Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Brave Citizenship beats a Scorched Earth Policy

scorched-earthMost of us in the west were raised with legends, myths and movies that taught Suspicion of Authority (SoA).  Thanks to the great science fiction author, George Orwell, we share a compelling metaphor -- Big Brother -- propelling our fears about a future that may be dominated by tyrants.

Whether they emerge from Big Government or a corporate oligarchy or the traditional feudalism of inherited wealth, it is the end result most of us dread… a return to the brutal, pyramid-shaped social order that dominated 99% of human societies -- only now empowered by fantastic powers of technological surveillance and enforcement.

Finding ways to escape that fate - and instead preserve this narrow, fragile renaissance of freedom - is the common goal of activists across the spectrum. Though we are hobbled in this effort by the "spectrum" itself, whose artificial divides make us deride potential allies, proclaiming simplistic, spasmodic prescriptions.

Nowhere is this sad reflex more prevalent than in the lobotomized modern debate over how to handle information.

== The Indignant Reflex ==

Peter Watts is a very good author (Blindsight and the upcoming Echopraxia) and a clever fellow. But when he weighed in, recently, about privacy and surveillance, his core argument was nonsensical, even in its own context. The Watts manifesto for a "Scorched Earth Society" is satisfyingly militant-sounding -- enough-so to excite the tech-dazzle showman, Cory Doctorow, praising Peter from his Boing Boing pulpit, and Angelique Carson, who blogs at the site of the International Association of Privacy Professionals (whose recent conference in D.C. I keynoted)

Peter Watts begins his grand declaration with an absolutely right-on premise -- that one-way, top-down surveillance makes people fearful and paranoid. It can foster an intimidated public. If the gaze-from-above grows pervasive, the sole likely outcome is some orwellian nightmare.

I agree! Top-down, uni-directional surveillance by powerful elites -- governmental or corporate, criminal, foreign or even technological -- will be intolerable and inevitably lead to tyranny. I dread that Big Brother scenario as much as anyone… indeed, probably more so… and I am militant in seeking ways to oppose it. We share this common theme.

Watts-data-destructionAlas, like so many others, Peter thereupon declares that the sole solution will be to hide from the mighty! To use frantic (though always vague and ill-defined) methods of concealment to prevent elites from looking at us:

"Don’t just offer data protection, especially since you can’t guarantee it...Offer data destruction instead."

In ninety-nine out of a hundred cases, well-meaning folks will proclaim variants of this general approach -- concealment -- as the sole recourse by common folk against abuse of surveillance by corporate and government and criminal hegemons and would-be big brothers…

…even though it cannot possibly succeed, is illogical, has no historical examples of ever having worked - even once, ever - and is not the method that gave us the appreciable (if partial) freedom and privacy we now enjoy. And in that word "offer" (above) you can find layer after layer of ironies.  Who is expected to offer this anodyne?

In fact, that prescription is only the first half of the Watts manifesto.  The contradictory second half is even more appalling -- a stunning series of incantations that boil down to the following:

Our failure is ordained and rooted in fundamentals of human nature. Freedom is a fluke. Give up!  

Go ahead and read the intelligent and articulate - though deeply-relentlessly wrongheaded - Watts missive. Also Ms. Carson's posting; If you can't protect data, Burn it to the groundThen come back here and continue below, for my reply.

== Predator/prey… vs positive sum citizenship ==

The Watts position - that some of us might preserve a little freedom by hiding - may be shared by nearly all activists, but it is romantic twaddle that makes no sense on a dozen levels.  Starting with the fact that information is infinitely duplicable at almost zero cost, and it leaks like hot hydrogen from a clay jar.

delete-commandSeriously, find me one time and place where blithe assurances of data-leakproofing or data-destruction proved reliable, across thirty years. Or ever. You want to base your freedom on assurances that you can "destroy" data?  Do you trust any "Delete" command to reliably and actually "burn to the ground" any single thing that was ever turned into bits and transmitted across fiber or wires or through the air?

Really?  I wish the "right to be forgotten" folks would show us how, physically and technologically, they envision this happening.

But implementation is not Peter's concern, so let's address the matter on the level he chose -- airy metaphors and theory.  He begins by dissing yours truly, deeming my calls for sousveillance - looking back at power - the impractical dreamery of a person with no grasp of biological truths.

"The dude's a physicist," Watts says about me, "so I suppose he can be forgiven for thinking that it's a good idea to get into a staring contest with an aggressive territorial 200 - kg mammal who regards eye contact as a threat display. Speaking as a biologist, I really can't recommend it."

Ah, well, aside from chuckling at the somewhat churlish appeal to professional credentials, might I still demur? (Note: did Watts offer his readers back links to my real arguments, as I did for him? Such simple gestures reveal whether your belief in reciprocal accountability is genuine, or hypocritically feigned.)

But let's dig into his biological assertions. Anyone who has held extensive discussions with animal behaviorists, such as Sarah Hrdy, will know that if you cower and avert your gaze from a higher status creature, you thus declare "I am yours to beat up, at will, or even to classify as prey!" By cowering, you confirm the bully's inherent right to stare and to control. If you then try to thwart his stare by hiding, you will only be a criminal, denying him what you have admitted is his, by right.

On the other hand, if you look back, he sees you asserting equality.

Sousveillance-over-surveillanceAnd yes, that can be dangerous! That is, it can be dangerous, if you are alone, in primitive conditions of dominate or be dominated. Conditions that we invented enlightenment civilization specifically to overcome.

Indeed, if you look-back jointly, along with thousands and millions of fellow tribesmen, the alpha is going to think twice about predation. He or she or they will pay heed to agreed process. This fact compounds if you manage to enlist other powerful social forces on your side.

We know this because it is what happened, not in airy-fairy metaphor-land, but in our real and palpable Great Experiment, which finally took civilization to a higher plane than gorillas and feudal lords.

Why do these fellows never, ever -- even once -- refer to the big fact?  The elephant in the room. The fact that they are - at present - among the most-free humans our species ever saw? I am fine with seeking and even prescribing ways to save freedom and enhance it!  But how about we start by looking at what has worked, so far? This positive-sum, win-win, have our cake and eat it society is profoundly imperfect!  Except compared to every single other one in history, that is. Shouldn't we begin by asking what methods got us here?

Alas, this back-appraisal is the last thing they ever consider.

== Steps forward ==

Nor do they notice that forward accomplishments continue! Enhancing freedom in positive ways, by assertively facing down authority. Indeed, there are as many steps ahead (for them to ignore) as there are setbacks to be denounced irately.

Sousveillance-truth-brinConsider the most important civil liberties matter in thirty years -- even though it was hardly covered by the press. In 2013 both the U.S. courts and the Obama Administration declared it to be "settled law" that a citizen has the right to record his or her interactions with police in public places. No single matter could have been more important because it established the most basic right of "sousveillance" or looking-back at power, that The Transparent Society is all about.

It is also fundamental to freedom, for in altercations with authority, what other recourse can a citizen turn to, than the Truth?

