Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Is Law Enforcement Going Dark? Dilbert’s Dilemma and other Transparency Crises

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?

Swire & 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.

"The loss 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." 
Their 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, and wise.

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 points:

1) 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  And will almost never be withdrawn.

2) 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.

There 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! ==

Scott 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.

As 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 all.

Look, 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 reality itself!”

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 called-for.

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 ==

I 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."

Still, 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 manipulation.

We 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? ==

I 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?

"Well-meaning 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.

Ex-cop 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. ;- .)


Acacia H. said...

Actually, I see a simple solution to the last bit on YouTube. You are allowed to post anonymously. However, your post is instantly flagged and your post does not appear until someone working for YouTube verifies it is not abusive. Furthermore, the verification is tagged so that if someone reports that an anonymous comment is abusive AFTER it was approved, the person who approved it can be tracked down, thus preventing volunteers or employees from letting anonymous friends get around the system.

If you post with your full name? Your post is instantly visible. Of course, if you post something abusive, that also is visible. ;)

Rob H.

rewinn said...

How much would you like to push the #NoLoser concept?
It might be worth doing some of the usual social media things, e.g. FB page. Of course there's on 24 hours in a day.

Alfred Differ said...

I doubt a petition is needed. I've seen open source efforts where someone was motivated to invent a transparent bit of infrastructure we could use for voting, making civic decisions and so on. Each of them flops from a combination of factors, but the usual one in common is a lack of star power when it comes to marketing the notion. When someone intentially puts in the sweat necessary to turn a vision into partial reality it goes a long way toward success. When a seed effort attracts someone with a bit of charisma and a lot of motivation it helps SO much more.

A decent 'No Losers' model should be within the realm of the amateurs who work these open source efforts. So... where is the data for something like this? Who knows how to describe what the CBO currently does in enough detail for a software engineer to tackle the task of documenting it and turning it into coding tasks? Where do we start?

Tim H. said...

The tax code is complicated because the powers-that-be wish it that way, it keeps the riff-raff in their place. A large entity can better cope with byzantine regulations, and their presence is an additional hurdle any would-be competitor must first overcome. In case anyone's wondering why the GOP seldom "Walks the walk" when it comes to deregulation.

Carl M. said...

Speaking of Dilbert, the October 7 Dilbert riffs off what you have been saying about getting high on opinions.


David Brin said...

The Hash tag we set up is #NoLosersTax

Let me know if it works.

TimH. The dems have done a few deregulatory actions worthy of note. The ICC. The CAB. And the Internet.

David Brin said...

Science weeps! Look at not one or two GOP radicals on the House science committee, but a dozen.



Prakash said...

About pseudo-anonymity, bitcoin is already pseudo-anonymous. One could ask commentors to deposit an amount in an escrow account where they would be kept unless and until the comment was flagged as abusive. If a certain period passes and the comment is not flagged as abusive, it returns the amount to the bitcoin address it came from.

matthew said...

The problem with incremental souveillance as part of a back and fourth bargining process is there is no major organized party at the bargining table that wants anything other than increased government power to surveil. There is a small minority from each party that care enough about oversight to try to bargin, but they do not have the votes to do any real dealmaking. It will take a Watergate-style scandal and associated commission to set souveillance into law as part of a bargin.
I'm not saying we shouldn't push for it, I'm just saying that our voices will not be heard until there is a major scandal or three.

Paul451 said...

And the world just got a little more icky. The puppeteer behind Elmo (so to speak) has resigned after being accused of rogering young boys.

Paul451 said...

(Second attempt to post. Oh Captain McSpammy up there is fine. But criticise Google...)

"YouTube is fighting against idiotic and often nasty/racist/sexist commenters by requesting full names when you upload or comment on videos."

No, YouTube is requesting realistic sounding names. This provides the illusion of security, only inconveniencing people who aren't doing anything wrong but don't fit into the rules of the system.

Is YouTube commenter "David Brin" the David Brin, a Dave Brin, a David Brin fan, or a David Brin hoax? YouTube doesn't care.

Paul451 said...

"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?"

Reputation doesn't require IRL names. It just requires... reputation. Something that matters to you. Slashdot has its "Karma" system, and "meta-karma" to oversee that. There are plenty of simple ideas that have been developed for user rating systems. But it seems that the Facebook generation is addicted to mindlessly clicking "Like" buttons, and developers don't want to go further than that. YouTube/Google certainly has the resources to create a simple karma/meta-karma system.

