Is Law Enforcement going blind? Or getting X-Ray Vision?
In Going Dark vs. a Golden Age for Surveillance,
Professors Peter Swire and Kenesa Ahmad, discuss the assertion made by
some law enforcement agencies that their ability to see, surveil and
protect us is "going dark" because of some new methods of encrypted
communication that are widely available to non-government entities,
including criminals and terrorists.
This complaint goes back to the Cypher Wars of the 1990s that led to my book: The Transparent Society: Will Technology Make Us Choose Between Privacy and Freedom?
& Ahmad respond by showing that we are, instead, entering a "golden
age of surveillance" in which agencies have access to vastly more
information about everybody, including location data, contacts,
interactions and rapidly searchable databases.
of agency access to information, due to encryption, is more than offset
by surveillance gains from computing and communications technology. In
addition, government encryption regulation harms cybersecurity."
They later add: "The
evidence suggests, furthermore, that the degradation of wiretap
capability has been modest at most, and—at least statistically—wiretaps
have become more useful over time. The number of wiretap orders
implemented in the U.S. has grown steadily the last two decades."
basic conclusion is that there exists no panic-level need to rush to
expand beyond the Patriot Act's already aggressive domain of
permissible surveillance methods and permissions. All correct so far,
Alas though, I might have asked for more from these
scholars. Swire is a friend and one of the best minds around in this
area. Still, he and Ahmad should have at least mentioned two added
Such calm-down missives as theirs will be like failing dikes in a
tsunami, the next time something terrible happens. As I explain on p.206
of The Transparent Society
(the infamous page where I seem to foretell both the 9/11 attacks and
their aftermath) there will be a Ratchet Effect whenever public panic
allows officials to claim "we might have prevented this, if we had
better abilities to see and detect threats." In such an aftermath, those
powers will be granted. And will almost never be withdrawn.
The protective agencies can be expected to continue pressing for better
surveillance methods, both in pursuit of a professional ability to do
their jobs and as a natural outcome of human psychology. They will
never give up because we monkeys need to see and powerful ones won't be
denied. If forbidden, they will simply peer at us surreptitiously.
Robert Heinlein said: "Privacy laws make the spy bugs smaller."
The answer over the long run is not to try futilely to hold back the inevitable ratchet, but to demand a price for every increase in their ability to surveil. That price should be reciprocal accountability, transparency and "sousveillance" - the power of citizens to look back, to supervise their paid guardians, to watch the watchmen and hold them accountable.
are many ways to do this, some venerably traditional and others
innovative, for a new century. All are based on the realization that it
matters less what elites know about us (they will know it all
anyway: elites of government, corporations, money or even criminality)
but rather what they can do to us. Adverse action against
private citizens by potential Big Brothers can best be prevented by
turning the Telescreen so that it peers in both directions. This is the
only proved method; it is the way that we have had the win-win of
modern society so far. It is the only scenario that can possibly
continue to work.
== Dilbert -- too -- misses the point! ==
Adams - creator of the Dilbert series of comic strips about the ironies
and shenanigens of life in business and engineering - has published an
essay, The Privacy Illusion, about the futility of trying to conceal personal information, especially from the government.
far as he goes, Scott Adams is right. It is delusional and futile for
any modern citizen to imagine that the "government" or any other elite
will lack ways of finding out about you anything they want to learn.
His recommendation that we drop silly notions of hiding information
about ourselves is correct... up to a point. Only then, alas, Adams stops! Making
the same error as Swire and Ahmad, he does not continue and thus
completely misses the point. That there is a Part Two... a vital
"therefore let's do what works"... a next step that is behooved upon us
I have to repeat because no one ever seems to absorb it. Yes, the
government (or other elites) will have powers of surveillance to peer at
our lives. But we have a reciprocal power that can prevent the elites
from becoming Big Brothers. At risk of belaboring - the mighty in this
world will know whatever can be known. We can't stop that.
Again, what we can do is influence what they can do to us. That will be affected - above all - by whether the watchmen are being watched.
== Other Transparency-Related Matters ==
I'll get even more repetitious in here! These compiled
potpourri-postings sometimes present material gathered across months,
that then get strung together in an hour. And each time, I would
mention my book! Ah well, sorry about that. Such is our modern age.)
Google released its sixth Transparency Report on
Tuesday, showing what it believes is a clear trend: around the world,
government requests for user data is on the upswing. “From time to time,
we receive falsified court orders ... We do examine the legitimacy of
the documents that we receive, and if we determine that a court order is
false, we will not comply with it.” Google has been issuing semiannual
Transparency Reports showing government requests received by the company
since early 2010.
Eye Am a Camera: Surveillance and Sousveillance in the Glassage:
Professor Steve Mann on transparency and the shifting boundaries
between surveillance and sousveillance in the new age. He predicts:
“Digital Eye Glass will mark the end of McVeillance (surveillance
without sousveillance). As a result, veillance will be two-sided and
that alone will transform society far more profoundly than augmediated
Quad copters have so revolutionized, with
auto-stability systems, that any derp-citizen can fly one right out of
the box... the ARDrone
lets you fly a camera-equipped drone that transmits back home, a real
step toward sousveillance! That's looking at the bright side. The dark
side? Well. Buy two. One to experiment with and one to hide in the
closet, in case they're made illegal.