A fantasy? In Rialto California, all 70 of its uniformed officers have been required to wear active video cameras when interacting with the public, and the results have emboldened police forces elsewhere in the US and in the UK to follow suit.  After cameras were introduced in February 2012, public complaints against officers plunged 88% compared with the previous 12 months. Officers' use of force fell by 60%. Most officers, skeptical at first, have adapted. In response, dozens of much larger constabularies are starting their own experiments…

…but Peter Watts would rather compare us to jungle apes than to citizens of a vast and sophisticated commonwealth who, across 250 years, have repeatedly used exactly this approach to wrest gradual-imperfect reforms and freedoms from previous aristocracies. Yes, by all means focus also on the bad news! The dangers and slides back toward feudalism! We don't have Star Trek or the Culture, not yet.

Only dig this well; the only thing that ever has worked is deterrence.  The lesson since Rodney King is that cops beat-up people less, who might plausibly file an evidence-backed complaint that will be believed and result in discipline. Indeed, the civil rights marchers of the 1960s relied upon the crude television cameras of that era to not only tweak the nation's conscience but to keep the marchers, themselves, alive!

Funny how this physicist would expect a biologist to notice the core biological fact, that light means life.

Politicians fear most the combination of a free and active press read by an active citizenry. That is why there's now a concerted putsch to demolish both the press and citizen confidence. If they did not fear us, why would they bother?

== The whistleblower examples are not exact ==

Whistle-blower-lawsPeter Watts cites Manning, Assange and Snowden as folks who were punished for looking back.  And indeed, at the fringes, where they operated, there is a murky realm where we need to talk, converse, argue over many complexities. Their cases are murky because they knowingly did violate laws that had been passed by due-democratic processes and ratified via acceptance by the populace.  Moreover, very little of the NSA/State/etc shenanigans that they revealed was actually illegal by statute.

Yes, Snowden especially revealed to us that we need to re-evaluate what's legal and change those statutes! But if you study Gandhi and King and the rhythms of civil disobedience, there is no promise that whistle-blowers get off, scott free.  I want enhanced whistle blower protections! But the only way we will get them is if we demand them.

In other words, it has to come down to my methods, after all.

Indeed, not one of the privacy protections on the table today will work worth a damn, unless they can be inspected and sousveilled.  Without reciprocal accountability and transparency, such measures might as well be written on toilet paper.

== What works? ==

What actually works is a limited set of processes:

1- Divide power.  It is easier to look back at 600kg gorillas when there are bunches of them, glaring at each other. This is the key enlightenment innovation! Split government into mutually suspicious branches. Encourage rivalry between corporations and between the private and public sector.  Get some of the aristocrats on our side (e.g. Gates-Buffett).

Then create NEW elites that are able to play hardball.  The greatest invention for freedom in our lifetimes has been the rise of NGOs, orgs like the ACLU, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Amnesty International and so on, who take the dues of millions of meek, individually-helpless members, then use that money to hire top paladins and lawyers, ready to stare down gorillas.
(And if you, dear reader, are not engaged in this method...sending in those dues… then you are a hypocrite to complain about freedom's demise.)

2- Sousveillance. Catch scoundrels.  Strip them. Expose them. You may be a transparency-hero whistle-blower... or just carry a live recorder whenever you deal with your town's planning clerk. Every time light wins, it teaches the mighty to limit the number of their henchmen and to worry about their loyalty.

3- Thwart Collusion. Watch for elites getting cozy with each other or regulators getting "captured" and expose the conniving.  Siccing elite "gorillas" on each others' throats is our core methodology. The core method of cheaters is for the gorillas to connive.

4- Stop whining and believe. That we are no less capable than the last ten generations were, at ratcheting the Great Experiment forward. That equipped with new tools, we might make Big Brother impossible.

All of these approaches were hard won by very smart ancestors… whose lessons are utterly ignored by the likes of Peter Watts, who would rather proclaim that we are helpless under-gorillas or slaves of neural reflexes  that force us, forever, to be obeisant slaves.

== Burn it all down? ==

RECIPROCAL-ACCOUNTABILITY What a lovely metaphor. Burn it down! How snarky-satisfying in its simplistic prescription! How voluptuous in its Bakuninist wrath!

But to reiterate: Watts cleverly obsesses on the tooth and claw of nature, bemoaning our inherent limitations, while...

(1) offering no solution - because the data cannot be "burned."

(2) He utterly ignores the methods of reciprocal accountability that gave us the freedom we now enjoy and that empowered him to spread his simplistic and un-helpful metaphors.

Look, I do not expect to win this argument.  I've learned that the reflex to whine about power is vastly stronger than the will to pragmatically appraise and innovate new ways to utilize tools that have worked for 250 years.

Reacting to Peter's essay, Michael Rush commented: "It seems to me that his observations have more to do with evolved psychology than with strategy.  Humans often have a hard time even maintaining eye contact with one another.  I think it may be an important point that while sousveillance may be our only/best chance against abuse of authority, it may go somewhat against our instincts and therefore require extra effort (which may be why you have seen so much resistance to the idea since you first proposed it)."

== It gets worse ==

I mean, jeepers.  Here's a lovely Watts-bit: "We're also familiar with how cops react to being recorded by civilians — or even worse, to the suggestion that we "look back" by sticking cameras in their cars . Over in LA they 've already done that, only to find that vital bits of that cop-watching equipment keep going mysteriously missing. Apparently, the police don't like being spied on."

cameras-smallerWhaaaat?  Peter, have you ever heard of... um… Moore's Law? Must these with-it tech whizz authors assume things will be the same next year and the next...

… when cameras are getting smaller, cheaper, more numerous and mobile faster than Moore's Law? And IPV6 will give separate addresses to each of the thousand dirt-cheap penny-cams you'll buy on a $10 roll and stick up -- invisibly blending with the chewing gum -- almost anywhere?

Not interested in the future? Then how about in 2013 - the very year that a citizen's settled-and-absolute right to film police was proclaimed. 

 Yes, Peter, that proclamation was answered (as I predicted in The Transparent Society (1997)) by a plague of cell phones getting "accidentally broken" by police!  So? Okay, that's a totally predictable phase. I'm glad that Watts and others perceived it, yay.  Or rather, yawn. We all expected that.

But didja bother to ask about the next step beyond that? The upshot, after cops start 'accidentally breaking' folks' phones? That next step appears never once to have occurred to them...

….when, within the same year, we saw a man in an orange prison jump suit, being sentenced for deliberately breaking the cell-cam of the man he was arresting… while stupidly assuming no other cameras were within view.

Are these guys really science fiction writers, if they didn't see that tertiary phase coming?

Watts spoke anecdotally of his own, personal traumas with authority, and I'm with you, brother.  I have stories of my own. But which of the following might have rescued him from a beating at the border in 2009? Futile efforts to erase data about himself? Lecturing gorillas about gorilla nature?

Or a citizen in another car, shouting at the border guards: "I'm transmitting live images of this!"

== It boils down to ego ==

You know what hurts?  It isn't watching smart guys who share my fear of Big Brother reflexively proclaiming "resistance" methods that are inherently futile and that will only play into Big Brother's hands.

LIGHT-STRONGERIt isn't their laziness, opining on a major issue without bothering to read or study or understand the topic, in-depth, or bring in 6000 years of historical context, or consider alternatives as anything but straw men.

Or the shallowness of assuming that their opponent-of-the-moment must have studied the issue just as little as they clearly have.

