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Privacy will not go away—but it will evolve
David Brin   Feb 16, 2015  

The issue will not go away. But at last the reflexes seem to be fading. The silly reflex - for example - to demand that we solve information age problems by shutting down info flows.  By standing in front of the data tsunami like King Canute screaming "Stop!"  Instead of learning to surf.

​First: this is too easy to do. "The Justice Department has been building a national database to track in real time the movement of vehicles around the U.S., a secret domestic intelligence-gathering program that scans and stores hundreds of millions of records about motorists."
What is your reaction. Outrage? Want to ban this?  Fool. Yeah, that's gonna work, as cameras get smaller, faster, better, cheaper faster than Moore's law. Endlessly. Think TEN years ahead. Try some imagination, for a change, hm?
Driving this kind of activity underground will only empower elites and make them hire nasty-secretive henchmen to do all this in secret. 

On the other hand, if we stay calm, we can instead be militant for something that works… keeping public supervision representatives and public-access cameras in the control rooms of these systems! Require that operator-henchmen in such systems change jobs after 5 years and go to places where they can be encouraged to tell if there had been abuse. Whistleblower rewards. Lot of them.

These are deterrence vs abuse methods that use sight, which is possible. Deterring sight itself is not.
Can I belabor the point, having learned the hard way just how difficult it is? Worrying about what others KNOW is inherently insane, because you can never verify what someone else does not know! 

But you can verify what others DO with their knowledge. Preventing others from doing bad things is possible -- if we can see.
We became free by saying to elites: "You will inevitably see. But we demand the right and power to see (and supervise) you!" 
Again, there is an addiction to cynically demanding that we solve info age problems by reducing the amount and flow of light. By shouting at others "don't look!"  That approach is not only hopeless, it is illogical. Show me one example, across 6000 years, of it ever having worked. 
Shining Light on Anonymity
The Troll Hunters: This article shows the dawning of a new and badly-needed type of transparency… the hunting down and holding-accountable of internet trolls. 

“It is generally no longer acceptable in public life to hurl slurs at women or minorities, to rally around the idea that some humans are inherently worth less than others, or to terrorize vulnerable people. But old-school hate is having a sort of renaissance online, and in the countries thought to be furthest beyond it. The anonymity provided by the Internet fosters communities where people can feed on each other’s hate without consequence.”
Follow this Swedish journalist who tracks and exposes Internet trolls on his television show Trolljägarna (Troll Hunter). The author reminds us that “attempts to curb online hate must always contend with the long-standing ideals that imagine the Internet’s main purpose as offering unfettered space for free speech and marginalized ideas.”
“Anonymity online is possible, but it’s frail,” says one researcher who has exposed cryptic neo-Nazis.  

One lesson from this article — perhaps not intended — is to make clear the need for an intermediate, win-win solution that will promote pseudonymity — the purchase of vetted IDs from trusted sources that also convey meta-data about credibility and allowing accountability. This would be easy to accomplish, using some of the same methods as BitCoin.  The resulting billion dollar industry could give us the best of both worlds.
Mass Surveillance and Terrorism
Mass surveillance ineffective at fighting terrorism -- This article about surveillance follows the standard pattern. Starting out informative, it moves on to gloomy dudgeon, and concludes with a general armwave call for unsepecified actions, in directions that cannot possibly work.

“In response to the terrorist attacks in Paris, the U.K. government is redoubling its efforts to engage in mass surveillance. Prime Minister David Cameron wants to reintroduce the so-called snoopers’ charter—properly, the Communications Data Bill—which would compel telecom companies to keep records of all Internet, email, and cellphone activity. He also wants to ban encrypted communications services.”
France has blanket electronic surveillance. It didn’t avert the Charlie Hebdo events. They process vast amounts of imperfect intelligence data and do not have the resources to monitor all known suspects 24/7. The French authorities lost track of these extremists long enough for them to carry out their murderous acts.”
Good point!  (Though it ignores the likelihood (with real evidence) that many other attacks were staunched by national protector castes. Notice that the possibility is never raised by the writer, that this is a matter of ratios, not black and white.
Only then, alas, the pattern repeats yet again. The author reaches exactly the wrong conclusion: 

“It is statistically impossible for total population surveillance to be an effective tool for catching terrorists.”
Sorry, but this article, while informative and important, is also wrongheaded… the way nearly all earnest and sincere journalism on the topic of surveillance tends to ultimately swing wrongheaded. Always, we see the same pattern, almost every time: a smart person, knowledgable and committed to enlightened civilization, bemoaning some trend that appears likely to empower Big Brother — some Orwellian nightmare of top-down control by elites of government, of wealth, of corporatcy, criminality or tech-wizardry.
Always, these alarums are spot-on correct — till we get to the end of each piece, when the pundit recommends… 

