rights. There are some provisions for it such as in lawyer-client interactions but it has never been considered as a fundamental right even though some people today want to put it up there with the other basic Freedoms. This was not an oversight by the Founders but a deliberate decision not to include it and it is not because the Internet didn’t exist then. They knew well what privacy is and they used it a lot but they also knew from practical experience that the Safety role of government would not be able to function if Privacy became a fundamental Right.

To sum it up I think as long as the basic Rights are ratcheted up near the stops then we can free. To be safer just one area might have to be toned down a bit namely the Right to Equal Justice and only in just the part regarding length of detention when you come down to it. You cannot be free and safe but you can be free and reasonably safe.

LarryHart said...


I offer in consolation that "We will always have Paris".

Has everyone already forgotten 9/11? That was at least a horrific danger from an unexpected direction. Paris? Tragic, of course, but we in the US have mass shootings every few weeks. And usually by people who would not have been kept out by immigration policies.

So sure, let's mourn the dead and exact justice (revenge?) on the perpetrators, and if the world can unite against ISIS as the fictional world did against Holnists, more to the better. But "Paris" as an excuse to turn on immigrants? Puleeeeeze.

David Brin said...

" I counter that an empowered PPC necessarily implies a disempowered polity (zero sum)…"

Of course you do. FOr reasons long mentioned.

raito said...

Let's see if I can write my points better.

'Safety' and 'Freedom' are continua. Therefore, asking 'are we safe/free?' isn't a very good question, unless there's been an established point on the continuum that defines 'safe/free'. And if there was, it's really only 'safe/free enough'.

And while both may have risen and fallen in concert in the past, it's by no means necessary that they do in the future. The dials may only be loosely coupled, but coupled they are. Total and complete safety implies that there's no unpredictability, which implies no freedom. On the other end, complete freedom implies no safety due to complete unpredictability.

Please note that I'm not in favor of either end of that spectrum. I'm completely willing to have more freedom even if it means less safety. At the same time, I'm willing (and really, I have no choice) to have some safety with my loss of (some) freedom (I'll get to that in a bit. It involves society).

I suspect our host is looking at the middle of the dials. That's entirely valid, as that's somewhere near where we are. But it bugs me that that assumption is not made explicit. And in the middle of the dials, the effects of one upon the other are quite minimal. But it's always valid to question the effect something will have on both safety and freedom. Just because the dials affect each other doesn't mean that some action can't twist them both.

One thing that would twist both dials more positive would be the elimination of scarcity. It would at least reduce the problems of some reducing others freedom in order to have 'more'. And it would increase the safety of those who might otherwise be preyed upon for what they have. It would be a considerable bump. But it would not peg both dials.

Why? Because there's always some nitwit who can't get along without feeling like he has to make someone else do something, even when there's really no reason to do so. And that's probably the biggest problem.

So far, humanity's best(?) answer to that is the construct called society. And yes, not all societies are or have been good. What is society? At its base, it's a bunch of limitations on freedom for safety (yes, there's criminal action, but I'm speaking as a whole here). And those limitations (laws, and the rules that are not laws) keep things from breaking down entirely because of the safety that comes from them. Otherwise, no one would put up with it. And yes, I do agree with our host that our current society is measurably better than those previous. But it still trades one for the other.

Alfred Differ,

I understand what you're saying about rule sets, but you misunderstood my point (I may not have written it well).

Incompatible rule sets are a bug in heterogeneous societies. That's why I'm a 'melting pot' guy rather than a 'diversity' guy.

But I wasn't speaking about 'bad guys' when I spoke about choosing. I was more speaking about the fact that my neighbor could punch me in the nose, but chooses not to.

Which rather leads us to a point, doesn't it? How can you make someone choose to not punch you in the nose? There's lots of ways. Having a law might do it, because he fears punishment. Having a gun might do it, because he thinks you'll shoot him if he does. Having a wife who despises violence might do it, because he fears she'll leave if he does it. But the best solution is always internal. The best of the best is that it never enters his mind. The next best is that he thinks of it, but dismisses the thought because it's wrong.

A.F. Rey said...