No, what grates is their assumption that they have some kind of moral high ground, as proud paladins of freedom, just because they grumble with sour-stylish verve.

Fellows, I have been fighting this fight longer and harder than you have.  And Big Brother is worried about my methods.  Not yours.


== FOLLOWUP Breaking transparency news ==

Worrisome? An Apple patent that might enable police to shut down cell phones in an area? Would this neutralize the recent court and Obama Administration declarations that citizens have a perfect right to record the police? The most important civil liberties decision in 30 years… and it could be rendered moot if all our sophisticated smart phones shut down in a crisis area.

All right then fight it by spreading more vision! Buy up old fashioned cameras and dumb phones! 

Encourage neighbors to perch digicams on roofs and window ledges. Do not let any 600 lb gorillas monopolize sight!

Did I ever once say I was relaxed about this fight? I am on the same side as the fellows who are dissing transparency and accountability.  I wish they would join us, fighting for light, the only thing that has ever - and that can ever - work.


Andy said...

Great post :) We gotta wake people up from their lethargy and get them thinking and acting

StephenMeansMe said...

To continue the biological metaphors...

Technically we can have life without light: those thermal-vent communities in the deep dark ocean. But the key feature of these ecosystems is how isolated and fragile they are... no connection to each other (i.e. no room for evolution-spurring competition) across the barren wastes of the ocean floor, and no hope for safety if a hot spot shifts and the vents stop venting.

That's a pretty hellish situation, I think. But I'm not a biologist, so... ^_^

Tony Fisk said...

Quickly reading this in a cafe, so I might have missed some points.

First (paranoid) thought that occurs to me:
- is Watts deliberately stoking a strategy that will fail? (esp. since he singles Brin out for censure)
Is that paranoid? Maybe. Prove it.

Acacia H. said...

Actually, Dr. Brin, while I dislike Apple I could see an alternative reason for the patent. If they own the patent... they can prevent other companies from enabling such devices in their smartphones. If they don't add them to their own iPhones... then they just prevented this technology's use.

I don't know if this would happen or not, but in theory it could.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

I love Peter Watts's "rainbows and unicorns" line and calling my positions "dumb." There's not a scintilla of evidence in his screed that he bothered even to read some abbreviated articles about transparency, let alone my widely lauded and in-depth book about it.

Folks are uneven, all right. What a hoot.

Tony Fisk said...

"The dude's a physicist," Watts says about [Brin], "so I suppose he can be forgiven for thinking that it's a good idea to get into a staring contest with an aggressive territorial 200 - kg mammal who regards eye contact as a threat display. Speaking as a biologist, I really can't recommend it."

As a biologist, Watts should be familiar with this kind of response.

Ricardo Montachio said...

The big gorillas already lost this fight.

When we have $47 (and that price is falling) tiny wireless cameras that can send images live to the net, they lost this one.

Now we need a YouTube of livecams to show the big guys how they are being watched back.

And I'm not surprised to see Apple siding with the wrong side of history. Typical of their corporate culture.

Ricardo Montachio said...

Three letters and an interrogation mark dismiss Watts' arguments as noted by Mr. Brin:


locumranch said...

Although we cannot 'destroy' data or 'burn it to the ground' in a literal sense, we can certainly do so in a metaphorical one. For what is 'data'?? It is information -- a series of observations, measurements or purported facts -- and as such it need not be 'true', valid or even representational. This is the path of action that Watts suggests:

Dissimulation, mimicry & nullification.

And we have so many models from which to choose!! We can choose the Clintonesque approach (What do you mean by 'did'? What do you mean by 'you'? What do mean by 'have'? What do you mean by 'sex'?), the VA method (Technically, the wait time for 'wait-listed' veterans is within established parameters), the Orwellian construct (But dark is light and restraint is liberty!!), the Italian Let's All Cheat on our Taxes approach (aka 'the Bald-Faced Lie'), and many others.

Irrespective of 'transparency', the Truth imprisons & the Lie will set us free, just as one lie deserves another according to the principle of 'reciprocal accountability'.


Acacia H. said...

Oh, I don't know. I created a webcomic back in 2002 called "Tangents" (which was hosted on Keenspace) and I am 99.999% positive that you will not be able to find images of the actual comic. You might find bare-bones versions of the website that it was on, but the actual .jpg files and other image files that the comic's files were saved on? You won't find those.

Go ahead and try.

Rob H.

thrig said...

I find your lack of competing narratives disturbing. Like the Huxley one, where folks are ever distracted by their jeejaws and lead on by promises of self-flying atomic hovercars or whatever it is that passes for progress these days. Some claim Huxley wins over Orwell in this regard; I recall the Calvin and Hobbes where Calvin offers a bowl of warm tapioca as an offering to the television.

Most of the data, of course, will be destroyed; time and lack of energy will thankfully take care of that, eventually. Recent historical examples include the NASA moon tapes that only through Heruclean efforts were read and decoded, and I recently caught our Windows admin throwing out a box of CD-ROMs and floppies that nobody had looked at in years (up next, Yggdrasil Linux floppies from the 1990s on the Antiques Cartshow). Short term, there will be much needless data saving (a curious cultural manifestation of the mountaintop coal removal, ongoing) but so these things go.

As for the solutions, these are quite tricky to implement. America and a few others hold most of the power (the readily available (but diminishing!) one-time reserves of concentrated energy stores); catching and stripping the scoundrels is really quite difficult, as they are mostly, ahem, "too big to fail," and the number of Americans willing to give up the energy-intensive habits that fuel the various Netflix (Huxley) and NSA (Orwell) datacenters is really quite limited.

Howard Brazee said...

Fine article.

I'd like to mandate that no government action is allowed to be secret past, say, 6 months. Give us oversight so that secrets aren't designed to save the rulers from embarrassment or accountability.

No strategic secrets from us.

Alex Tolley said...

Watts doesn't say "give up". He says deny the watchers the information, even though it potentially damages you even more. He admits it is irrational and reflexive.

The state is somewhat successfully fighting a rearguard action. Making some situations illegal to record (e.g. abattoirs, defense manufacturer installations). Making video inadmissible in court (e.g. the Occupy protester given a felony conviction). Claim transparency, but try to remove press freedoms. Perhaps these are the last gasps of authority protecting their "right" to unchecked power. But as the police become more militarized and 1/2 the population support even more authoritarian reach, I think it is going to be a real struggle to change direction.

When the world is filled with micro recording devices (connected or unconnected to the IoT) what we will need is a way to effectively use that data, rather than the haphazard exposure of it today. A free searchable database and distributed copies to use the power of replication to prevent the authorities attempts at scorched earth (like HMG's laughably stupid demands of the Guardian destroy the Snowden info on the hard drive).

Suetonius said...

I'll try to avoid being a troll since Peter Watts isn't around to respond. He seems to be overlooking the elephant in the room. If the past decade had gone precisely as it did in this dimension save "big-brother" applying his (Watts) scorched earth policies re data, there would have been no Ed Snowden, no Bradley Manning, no Julian Assange, no WikiLeaks! Ironically we know what we do today, precisely because these whistleblowers were shining the light of transparency on power in the shadows. If they were a tiny bit more willing to be accountable, their pleas for accountability would seem less like, hold that guy over there accountable?

