Sunday, February 09, 2014

Fight Back Against One-Way Surveillance!

… first a couple of transparency-related announcements.
NSA-surveillance-sousveillanceTHEWORLDPOST looks like a bold endeavor -- a joint effort of the Berggruen Institute and the Huffington Post -- to create a news and opinion site suitable for people who might actually influence events.  Launched at Davos… it contains in one of its inaugural issues my appraisal of the NSA Imbroglio and how to fix it: Check NSA Surveillance with Citizen Sous-veillance -- monitoring from below.
Specifically, I dissect the 46 proposals made by the Presidential Commission and divide them into three categories… those that are for show, those that set up decent procedures… and those that might actually work, helping us achieve the win-win of a positive sum outcome -- preserving both freedom and public safety.
The European magazine ran an op-ed in which I tried (for the upteenth time) to explain the difference between two methods of keeping freedom -- hiding from Big Brother… or holding Big Brother accountable. And I will keep trying to explain till it sinks in.
Do see the end of this missive for more links to media that are paying attention to what might work.
== More transparency insights ==
As Americans have grown increasingly comfortable with traditional surveillance cameras, a new, far more powerful generation is being quietly deployed that can track every vehicle and person across an area the size of a small city, for several hours at a time. Though these cameras can’t read license plates or see faces, they provide such a wealth of data that police, businesses, even private individuals can use them to help identify people and track their movements.
And the debate continues, with this fascinating Pew Poll result: A majority of Americans now believe total anonymity is a pipe dream, despite wishing it were otherwise.
Privacy-TransparencyAn excellent TED Radio Hour on NPR discusses many parameters for "The End of Privacy," and refreshingly only includes one of the typical whiners demanding "don't look at me!" without offering any clue how that might happen.  Instead, most of the speakers addressed how we might surf this new wave as knowing, assertive citizens. Yay NPR.
Still, occasionally something practical comes along to help individuals assert a little power over their own lives… here's an Android App that warns when you're being watched.
Just remember that each pragmatic measure of concealment will be temporary!  For example: Through a Scanner Darkly:  NameTag is an app for Google Glass that offers a face scanner for encounters with strangers. When you snap a photo of a passerby -- the image is sent to the company’s database. When a match is located, the ID loads in front of your left eye -- personal data that might include the stranger's name, occupation, Facebook profile…and possible records in the national sex-offender registry.  Of course Google disowns any relationship and discourages face-recog.  But the world of EXISTENCE is on its way….
…at which point your best hope will not be to hide… but to detect and know who is staring at you.
And they will stare!  From a vantage of 10,000 feet, the US Army's experimental aerostat (unmanned blimp) will cast a vast radar net from Raleigh, N.C., to Boston and out to Lake Erie, with the goal of detecting cruise missiles or enemy aircraft so they could be intercepted before reaching the capital. Tested in Afghanistan and along the U.S. border with Mexico, these systems are becoming vastly more capable.  In this test, only radar and not cameras will aim Earthward.  But be ready for the future.  And hiding will not be an option.  Save your anger and militancy for what matters. Again… nothing will stop us from being looked at.  We need to demand ways to look back.
== On the horizon ==
Bruce Schneier suggests that the coming "Internet of Things" will open upon a whole new world… universe… of places for clever hackers to get into our systems.  Why bother trying to penetrate our computers, when so much is in the cloud and in the back and forth that we send-receive?  Schneier suggests we’re in for a security disaster as hackers figure out that it’s easier to hack routers than computers.  Worse, routers are made cheaply, at low margins, by companies that have no inventive to made them interactively update their security… the way Apple or Dell or Microsoft set up your home computer to do.  "The result is hundreds of millions of devices that have been sitting on the Internet, unpatched and insecure, for the last five to ten years."
Internet-of-things"And the Internet of Things will only make this problem worse, as the Internet — as well as our homes and bodies — becomes flooded with new embedded devices that will be equally poorly maintained and unpatchable."