To AF Rey, I say that your estimates on immigrant violence are absurd, the equivalent of arguing that the 33,000 (or so) of annual US firearm-related deaths are statistically insignificant once we divide by 400 Million (the total number of US firearms in circulation), giving a relative risk of death by US firearm of LESS than 0.01%.

And yet we tolerate these 33,000 deaths (over 9,000 of them murders) without blinking an eye--in fact, fighting tooth and nail to defend our right to own these firearms that contribute to these 33,000 deaths.

Severe restrictions on guns would save far more lives each year than we would risk by letting in these refugees. But just try to get the House to pass a resolution on that!

These refugees are thoroughly vetted, consisting primarily of children, women and old men, and would not cause any significant harm to our country, especially considering how much harm we do to each other as it is. The Republicans refusal to welcome these people in need is from irrational fear of "the other," because they are cowards, allowing their irrational fears to overtake their reason. Any rational analysis of the situation leads to this conclusion.

David Brin said...

ratio what you say is logical, and misguided, because you still buy into the notion of a tradeoff. In fact, our freedom to act and see and criticize is an essential reason that we are more safe.

Yes, the assumption is that we define "freedom" to exclude the harmful deprivation of freedom and safety from others. There may be a few other implicit definition assumptions. But given those, the more we are free to see and detect threats to both freedom and safety, then the more safe and free we become. It is called reciprocal accountability.

Mr Fenton, please break up your comments into paragraphs so that they'll be easy to scan.

In fact, you have a good general point, but you mix several contingent or secondary rights in with primary rights. The founders utterly emphasized those rights -- to know and speak - that if diluted become worthless. They are the rights that enable each generation to redefine the contingent rights -- e.g. property and privacy - to suit their era. And those same primary rights let the next generation argue and decide "our parents made a big mistake!" e.g. Prohibition.

locumranch said...

"Now let’s look at the safe part and define that as freedom from malicious injury or death caused by another party. To do that we have to have agents such as the police and they must have the means to do so". [Douglas_F]

That's Orwellian feudal talk which presumes (1) vassal-tenant homage, submission & service to a designated professional protector class as a precondition to 'freedom' and (2) the body politic's inability to self-protect.

Freedom from what, you ask? Why freedom from FREEDOM (and its scary consequences) because if freedom 'is' the safety of submission, serfdom & mandatory service then it also follows that 'Freedom is Slavery'.

In contrast, genuine freedom presumes self-protection as both an inalienable right & responsibility, hence the 'right' to bear arms, stand alone, self-aggregate into regiments, militias & governments (when circumstance requires greater protections) and, most importantly, the liberty "to alter or to abolish" or to opt-out of such organisations at whim.

As to the growing horde of entitled demanders, we owe them nothing but their liberty. They are free to protect themselves, their families & their nations; they are free to feed themselves, freeze to death, work together or hang separately; but they are NOT entitled to free access to our homes, labour, food & protections:

Only slaves, chattel & children have a 'right' to someone else's protections. At a price.


raito said...

Dr. Brin,

There's always a trade-off when dealing with other people. It's called compromise. It exists because no two people have exactly aligned goals. And it gets worse in groups. As goals align, less compromise is necessary. Hence my belief in the melting pot.

Some of that compromise is certainly good. Having someone choose to turn down their safety dial so that others dials can get turned up is what some do all the time, as an example.

Which brings up another point. We're talking about aggregates here. I'm sure the 'bad guys' want their freedom and safety, too. Unfortunately, their idea is that running up their dials means that all of us have to turn ours down. In my above example, it certainly can be argued that safety has increased for the group, even though it decreased for an individual.

But I begin to see where we differ. I'd rather not have implicit assumptions. And reciprocal accountability only works if the other guy has it, too.

You are most correct that the dials have both positive and negative feedback. But positive feedback doesn't extend to the top of the dial (or peters out as it approaches it). And negative feedback does the same at the bottom. I get the feeling that those functions are pretty complex.

What none of us really knows is how far up we can push both dials, or what the proper mix is. It's not as though I don't believe that they can go higher. But I don't think they can both go all the way to the top, and I don't know how high is high enough. But I'm willing to find out.