Jonathan S. said...

I've worked a number of temporary jobs over the years. One that sticks in the mind regarding the issues here was when I worked for a small firm in west Seattle, assembling files from tobacco-company hard drives that they had "erased" in order to hide any potential liability for the lethality of their products.

These companies, or rather the people who ran them, were motivated; the recovered data indicate that the addictive, carcinogenic, and environmental effects of tobacco use were well-known at all levels of the corporations. They had every reason to desire this information gone. Turned out that the best they could do was to erase the directories, then overwrite parts of the hard drives. There was still enough recoverable information to cause them some serious legal issues.

The only way to be sure you've eliminated the data is to remove the hard drive from your computer, open the case, run a magnet across it ten or fifteen times, burn the disc, smash it with a hammer, and hide the fragments - preferably not all in the same spot. Because if someone really wants that information, some bright boy is going to invent a way to recover it.

I agree with our host - the only way to prevent the data's misuse is to make the process of acquiring it from you and using it as public as is practical. At the very least, redacted versions should be available as soon as they're assembled, and unredacted files should be available after a cooling-off period of, say, five years (to help ensure any secrets revealed no longer matter). Any variation from these protocols should require justification in a court of law - one with open records, not some secretive star chamber run by the very people it's supposed to oversee.

Hank Roberts said...

I'd really like to see Dr. Watts and Dr. Brin talk this out face to face. It's all to easy to misread ASCII as dismissive or offensive when it's meant as hard argument.

They're both scientists. They understand hard argument.

But it's dicey to understand it as a spectator sport.

The vector sum isn't opposition; Brin and Watts are both pulling toward progress -- not exactly in parallel, but the vector sum is right.

Pray continue.

Watts, earlier, wrote:
Science fiction writers are suppose to go beyond predicting the automobile; we’re supposed to take the next step and predict smog alerts. So here’s a smog alert for you:

How long before local offline storage becomes either widely unavailable, or simply illegal?

I note that Dr. Watts has been beaten up by U.S. government employees; as far as I know, that hasn't happened to Dr. Brin.

Hank Roberts said...

P.S., I wrote
"I'd really like to see Dr. Watts and Dr. Brin talk this out face to face."

Dr. Brin would have to travel to Canada, as Dr. Watts (like his late teacher Farley Mowat) isn't allowed to enter the U.S.

That's one measure of brave citizenship, right there.

David Brin said...

Alex, Peter Watts does proclaim "defiance." But it is the defiance of cyberpunk. Clever hackers and Resistance Rats, sticking it to the man with their secret codes and scorched earths! It is romantic twaddle that ignores the actual methodologies of secret police and hierarchs since Summeria, lessons learned by Bakunin and Lenin and Robspierre -- methods about which I have never met a cyberpunk who knows one single thing.

He does say "give up" when it comes to the masses.

Jonathan S - great anecdotes about tobacco hard drives.

Hank: "I note that Dr. Watts has been beaten up by U.S. government employees; as far as I know, that hasn't happened to Dr. Brin."

The reason is simple. I am careful to evaluate situations before I scream and leap.

Alex Tolley said...

I think David Brin and Peter Watts could meet "face to face" quite cheaply via (public/recorded) Skype video.

Whether either side wants to, is another matter.

Hank Roberts said...

> scream and leap.

Wrong. He did not do that. He asked a question; they beat him.

You can read the record."peter+watts"+"border+patrol"+"transcript"

Don't make stuff up.
Don't quote second hand stories.

Yes we all do get short tempered and write hastily. Eschew. Please.

Setting you and him against each other is a tactic to control both of you -- don't fall for that, eh?

And -- an example. Longterm and shortterm responses will differ:

Alex Tolley said...

@DB - I thought Watts made it quite clear that a service was needed to do the work, not an individual. Of course it would take a principled player, like LavaBit's Ladar Levison.
However I do agree with you that in practice, it is probably futile. Rather like the EU case that Google just lost, while it may work if you have to rely on search engine use to hide your links, real digging is going to reveal them.

However, like most others who believe privacy should not be surrendered to "inevitable surveillance", it should be quite clear that powerful actors can use information against you, which will not be halted by sousveillance, IGs or other actions. Plus, blackmail really can work if what you don't want public is important to you. Also well practiced since prehistory.

As for a historical counterfactual about Watts situation if the incident had been recorded. Well we know of TSA cases of abuse that have, and yet very little seems to have changed, AFAIK. I have the ACLU's record app on my iPhone, but I also worry that the its presence allows cops to break into the phone or break it on the basis of apologize later. It is going to require lots of active recording from citizens to counter this, even if their actions to search my phone are now considered legal.

Hank Roberts said...

An operational definition of "scream and leap" would be useful. Do this, and a border guard can lawfully assume you have screamed and leaped:

IO9 wrote: ... After border guards asked to search his car, Watts got out of the vehicle and questioned what they were doing - and immediately was pepper sprayed, handcuffed, and placed under arrest. Witnesses in the car with him said he did nothing more than question the guards; he did not attempt to attack them. Nevertheless, he has been charged with felony assault against a federal officer.

Charlie Stross wrote: Peter has been found guilty of obstruction, for failing to get on the floor immediately when told to do so after being punched in the face a couple of times. The more serious charge — that Peter had assaulted the officer in question directly — was thrown out of court. But failure to immediately and unquestioningly obey any order by a border patrol officer is apparently "obstruction", which in turn is a subset of "assault", carrying a maximum 2-year prison sentence. (Being incapacitated — for example, due to being dazed due to having been beaten up — is not, it seems, a mitigating factor.)
... should failure to immediately and unquestioningly obey an order after being punched in the face be a crime ...

Point is: being a brave citizen gets you the same treatment as civil disobedience -- expect to be beaten up.

But even without intending civil disobedience -- you can be convicted of assault for asking why you were beaten up.

And they can take all the information you have. That's why scorched earth is tempting, once you know how easily it can happen to you.

Again -- both transparency and scorched earth are appropriate responses to the panopticon state. Not exactly the same, but the vector sum is toward freedom.

Keep pulling please.

David Brin said...

I assumed all would recognize "scream and leap" as a standard catch phrase for acting first and pondering later. Ill chosen in this context. Still, I have been in many confrontational situations, dating back to civil rights and anti-war protests. It is safe to say that tactical planning is essential. Perhaps Peter was very, very unlucky, that day.

Anonymous said...

Very well put, Mr. Brin !! The audacity of someone to imply your "Dumbness" would make me think they've never read any of your Science Fiction. Thank You for your well thought out efforts. Dave

locumranch said...

Instead of repeating the precepts of 'The Transparent Society' over & over as if 'Sixty-two thousand four hundred repetitions make one truth', you should listen to Watts when he says that that the transparency model (honesty) is NOT the best policy for ensuring a free human society.

Like the platitude 'honesty is the best policy', the transparency argument is a variant of 'The Golden Rule'. It is religious in nature: It expresses the belief that people are likely to give as they receive (as in 'an eye for an eye' and a 'truth for a truth'); it assumes a certain type of reciprocity in human relationships; and it makes a moral value judgment about honesty being 'godly' (good) and deceit being undesirable (evil).