... nothing useful, whatsoever. 
Either the article dissipates into hand-wringing that someone oughta do something, or else vague notions that we should STOP the encroachment of cameras and data sifters, somehow, despite the unstoppable trend (sometimes called “Brin’s Corollary to Moore’s Law”) that cameras get smaller, faster, cheaper, more numerous and more mobile every year.
For nigh onto 20 years I have pointed out that nothing can stop this tsunami of eyes, swarming across the world. Those who try to stand, in the face of this wave, shouting “halt!” reveal nothing but their own myopia.

Reiterating till the year 2050
Elites will see — name one counter example across recorded history, when they willingly gave up a method of intelligence gathering.  If we panic, passing laws to forbid surveillance, all we will accomplish, in the prophetic words of science fiction legend Robert Heinlein, will be to “make the spy bugs smaller.”
There is another approach, a trend that is happening all around us and one that may save freedom, despite the fact that our pundits refuse to look at it.  The trend is “sousveillance,” or assertively using these new technologies to look BACK at power.  The effects are already being seen in police departments across America, as lapel cameras become standard on cop uniforms and as citizens get used to applying their now-entrenched right to record authority.  This is the trend that will save us…
…yet the hand-wringers cannot glimpse anything that doesn’t fit their narrative.
Privacy Dead or Alive
Speaking of smart dopes… “Privacy as we knew it in the past is no longer feasible… How we conventionally think of privacy is dead,” said Margo Seltzer, a professor in computer science at Harvard University. Said her colleague Sophia Roosth: “We are at the dawn of the age of genetic McCarthyism,” “It’s not whether this is going to happen, it’s already happening… We live in a surveillance state today.”
Notice, yet again, the mental block. The inability to even turn the brain and mind toward sousveillance and the tech empowerment of the individual as a phenomenon or even as a possibility to be refuted with facts or logicIt seems plainly impossible for most such mavens to wrap their heads around the possibility that light might punish abusers and invaders of privacy – precisely that effect that we have seen for the last 100 years. So much for Harvard.
Privacy will not go away -- but it will evolve. 

A "warrant canary" is a method by which companies like Google can - in theory - let you know when the government has served a warrant for your information under a gag order.  If the company sends you daily messages "We have not been served any warants for your data… today."  Then when the notifications stop… You get the idea. And I would count on it about as far as I can drop kick an NFL linebacker.
How should the FTC have responded when Google was found to be using ad-tracking cookies that circumvented Apple’s Safari web browser? Or when Amazon’s one-click technology allowed children to make in-app purchases too easily? Or when Uber’s staff was caught using the company’s so-called “God View” application to surreptitiously track people’s comings and goings? This report gives regulators a four-part analytical framework to evaluate infractions and determine what types of penalties are called for based on a sliding scale of intent and resulting harm. — A sensible offering from folks who still believe in something called “middle ground.”  Offering some persuasive charts reminiscent of The Transparent Society.
Untraceable Money

See where we're heading, if we don't fight for transparency: Loopholes in U.S. Laws allow billions in untraceable foreign funds to pour into N.Y. C. Real Estate: "Behind the dark glass towers of the Time Warner Center looming over Central Park, a majority of owners have taken steps to keep their identities hidden, registering condos in trusts, limited liability companies or other entities that shield their names. By piercing the secrecy of more than 200 shell companies, The New York Times documented a decade of ownership in this iconic Manhattan way station for global money transforming the city’s real estate market.

"Many of the owners represent a cross-section of American wealth: chief executives and celebrities, doctors and lawyers, technology entrepreneurs and Wall Street traders.

"But The Times also found a growing proportion of wealthy foreigners, at least 16 of whom have been the subject of government inquiries around the world, either personally or as heads of companies. The cases range from housing and environmental violations to financial fraud. Four owners have been arrested, and another four have been the subject of fines or penalties for illegal activities.

The foreign owners have included government officials and close associates of officials from Russia, Colombia, Malaysia, China, Kazakhstan and Mexico."

As an indication of how well-cloaked shell company ownership is, it took The Times more than a year to unravel the ownership of shell companies with condos in the Time Warner Center, by searching business and court records from more than 20 countries, interviewing dozens of people with close knowledge of the complex, examining hundreds of property records and connecting the dots from lawyers or relatives named on deeds to the actual buyers.