Most of the zero-sum people see just one dial, with freedom on one end, and safety on the other. I certainly don't see it that way. But I also slightly come from a control theory background. So then part of the question becomes how much energy has to be added in order to keep the variables where they are? Or move them? And in our present discussion, having to put energy in reduces freedom, so where does that get you?

Alfred Differ said...

@locumranch: I counter that an empowered PPC necessarily implies a disempowered polity (zero sum), whereas any potential conflict between a PPC & its polity is distinctly negative-sum.

Your counter is an assertion. It is the kind of an assertion the mathematician in me recognizes as a universal. Since you are a finite being and can’t know the truth value of your assertion, it’s actually an axiom of your system. It is not an axiom of my system. I can easily imagine counter-examples.

Regarding the negative sum nature of conflict between the PPC and the public, though, I’m inclined to agree with you with one broad exception. Some forms of conflict are actually market style competitions. Those need not be negative sum. Other conflicts tend to be, though.

Douglas Fenton said...

Dr. Brin,

I did break it up into paragraphs but when I pasted it in it got bunched up.

What I attempted to do was to say that the Founders did not include the Right to Privacy because it is the antithesis of Freedom and would undermine it and eventually lead to its downfall. Not having access to information about your leaders would leave the people without a firm basis to judge the character of their leaders which is, in my opinion, should be their most important aspect.

To give an example in France the laws concerning private life are very severe (la vie privée) and are applied strictly and that on the surface seems to be a good thing but when it comes to leaders it can lead to pernicious situations.

Take the example of Dominique Strauss-Kahn who was being carefully groomed by the press to be the next president. Because of the laws his private life was protected meaning that the fact that he was into heavy BDSM could not be revealed to the public. It was an open secret to those in the loop but to the population there were only vague rumors. I for one think that it is important know if the future president is into dressing in black leather and doing I don’t know what to women is a serious character flaw and should be discussed yet under French privacy law you could not do that.

Privacy should not be elevated into a basic right and the Founders saw this danger and did not include it in the Constitution for a good reason because lack of information about who you will vote for will inevitably lead to wrong choices. They also knew that privacy is quasi-impossible then and it is the same today. If person A talks to person B using an intermediary whether a physical person or through an electronic medium, then privacy is impossible to guarantee. This idea is completely in line with what you propose in your transparent society idea Dr. Brin.

This is where I will get a lot of hate responses. To me what Snowden proposes is the opposite of what a free society should be. He wants to make privacy a right and if this “right” is implemented then “freedom” will necessarily decline. The right to privacy is in direct contradiction with the concept of freedom itself. To hide what is important from scrutiny is to eliminate the means of people to judge and to decide for themselves. It is 1984 “double think” equating freedom with restriction thereby replacing freedom with restriction. It is no wonder that he lives in Russia, that great bastion of freedom in the world today.

Alfred Differ said...

@raito: I suspect you are imagining the continua for freedom and safety to be orthogonal. I’m not convinced they are. I suspect they are much closer to parallel. For example, I don’t see how complete freedom can mean no limits on my actions or anyone actions. I am obviously not free if there are no constraints on our actions. I CAN be completely free, though, IF the constraints are voluntary and include limits on our ability to coerce each other.

However, I don’t believe for a moment that we can geometrize these concepts. The space would have to be of very high dimension and rather fractal. I suspect a metaphor description works best. If your neural net is wired and weighted to place ‘them’ close to ‘danger’ while mine isn’t we will see ‘safety’ and ‘freedom’ in different ways too I’ll bet. I suspect we aren’t all that far apart, though, so all we are really doing is describing the metaphor nets we use.

Regarding rule sets, I sincerely doubt you have neighbors that use incompatible ones. We are all human and a proper listing of the rule sets we use would show must of us overlap heavily with each other. There are variances between them, of course, but they aren’t incompatible unless we focus strictly on the variances. When people do that, their communities unravel, but the violence stops as soon as the internal pressure causing the limited focus is relieved. You don’t get punched in the nose by your neighbor until the pressure is there and we’ve become rather good at preventing or diffusing it. There is no single way we do this, yet we do well much of the time. A shared moral code is a good rule set, but it isn’t strictly necessary. I suspect market dependence on each other involving a variety of market types is the minimal need.

