Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Coming Transparent World

Having just returned from the huge ICT2013 conference on digital futures, run by the European Union in Vilnius, Lithuania, I ought to weigh in a little about transparency, again.  I was on right after the President of Lithuania welcomed the 6000 delegates. I got to meet Eben Upton, innovator of the Raspberry Pi, and many others who are eager to show European dynamism in the fast-changing digital age.  Speaking of which…
The European, a top policy journal, ran one of my best summaries of the argument for a Transparent Society - one in which we are all empowered to see and to hold accountable those who might harm us. I argue that this is the only way we can possibly defend freedom, safety, science, justice and - ironically - some privacy in the rapidly unfolding 21st Century. 
On the same topic, here is a very intelligent and well-written appraisal of how we might use increases in light to improve our societal health, instead of giving in to the temptation to cower and hide from the mighty:  How to Get Positive Sousveillance, an analysis from the University of Oxford.  I liked many of the bullet points (naturally.)
And see this intelligent discussion with some unusual insights, by Evgeny Morozov, in MIT's Technology Review.
Here's an interesting and insightful review of The Transparent Society. Can we thrive in the info age by embracing, not fearing the power to see?
TransparentWorldLet's put it plainly. The opposite approach, pushed by almost everyone, simply cannot work.  That prescription -- finding ways to control and limit information flows and protect the databases from leaking -- has never once been demonstrated in practice to be effective.  Not once… ever! Instead, every couple of months another tsunami spilll takes place… from one company then an agency then a nonprofit then another trusted company... and no one learns the obvious lesson.  Take this latest example:

The company that mainstreamed desktop publishing -- Adobe -- admitted in a statement that hackers gained unauthorized access to 2.9 million customer accounts and stole part of the source code for at least two major consumer-facing products.  And you are … shocked?  How many times must this happen before we all realize that Everything Leaks?  That locks and keys and shadows will fail fundamentally and in principle!
No need for despair. There is another approach, one that works.
(Oh, for those wanting an even broader perspective, grab a PDF of my extensive talk on the future and transparency for the Potomac Institute in early 2013.)
== The NSA News just keeps coming ==
Here's a spark of background history. The basic legal justification for the NSA and FBI tracking meta-data  on millions of phone calls came from a 1976 case against a purse-snatcher. As Wired reports: " In a rare declassified opinion (.pdf) from the FISA court released August 29, Judge Claire V. Eagan addressed the key point: If it’s legal to spy on a single purse snatcher without a warrant, then it’s legal to spy on literally everyone."
This case, Smith v. Maryland,  is highly relevant to today’s Supreme Court. When the justices ruled last year that authorities need a court warrant to affix GPS devices to vehicles, Justice Sonia Sotomayor seemed to side with privacy activists, when she mentioned Smith in a concurring opinion, noting: “it may be necessary to reconsider the premise that an individual has no reasonable expectation of privacy in information voluntarily disclosed to third parties.”
=== How to let them do their (supervised) jobs ===
I am frequently asked how we citizens can use transparency to stay in control over the government we own. Things are made more complicated by the fact that many of our public servants need tactical secrecy in order to do their jobs. Everyone from CIA snoops to undercover cops… they can only serve us if they can operate in shrouds and shadows to some degree, like the villains or adversaries they are investigating. It often surprises folks to learn that I - "Mr. Transparency" - have no problem with tactical secrecy, both in practice and in principle... so long as we have accountability systems in place to ensure it remains only temporary and only tactical.
Alas, this need is often pushed - as it was with the Patriot Act - as a reason to keep shadows  permanently, and thus to evade accountability. That distinction is important to keep in mind.
Surveillance-SousveillanceHere's the thing about scandals like the overweening excesses in surveillance that we are learning the NSA and others indulged-in.  Attempting to - and believing that you somehow can - shut them down is insane.
It will never work. As we saw in 2003 when John Poindexter's "Total Information Awareness" (TIA) was "stopped," amid crows of victory by the ACLU and privacy activists, with only a few of us shouting "this victory is an illusion." In fact, whenever you seem to succeed at squelching some elite power of vision the ever rising power of surveillance will only crop up elsewhere like a whack-a-mole game, as TIA re-surfaced at the NSA. Recent revelations like the NSA phone tracking system and PRISM have shown that the mighty will see. Hand-wringing over this is ineffective and -- well -- essentially stupid.
Moreover, blinding our protectors seems to be a counter-productive tradeoff, when theirs truly is a big and important job.
What we really need are better ways to supervise.  And to supervise not so much what they can see, but what they do.  Please read that sentence again.  And again until it sinks in. If you own a watchdog, what matters to you is having utter control over his actions, not (futilely) restricting what he can smell or see.
Whistle-blowerNo, I am not recommending a tsunami of Edward Snowdens… though it appears that Snowden has been vastly more capable and effective than Julian Assange could ever dream of being.  And, indeed, that whistle-blower tsunami is coming, whether our public servants like it or not.  Their only options are to (1) reduce the number of secrets to a manageable number that can be curtilaged and (2) limit the number of trusted henchmen far below the absurd half a million the government security apparatus now admits they have as contractors.
Oh and one more thing… build trust. Submit to supervision by your bosses (the citizens)… or at least by our delegated and trusted ombundsmen, who are security cleared and discreet, but also answerable to us, and not to the agencies they are surveilling.
== The Inspectorate ==
Is that even possible?  Well, it has been discussed and partially implemented many times.  For example, in 1911, Sun Yat Sen, the first President of modern China, set up a constitution with a fifth branch of government -- the Inspectorate -- which would be completely independent of the executive and judicial and so on.  It did not work so well for China, because of primitive and violent circumstances. But we in the West already have virtually the entire system in place already!  All it would take is a reform that could be implemented with a one page law.
inspectors-GeneralOne of my longstanding suggestions for how to navigate this critical time -- maintaining freedom and empowered citizenship while allowing civil servants to do their jobs -- has been to establish the office of Inspector General of the United States,  or IGUS.  All of the inspectors in government agencies who now are trapped in conflict of interest, owing their jobs to the folks they inspect, would be transferred under the authority of a separated and uniformed service, under command of an august and utterly respected neutral… national busybody. Trained under a code of simultaneous nosiness and discretion, this corps would know how to parse a sophisticated spectrum.  How to tell legitimate tactical secrecy from borderline over-reach (meriting soft warning)… all the way to actions that break both law and honorable loyalty to the People.
Indeed, the topic is already up for discussion. As the Washington Post reported: In January, Senators Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.) sent a letter to the White House co-signed by 14 other senators that urged President Obama to fill the vacant Inspector General positions at six government agencies: the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Interior, Labor and State. Some positions, such as State’s, have been vacant for as long as five years. “Inspectors General are an essential component of government oversight” and “occupy a unique role,” the senators noted. They specifically pointed to the IGs’ authority for “speaking truth to power” in addition to their “dual reporting obligations to their agency head and to Congress.”
(Unusual cogency from Mr. Coburn, I might avow.)
Still, they miss the point.  As long as the IGs are subject to cabinet officials, instead of separate from them in their own, highly-protected agency, they will not be the agents of sousveillance accountability that we need.
Indeed, even if they ever ARE so separated and empowered, it will not suffice!  