And the capacity (and the userbase) to adopt other crowd-sourcing options, such as multi-level reporting/filtering/ranking. A large number of low-ranking comment-raters; with actionable ratings being referred to the next tier of more trusted users who can delete spam/abuse; reviewed at random by a third tier of "admins" who have a much more sophisticated self-ranking system. All unpaid volunteers, all pseudonymous. Little cost to develop, no cost to run, and it builds more community.

Acacia H. said...

Technically, Anonymity is a product of laziness. If I have to go through hoops to join an internet forum, then I won't bother to join. I say this out of personal experience with it and my own laziness - despite the fact I'm a webcomic reviewer, and I've often found forums to be a good source of inspiration from which to write an article... I don't bother visiting most forums. I don't want to be bothered to create an account and go through all that hassle.

This is one of the things useful about Blogger and Google - you log on using your Google name and can post! A number of news sites and the like are linking comments to Facebook, Blogger, and Google/Microsoft accounts so you have one central identity from which you build your internet identity.

Some people use anonymity as a weapon... but most people use it out of laziness. They forget to log on or they don't want to be bothered to go through the steps.

This is why a Moderated Anonymity System would work well - it allows lazy people to continue being lazy (and their post just doesn't appear promptly), while helping build a firewall against the more destructive elements within humanity who hate seeing other people build... and thus do everything in their power to tear it (and the builders) down.

Rob H.

GenreOnline.net said...


Your thoughts on this matter are well thought out if not idealistic and kinda subversive in an interesting way. It is no secret President Obama met with the owners of Google, FaceBook, and Twitter and well, it seems to me that people enjoy sharing. How many shenanigans and crimes have been caught because of social media. Politicians, thieves, bullies, and yet these tools can prove innocence too.

There is no such thing as progress without risk. If a person owns a gun, they risk the gun turning on them. If you join social media, be aware of what you post. I am for a responsible society, but clearly human error will always play a role outside of acts of God and or nature as to how things will progress.

I think privacy should be respected on the individual level by giving them the note up front, if you join Social media, you will be participating in a surveilled platform. If you don't want to participate, you cannot join. Then if people are aware up front they can make informed decisions.

It is like Windows and Lynux. If you want an open source platform without Microsoft constantly verifying you are an approved user, you can download Lynux for free, but be aware that with independence comes responsibility. You can get almost any technical issue resolved when you run Windows because besides the large Corp behind it, you also have the majority of users supporting it. If you use Lynux, it is open sourced. You can't expect the same level of costumer service on a platform a minority use and even fewer support. But it has great advantages too.

Bottom line: let the people vote Windows or Lynux...

Alfred Differ said...

Mr Rohrabacher is a mixed bag. I have experience interacting with him and his people with respect to Space and he generally gets the points my friends make about liberating the market. We've danced around some of his other more rigid ideas regarding science in general, though. If he becomes chairman of the committee we will see both sides of him, I'm sure

David Brin said...

Matthew, you raise the reason why it is important for non government groups like EFF and the ACLU to have our support. Our actual membership dues and names in their membership lists.

Folks, this is the time of year when we all should re-assess our annual donations and memberships in groups and orgs that might help to make a better world. Not only in a spirit of philanthropy - perhaps inspired by the season - but also out of enlightened self-interest and desire to help make a better world. (Also, at year end you can assess your tax situation and atill squeeze a few deductions into 2012.)

Seriously, please go look at my essay on "The Power of Proxy Activism."

The crux is that we all think the world can be made better than it is. There is a cheap and easy and lazy way to help push destiny in the directions that you feel it ought to head, and that is to send once-a-year dues to maybe 6 or 10 orgs who will take your membership and use both the money and their numbers to agitate for good things for you!

Please do go read my pitch about this.

And yes, it is precisely how to get a groundswell for Sousveillance supported, with real momentum.

AdifferI'd be more impressed with Mr/ Rohrbacher re space "liberating the market" if he gave Obama credit for being the only president who EVER "liberated the market" in space and did it in a big way.

Alfred Differ said...

Heh. We have friends in the WH too, but Mr Rohrabacher's reluctance to recognize the common theme between his vision of space and their's is mostly about politics.

I've learned to tolerate their conflict a bit and don't push either side all that hard when it comes to getting them to recognize what they have in common. Getting them to stipulate such things probably runs counter to their interests in the 'political' market since they have to differentiate their services relative to competitors. It would be cool if they did, but I feel like I'm tilting at windmills when it comes to that.

Fortunately, liberating the space market doesn't require that every proponent like each other or assert their common points. It doesn't even require that their support occur at a conscious level. As long as they aren't making new or enforcing old illiberal rules, we can manage. As you've noted elsewhere, $150M price tags can motivate those of us in the private sector. 8)


Alfred Differ said...