In the end, I strongly suspect freedom is necessary for safety, but not the silly individualist definition of freedom. The negative definition (not being coerced) is probably closer to the core need for an individual while the positive definition (no constraints on action) has to be viewed more from the perspectives of family, community, and nation. If I voluntarily accept a rule set that binds me to a community, I’m still free in the negative sense while the community is free to act in the positive sense. There is where we find safety.

Alfred Differ said...

@locumranch:"Now let’s look at the safe part and define that as freedom from malicious injury or death caused by another party. To do that we have to have agents such as the police and they must have the means to do so". [Douglas_F]

That's Orwellian feudal talk which presumes (1) vassal-tenant homage, submission & service to a designated professional protector class as a precondition to 'freedom' and (2) the body politic's inability to self-protect.

You are speaking in universals and axioms again. History certainly agrees with you regarding probabilities, but we have a live counter-example in our society. We have such agents today and they do not have that kind of homage/submission from us. Libertarians are often guilty of stating these universals as axioms, but that does not make them true of the past or the future. What IS true is we should heed our social T cells who point out the probabilities and dangers. The hairs on the back of my neck stand up when we give in too much to the PPC, but I don’t think we’ve lost our liberty yet nor will we in the near future. There are too many people like you who point to the danger.

Douglas Fenton said...

Alfred Differ,

In western democracies the "protector class" is subjected to the "protected class" through laws and oversight and that makes all the difference. Society agrees to the necessity of law enforcement but with the caveat of oversight and possesses the ultimate power of decision. Vassal-tenant homage, submission & service have are not the bases of law enforcement in our society as a whole.

Douglas Fenton said...

Alfred Differ,

I was talking about locunranch's response and not about yours.

Matt G said...

I just came across this, perhaps a component for the Tricorder prize? World’s first pocket spectrometer lets you measure the molecular makeup of nearly anything

Alfred Differ said...

@Douglas Fenton: I suspect you and I largely agree. The only thing I'd add is that the laws and oversight to which we subject the PPC are just the tip of an iceberg. What underlies all that is a voluntary social contract that is largely undocumented. Even without laws that say police officers should be polite to the citizens, we often enforce this upon them anyway in a non-coercive manner. As long as we can do that and occasionally exercise the option, we have a counter-example to locumranch's axiom. He will counter with an argument suggesting the option is illusory, but so are most of our social abstractions. Illusions are real enough if we treat them as such, though. 8)

Politeness is just one example of the underlying iceberg.
It is easy to find more.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Alfred
the PPC are (like everything) across a spectrum
The old British Bobby being an example

Jumper said...

I'm not comfortable with the talk of "protector class." I'm probably old. Too close to WWII when large amounts of "everyone" pitched in. And the old existence of volunteer fire departments, which are going, going, gone. (Although a friend with a recent career in the FD used to roll her eyes about the crap volunteers did, including get themselves and others killed from lack of training, or sense, so she's convinced me.) I see protection as still a group effort of citizens, and the value of police has a lot to do with the uniform, in my mind. Pragmatics. That's the one with the gun who once glance tells you their status.

And as always, freedom=power=money.

And Douglas, where are you getting all this philosophy you attribute to the founders? I'm a fair student of history, and I don't recall a thing about their views on privacy. Citation needed.

Alfred Differ said...

A 'protector' class SHOULD make us uncomfortable. History shows the odds are against us adopting one safely... except for one counter-example where the citizens decided the ultimate protector was themselves and they would contract the role to civil 'servants'. The contract owner must pay attention for obvious reasons, so this counter-example is a tricky thing that we are managing to demonstrate across a few generations and improve it along the way.

Jumper said...

As you've said, Alfred, we all still play a part in being our own protector class, in a thousand small ways that add up. Being a security guard in my student years to pay the bills may have something to do with my views. Still, the meme needs to be "protect and serve" like it's supposed to be.

Alfred Differ said...

Heh. I'm not a big fan of 'protect and serve' on the side of police cars. Servants wind up running the nobleman's house if he doesn't pay attention and protection is really our job. Obviously, police DO protect and serve, but that phrase just tempts me to record what they do whether good or bad. 8)

David likes to call it the PPC, but I like to think of it more like a interface class using a software development metaphor. I can be any kind of person I want, but if I implement the 'protector' interface then I'm that too. The contract we enforce on the PPC is really a contract on the interface.