I could name a dozen other measures to ensure upward and downward reciprocal accountability while allowing our officials to do their jobs! Some are discussed in The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force us to Choose between Privacy and Freedom?
IGUS is but one of many ways that we could impose supervision… or "sousveillance"… while also getting the win-win of effective/perceptiveness by those who need to perform tactically secret tasks on our behalf.  But it is a pragmatic measure, easily and swiftly implemented. And vastly more effective than all hand-wringing re see nowadays from wailing privacy advocates.
In any event, the key point is:
Tools-sousveillanceTHIS is where our radicalism should be pressed!  Not handwringing jeremiads and denuciations of the surveillance from above that will absolutely happen, whatever our complaints. We cannot stop the eyes above us from seeing.  But we can look back and insist that the mighty be (almost) naked. Our radicalism should not be resentful or try to blind others, it should insist upon reasonable and pragmatic tools of sousveillance and supervision. It is the only way.
== Transparency News ==
This extended article provides a look at Chicago's police-run surveillance system that deploys 1200 cameras equipped with facial recognition capabilities. I found the system itself shrug-worthy… welcome to the 21st Century. The Powers will see.  But what stirs anger and fear is the description of how secretive the Chicago Police Department has been, avoiding accountability, supervision or even queries from press or public.  That is the half we must not allow.  Alas, it is the half that the ACLU virtually ignores.
This is significant. California law to give journalists five day warning before government can access their records. California Governor Jerry Brown signed a law on Thursday to give journalists in the state five days' notice before government agencies serve subpoenas on their records held by third parties, such as phone companies and internet service providers.
Using light to skewer scoundrels!  Fake reviews are a known problem online—but New York has managed to crack down on them using an equally fake yogurt shop. After a yearlong investigation, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman this week announced that the state has reached settlements with 19 companies; they'll stop with the bogus reviews and pay $350,000 in fines. Those companies fall into two buckets: businesses that are unhappy with their review ratings on sites like Yelp, and businesses that help those companies by delivering fake reviews.
But in the long run, we need better credibility-rating services that rank order (for example) our Yelp! posting by our credibility scores. A billion dollar industry awaits the first VC who talks to me about this!
==  HFT strikes again ==
$600-Million-tradedAnd finally… You've seen me inveigh before about how dangerous High Frequency Trading is and how vastly more dangerous it may be destined to become.  Now this. The mystery of $600 million traded in 7 milliseconds after Federal Reserve announcement.
As reported on NPR: A couple of weeks ago, the Federal Reserve announced it would not be tapering its bond buying program. The announcement came at at 2 p.m. ET. The news takes seven milliseconds — about the speed of light — to reach Chicago. But before the seven milliseconds was up, a few huge orders based on the Fed's decision were placed on Chicago exchanges. "According to trading data reviewed by CNBC, they began buying in Chicago-traded assets just before others in that city could possibly have been aware of the Fed's decision. By one estimate, as much as $600 million in assets changed hands in the milliseconds before most other traders in Chicago could learn of the Fed's September surprise.
Sound fair?  Sound like an open and flat and competitive "market"?
Mystics who think we can gain the benefits of markets without constant fine tuning and aggressive regulation are religious fanatics who never read Adam Smith and who do not give a damn about gritty reality.


