Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies

The IEET is a 501(c)3 non-profit, tax-exempt organization registered in the State of Connecticut in the United States. Please give as you are able, and help support our work for a brighter future.

Search the IEET
Subscribe and Contribute to:

Technoprogressive? BioConservative? Huh?
Quick overview of biopolitical points of view

whats new at ieet

Benefiting from Exponentials Globally

Theory and Application of the Extended Mind (Series Index)

Network Society Interview with David Orban

After Paris, can we be both safe and free?

Don’t we all wish to be Wonder Woman or Superman?

Moral and Legal Imperatives for Sentient A.I. - Terasem Colloquium in Second Life Dec. 10th

ieet books

The Brain: The Story of You
David Eagleman


spud100 on 'Moral and Legal Imperatives for Sentient A.I. - Terasem Colloquium in Second Life Dec. 10th' (Nov 25, 2015)

spud100 on 'Christians Should Support Scientists and Technologists' (Nov 25, 2015)

instamatic on 'A Multifaceted Strategy to Defeat ISIS' (Nov 24, 2015)

spud100 on 'A Multifaceted Strategy to Defeat ISIS' (Nov 24, 2015)

ekendal on 'Ectogenesis Offers Multiple Unique Benefits' (Nov 24, 2015)

instamatic on 'A Multifaceted Strategy to Defeat ISIS' (Nov 23, 2015)

Lucifer777 on 'Why it matters that you realize you’re in a computer simulation' (Nov 23, 2015)

Subscribe to IEET News Lists

Daily News Feed

Longevity Dividend List

Catastrophic Risks List

Biopolitics of Popular Culture List

Technoprogressive List

Trans-Spirit List


Enframing the Flesh: Heidegger, Transhumanism, and the Body as “Standing Reserve”

Moral Enhancement and Political Realism

Intelligent Technologies and Lost Life

Hottest Articles of the Last Month

Why it matters that you realize you’re in a computer simulation
Nov 14, 2015
(66912) Hits
(14) Comments

The Future Business of Body Shops
Nov 15, 2015
(7858) Hits
(0) Comments

Crypto Enlightenment: A Social Theory of Blockchains
Nov 1, 2015
(7011) Hits
(0) Comments

The Incoherence and Unsurvivability of Non-Anarchist Transhumanism
Oct 29, 2015
(6398) Hits
(4) Comments

IEET > Security > Cyber > SciTech > Rights > Vision > Fellows > David Brin

Print Email permalink (1) Comments (2986) Hits •  subscribe Share on facebook Stumble This submit to reddit submit to digg

The end of ID and credit card safety? Must e-commerce be destroyed?

David Brin
By David Brin
Ethical Technology

Posted: Feb 13, 2013

Want a scary story about the near future of you and your money on the internet… and the future of e-commerce? Try this from Mark Anderson, one of the top tech business pundits around, in the newsletter of the Strategic News Service