Jumper said...

My point was "protect and serve" shouldn't be reduced to a slogan painted on a cop car.

Alfred Differ said...

ah. Couldn't agree more. 8)

Lorraine said...

To punish and enslave, then?

David Brin said...

Jumper I am all in favor of deterring institutionalized castes. My use of that term is deliberately cautionary.

Mr. Fenton I agree in many ways. Laws limiting information flow -- and claims "I have a right to restrict what YOU know" -- bear the burden of proof. A steep burden that can be satisfied under some conditions. (I am not a fanatic.) But in general, we will have both freedom and (some) privacy in the future if most people know most of what's going on, most of the time, and elites know there is a good chance what they DO will be watched.

This is the thing that locum does not even remotely start to begin to understand… that PPC civil servants can be supervised and treated as … servant employees. And this does not even require that they give up their ability to keep short term, tactical secrets. So long as a variety of discreet public deputies can do the supervision for us, and so long as secrets decay after say 5 years.

raito I'm still not sure we agree. The core notion is that reciprocal accountability kind of automatically represses nasty behavior.. which can be a BAD thing if nastyness is defined repressively in ways that suppress diversity and eccentricity. But when society's core values ARE diversity and eccentricity? Then it is (perhaps ironically) would-be repressers of diversity and eccentricity who are the nasty ones, least-tolerated. (And yes, lefties try to use this as an excuse to bully others. They too, must be seen for what they are.)


Oily skin is caused by glands that produce too much sebum, resulting in skin that has a greasy slippery texture, appears shiny and is frequently has large, clogged pores. Oily skin types are prone to develop acne, a condition resulting from sebum trapped inside the skin and causing pus-filled lesions known as comedones. Women with oily skin need to adopt a daily method of cleansing to prevent accumulation of dirt on the skin surface.

Douglas Fenton said...


You asked me “where are you getting all this philosophy you attribute to the founders? I'm a fair student of history, and I don't recall a thing about their views on privacy”.

You don’t recall their views on privacy because nowhere is the word “Privacy” mentioned in the Constitution. Even though the right to privacy is only implied in parts of the Constitution an important fact is that the Constitution does set out under which conditions an individual’s “right to privacy” can be invaded and that is in the Fourth Amendment regulating search and seizures. The government can invade your privacy only by proving “just cause” to a judge before and is tied to a specific person and a specific place. When the police do this they are looking for evidence which is just another name for information.

In general very few things can be considered private and the individual is responsible for his own privacy in the Founders eyes. If you negotiate a contract in a restaurant you have just legally given away your right to privacy on that issue for example and the courts recognize it. Have your ever wondered why so much business gets done on the golf course? It is because the golf course is the perfect place to guarantee that your conversation will remain private since the nearest potential eavesdropper is a hundred yards away. The same principle applies to electronic communications. When your email goes through so many servers and intermediaries on the way to its destination, is it reasonable to assume that it can remain private or that can you expect it to remain so?

Jumper I got off track. You asked for sources and here are a few:
:a detailed overview
: made for law students but I found it very clear if you want to have something short

Jumper said...

Hmm. Unfortunately, the Constitutional Convention debates were held in strict privacy.
Thanks for the links and the reminder about the Fourth Amendment. I was just thinking I need a microscope, and here's yet another reason, it's shrunk so in my lifetime.

Paul451 said...

Speaking of pus-filled lesions... hmmm, not the best segue....

You should remove spammers. They are not trying to get us to click the link. It's all about Google scraping the page and very slightly raising the rank of their client's company in Google search results. They are trying to use your page rank to improve theirs. By removing them, early and often, you make it a little harder for them to poison the well.

"Literally when the police arrest someone they are back on the street in a few hours"
Douglas Fenton,
"There was a wave of emotion throughout the police because they see this happening all the time."