Names of Infamy: Deny Killers the Notoriety They Seek:
Apparently, my essay on changing the names of heinous mass killers got a
lot of attention. Almost as many viewers in Canada alone as in the
U.S. and a rather large number in Norway. Might we see an effort there
to pass legislation changing (for example) mass killer Brevik's name?
Given the cushy nature of his imprisonment, that might be especially
Blinding or turning off your cell phone camera? A patent application filed by Apple
revealed how the technology would work. If an iPhone were held up and
used to film during a concert infra-red sensors would detect it. These
sensors would then contact the iPhone and automatically disable its
camera function. The method describes the use of new infra-red sensors,
which could theoretically make their way into a future iteration of the
iPhone, to detect if an iPhone was held up during a concert with the
intent to take footage. These sensors would first be able to detect
infra-red light entering the iPhone’s camera lens from the stage, then
shutting off all video recording capabilities. Buy up lots of cheap
and used digital cameras now! Before they are all connectable from afar
and capable of being hijacked by the mighty.
== The power of busybody gossips ==
have spoken before about how the classic form of human governance is a
top-down hierarchy of inherited oligarchy -- some variant of feudalism -
a pyramid-shaped social order in which a few at the top lord it over
the masses and make sure that their sons will rule likewise. It was the
pattern in 99% of human history and nearly always was accompanied by
delusion, bad statecraft and lack of corrective criticism or wisdom.
Still, that pattern is woven into our genes and manifests when millions
who should be loyal to the Great Exception -- our democratic
enlightenment - yearn for fantasy or religious arbiters or "kings."
the real pattern was a bit more complicated than just caste dominating
caste. The rulers had help! First, the lords got assistance from a
clade of priest/wizard/shaman/bard-types who wove incantations or spells or stories to convince the masses that it was GOOD for the lords to rule!
Then came a layer of thugs - brutal men willing to enforce that rule with truncheons, whips and nooses.
Finally, and seldom remembered or portrayed, we had a fourth layer of control over the masses. Busybodies and gossips.
Yes, they could be found in every hamlet of neighborhood. Women or
men whose joy lay in nosiness and whose satisfaction lay in bullying
are familiar with images of Big Brother, surveillance, the KGB and
Gestapo. What folks forget is that the real eyes and ears of every
secret police system consisted of the local biddies and crotchedy farts
who knew everyone's failings, lapses and stories. Who served as the
system's eyes and ears. You think those days are behind us? Have a look at this method being used in China, in service of protecting order during an important Party Congress. It is an ancient method, as I describe in The Transparent Society.
== Let the government use your router? ==
am involved in emergency management from many directions, often
consulting for departments like Homeland Security, DARPA and DTRA. I'm
also a member of CERT
(my local Community Emergency Response Team) and recently upgraded to
California Disaster Corps. So I have great sympathy for the problems
our first responders face, preparing for future calamities. Still,
proposals like this one raise my hackles from a different direction - in
my role as "Mr. Accountability" and author of The Transparent Society.
Will emergency responders (and possibly other agencies) be able to turn a switch and access your home WiFi router ... in a crisis? Should they?
proposals sometimes have a way of raising troubling questions. Case in
point: A team of wireless researchers in Germany proposed a way to
improve the communications abilities of first responders, the brave
people who rush into disastrous situations to help save the victims. But
the proposal hinges on something many private citizens and privacy or
security advocates will likely find uncomfortable: creating an
“emergency switch” that lets government employees disable the security
mechanisms in the wireless routers people have set up in their own
homes. This would allow first responders to use all the routers within
range to enhance the capabilities of the mesh networks that allow them
to communicate with each other.
"The residents’ wireless
traffic would still remain private, in theory. Wireless routers already
support a technology that might make the idea feasible—the creation of
guest networks that home owners can use to grant visitors access to the
Internet..." though this guest status would be remotely switchable
by authorities. All told, it is within reasonable range of possible
compromises, but with one problem....
...these concessions they ask from us should always be matched by concessions that we win from government. Transparency sousveillance
concessions that incrementally increase our ability to supervise and
inspect the authorities, to ensure these powers are never abused.
Where is the NGO or ombundsman or agency that applies pressure in this direction, on our behalf, whenever the ratchet turns?
== Yet more transparency miscellany ==
Want a possibly better telescreen reference? Dig
it. The possibility that camera sensor elements are actually in
between the pixels and thus are indistinguishable to the naked eye even
if the device is dissassembled.
Marc Goodman runs through a list of ways that new technologies can and
do empower criminals, terrorists and bad actors. His TED talk gets a bit scary... till the end when he calls for exactly the sort of openness-based solutions that I recommend in The Transparent Society ... and illustrate vividly in Existence.
No more hiding behind anonymity? YouTube is fighting against idiotic and often nasty/racist/sexist commenters by requesting full names when
you upload or comment on videos. We seem to be caught between a rock
and a hard place. Anonymity protects free speech... and unleashes the
most vicious instincts from truly awful people. Is there any way we
could get to hold onto some accountability and feedback loops that
encourage maturity and decency... while still keeping the most important
benefits of anonymity?
It turns out that I discuss this very
issue in great detail... you know where. Moreover, I describe a
win-win-win scenario. Millions could be made by a new kind of business
offering mediated-pseudonymity. And about half of the idea is right
there, in that cojoined, hyphenated word! (Ah, but the rest... how to
make money at it? There are some cute tricks. ;- .)