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."


As usual getting from A to B is not so clearly defined - for this is the crux of the matter.. and the job at hand, and thus the need for upholding privacy laws - at least until such times as… ???

Governments implement/institute mass surveillance because..

1. They can
2. Technology now gives them the tools, gadgets and means
3. They want, above all else, to maintain the status quo of pseudo “Representative” Piecemeal, Half-hearted, Half-arsed Democracy, (in fact very little representation of democracy at all)

I agree, by all means the way to uphold FREEDOM of speech and of body to come and go and do as we please, (within reasonable respect for others and affordability), is not to drive the spies underground. And I think we all want the same thing, if not increased Freedom from social norms/contract, at least not the erosion of the Freedoms we have today?

The reason why Cameron and UK “Conservative” government want to pursue with haste and steam-roller UK citizens with mass surveillance laws, (Labour and Liberals are also now “turning”), is because they have already been doing it, and thus already breaking international laws. Who has taken them to account legally for this? - None.

And this is where it gets “sticky” - Who protects the “Little guy”, the individual with no powers of money or friends to take on Government(s)? In fact, how can they? In the “present” climate only the “few” will have courage to support the individual against injustice - where is this “Power of Democracy” the power of the “Collective” to uphold justice for the many, and the “needs of the One”?

It doesn’t exist.. as yet? Will it ever?.. who knows, it’s difficult enough to get Humans to agree in the same living room, or concentrate long enough to listen to reason, or contemplate long enough before worrying about the next “incoming communication” on Smartphone. It’s a question/matter of priorities isn’t it? (Oopsie, reminds me.. Batts are running low again)

We have now entered, (up to the waist), the era where phones are “smarter” than Humans?


Re: “Untraceable Money” & Miscellany

Are we here conflating openness and “Transparency” to prevent fraud with the need for mass surveillance and by extension the erosion of privacy, or do we just need to ensure that shady and criminal types actually declare their monies, and pay their taxes?

Transparency = Good
Mass Surveillance = Bad?

Can you have one without the other?


I think the problem is both worse, and ironically, has a simpler solution.

What Cameron is trying to do in the UK by essentially making encryption illegal would actually make all of us more vulnerable to criminals and creeps. Although, it is some indication that encryption works, though the downside of this knowledge is that it has empowered criminals and terrorists.

It seems inconceivable that you could impose or achieve universal transparency across even a democratic society. There will always be an argument for “exemptions” and always a great deal of incentive for organizations to keep more secrets than necessary. But even if you could, it is equally inconceivable that you could force other countries like China to adopt the same standards of transparency as such an ideal Western country.

Where’s that leave us? Well, if we don’t hold that there’s some sort of absolute solution to this problem, then we can can accept that we’re stuck constant negotiating and renegotiating these issues, trying to find some balance between our democratic RIGHT to privacy, our need for security, and technological development. We shouldn’t think that technology’s trend is always towards increased powers of surveillance, which is a mistake I think Brin makes, but also empowers secrecy as part of an arms race between defense and offense. Unlike criminals or other countries we should be able to decide where politicians and security services fall on this spectrum because they work for us. The ideal is where those with power are as open as possible so they can be subject to our scrutiny while the surveillance on the population itself is kept to the minimum level of surveillance that is necessary for general security.

Or- Transparency for those in power
Privacy for those lacking it.

It will be a long, hard and never completed struggle.

@ Rick..

Agreed, there will always be requirement for “exemptions from Transparency”, which effectively translates to “Protections of Privacy” and secure communications, without which even government or executive bodies would find it difficult to function? And most would not argue the case that government requires the sanction, power and authority to govern effectively, and with aim to “protect and serve” societies.

And Agreed, there should be “Balance” between requirement for international security and blatant abuse of powers available through unregulated mass surveillance. Indeed, this is what we should all be guarding and fighting against - the obstacles are Apathy, Ignorance, and Naivete - Abusers and Criminals and Politicians rely on all three.

Transparency also requires constant vigilance to be effective against abuse of powers. And as David Brin proposes, would require the institution of “Watchmen” to help regulate systems.

This necessity is neither impossible nor impracticable to implement, we already apply such Self-checking systems in every domain, the problems I see concerning Privacy vs Surveillance are Political machinations, Human incompetence, mis-management and organisations unable to keep up with technology abusers? Many everyday. (Failures by Sony provoked international political outcry).