A very good point.  Bruce is at his best doing this.  Pointing to new technologies or else a lazy trend and (when he stays practical, without arm waved generalities) saying we need to talk about this thing here.
Okay, this is going to change those Hollywood chase scenes. The European Union is secretly developing a "remote stopping" device to be fitted to all cars that would allow the police to disable vehicles at the flick of a switch from a control room. Urgh.  Oh no you don't!  Not till we get people of our own in the control rooms! (This innovation brought to you by those UFO aliens who want to stop us all from using vehicles to escape the zombie apocalypse.)
An interesting and refreshing "yes, but…" turning of a mirror on a tell-all tattle-tale.  Mind you, there are good reasons to wish the TSA would just go… improve a bit.  But always look at the messenger, as well.
== More Brin-snippets ==
Role-internet-futureThis 10 minute podcast -- The Role of the Internet in the Future -- about Transparency and why the Internet Miracle happened -- is one of the best excerpts from an interview I gave a European television station during a recent conference in Lithuania on the digital future.
Another excerpt -- On Openness, Privacy and Surveillance -- explains the most difficult concept of the information age… yes… once more time hammering on what ought to be obvious. That we should stop whining about how much elites can see… and instead be militant about looking back at them. And yes, I suppose the number of times and places listed here -- where media have asked me to explain this -- may in itself be cause for optimism!  I hadn't thought of that, till now.  Perhaps, indeed, it's getting through.
And this one -- Technologies Making a Difference in the Future -- talks about technological advances that have expanded what human beings can see, know, and touch.
== World Don't-Look-At-Us Day ==
On Tuesday -- February 11 -- the Electronic Frontier Foundation will join thousands of other websites and organizations -- plus millions of individuals -- in an Internet-wide digital protest, demanding an end to mass surveillance: The Day We Fight Back. Visitors will be prompted to contact members of the U.S. Congress or sign a global petition opposing mass surveillance with a banner that can be inserted into any site.
TheDayWeFightBack-Feb_12_2014_Let me be clear where I stand on this: "The Day We Fight Back" is an important event in one (and only one) way… in that it will provide society's elites with a metric for how seriously the  public takes the matter of non-symmetric transparency… the kind that only shines down upon the people with surveillance. I urge you all to take part, sign petitions and all of that.  Better yet, fork over a few bucks! Join EFF and ACLU and other orgs who offer to amplify your voice through the democratizing and equalizing miracle of proxy power activism.
Nevertheless… I do feel compelled to add this.  A measure of general public displeasure is ALL that this event will accomplish, for one simple reason. Our most vocal defenders of privacy and liberty -- like EFF and the ACLU -- are perfectly right to declare that these precious things are under threat! But those defenders remain generally clueless about what measures - specifically - have a snowball's chance of making a difference. Which steps might offer any hope at all, or any possibility of helping to stave off Big Brother.
"Don't look at us!" That is the reflex response to surveillance -- not just by governments but also corporate, aristocratic, criminal, technological and foreign elites. And it's worthwhile joining in that shout, as a conversation-starter. But there is not one example from human history when whining ever worked.
SOUSVEILLANCE-SURVEILLANCEThere is another way -- emphasizing our power to see and supervise and watch the watchmenSousveillance is the answer to surveillance.  The EFF and ACLU should be part of shifting the specific, militant demand -- not to blind our professional Protector Caste (which cannot even conceivably work) but to apply fierce supervision, which might render their omniscience powerless to  actually harm us.
Alas, I must again lament: this concept has proved almost impossible to convey or teach. And so we are left with the sole solution on the table.  To complain… and to hope that the Powers will be nice. That they will listen and nod agreeably and promise to stop looking… just a little.  For a little while.
Again, please join us all on February 11, sign petitions… and join the Electronic Frontier Foundation. I may disagree about some tactics and roadmaps.  But the intensity of our desire for freedom must be made clear!