Tacitus said...

(long absence....Life happens you know)

As the political lamp is not lit I shall not comment on the evolution of the Affordable Care Act roll out. I do commend it as a subject well worth our individual attentions.

I saw Ender's Game last week. Hmmmm..

I have purposely not gone back to that thread and so apologize for any repetition.

It is a mediocre movie that makes some interesting points.

"Bullying" is a current buzzword, much abused, but the concept is valid. How much does it shape the character of an individual, a group of individuals, a species?

And I thought the writer's conceit that only a young mind could accomplish a genocide was of interest. Certainly the history of child soldiers since OSC wrote Ender's Game has showed that they are capable of a savagery that maybe Indiana Jones or Gandhi could not pull off...

Many, many flaws not withstanding some elements of the work have held up well over thirty years, even improved. We now have compelling videogames that blur the lines between reality and fantasy. And it is not inconceivable in the era of Raptors and Predators that an interstellar armada might be controlled by the equivalent of some punk living in Harrison Ford's basement (hmmm, that advanced base planet pretty much WAS all basement).

So a thought provoking movie, not one I will see repeatedly. And my opinion of the sequels to Enders Game are such that I hope they do not make any further adaptations. OSC did some of his better work early on....

Ah, Hollywood. Probably the deal is already inked.

I am looking forward, someday, to seeing Old Man's War come to the big screen. Anyone have any inside scoop there?


david.j.mercer said...

The Adobe hack later turned out to be of 150 million user records!

And their storage of the passwords was done in a truly horrible fashion...note quite "worst practices," which would have been storing cleartext passwords, but close. Then encrypted them all with the same key.

David Brin said...

Google’s mysterious floating barge on San Francisco Bay will feature luxury showrooms and a party deck for the tech giant to market Google Glass and other gadgets to invitation-only clients, according to KPIX 5 in San Francisco.

Aw now that makes me sad. I was hoping for something cooler. But it fits the aristocracy trend. Let us eat cake!

Tim H. said...

Saw Ender's Game also, thought it wasn't as bad as it might've been, major story elements survived. Will likely buy the DVD, so I can see it completely awake. While Speaker for the Dead and Xenocide might be interesting to watch, the Alvin Maker stories are the ones I'd like to see adapted for screen. The folks boycotting the film are missing out on a not too bad movie, and doing nearly nothing for LGBT.
And if "Hollywierd" is doing 80's stories, may we hope for an adaptation of Octavia Butler's "Bloodchild"?

David Brin said...

TimH… fine. "Chosen ones" and demigods were the focus of mythology in most societies and it looks like they are coming back. I will never go that way. Like Star Trek, I believe in the Merely Above Average person who made this enlightenment.

But I accept that Card will sell more than I do. Demigod. Demogods, demigods, demigods, demigods, demigods, demigods, demigods, demigods, demigods, demigods, demigods, demigods, demigods, demigods, demigods, demigods, demigods, demigods, demigods, demigods, demigods, demigods, demigods, demigods, demigods, demigods, and more….


Tony Fisk said...

Possibly a little late breaking and certainly a lot to digest but, no mention of the Trans-Pacific Partnership leak?