... one other thing.

I don't want to sound like a fan-boy for Mr Rohrabacher (I'm not... really), but his position regarding the liberation of space markets is many years older than the current adminstration position. Mr Rohrabacher gets the role private enterprise plays in the innovations we all know need to occur for our civilization to establish more than our toehold on the new frontier.

Obama gets it too but is much more reliant on the usual flock of advisors a President must have to do the job. If Mr Rohrabacher gets to be chairman, his positions might dilute a bit for the same kind of reasons. THAT is the risk that concerns me most with him.

If Rohrabacher does get it I'll have to pick up my pen again to push him on climate issues. I'm not betting on him winning though. I think the GOP might be smarting from their recent wounds just enough to want to tone down the possible damage that might come from picking a hardliner for chairman... at least I hope so. 8)


David Brin said...

Sorry. This is one more example of polemic sometimes being OPPOSITE to action.

1) the GOP claimed to want to liberate the markets in Space. They owned all three branches of the US govenrment for most of a decade and did nothing. Obama acted on this almost within seconds of entering office. So who was all talk and who was sincere?

2) Illegal immigration. OPPOSITE TIME! Goppers rail against it and ALWAYS savagely cut the Border Patrol. Demmies cry out for compassion and double the BP. Obama has deported more illegals than any other president, ever. How do you reconcile that? Or the weird fact that it is never reported?

It's actually pretty easy to figure out, when you relize Dems talk compassion, but really like LEGAL immigrants, while (some) gopper oligarchs like illegal labor.

3) The top DE regulations of the 20th cenury were all done by democrats. Goppers bitched about the ICC and CAB but never lifted a finger against them. The dems wiped them off the face of the earth. And deregulated the Internet. The GOP's opnly major deregulations took supervision away from savings & loans, banking, & Wall Street. How's that working for you?

Look for opposites. I don't believe Rohrbacher wants any of the positive conservative things. He sure openly likes the negative ones.

Alfred Differ said...

The political experiences of my friends leads me to believe that both parties treat space as a jobs program most of the time. Both sides of the aisle are usually in agreement to manage it the way socialists would. Government leads, contractors serve, and the people's goals are met as well as the money can manage.

This was standard behavior we observed up until a few glimmerings of light from GWB after Columbia burned up. Those glimmerings faded pretty quickly, but we think that happened largely due to the advice of people working for him. Those people acted on what they saw as political reality though we tried to convince them otherwise.

Obama had the good sense to bring in people who understood that the old approach cannot be sustained. Whether Obama is given credit for understanding the private actor's role or not (I DO give him credit), his people do AND they understand we were on the path of failure. Obama’s administration changed course and we were all tickled when they did that. Unfortunately, for political reasons no doubt, they had to go back on some of the vision and lend support to government run heavy launch notions that are unlikely to succeed for all the usual, old reasons.

Rohrabacher was a rare GOP’er who understood the principle we espoused (liberating free enterprise) and was willing to explain to us the political realities. On this subject he was in a minority within his party and had little choice but to compromise with them. He wanted the science committee assignment partially so his minority position could be amplified. He likes the stuff. (So does Newt.) Whether this makes up for his other positions (especially his actions) is a different issue. I’m pointing out that he is a bit more…. complicated… than the press usually describes him to be.

I’m mostly with you on the activities around illegal immigration except I’m not convinced the Dems want to do more than look like they are working the issue. The AZ political flare-up had to be addressed, but I’m not sure it has been meaningfully addressed. As someone who would prefer to open the border and complete the third leg of our free trade agreement [goods & services, capital, labor], I have no issue with a window dressing response. I would rather they all did something effective like open the border to a flow of labor, but absent that I’ll tolerate the status quo and work instead on reducing the impact of the drug war and wage differentials [Legalization/Intermarriage Family Support].

David Brin said...

Perhaps you are right about Rohrbacher being an exception. His recitation of loony denialism would tend to put the burden of proof on anyone who proposes that theory, however.

"I’m mostly with you on the activities around illegal immigration except I’m not convinced the Dems want to do more than look like they are working the issue."

I believe you entirely miss my point. Let me reiterate. The dems do not try to LOOK as if they are reinforcing the border patrol and deporting lots more illegals. They do that DESPITE striving to keep their constituencies happy and NOT seeming as if they are deporting and guarding.

Likewise, the GOP savagely cuts deportation and the BP despite raving about the need to do both more. I do not blame you for not being able to parse what I said. It is cognitive dissonance and perhaps even now you are having trouble picturing it in your mind. At surface, it makes no sense. But it is entirely true and it was true from Carter to Obama.