No, police don't "see it all the time". All police forces complain about arresting people and "a few hours later they're back on the streets" no matter what kind of tough-on-crime/mandatory-sentencing BS is introduced and no matter how high the prison population gets. Even when the US has around 1% of their population in prisons, their police still make the same complaint.

Douglas Fenton,
"The Right to Privacy has never been considered one of the basic rights."

The Fourth Amendment may not be a capital-R Right of capital-P Privacy, but it's close enough to suggest your oh-so-capital-F Founding Fathers actually did quite consciously choose security from the government over security provided by the government.

And certainly not the "antithesis of (capital-F) Freedom"

"To be safer just one area might have to be toned down a bit namely the Right to Equal Justice"

Toned down?!

"I'm not comfortable with the talk of "protector class." I'm probably old. Too close to WWII when large amounts of "everyone" pitched in. [...] I see protection as still a group effort of citizens"

You'll like Robert Peel's nine principles of policing. It's interesting that the US is meant to be based on the idea of "consent of the governed", but missed the whole idea of "policing by consent".

Paul451 said...

(Comments from the last few threads...)

"mistaking "femininity" for human decency"
"when they denigrate "political correctness", what they are really denigrating is politeness."
David Brin,
"screeching in panic [...] while urban Americans - the likely targets - are much more calm"
"cowardly West"

One of the things I found interesting is that the same people who screech about "feminising" and "homosexualising" our society, by which they mean weakening it, are the same people who react with the most fearful hysteria over... well, everything, but most recently the Paris attacks. "Close the borders", "send 'them' back", "build walls", etc.

These manly men, like Locumranch and Treebeard, and the rightwing commentariat, are actually the biggest hysterical cowards in our society. Their whole culture is driven by fear. Fear of cultural change hurting them, fear of strong women emasculating them, fear of homosexuals tempting them, fear of blacks and latinos replacing them, fear of Muslims replacing them and Jews taking over, fear of Asians in general, fear of their own governments, fear of democracy, fear of their neighbours, etc.

They are the most prone to hysterical conspiracy theories. Whether Obama the secret Muslim, Obama planning to cancel the 2016 elections and become President-for-life like Putin (but he's also weak, remember, unlike Putin), Jade Helm being a military take-over of the South, Sharia law, War On Christmas, War on Christianity... etc etc etc. They likewise respond the most predictably (and hysterically) to sudden unexpected events, from economic failure, to Ebola, to the Paris attacks. "Build walls"... hide, close the borders, build bunkers, buy gold, stockpile weapons.

Paul451 said...


It's fascinating to contrast with the response from the weak, decadent, homosexual, feminised society. Day after the Paris attacks, the decadent left/liberals were going out in deliberate defiance of the attacks. The right were off attacking (literally attacking) law-abiding Muslims.

We all have a tendency to respond to fear-mongering, "are YOUR children at risk?! a story NO concerned parent can AFFORD to miss!", but we seem to get tired of living in fear. We just get on with it. We mostly trust our neighbours, we open the door to strangers, we assume our governments are mostly okay, we trust every single idiot on the road with us to react mostly as we would react. It makes us vulnerable sometimes. Too trusting, too open. But the alternative...

As David noted, the number of attacks in the West actually seems surprising low, given how open our societies are. Even looking at the reputed number of, say, French Muslims who have travelled to Syria to fight for ISIS and then returned to France (around a 1000), the number that participate in terrorist activity is small. And as a percentage of all Muslims in France, the number of terrorists is a rounding-off-error.

But from the Manly Men, Sovereign Men, MGTOW... it's all fear, panic, hysteria....

(I use the term "hysteria" deliberately, aware of the irony of aiming it at those so fearful of women.)

Paul SB said...

I hope this was an example of dark humor (To punish and enslave, then?), but I can see where you are coming from. I have seen the police from a couple different perspectives. My mother worked for the courts for most of her life, so when I was young I knew a fair number of police, judges, lawyers - even a few D.A.'s. The police I knew, and hearing this from my mother who saw them on a daily basis, mostly believed in what was painted on their car doors, though some were more 'into it' than others, and many developed the same kind of increasing cynicism with age as I regularly see in teachers. However, like all people, their brains see things that they expect to see, and sadly our society still tends to see more active melanocytes as indicating a greater likelihood of being a perpetrator than a victim of crime. More often this is an unconscious bias rather than overt, but it adds up to patterns that make it very difficult for many people to trust them.