Unfortunately, this assumption of reciprocity (fairness in human relationships) is false in a frequent & observable fashion, meaning that any individual and/or government who is willing to 'play false' for reasons of expediency can gain easy advantage over others, even though we (the Children of the West) are taught that this is wrong, unfair & temporary, which is why cheaters always prosper pending the real or imagined punishment to be metered out in this life or the next.

You forget that cheating, lies & deceit are hard-wired into the human psyche as a beneficial survival tactic, as natural as the stripes on a King snake or the shape of a Stone fish and, although we delude ourselves with with talk of 'The Better Angels of our Nature', we cannot change who we are anymore than a pig can fly.

As either predator or prey, humans will always seek advantage using all available means including the mystical & scientific. Morals are transient. We will do whatever it takes to survive. We will hate a neighbour and cheat a friend. We will do it in the name of Heaven and we will justify it in the end.

For, if we do not survive, then no justification is necessary.


Alex Tolley said...

@locum - alternatively you could argue that reciprocity is both sides having a big stick. David assumes that there is no (not much) power asymmetry here, but it requires more than the individual acting and a strong legal system to support this effort. We may get the crowd support, but so far the legal system is being rigged to retain asymmetry, with few examples supporting the individual.

locumranch said...

@Alex. Agreed.

Reciprocal Accountability is merely a PC way of saying 'an eye for an eye', 'proportional consequence' or 'justice'.

(1) Dividing Power is good tactic but only half a truism; (2) Sousveillance is likewise a good tactic before leaping; (3) Thwarting Collusion is a meaningless phrase unless we construe 'thwart' as the use of physical force (as in 'Conquer'); and (4) Stop whining & Believing is appropriate only when reviving magical fairies.

Plus, 'burning it down' and 'upsetting the apple cart' are both colorful ways of ending a rigged game.


Alfred Differ said...

Physicists DO have a habit of stepping into other domains and over-simplifying them with solutions to hairy problems offered as proclamations. It happens often enough to be embarrassing for some of us, but that doesn’t mean we can’t ever make the leap and offer something useful. Whether David’s approach is the way to deal with all this can be debated, but I think Watt’s has relied too much upon the likelihood that David’s contribution is simplistic. The odds were in Watt’s favor, but I think he lost this hand.

One way to cope with the intrusive physicist is to bog them down with details from the field in which they are intruding. Watts can’t really do this and as much as admits it. Instead, he becomes the intrusive biologist by relying upon mammalian metaphors for us that can be easily attack both from his own field and from the field of information security. David already provides the latter, so I’ll offer one of the former even though I’m a physicist too.

Humanity diverged from our silver-back cousins several million years ago and then speciated a few more times along our path to the people we are today. Long before the great Enlightenment experiment we began to do something no other great ape does and it changed us in fundamental ways. We began to trade with each other outside our family blood-lines. Try to find another mammal doing this today and you’ll come up empty. Our Great Ape cousins certainly don’t, but if we are careful to construct tokenized settings for them, some will do it. We have our tokens too and won’t trade in certain goods and services without them, but we trade in so many other ways that we have changed FAR beyond our cousins in what we know and what we can do. Successful trade encourages interdependence beyond tribal bonds through skill specialization and discourages the silver-backs among us from messing too much with those relationships.

Looking back at authority is only a bit like looking back at a silver-back because the target for our gaze is human and recipient of a gift honed over many thousands of generations. The target of our gaze knows that screwing with successful trade dooms his power as much as losing a fight with another silver-back. A human silver-back knows they need us.

Unknown said...

Just wanted to give a shout out to Hank Roberts and Alfred Differ for elevating the discussion and not being overly partisan.

Incidentally, I have successfully used Watts' scorched earth policy in a couple of limited instances. It's not fun because it injures oneself, not just the opponent... but if you feel that you've really got no other option, and nothing left to lose, there's a certain satisfaction in watching someone else go down in flames right before you do.

Carl M. said...

The People sing out against the dreaded Kochtopus!

LarryHart said...


That Koch video isn't what I thought it would be, and I suspect you did that on purpose. There's a minute of my life I will never get back.


LarryHart said...

Here's a more educational video on the subject:

David Lang said...

@robert, if you give us the URL that the comic used to be at, you may be surprised at what can be dug up with the wayback machine

But the big problem with the 'burn the data' approach is that you have no way to know if you got it all. making a copy leaves absolutly no trace.

And even if someone thinks they have deleted every copy of something, are you sure it was never stored on a system that was backed up? it's not reasonable to retrieve a huge backup to delete one item from it and write it out again. also, there have been ways to read old copies of data on media that has been overwritten, so evern writing over it isn't foolproof, you have to physically destroy the media it was on.

This is why the spyplanes have thermite rigged to burn the equipment, even with the huge danger this would pose to the aircraft if it was used. (and even that fails sometimes, people have to trigger it after all)

It may be hard to find a given piece of data in the noise, but if your life were to depend on the data never surfacing, even if your worst enemies spent millions to find it, it would be a very bad bet to believe that it's been destroyed.

Acacia H. said...

@David - I looked. Wayback loaded the website. But not the images for the comics. Thus my phrasing. ;)

Alfred Differ said...

I have a former business partner who learned the 'delete' lesson the hard way. In hind sight I wish I had done things a little different, but I was a tad angry and I had a backup disk of the file share. Nothing I did was illegal, but there was no way he could scorch the Earth to prevent me from using the data I had without burning my house down too... and that might not have worked either.

I've learned from where I work now that they only 'delete' feature available requires one to keep track of copies and the physically destroy the media. Your computers have to be on controlled networks and even then the 'delete' options isn't a certain thing. We can't prove the negative and wind up making probability statements instead.

Alfred Differ said...

Regarding the value of scorched earth as a strategy, I think it is important to recognize that humanity is NOT unified on this. We can see this with recent experimental results in how people play the ultimatum game. Those of us growing up in cultures dominated by western markets scorch the results (on average) at a different split than those who grow up in cultures dominated by gift economies. One difference appears to be whether or not the players expect another round of play. Where this connects to our privacy and security is that citizens expect more than one possibly hostile interaction with the police in some places and none at all in other places. At what level we will scorch the place can and should depend on those expectations.

I’m not a fan of scorching anything that doesn’t involve setting fire to the other player. The data they use can be copied, but removing them from the game is the ultimate ultimatum. Short of a call for violence, though, I’d rather the silver-backs kept the data because on some level that helps me know what they know. The game is more likely to be predictable if each player knows what the other knows and knows that everyone knows. Partial information games are hideously tricky.

locumranch said...

When I look at David's 4-step plan ensuring a free society via transparency, the most important step being 'Believe', I find it way too reminiscent of Swift's account of Balnibarbi:

"In these colleges the professors contrive new rules and methods of agriculture and building, and new instruments, and tools for all trades and manufactures; whereby, as they undertake, one man shall do the work of ten; a palace may be built in a week, of materials so durable as to last for ever without repairing. All the fruits of the earth shall come to maturity at whatever season we think fit to choose, and increase a hundred fold more than they do at present; with innumerable other happy proposals. The only inconvenience is, that none of these projects are yet brought to perfection; and in the mean time, the whole country lies miserably waste, the houses in ruins, and the people without food or clothes. By all which, instead of being discouraged, they are fifty times more violently bent upon prosecuting their schemes, driven equally on by hope and despair: that as for himself (this renegade lord), being not of an enterprising spirit, he was content to go on in the old forms, to live in the houses his ancestors had built, and act as they did, in every part of life, without innovation: that some few other persons of quality and gentry had done the same, but were looked on with an eye of contempt and ill-will, as enemies to art, ignorant, and ill common-wealth’s men, preferring their own ease and sloth before the general improvement of their country.”