If the reds truly wanted to slow the change in demographics, they would look at the thing democrats DID do and that is ease LEGAL immigration. The GOP's failure to examine that and discuss it is treason to their base.

infanttyrone said...

If it wasn't offered by Dem pundits during the 'analysis' segments following each of the GOP Presidential debates, then I must have heard/seen it elsewhere on the tube, but I definitely knew the answer to the question "Who deported more illegals: GWB or BHO ?"

This wasn't some lucky recollection of a chance remark that someone made once in the past couple of years...it was mentioned time and again...probably to preempt insinuations (by GOP pundits on the same shows) that BHO's record couldn't stand up to the hysterical hypocrisy being spouted by Bachmann, Gingrich, et al (except for Perry, who sounded halfway reasonable on immigration...but probably because he got his 'cutting cabinet departments' agenda confused with the idea of 'cutting branches of government' and thought that having cheap labor familiar with landscaping tools would be a good thing until the job was over and he could arrange for them to be deported)

LarryHart said...

For the past few years, I've had a theory going that the right-wing cries of a "war on Christmas" covered up their own more insidious "War on Thanksgiving". I've noted the tendency of advertisers to go right into Christamas mode as soon as Halloween is over, and to undermine the sentiment of the traditional (but less commercial) Thanksgiving.

I was half-kidding, but also (as Al Franken refers to it) "kidding on the square."

Well, this year, the covert war on Thanksgiving became overt. Look at the editorial commentary surrounding WalMart and other stores making Thanksgiving Day into a day for Christmas shopping mania. The main talking point is how retail workers are now "essential workers" like policemen and airline pilots who simply have to understand that they work on holidays. And always a kicker at the end about how family dinners are so disfunctional that, really, aren't you better off using "I have to get to WalMart" as an excuse to leave?

As usual, my liberal self is horrified at the erosion of traditional American values, while the "conservatives" see only commercial potential and another way to stick it to workers.

LarryHart said...

And now, I don't want to leave for my own Thanksgiving Day with a downer, so really, if you've got the holiday with people you care about, cherish it and enjoy it.

Happy Thanksiging.

(I know, not everyone here is American. Best wishes anyway.)

David Brin said...

My favorite holiday, the one they haven't been able to commercialize. The one where you sincely appreciate (perhaps with upward thanks) the wonders and joys of an incredible time to be alive...

...and the commercial demons are trying to wreck it by starting Black Friday sales at 6 am, no 2 am Friday, no at MIDNIGHT... no at 10PM on Thanksgiving itself, yanking employees away from the nicest day of the year.

Joyful T-Day to all of you yanks... blue or red! And to all others, joy compounding on joy.

Travc said...

The emergency router access thing is interesting, but incredibly frustrating too. There is an obvious win-win, which was actually made illegal under US law... Municipal Wifi

The issue came up when I was living in LA, so that is what I have some info about. Basically, by creating a mesh wifi network covering the city (or county even), the government would end up *saving* money. The system would pay for itself by allowing city workers to be more efficient (and not having to pay for commercial cellular access).
The municipalities also get to use existing infrastructure (light poles, maintenance crews, ect.) for their network, which is a big advantage.

Several cities and counties were looking into creating their own wifi networks, but the telecom companies lobbied the Federal government and actually go a law passed to make it illegal!
Their argument was basically that municipalities have an inherent advantage in terms of existing infrastructure over the companies... no duh! That is the point.

Communication networks, especially those using spectrum, really make a huge amount of sense as *public utilities*.

Ian Gould said...

Re giving first responders access to home wifi routers: surely the answe here is to do this on an opt-in basis in advance.

This would also give first responders a map of potentially available wifi nodes.

So get people to download a piece of software - that they can override - that activates a guest network based on a remote signal.

Something like this could also be helpful not just to first responders but to the public - create an impromptu alternate internrt access infrastructure so peoplr can still communicate.

David Brin said...

Travc, can you look up a reference for that law? good article about this? I'd like to blog about it. Thanks.

And happy day to all....

Paul451 said...

There's no Federal ban, and a crap load of municipal wifi networks. (Some commercial, some free.) Wikipediate "municipal wifi" and scroll down to "United States". Apparently some schemes even got stimulus bucks.



which may be the source of the confusion.

Paul451 said...

Re: Home router emergency override.

Is there such an emergency override system on cell towers? Surely that would make more sense first.

Not only that, shouldn't emergency services be able to declare a regional crisis, and not only let their own data and phone systems leapfrog any carrier's network, it should also allow civilian cell phones to use any carrier's towers in the affected region. Survivors being able to call for help, not a small thing.