Another level of chaos has come to us through the use of credit cards on the Net, linked to our digital IDs. At first, everything was great: the system worked, fraud was present but offset by fees, and the world had a new payments system. That was yesterday. Today, ID theft and card fraud are apparently out of control....
 Not long ago, I was told by a gas pump to check with personnel inside; I had driven my little sports car too quickly from the last gas station, and the system had rejected my card because it didn't think I could be me. Soon after that, the anti-fraud system on a different card allowed me to fly to Washington, DC, and charge something there, but not to charge something in New York, where I often travel. When I called the issuing bank, the implication was that I had failed the burden of duty of calling to inform the card company.
 I am used to informing these folks when I travel internationally, but -  "Do you mean I now have to call you every time I move from state to state?" I asked. "Because I am definitely going to shred the card before that ever happens." 
 A friend reported having had her card fraudulently used, so she canceled it and had another issued from the same New York bank. That, too, came back soon with fraudulent charges. My response: she wasn't a victim of ID theft; she was a victim of a bank that was lying to her about having been penetrated, with the thief getting card data access. Someone else at the table had also had bad charges on a card from the same bank.
 "Simple," I suggested. "Don't change cards; change banks." Can a whole bank be neutralized by a single attacker?  You bet.
Scary stuff from a fellow who knows.  But nothing compared to other items in Mark's highly respected newsletter: like when he gives us all chills, explaining about the back doors that have been designed into most chips originating in Taiwan, allowing outsiders who have a secret key to simply walk into your system. Those chips are everywhere, including all U.S. defense machinery. Now what could those back doors be for?
== The end of credit cards and passwords? ==
endMark Anderson paints a daunting picture of our future Internet, fraught with viruses, worms, moles, backdoors and a bestiary of other ways that our secrets -- from passwords to credit cards to life histories -- can and will be betrayed.  The "cypherpunk" dream is to prevent all of this by encrypting everything behind  layers of shrouds -- the biological analogue: fighting viruses by thickening your cell walls and making them less permeable.  One can only take that so far before the cells become incapable of interacting with each other. And then die.
Despite an admitted romantic allure, such cypher methods can never be verified, they defy auditing, and they can be suborned or backdoor penetrated by elites. Indeed, the system's opacity makes it hard to detect or repair mistakes. All of which I detailed in The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force us to choose between Privacy and Freedom?
Face it, we in the Western Enlightenment will never excel at skulking and shrouds and games of deceit.  Oh, I'm sure our paid protectors have done many clever things: perhaps those "backdoors" that exist in Taiwanese chips and codes contain DOUBLE back doors, that were counter-scammed by the NSA. Our spymasters doubtless have many layers and ingenious processes afoot... and so do some of the "anonymous" hackers... and it will all be for naught over the long run, as education and sheer numbers bring our adversaries (national, corporate, criminal etc) into greater technological parity.  At which point their cultural comfort with such cryptic games will turn to their advantage.
marketsAs I've sad in places like The Transparent Society, there is another way.  We in the Western Enlightenment have a tool that suits our cultural leanings, our talents and our creative bent.  That tool is light... openness.  The transparency that for 200 years turned competition into the greatest creative force ever seen.  Markets, democracy and science all work better in light, when the participants (voters, customers, researchers) can make informed- Hayekian decisions.  These arenas clog, choke and start to die when secrecy reigns.
I'm not proclaiming we should drop all efforts in the skulking war of worms and counter worms.  In fact, the looming failure of password-based systems (credit cards etc) can be solved with new, transparency-based methods.  Google plans to emphasize the obvious - biomentrics - but there are other techniques even simpler and great business models that could be built from them.
This cyber-era replicates a billion years of evolution, when parasites ravaged, then reached balance with the immune systems of metazoan life forms. We are replicating all of that in a few dozen years, praying we can fine tune our info-immune systems in time.  Fine, let's invest.
But over the long run, what ambient conditions favor our kind of society?  A future that grows steadily less secret and more light-filled is the only one that inherently advantages the Enlightenment West, whose very name contains the key ingredient.  All of our adversaries are allergic to such conditions.  In an open world, they will have to become more like us, not less.

David Brin Ph.D. is a scientist and best-selling author whose future-oriented novels include Earth, The Postman, and Hugo Award winners Startide Rising and The Uplift War. David's newest novel - Existence - is now available, published by Tor Books."
Print Email permalink (1) Comments (2987) Hits •  subscribe Share on facebook Stumble This submit to reddit submit to digg


I’ve always wondered how this sort of strategy meshes with being unpopular - holding unpopular positions such as, say, favoring democracy.  In some countries, that was enough to get you disappeared.  In America, there are still places it’s not safe to be gay.  I just read an article in the local rag claiming half the local homeless population got that way by being some flavor of LGBT and being kicked out of their home by their own family.  Sure, I’d love to live in a society where you could “let your freak flag fly” freely, but I don’t think most of America is ready for that.

YOUR COMMENT (IEET's comment policy)

Login or Register to post a comment.

Next entry: Shaping the Anthropocene: Cascio on Climate Change

Previous entry: It’s a wash – the evidence about pornography


RSSIEET Blog | email list | newsletter |
The IEET is a 501(c)3 non-profit, tax-exempt organization registered in the State of Connecticut in the United States.

East Coast Contact: Executive Director, Dr. James J. Hughes,
56 Daleville School Rd., Willington CT 06279 USA 
Email: director @     phone: 860-428-1837

West Coast Contact: Managing Director, Hank Pellissier
425 Moraga Avenue, Piedmont, CA 94611
Email: hank @