Or, if you prefer, David's plan is reminiscent of the the 3-step business plan of South Park's Underwear Gnomes (Step 1, collect underwear. Step 3, get rich) who choose to 'believe' & labor on despite the absence of a Step 2.

And, since I have no desire to starve, collect underwear or be deprived of my freedoms, I choose the 'old forms' (the tried, the true, the tumbrels) and I challenge David to have the courage to 'fill in these blanks' (these gaps in his argument) or forever hold his peace about the nature of his less-than-transparent plans.


David Smelser said...

While the majority of pages don't have valid images, I have found a few.
For example,

It shows a page dated July 5, 2002 and shows an image. The URL of the image is:

Alfred Differ said...

If I might take a crack at locumranch’s concerns about David’s ‘plan’, I’ll offer this.

David is offering what works, but it isn’t a plan. One does not plan these things any more than one plans how to turn trilobytes into butterflies. What we do is recognize the existence of evolutionary forces that cause change and selection and then try to add our own forms of selection. The closest this gets to a plan is we try to constrain the options available to the players in the game, but not so much as to control them. The system is still indeterministic, but with bounds we try to add.

Old school liberals don’t plan much of anything and expect it to work. We might plan to do certain things at certain times, but it’s a local plan at best. We might make a plan to do things on a large scale, but look at what we do and it is more properly understood as a vision within which we guide our local actions. It is the silly to think one can plan much of anything on a large scale and have it work without the cooperation of everyone in the plan and the height of hubris to think one can mesh the disparate desires of all involved and arrange the cooperation one needs. If such a thing were possible, humanity would have solved it long, long ago.

What MAKES large plans work is coercion and we know from history the solutions are unstable and temporary. We also know from history that we don’t have to make those plans at all. Local plans implemented by players with divided power produce better results through an evolutionary approach in our markets. Unfortunately we tend to reward local successes with more power leading to collusion and that makes those successes unstable and temporary too. The solution to this is one we found from our Enlightenment experiment. Actively disrupt the power blocs when they get disproportionately large. One does not need a large plan to do this and might be able to pull off most of it without coercion if one maintains vigilance. David’s four points are a description of this process. Divide, pay attention, disrupt, and believe that this can actually work. The belief isn’t a matter of faith, though. There is plenty of evidence in support of it working in the past, so the trick is to believe one can make it work again in the future.

LarryHart said...

@Duncan Cairncross and @Alex Tolley

From the previous post...

"Yes, nuclear power may be mostly safe, but both Chernobyl and Fukashima have demonstrated rather starkly how disastrous a single incident can be."

Indeed they have
Chernobyl - a total cock-up - 100 dead?
Fukashima - zero dead

The alternative (coal)
Thousands dead every year
Every month more radioactive contamination than Fukashima
Every decade more radioactive contamination than Chernobyl

Sounds like a win to me

Ok, I'm no expert on radiation, so I let you guys' comments that nuclear meltdowns cause only a few minor problems at the place and time of the mishap stand.

But I was listening to Thom Hartmann today, and he went into a long rant about how Fukashima is dumping millions of tons of radioactive water into the ocean daily which is now reaching the American west coast and, among other things, starting to cause cesium to show up in fish. He explained that the body thinks cesium is the same as potassium and so builds it into the muscle tissue of the human body, which then deteriorates from the radioactivity. That there is a condition called "Chernobyl heart" in which many including babies born since the incident die of holes that form in the heart.

Do you guys want to refute what Thom is saying? Or is he correct, but it's still better than coal? Because it sounds to me as if nuclear disasters cause horrific problems that last generations over large geographic areas.

Remember, I'm not trying to claim that nuclear energy as a whole doesn't have a generally good safety record. My point, which was a response to the claim that nuclear phobia came from "science deniers", was that even a single incident is potentially damaging enough to give one pause as a rational response.

In light of Thom's rant, I'm re-iterating the claim. If that is incorrect, I'd really like to know how.

LarryHart said...

The scorched earth strategy was explored in both of Ayn Rand's major novels.

John Galt's lock mechainism causes everything in his room to be chemically vaporized if the lock is forced. And Howard Roark purposely destroys a building he designed because his only compensation--the promise that his design would not be altered--was violated.

In both cases, Ms Rand's ideologically-pure characters were willing to destroy their property rather than let it become used by enemies.

As others have stated above, that strategy makes more sense if you are going to lose the property in question anyway. The downside is if the act of defiance invites retaliation. But Ms Rand isn't big on exploring nuance--to her, the scorched earth option is clearly the right thing to do, even if it also hurts the person doing it.

LarryHart said...

@Carl M,

Sure, the Koch brothers give money to universities, but in exchange for their (the Kochs) control over the curricula. That's not really philanthropy. More like corrpution of the institution.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin,

As I mentioned earlier, I am currently finishing a re-read of both Uplift trilogies.

One question I've always had about the "sooner path". Ok, sneakships avoid detection by going past the carbon star Izmanuti which presumably wipes clean their trail so no one can follow them to their destination, Jijo. But if there is such thing in the culture as the "sooner path" which is known ahead of time to these groups, then wouldn't anyone pursuing them already have an idea--at least a possible clue--where the destination is anyway? I don't understand how the star allows them to evade pursuit.

Alfred Differ said...

Heh. If we are going to bring in Ayn Rand for consideration, we have to remember that the Russian version of scorched Earth is quite literal. If the Germans invade, burn everything. 8)

Whether the strategy makes sense depends on replay expectations. In a gift culture, we might enter an ultimatum game knowing that a 90/10 split against us is acceptable because the next time we play we might get to decide the split and would expect the other player to play along. We might also expect a kick back later after the official game is done. Someone who grows up during the darker days of Russian history would know a very different kind of 'common sense'. They would know the value of threat and force even against seemingly peaceful neighbors. They would also know that the rules of the game can change very, very quickly. Germany was a basket case in 1931, but invaded Russia with a credible force in 1941.

In the US, there isn't as much motivation to scorch the Earth. We are a little more inclined to shoot each other on a smaller scale instead.

Tony Fisk said...

Larry, the 'Sooner Path' does seem convenient, doesn't it?
Have you read the short story 'Temptation'? You may find some answers there.

re: nuclear. Even with fallout health issues, nuclear is better than coal. However, it is misleading to compare radiation from released isotopes with natural background. The latter is usually bound in rocks and (radon buildup in granite basements aside) won't get into your system. Radioactive dust released into atmosphere is another issue, esp. as the metabolism is avid for certain, normally v. rare, elements for use as catalysts.

Acacia H. said...

It's a shame you couldn't find the rest of the images. I've been looking for ages. (And oddly enough this is the first time I'd been able to find images with Wayback for the old site.)


Dr. Brin, I thought you might get a wry chuckle from this: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone as written by Ayn Rand. It's a short read.