From the other side, I have been teaching in predominantly minority neighborhoods for a decade and a half, and I can see how that (conscious or unconscious) bias becomes self-fulfilling. Most of the people here don't trust the police, they assume they are all racists and brutal, and that is just as true of the small number of Caucasian people, who grow up surrounded by the others, and having mixed friendships. Young people who feel like they are being oppressed and mistreated tend to lash out, and when it is whole communities that feel oppressed, they build cultures of resistance. Since the oppressors are the enforcers of law, then logically breaking the law becomes resistance, and law-breakers can be seen as heroes by the community. I'm sure if we could summon his ghost, Pontius Pilate could attest to this. Most have the same basic moral senses as anyone else, but feel inclined to resist the police in any little way they can. Then there are the true criminals among them, as there are in any community, who give the rest the bad reputation that make the police more likely to want to crack down. It's a vicious circle.

Douglas Fenton said...


I live in France and I made those comments in relation to "L'Etat d'Urgence" that the government declared and its legal ramifications on things like search and arresting people on suspicion and so forth. In France as opposed to the US people who are arrested get out very quickly because it is the official government policy to keep people out of jail. There is no three-strike law here. The police in France were protesting this policy which makes their job much more difficult and more dangerous.

Paul SB said...

Paul 451,

A month or so ago I showed a National Geographic video to my biology classes called "The Testosterone Factor," mainly to spice up an otherwise dry unit on biochemistry. I'm sure I've probably mentioned it before in this forum. There was a section in there where they did some game theory experiments which demonstrated exactly what you are saying about the kind of people who think of themselves as being "manly." People who are pumped up on high T levels have a strong tendency to think that everything is unfair, to be somewhat paranoid, and to complain whenever the law of society prevents them from bullying others. (And in my experience, a lot of police are pretty high-T, to tie in with my previous post.)

But any person's T level is not a single, God-given value the way most people think of I.Q. (itself a myth). In any individual the level rises and falls with a number of factors, including how much sleep they are getting, how much intercourse, whether they have offspring present, and how successful they are at whatever endeavor they are engaged in (unless you are artificially controlling it through injection - Treebeard said he had about a year ago, but I'm not sure if he was being serious if it was a joke). The problem I have is deciding whether to despise the fools who think so highly of their hormones or to pity the fools, or perhaps both. Either way, though, I think society should start looking at testosterone as something akin to an addiction, in much the same way Dr. Brin suggested in "Existence" for anger-driven dopamine addiction.

Erin Schram said...

Ted Lemon had said,
It's really attractive to think that some magic Bayesian algorithm will be able to peruse the giant pile of data that the surveillance state is continually producing and identify emergent threats in a timely manner, but if that were so, it would be virtually impossible to defend against. Because of this, there would be no reason to keep it so secret that not a single reliable whisper of such a technique would have surfaced to date.

But I like magic Bayesian algorithms!

To clarify, I used to be one of NSA's experts in Bayesian analysis. Rigorous Bayesian algorithms don't apply well to the giant pile of data, due to their heavy memory requirements, but I used Bayesian techniques to measure the effectiveness of the more lightweight algorithms.

And metadata analysis is more robust than cryptanalysis. One whisper that the NSA broke a particular cipher and our target would change it. Hence, such successes are classified above TOP SECRET//SI. Hiding behavior is more difficult, so metadata analysis is classified only as SECRET//SI. Unfortunately, such indirect spying gives no details about the meaning of the behavior. I remember one time a grandmaster intelligence analyst in our organization spotted a known terrorist group engaging in unusual activity. He thought that maybe they were smuggling. No, they were on their way to make an attack on a foreign country. We missed a chance to warn the victim because the clues were too vague.

Yet old-fashioned methods of hiding activities work against modern electronic spying. A classic example that had been declassified is that the U.S. had broken the Japanese diplomatic cipher before the attack on Pearl Harbor and we say the Japanese declaration of war before their embassy formally delivered the declaration to our government. But that secret message did not mention the Japanese war plans, because of the risk of a spy among the embassy staff.