Given the rumblings that have been going on about this secret deal, it's really been a matter of when, rather than if, a whistleblower would drop a copy off.

Patents on surgical procedures (Sweeney Todd owns the best cuts!), ISPs responsible for content (so the bank can sue the phone company the robbers communicated via?), copyright to extend to 'temporary copies' (such as the images you are seeing now)... hmm!

This set of enlightened approaches overrides national sovereignty, mind.

Wikileaks isn't just Julian Assange.

Wot? No mention of the links to the feeds for the cameras on the decks of that barge yet? Go ogle!

Alfred Differ said...

The Adobe leak was so bad they earned their own XKCD cartoon. 8)

Since the primary threat most people face regarding passwords comes from the fact that they re-use them elsewhere, it is time to change them out everywhere. We have to assume a lot of people are going to loose control over apparently unrelated accounts shortly.

Tim H. said...

Demigods? Alvin Maker, arguably, the gatemages series,by definition. Ender & Bean don't seem that far from known human abilities. I'd say the late Frank Herbert was nearly as guilty, the Atriedes were becoming more capable with each book had Mr. Herbert lived, we might have seen one in tights, bursting from a phone booth. The movie was fun, which was all I was looking for. BTW, Kiln People could be a lot of fun on screen, any hope of that?

Alex Tolley said...

Can you concretize your suggestion of an IGUS in teh context of teh current NSA issue. DiFi wants to strengthen the NSA's legal access to information. What specifically would the IGUS do in terms of protecting the citizen against abuses of the use of that information?

Also, I'm not buying that IGUS members are entirely neutral. We know that judges are not (yet they should be) and that the legal system works against those that most need its protection.

Given that "everything leaks" what exactly is the criminal nature of hacking and if it stays illegal what should the penalties be? Should government authority have different rules than individuals? We can see how leakers like Snowden, and hackers like Hammond have been treated. Would this be different in your transparent world?

David Brin said...

Alex T I never claimed that IGUS inspectors would be totally incorruptible and independent. What I claim is that they can be made MORE incorruptible and independent.

Our great trick has been to set up adversarial centers of power that inherently scrutinize or challenge each other. This is why the oligarchy is above all striving to discredit scientists, teachers, doctors and all the knowledge professions… and to capture some bureaucrats and discredit the rest of them.

The minute we get IGUS I will agitate that IGUS inspectors be dogged by citizen grand juries… updated for the modern era.

Alex Tolley said...

@DB, OK that answer about IGUS is fair. However, please could you address my first question about the specific benefits of the IGUS in regard to effects on the average citizen?

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin,

Out of the blue, a scientific question about politics occured to me this morning, and as I'm prevented from posting at work, I've been waiting all day to mention it.

You've spoken before about the reasons in nature for there being near-equal numbers of men and women--I don't remember all the details, but it had to do with a self-correcting mechanism if one gender gets too far "ahead" in the race. Like if there are too many boys, more of them will die of hemophelia, or something of that sort. You know what I'm talking about, right?

With that in mind, is there any basis for believing that the same thing applies to the two major political parties. It's been noted that elections are getting closer--that it's becoming more common for them to be decided by a small subset of swing voters tipping the balance between almost-evenly divided bases. Is this not just happenstance or a sign of the times? Is there some scientific reason that electorates would TEND toward 50/50 parity, in the same manner that the two genders tend toward 50/50 population splits?

Like any good story, this might explain a lot.

David Brin said...

Larryhart, the gender question has to do with whether a father benefits from creating more male sperm than female or a woman's womb encourages boys or girls. We start with the fact that sperm coming from meiosis of the father's own cells will start being equal in number. But nature shows many species can vary the output.

Think. A female who bears a son who is certain to become a top alpha wins the jackpot by having the max grandchildren. But she also risks having a son who is among the 1/3 (or more) that in nature don't get to breed at all. Daughters will likely breed, whether they are superior or not. See how it averages out?

Political parties? If the GOP were trying for the center, that'd be one thing. In fact, with Romney and McCain the GOP voters chose the most moderate candidate who was also a card carrying right winger. Ignore RINOs like Huntsman.

That may not work anymore.

Joel said...

Attempting to solve the HFT "problem", kind of, by moving away from the decimalization of the 90's - making 5 cent or 25 cent increments instead on penny stocks.

Liars - this is self-serving and works only for the Exchange. Institutional investors can't invest in penny stocks because the small market caps and low liquidity - the exact reason why HFT's avoid those stocks.

Jumper said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jumper said...

News from the evil counterinsurgency:
Reputation sock puppets war on Wikipedia

This may be a better story:

David Brin said...