Rob H.

LarryHart said...

Tony Fisk:

Even with fallout health issues, nuclear is better than coal. However, it is misleading to compare radiation from released isotopes with natural background. The latter is usually bound in rocks and (radon buildup in granite basements aside) won't get into your system. Radioactive dust released into atmosphere is another issue, esp. as the metabolism is avid for certain, normally v. rare, elements for use as catalysts

I'm still confused where that leaves us on the "Skepticism about nuclear power is anti-science" scale. After listening to Thom Hartmann today, I'm inclined to say that while the overall industry record (especially American) is good, there is good reason to be concerned about the damage that one nuclear accident creates which might override the value of the benefits.

I can't tell if you're fer it or again' it.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Larry

He is talking utter bollocks

The two events were different,
Chernobyl was a Magnox reactor
This has fuel rods of uranium in a carbon (graphite) core
It went on fire!
Causing tonnes of irradiated carbon and kilograms of fuel rod to be spewed into the atmosphere
A considerable amount of Caesium was released in the Chernobyl cock-up but studies done by the health agencies have not found statistically significant increase in death rates

Fukashima was a PWR
This has fuel rods in stainless steel containment using water as a coolant and moderator
There was no “tonnes of carbon” to burn –
There was an overheat and an explosion but the amount of material released was minuscule by comparison
And would not have spread very far without the massive fire that Chernobyl had

Tonnes of water have been released from the cooling ponds – and that will have dissolved some Caesium
But you are talking grams or milligrams
Which is then diluted by the Ocean

It MAY still be detectable – we can detect radiation in incredibly small amounts
But it is definitely NOT dangerous

“Radiocaesium does not accumulate in the body as effectively as many other fission products”

Wait – I have it, according to the Homeopaths that water will now protect us from radiation!

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

Heh. If we are going to bring in Ayn Rand for consideration...

Not "for consideration" so much as just to point out that she dealt with this issue often enough to indicate she felt it was something important.

Much more so than she dealt with the question of how to raise children, for example.

TheMadLibrarian said...

Most peculiar -- I tried to access this page through Google Chrome, and it came up with no comments. Lag, or something else?


LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

Regarding the value of scorched earth as a strategy, I think it is important to recognize that humanity is NOT unified on this. We can see this with recent experimental results in how people play the ultimatum game.
One difference appears to be whether or not the players expect another round of play.

Yeah, 20 or so years ago, I worked for a director who brought in his old boss (at a previous company) as a subordinate manager. At the job I was in, Bill worked for Dan, but Bill had previously been Dan's boss, and when Bill was frustrated, he would make cracks like "Next time, I get to be boss."

I was very green in the working world at the time, but it still occured to me that that sort of relationship would produce a very different dynamic than would be expected between, say, Bob Cratchitt and Ebeneezer Scrooge.

Alex Tolley said...

Re: Coal vs Nuclear.

Whenever you read about mercury in your food, usually fish, this is currently due to coal burning. In California, there is also mercury in fish due to the historic gold mining in the Sierras.

We read about the smogs, particularly in China that are literally killing people. Again, coal burning.

We read about mining deaths, most recently in Turkey (301 dead). Again coal industry.

And we haven't even started on AGW impacts.

Nuclear, by contrast, has few direct deaths (apart from Chernobyl) but the computed extra cancer death rates are much higher than these, but are clearly uncertain.

My home country, Britain, has a controversial history of nuclear power use, the most famous was the 1950's Windscale (now Sellafield) radiation release. What I find interesting is that there is next to no hard data on the health impact of elevated exposure to radiation or radioactive materials.

But the real killers are neither of these - it is smoking, eating too much sugar and fat, lack of exercise, etc.

Power solutions differ. In California, we have so much sunshine that I find it almost criminal that we don't source most of our power from the sun. If solar power sats ever become cost competitive, no doubt there will be those complaining about the extra deaths caused by the orbit to ground microwave beams used to transmit the energy.

David Brin said...

Alfred you get post of the day. I learned something from reading your paragraph.

Still, since locum is having a cogent day and asked a question… indeed, I do fill in some of the "blanks." Try buying and reading The Transparent Society

Larryhart, The economic upshots of Fukushima were substantial.

As for Rand, while her scenario re Howard Roark was exaggerated romantic twaddle, it was her best book because it focused on one genius fighting for his own artistic integrity. Atlas Shrugged is different. It is raging agains all the compromises and consensus-political arrangements that millions of other people decided to make, using a mix of both left and right-handed methods. Galt CHEATS! He sabotages and manipulates and so does Rand, portraying every fault of an America that had been very good to her, while admitting none of its wisdom.

Wow LarryHart, someone actually read the second trilogy? In fact, while I put a lot of intellect into my uplift books, I do NOT consider them to be Hard SF. As you'll see in the book I am writing… there is a reason some things seem illogical!

Jonathan S. said...

According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Thom is talking through his hat. When cesium gets into the body, the vast majority of it is quickly excreted; standard testing for cesium ingestion involves urinalysis. Further, of the two forms of radioactive cesium one is likely to encounter, the more common one has a half-life of 2 years.

Acacia H. said...

Why do you express surprise, Dr. Brin, that someone read the second Uplift Trilogy? Heck, I did. I enjoyed it as well. I don't consider it quite as good as the first series of Uplift books, but it's been a while since I read any from that series and couldn't honestly remember why.

People find an author they like and tend to search for other books by that author. I'd be willing to bet that many of the people on here who have read more than one of your science fiction books have undoubtedly read both Uplift trilogies.

Rob H.

LarryHart said...


People find an author they like and tend to search for other books by that author.

For some reason, I don't tend to roll that way. I think more in terms of "books I like" rather than "authors I like". I read "The Postman" in the 1980s and loved it, but it somehow never occured to me to see if the same author had any other books.

My wife, on the other hand, did exactly as you describe. After I lent her my "Postman" copy, she found all the Brin that was available in the early 1990s, including the first Uplift trilogy. She found the start of "Earth" to be impenetrable, but once I got into it, it became another of my all-time favorite books.

We became aware of the second Uplift trilogy when most of the books were alread in paperback.

Actually, the only Brin books I've read "in real time" are the final Uplift book ("Heaven's Reach") and "Existence". But I think I've caught up on all that's out there. Perhaps I've missed some short stories.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

Galt CHEATS! He sabotages and manipulates and so does Rand, portraying every fault of an America that had been very good to her, while admitting none of its wisdom.

No argument here.

My only point in mentioning Rand is the attention she paid to the very topic we were discussing here--that of destroying one's own property as a last resort to keep it out of the hands of others.

Galt is Rand's "ideal man", and as such is someone who cannot exist in real life. He's a man who has always made the correct choices and never made a mistake. But in real life, people learn from their mistakes. Not having ever made a mistake is not an ideal of virtue. If such a man existed, he could do so only by the greatest of luck.

So yes, Galt cheats because he has to. He supposedly deserves to win because he's so much better (more ideal) than the other characters, let alone than the reader. But the best literary characters inspire us. And you can't be inspired to be John Galt because you (the reader) have already made some wrong choices in your life, and therefore it's too late. Even if you strove to be perfect (from Rand's point of view) from now on, you can never be the man who always made the right choice. No matter how close you come, you always fall short.