Matthew said,
If the US believes from metadata that you are corresponding with a terror group then you WILL be a suspect, even if your correspondence is asking about the weather in Yemen, or the price of wheat in Bulgaria, or what time to meet in WoW for an instance. It matters not.

Temporarily, yes, that person will be a suspect. Then further investigation will reveal that he was interested only in wheat prices and his or her name will be dropped from the list. Give your Professional Protector Caste some credit for responsible spying.

Finally, on the issue of Security versus Freedom, one director of the NSA, Hayden if I recall correctly, declared that convenience was the opposite of security. That is a much more accurate statement than treating security and freedom as opposed. Ignoring problems is convenient. Taking shortcuts is convenient. Making decisions on unresearched prejudice is convenient. Freedom is not convenient; rather, freedom requires work and vigilance by us citizens. Yet that same vigilance by caring and informed citizens provides safety, too.

We Americans tolerate the security checks at airports because we realize that some inconvenience is necessary for safety. The no-fly lists, on the other hand, steal from freedom. Forbidding good encryption would be convenient for government surveillance organizations, but as Ted Lemon said above, it would remove our security from criminals who want to steal our data for fraud. Blocking Syrian refugees from our country sounds like a convenient policy to keep terrorists out, but it is both making a false assumption about refugees and denying the liberty of a civilized border policy.

Jumper said...

Erin, I think the point was that the wheat prices are coded messages, not harmless chat.

Paul451, thanks much for the Peelian principles. I forwarded it to my congresswoman to use as she deems useful.

Jon S. said...

I do like Person of Interest. The key question, though, and the one that makes it unpalatable for me in real life, is - are we being guarded by the Machine, or by Samaritan?

locumranch said...

Thank you, Erin, for sharing important value-neutral information on the accumulation of metadata, for it is neither the data itself nor the data-associated 'violations of privacy' that are potentially dangerous to public freedoms, but rather an over-reliance on the Karpman Drama Triangle (either persecutor, rescuer or victim) & the misuse of available controlling modalities to short-sighted ends.

What is your opinion of 'armed servants' and/or 'servants with guns' ?

After all, an armed servant class worked out so well for the Romans, their Caesarean public servants & foederati, not to mention so many Hispanic pre-Junta democracies. Most US public servants 'gone postal' offer nothing but respect & magnanimity toward the US polity; our police officers just ooze submission & goodwill toward criminals & other clientele; and we all know that the French PPC would never think of abusing its ”L’Etat’ d’Urgence” to target French Nationals.


Erin Schram said...

locumranch, I had to look up "Karpman drama triangle." I like this forum because it teach me new things. Do you mean it in the sense of the public seeing themselves as victims to be rescued by the government from a potential persecutor that might or might not be a real danger?

The government does offer some rescue services, such a fire departments, Coast Guard, and unemployment compensation. Some governments provide national health care. Likewise, a government army is far less troublesome than private armies. Those are areas where contracting for rescue would be difficult: remember the history of private fire companies arguing about payment before fighting a fire? But in general, the government is better suited for providing a playing field where the rescues can be accomplished by the service of one's choice, such as enabling honest homeowner's insurance. Bureaucracies are better at that than at managing rescues themselves.

As for armed servants, let us use the NSA as an example. The NSA has surveillance power that could be abused. But to NSA employees, there is no reason to abuse the power. (Okay, we had those 12 cases of LoveINT where foolish analysts used NSA capabilities to spy on their foreign girlfriends, but that is a rare circumstance.) The employees are rewarded for answering foreign intelligence questions, and spying on Americans does not provide those answers. The NSA has no law enforcement duties, so it cannot intimidate U.S. citizens with such power. By keeping our powers separate from duties that would invite abuse, we greatly reduce the temptation to bend the law. The NSA stepped past the line of the law in trying to help out and look good after 9/11, so we proved that we are not immune to temptation.

When people create armed servants, giving abuseable power to a group, they need to separate those servants from temptations to abuse the power. David Brin has made a good case for accountability through transparency, where abuses would backfire so quickly that abuse provides no benefit. Separation of powers is another good method well established in the U.S. constitution.

David Brin said...