locumranch said...

I fear that David's optimism is sadly misplaced because -- as the internet becomes increasingly monetized with restricted access for the masses -- it becomes increasingly likely that it will be used by the Oligarchy as another layer of control.

My relationship with the major US cellular carrier suggests as much, with its unilateral service contract, increasing access fees & shrinking data limits, making it that much more likely that the future internet will take the form of economic wage slavery, charging for information and political influence by the pixil.

'Do you want to receive email, keep informed, ensure governmental accountability or interact with peers??'

'If your answer is 'YES', then click "I Accept all of the restrictions & conditions thereof" on the appropriate box below, knowing that if you click "I do NOT accept" that you will be forever marginalized by innumerable service providers, potential employers, social media & society in general.'

'If you clicked "I Accept", then please select one of the following monetized access plans: Slave, Serf, Economy, Libertarian, Silver, Gold, Platinum, Republican or Oligarch'.

'If you clicked the "I do not accept" box or you possess insufficient funds to allow purchase, then "Have a Nice Day", pathetic loser'.


Alex Tolley said...

The US government is considering having all cars be wired for surveil..err vehicle to vehicle communication by 2015. California wants to mandate a kill switch for all phones and protect against theft. And I've got a bridge to sell you.

Having a citizen in the "control room" will do nothing, as the psychology of the "Stockholm Syndrome" takes over.

Sousveillance is like having your own gun. In theory, citizens could rise up and overthrow a tyrannical government. In theory teachers could protect their children from crazies. In theory you can walk tall without fear of being "messed with" in the street. In practice, it means that the authorities single out the citizen and use superior firepower. In practice the children are killed before any protection can be given. In practice unlawful killings occur that in some states are protected by "stand your ground" laws.

In theory, sousveillance could protect against tyranny. In practice, surveillance technologies will make the world very authoritarian. Kill switches on communications and transport just adds to the control of citizens.

Our "protector class" are just sophisticated thugs, demanding "protection money", because...well "things break" (c.f. Monty Python). A Time magazine article on the US army had a quote rom a senior rank that said (I'm paraphrasing) "The army is a giant welfare system, where we occasionally kill the odd terrorist"

Anonymous said...

There may not be many cases in history where whining worked, but there are many where revolution and armed struggle did. As we slouch toward this dystopian future, why do you promote such an attitude of hopelessness and powerlessness and submission to the status quo? Real power comes from transgressing the rules and abrogating the existing order; if you always rule this option out, you are in effect a slave to the current system and can do little more than whine.

David Brin said...

Sure, at any given moment, cynicism is probably justified. And then you have "moments" that overturn the oligarchic apple cart.

One happened when Senator Al Gore's staff drafted the bill that set the Internet free and gave us 25 years of spectacular freedom and renaissance… with flaws that are the only things that cynics see.

If we can only see EITHER flaws or the good stuff, show the flaws! Pounce on em! But know that a cynic is tunnel-visioned and cannot see opportunities and the fact that the world also has hope.

David Brin said...

Alex said: "Sousveillance is like having your own gun. In theory, citizens could rise up and overthrow a tyrannical government. In theory teachers could protect their children from crazies. In theory you can walk tall without fear of being "messed with" in the street. In practice, it means that the authorities single out the citizen and use superior firepower. In practice the children are killed before any protection can be given."

You're serious? You can say this without seeing the ironies? That countless children ARE saved by brave teachers? That we mostly CAN stand tall on most streets… compared to ANY and all times past? And that a proliferation of cameras are trending to giving that right to minorities?

If citizen observers in the control room get co opted, there is only one answer. More of them.

The ultimate point. 99% of our protector-caste civil servants do not view themselves as bad guys. There's a limit to what they can rationalize. That limit might shift! So apply sousveillance so that it keeps shifting toward "I'm a servant."

Paul451 said...

I think Alex meant "brave teachers with guns".

Re: Snowden's political alignment.
I can't fulfil your request, but I note that he claimed to have voted 3rd party in 2004 and Obama in 2008.

But to be honest, I'd expect intelligence contractors to be paranoid enough to register (and vote) for the party they experience as the most vindictive, just-in-case. [For example, up until shortly before his run, Snowden supposedly posted pro-Intelligence anti-leaker comments online. Whether he believed it or was just ensuring that the same system he exposed was showing him to be A Loyal Man, I don't know.]

Alex Tolley said...

@DB - in retrospect, I phrased my first sentence very badly. All the following examples were based on owning (and sometimes carrying) a gun. I think Paul451 read it the way I meant, but clearly you didn't. My error.

David Brin said...

One fellow wrote in: "Edward Snowden worked for Booz Allen Hamilton who received a no bid NSA contract in 2007 under President George W Bush. Booz Allen Hamilton had a 5 year contract and was owned by CarIsle Group also then a Bush Family asset. In 2008 Snowden would only say he Voted for a third party candidate.

"For the 2012 election, political donation records indicate that he contributed to the primary campaign of Republican candidate Ron Paul. When Booz Allen Hamilton's contract came up for renewal it was decided to bring the intelligence gathering back in house and Snowden leaked to embarrass the President."

Jonathan S. said...

"A measure of general pubic displeasure is ALL that this event will accomplish."

Oh, I certainly hope not! I mean, I know folks ascribe all manner of meanness to Big Brother, but I'm pretty sure they won't have time to go kick every participant in the crotch, if nothing else...

Acacia H. said...

You know, there are parallels between Obama's reaction to Snowden and Nixon's reaction to the Pentagon Papers, with the exception that the latter happened in Nixon's first term and led to Watergate.