LarryHart said...


The best you can strive to be is Fransisco D'Anconia or Hank Rearden (who love and lose) or Gail Wynand (who understands what is wrong about himself but can't change it).

Truth to tell, I find the comic book character Deathlok to be much more inspiring...someone who knows he was "created" by a bad man for evil purposes, and who himself has done bad things in that service, but who rebels against his creator and tries (despite being an animated corpse with cyborg implants) to be a decent human being.

Hank Roberts said...

A relative (who for some reason can't get his name and URL accepted by the Choose an Identity step) asked me to confirm images can be found, with some extra jiggerypokery (I see others have already done so as well):
---- quote----

(For whatever reason, I have to enter that and get an error, then enter exactly the same thing again to bring up the images. But there they are.)"

--- end quote---

Hank Roberts said...

> someone actually read the second trilogy?

Many people continue to read those books as I did, at my local libraries. Literally "those three books" though.

Do authors ever get library circulation numbers as feedback, as well as retail sales?

If not, you should.

Jumper said...

Is this it, Robert?

Acacia H. said...

Tangents, not Tangent. ;) When I crafted the comic, it was a spin-off of an existing comic (which later went prose and was set in my own world without any cameo characters) I chose "Tangents" as a title because the comic started from a fixed point (the explosion of dorms at the start of CRfH) and went in its own direction. In theory only touching in one place.

That and I'm a math nerd. ^^;; Heck, when I took the site and turned it into a review site, I called shorter reviews "Secants" and one-paragraph reviews "Chords" - and trust me, if I could have incorporated other mathematical terms that made sense, I would have. ;)

Rob H.

LarryHart said...


Did you ever read comics writer/artist Dave Sim's 20-page essay called "Tangent"?

It loses something if you're not familiar with his stances on feminism, but in its own way, its an entertaining read.

David Brin said...


Hank Roberts said...


This ruling, unfortunately, is more about the exceptions than the protections, as Scott Greenfield points out."

Polyorchnid Octopunch said...

I just thought I'd point something out that perhaps hadn't occurred to folks here (including Mr. Brin). Mr. Brin said "I don't leap and jump". There's another way to put that; when you find yourself face to face with the 200kg silverback... you don't actually look back.

Just as Watts pointed out.

When you're confronted face to face with the massive and legally-sanctioned power imbalance... you do what you're told. This reveals a serious flaw with the Transparent Society. You can watch back, until the use of force is exerted to stop you from doing so. The big problem with the Transparent Society is that it assumes a certain level of parity between the parties. Tiny cameras doesn't do a Burundian (mean salary >300$US/year much good. Cameras might get a policeman into some difficulty at work for shooting someone unjustifiably... but that still doesn't help the person who's dead.

Finally, despite what someone said earlier... a hammer will pretty much finish off any data on a hard drive. Doesn't take very much once those disk surfaces are exposed to anything other than a high-quality vacuum before it becomes very much impossible to read data from them, even if you are able to put the pieces back together again.

What that would mean for the best approach for the relatively numerous yet powerless among us (say, for example, underclasses in NA cities, or third world masses) to turn off surveillance I leave as an exercise to the reader.

I will only point out that history shows that eventually... it will be done. The only question is when.

Polyorchnid Octopunch said...

Dang, punched that button too soon. I'd also like to say that I've enjoyed both your (i.e. David's) and Peter's novels a great deal.

There are elements of truth to both sides of this argument.

Yesterday's XKCD is plangent :)

Wormwood said...

The idea that all data will inevitably leak in a usable form is needlessly fatalistic. Functionally-unbreakable encryption is a fact of life; ubiquitous implementation wouldn't be trivial, but it wouldn't exactly be the Manhattan Project, either.

Polyorchnid Octopunch - HDD platters sit in filtered 1-atmosphere air, not vacuum.

As to irrevocably nuking data off them - any combination of repeated whole-disk overwrites, comprehensive physical or chemical damage to the surface and getting them significantly above their Curie point should do nicely. (Smashing alone leaves scope for electron microscope examination of the fragments, if you're paranoid and/or have powerful, determined enemies).

Anonymous said...

I have no idea what the right solution is, but Dr. Watts has a theme going in his fiction, and his opinion on data privacy follows closely. Unsurprisingly, it tracks with what he's been putting in his fiction for 20 years.

In his work, there are often two basic types of actors - nearly unstoppable powerful destroyers, and their victims. The victims struggle against their doom, and a major theme is the *choice* of whether to be a victim or a destroyer. A protagonist may choose to be a destroyer to reclaim his/her power, because the only alternative is victimhood.

So, if we are thinking about the all-powerful state (a good destroyer figure), pitted against us as the victim figure, our best choice in this grim scene is to reclaim our power over our data via, of course, destruction! We destroy it.

Is Dr. Brin's solution suitably Brin-nian?

Hank Roberts said...

Well, this sounds familiar:

Read the full page for the context -- don't just answer based on the excerpt. It'll change your point of view quite a bit to know what led to this, I think.

--quote---The New Jersey DJ, 30, was arrested in a 2012 traffic stop and charged with eluding police, resisting arrest and assault. Prosecutors insisted that Jeter do prison time.
---end quote---
The plea deal offered to Jeter was five years of prison time, for resisting arrest and assaulting police officers. Those were the charges levied in the officers' report. Those charges, as would later be determined by an active police dash-cam, were utter bullshit.
The video, which prosecutors say they never saw before filing the initial charges, shows Jeter holding his hands above his head.

"The next thing I know, one of them busts the [car] door and there is glass all over my face," he told ABC News station WABC-TV about the arrest. "As soon as they opened the door, one officer reached in and punched me in my face. As he's trying to take off my seat belt, I'm thinking, 'Something is going to go wrong.'" Jeter says the cops continued hitting him, telling him not to resist arrest.
---end quote----
Oops. As it turns out, there wasn't any resisting of arrest and the only assault occurring was when the officers beat the hell out of Jeter. On top of that, the officers in question elected to omit surely-unimportant details of the arrest from their reports, such as when one of them careened over a median into Jeter's vehicle, which was also shown in the dash-cam footage. On top of that, police had their weapons drawn almost immediately, despite the fact that Jeter had pulled over to the shoulder as requested and remained in his vehicle, terrified.

Thanks to Jeter's attorney filing a request for records, which included the footage, the charges against Jeter were dropped and charges were instead filed against the officers. Those charges include aggravated assault, conspiracy, and official misconduct.

---- end excerpt---

So that's both a strong case for Dr. Brin's transparency, and a strong reminder that Peter Watts isn't the only person to get this kind of treatment.

Hank Roberts said...

A good one, if it doesn't attract drone strikes -- what do you think?

"[The CIA's Gulfstream V jet] N977GA was not reporting its progress to air-traffic controllers, and thus it would normally have been necessary to use a massive commercial or military radar installation to follow its path. But, even if pilots have turned off automated location data feeds, ordinary enthusiasts equipped with nothing more than suitable radio receivers connected to the internet can measure differences in the time at which an aircraft's radar transponder signal reaches locations on the ground. Using the technique of multilateration, this information is sufficient to calculate the transponder's position and so track the aircraft...."