So yes, it is not impossible to institute both Humans and Self-regulating technology to oversee a future Transparent Society, and this would also require reliance upon computers regulating and policing each other through authority and checksum - again this already exists today. The problems - Corruption, laziness and cowardice are entirely the province of Humans?

Regarding Spies, the need for Spies and the dishonorable profession of Spies..



“This necessity is neither impossible nor impracticable to implement, we already apply such Self-checking systems in every domain, the problems I see concerning Privacy vs Surveillance are Political machinations, Human incompetence, mis-management and organisations unable to keep up with technology abusers? Many everyday. (Failures by Sony provoked international political outcry).”

Yes, to an extent. Even with the “Sim Heist” it wasn’t some genius technical exploit on the part of the NSA, but the fact that it took advantage of lax security measures on the part of telecommunications companies to protect their and have systems in place to double check the security of their encryption keys. A “good” indication from this incident is that, again, encryption works, but just like the keys to your house, it’s not all that useful if you just leave them lying around for anyone to pick up. 

As for Sony, you’re right. This was again a case of an organization not successfully protecting their internal communications and being exploited as a consequence. I find it much less troubling than what the NSA did in the Sim Heist because of the latter’s scale, its affect on common citizens, and because it was directed against a government the US considers an “ally”.

As for “Watchmen” is this supposed to be a national body, a transnational body that oversees a group of states or a truly global body? If it needs to be the last, that’s a very long road, and perhaps we’ll never get there. You have to assume global democracy or even a global state, no? And in the meantime demanding the system be open to more parochial watchmen gives all sorts of other people back doors into the system they can exploit.  Which is what Cameron and Obama seem to be demanding now:

And for just how old all this is, here’s Sun Tzu on spies:

@ Rick..

Yes, let’s remember revelations of this “Sim heist” are new, but hacks were perpetrated back in 2010? And who of us were so security conscious of government agency hacks and abuses back then?

And yes compared to Sony, these “attacks” on civilian privacy and SIMS encryption keys are far more serious in context, (The “Sony incident” did actually cause international outcry).

Re “Watchmen” David Brin has proposed some ideas above which may prove workable, using the re-focus of loyalties and responsibilities for the “common good” and social justice. Ideas perhaps much more practicable than government “Lip-service” and promises to protect and encourage whistle-blowers, (The ability of these persons requiring the “integrity” and security of confidential communications).

Again and to reiterate, I think we all want the same things, and getting from A to B is what requires focus and scrutiny - who said it should be easy? And yes the “Transparent Society” whatever the ideological emphasis will “necessarily” require international cooperation and participation, and form part of an evolving democratic/technological future.

Obama’s logic and rationale is sound, (as we would expect from a democrat?) And more, here’s the latest move by UK “Law givers”.. They give with one hand and take with the other - so now the govt are protecting us from Police abuses of power? And thus the misdirection from the real question “How do we find ourselves in this mess to begin with”?

(UK) Government to rush through guidelines to stop police snooping on journalists



“How do we find ourselves in this mess to begin with”?

With you all the way on that one.

This article simply ignores the points I’ve made in and

The idea of sousveillance, of monitoring the powerful in return, sounds nice, but that won’t neutralize the power they get by monitoring us.  It won’t enable us to make whistleblowing safe and make democracy possible.

I challenge Brin to show a way this can work, rather than just telling us to give up.

This is where the argument for/against hangs presently, and in perfect contradiction.. reason with it, all of the necessary concerns are here..

1. do we uphold the facade of privacy, yet permit illegal snooping by govt agencies internationally?
2. do we submit and subjugate to state govt having unfettered access to online systems, business and personal?

China and US clash over software backdoor proposals

“Beijing has rejected President Obama’s criticism of its plan to make tech companies put backdoors in their software and share their encryption keys if they want to operate in China.

On Monday, Mr Obama told the Reuters news agency he had “made it very clear” China had to change its policy if it wanted to do business with the US.

But Beijing said it needed the powers to combat terrorism and tackle leaks.

It also suggested the West was guilty of having double standards.”

““On the information-security issue, there was a [recent] media revelation that a certain country embedded spying software in the computer system of another country’s Sim card maker, for surveillance activities. This is only one out of the recently disclosed cases.”

“All countries are paying close attention to this and taking measures to safeguard their own information security, an act that is beyond any reproach.”

“With transparent procedures, China’s anti-terrorism campaign will be different from what the United States has done: letting the surveillance authorities run amok and turn counter-terrorism into paranoid espionage and peeping on its civilians and allies,” Xinhua wrote.”

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