It would be amusing if, as Obama's last act in office, that he issued a blanket pardon of a dozen or so whistleblowers that he'd had prosecuted and persecuted. Of course, the conspiracy theorists would jump all over that and claim Obama was forced to go after whistleblowers by a shadow government. And we'd probably see Republicans work to strip this power from the Executive Office and undo Obama's use of the Pardon.

Rob H.

Alex Tolley said...

I think this article exemplifies what I see as the likely failure mode for transparency. While not about transparency, it is about the changing rules of law in the US, in fact lawlessness by the state. We know the stats that reflect this, but the inside story by a civil rights lawyer puts a very personal stamp on them. As I've said before, simply trying to "watch the watchers" will fail when the rules are changed, arbitrarily.

I'm reminded of Hernando de Soto's point that economies require strong property rights, something that is not well established in developing countries, and need to be fixed in those countries. I posit that the reciprocal transparency advocated by David will not work without a strong rule of law, something that the linked article clearly suggests is failing in the US.

Howard Brazee said...

One way surveillance is fine with me, as long as it is the people knowing what the state is doing. The state is supposed to be working for the people.

Two way surveillance is acceptable. I'll give up my privacy if that is the only way the state will give up its privacy.

locumranch said...

Not to denigrate the value of Transparency as both a prerequisite to democracy AND a potential countermeasure to governmental surveillance, we must also acknowledge the following:

(1) That all of the information in the world is useless to a population that either lacks the subsequent inclination or the capability to act in a physically decisive, legal or extralegal manner;

(2) That the cost of democratic action is high, often requiring the sacrifice of comfort, privilege, status, health & life, without which this government of & for the people will vanish from this earth;

(3) That the pressing need for both transparency & sousveillance as countermeasures against an increasingly intrusive government suggests that time to act is already upon us as the time for talk has past; and

(4) 'That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.'


David Brin said...

Locum is taking his prescripts and supremely cogent today. huzzah.

Right on… there are those failure modes… plus a couple more. The potential for bullying by a majority of "little brothers" is inherently THE main failure mode of a truly transparent society.

Or else the pleasure-based complacency of Brave New World. Not an iron boot in the face, but the "whatever" arm-wave of a population that is officially in charge, but indolent.

To those (and others) I have an answer (try reading The Transparent Society, man… actually reading it.) That answer is…. us.

This failure modes do not seem to be where westerners have gone with transparency, which tends to INCREASE tolerance of diversity, eccentricity and harmless divergence, with increased exposure. The kids posting embarrassing things on FB seem to be betting and committing themselves to that.

Likewise, if WE are watching the control rooms where the watchers are watching us, do you think the TSA types will get away with joking about our obesity? Or track pretty girls home, without getting caught and fired?

Tacitus said...


I don't think locum is on any "prescripts" for mental illness. You probably don't think so either.

Out of respect to the many, many folks who struggle with this burden perhaps this is a turn of phrase that could be retired.


David Brin said...

Tacitus and locus… I apologize.

I need a lower level and funnier snark - less fraught with moral hazard - to use when locum (or others) show unusual cogency and rise to what we all know to be his potential.

David Brin said...

And I hate auto-correct!

Hank Roberts said...

> Sousveillance is the answer
> to surveillance.

And is there an organization somewhere working on this?

For extra value, one that hasn't yet been labeled terrierists?

EFF sure, ACLU sure, my locally owned ISP damn sure.

But after that?

Seems like the only people who really tell us what's going on are the historians. And that 50-year lag time is a killer.

David Brin said...

Hank, other than Steve Mann or U Toronto and Florida's Froomkin, I seem to be Mr Sousveillance./ I hope that will change as more folks finally "get it".

Tom Crowl said...

Well I did my duty and joined the EFF petition.

Just as I've joined in on many other online petitions and voted in every election.

But I've become cynical about their potential.

As has the nation...

"A cynic is a romantic who's heart has been broken."

Not sure where I heard that... but that's the state of the nation.

The elites of both Parties have become rich... while the middle class has died.

Yes, the Democrats are a little better...

But their 'compromise' of supporting easy credit rather than a true sharing of the wealth produced in the last few decades has resulted in what in effect is a national 'company store'...

And the actions of both parties since 2008 reflect their unwillingness to do anything or address any issue that their paymasters don't want addressed.

This will not end well.

Frankly you are totally correct about sousveillance. And while I know you're cranky, I don't how you stay as calm as you do trying to get people to wake up to its importance...

Though I'm becoming very cranky myself regarding my own frustrations with getting attention for the micropayment.