Paul451 said...

Closer to the topic of the actual post, Saudi Arabia being dicks:


Something tells me the women didn't get much sousveillance in return.

(Heh, veil.)

Alfred Differ said...

OK David. I see how I have that backwards now. 8)

Tapping the cell phone network for emergency services is one option, but that mesh might not be all that robust in the short term. Cell towers have higher power requirements than our homes do. Also, many of us are connected to internet providers along buried paths.

If you really want to ensure emergency services can operate in the US it would be best to use a belt and suspenders approach. Tap the cell network, the home networks, and the amateur radio networks. There are a lot of hams who buy their own equipment and train each other to be ready for these kinds of emergencies. The hams have already opted-in and are likely to have the most robust response.

Jonathan S. said...

RE municipal wifi:

According to Wikipedia, there are quite a few municipal wifi networks in the US. (Escondido, CA, for instance, apparently provides free wifi downtown.) Here's the article:


sociotard said...

Here's something you don't see every day:

Australian scientists un-discover Pacific island

It was on maps. Plenty of historical logs say it was there. So some Aussie scientists got on a boat. There's no island there.

Paul451 said...

"cell phone network [...] might not be all that robust in the short term. Cell towers have higher power requirements than our homes do."

Cell towers are running a lot further "up the grid". Plus, with decent programming, can bounce emergency calls via RF even if their ground-lines are cut.

Whereas home systems are broken whether the phone lines or the power is out, at any point in the chain to the broadband provider.

[Does anyone live in the US north-east? Did cell reception follow the pattern of the Sandy black-outs/reconnections, or did the home/tower systems seem to be on independent lines?]

Jumper said...

Re. undiscovered island, perhaps it's one of these?

I have been thinking about this as a stolen credit-card thief catcher too. Seed it (a phony) in the right place and when an inside man tries to use it you have a good chance of knowing where he is.

Paul451 said...

According to the Beeb, it not likely to be a trap-street (paper-island?) because nautical maps don't do that. Accuracy is too important to risk playing anti-piracy games.


Jumper said...

Maybe very old paper island. If you gave the only charts with the fake island on them to the one man you suspect of dealing with a foreign power, and later you capture some charts also with the fake island copied onto them, then you have your man.

Anonymous said...

An interesting article about Dubai:

Note: I wonder if anyone could fact check all of it to see if the writer makes his case honestly.

François Marcadé said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
François Marcadé said...

@ Anonymous
I have lived in Dubai for the last 10 years. I have already seen this article (it dates of 2009) and although nothing in it is a lie (at least in 2009), it paint a much darker picture than most of us resident thought was fair.

The first problem that I see is that it describes class stratification: Emirati, Western Expat, Slaves that is misleading. If the University Educated Emirati Aristocrat are at the top of the pyramid, Successful Indian and Asian business man come second, then there is a rather large middle class community of Western, Arab and Asian expats and most Educated emirate also fall in that category from the Airline Executive to the policemen (in 2009 most non officer were Arab expat, nowadays most young policemen and women are Emirati) on the street. Then there is a lower class of jobless Emirati, the service industry employee, the construction workers and the domestic Employees.

The condition of the construction worker has been very bad during the 2005 to 2008, before there was a paternalistic structure the Emirati owner of the Construction company knew its workforce and there was a unsaid contract “you work 6 years for the company and you go back to your country with enough money to own your own house and business”. At the turn of the century the owners were replaced by their sons (MBA graduates, usually) who delegated the Human Resources to the middle management (usually from the same country as the work force). This middle management tried to squeeze as much as possible from the workforce. It culminated by a strike in 2007 (at the Burj Khalifa and airport construction sites) when, for once, the Police did not arrest and deport the strikers but the work camp management. Since then the government has stepped in and is making sure that Salary are paid in days, contract signed abroad are enforced, work is stopped during the hottest hours of the summer afternoon etc… And recently the same series of measure is being implemented for the domestic employees.

This is the reason why I do see the rulers of the Emirates condoning slavery is that step by step, regulation are introduced after abuse are documented. The Emirates are starting out of blank slate and only introduce regulation once it is needed. Also cases of abuse are regularly documented in the newspaper I read (Gulf News and 7 days) and not swept under the rug as the article seems to imply.

On the other Hand bankruptcy can lead you in Jail. This is still true. The hotels in 2009 were not full as they were in 2007 or as they are now.

gregory byshenk said...

Banking transparency: Germany rejects Swiss banking secrecy deal at Angry Bear.

Anonymous said...

François Marcadé
Thank you for your reply and for giving your perspective on the nature of the article.