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Cracks in the Cult of Radical Transparency
Rick Searle   Mar 3, 2014   Utopia or Dystopia  

FaceBook turns ten this year, yes only ten, which means if the company were a person she wouldn’t even remember when Friends was a hit TV show- a reference meant to jolt anyone over 24 with the recognition of just how new the whole transparency culture, which FaceBook is the poster child for, is. Nothing so young can be considered a permanent addition to the human condition, but mere epiphenomenon, like the fads and fashions we foolishly embraced, a mullet and tidied jeans, we have now left behind, lost in the haze of the stupidities and mistakes in judgement of our youth.

The idea behind the cult of radical transparency was that “sharing” would make the world a better place. Private-life was now passe, our photos, our experiences, our thoughts, our opinions were to be endlessly shared not just with an ever expanding group of “friends” but with the world. Transparency would lead to individual authenticity, an end to hypocrisy, to open and accountable government. It would even allow us to re- stitch together our divided selves our work- self with

our family-self with our social-self or as Mark Zuckerberg himself stated it:

The days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly.”

Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.

Yet, radical transparency has come in for a thumping lately. We can largely thank Edward Snowden ,whose revelations of how the US government used the ubiquitous sharing and monitoring technologies used by FaceBook, Google et al to spy on foreign and American citizens alike, has cast a pall over the whole transparency project. Still, both the Silicon Valley giants and much of the technorati appear to be treating the whole transparency question as a public relations problem or an issue of government surveillance alone. They continue to vigorously pursue their business model which is based on developing the tools for personalization.

A technorati semi-royalty like Kevin Kelly put the matter this way in Jeff Stibel’s book , Breakpoint:

Total personalization in this new world will require total transparency. That is going to be the price. If you want total personalization, you have to be totally transparent (93)

Or as Kelly put it over at The Edge:

I don’t see any counter force to the forces of surveillance and self-tracking, so I’m trying to listen to what the technology wants, and the technology is suggesting that it wants to be watched.

It’s suggesting that it wants to monitor, it wants to track, and that you really can’t stop the tracking. So maybe what we have to do is work with this tracking—try to bring symmetry or have areas where there’s no tracking in a temporary basis. I don’t know, but this is the question I’m asking myself: how are we going to live in a world of ubiquitous tracking?

The problem with this, of course, is that technology in and of itself doesn’t “want” anything. Self- tracking as in the “quantified-self” or surveillance of individuals by corporations and governments is not just an avenue being opened up by technological developments, it is a goal being pursued actively by both private sector companies, and the security state who are in light of that goal pushing technological evolution further in that direction. Indeed, Silicon Valley companies are so mesmerized with their ideal of a personalized economy that they are doubling down on forcing the transparency upon the public it requires even as cracks are beginning to show in the model’s foundation.

Let’s look at the cracks: people under 30, who have never lived in a world where the private and public had sharp boundaries might be more interested in privacy than their elders, many of whom are old enough to remember Nixon and J. Edgar Hoover and should, therefore, know better. Europeans, who were never as comfortable with corporate snooping as their American counterparts (Germany gave Google Street View the boot) are even less comfortable now that they know these companies were willing to act as spying tools for the US Government. There is an increasing desire among Europeans to build their own Internet with their own (higher) privacy standards.

The biggest market in the world, China, has already pressured Google to such an extent that it left country. It has its own public/private spying infrastructure in the form of front companies that work with US firms such as Microsoft, along with it own companies like Baidu, persons with sensitive information to hide; namely, criminals or terrorists are onto the fact that they are being watched and are embracing technologies to hide their data, including developing technologies that are anti-transparent. If technology wants anything here, in Kelly’s phraseology, it is an arms race between the watched and the watcher.

Fans of transparency, who are at the same time defenders of civil liberties, sometimes make the case that everything would be alright if the field was leveled and everyone: individual, corporation and government alike was made transparent.  Yet, even if the powers unleashed by transparency were totally taken out of the hands of government and put in the hands of corporations and citizens, there would still be problems because there are issues of asymmetry that universal transparency does not address. We can already see what our government is really like: want to understand D.C. ? Read This Town- and yet such knowledge seems to change nothing. It is still the big-wigs who go on as usual and call the shots. And even if we could wave a magic wand and rid ourselves of all invasive government snooping  private-sector transparency has the same asymmetries.

Personalization, as imagined by Silicon Valley would work something like this example, which I’ve essentially ripped and twisted from Stibel’s Breakpoint. I wake up in the morning and haven’t had time for breakfast which is known by my health monitoring system.  This fact is integrated with my tracking system which knows that in my morning commute I pass The Donut Shop which has a two for one special on my favorite doughnut the Boston Cream. Facts known by my purchase tracking or perhaps gleaned from the fact that I once “liked” a comment by a “friend” on FaceBook who had posted about eating said donut. All this information is integrated, and I am pinged before passing The Donut Shop. Me being me, and lacking any self control, I stop and buy my donuts on the way to work.

Really?

What personalization means is constant bombardment by whatever advertiser has paid enough for my information at the moment to suggest for me what I should buy. The fruit and vegetable vender down the street is likely invisible to me in such a scenario if he hasn’t paid for such suggestions, which is unlikely because he is, well… Amish. This is the first asymmetry. The second asymmetry is between me and The Donut Shop. What possible piece of information could they share with me that would make the relationship more equal? Pictures of people made obese by their obsession with the Boston Cream? Nobody advertises to destroy their own business. The information “shared” with me is partial and distorted.

​The biggest danger of the cult of radical transparency is not, I think, in Western countries where traditions of civil liberty and market competition (meaning as ubiquitous surveillance gets more “creepy” there will be a rising number of alternative businesses that offer “non-creepy” services), although this does not mean that things will work themselves out- we have to push back. Rather, the bigger danger lies in authoritarian countries, especially China, where radical transparency could be pursued to its logical limit both by companies and the security state or, most disturbing of all, the collusion of the two.

Yet, even there, I tend to have a faith that, over the long run, the more ornery aspects of human nature will ultimately rule the day, that people will find ways to tune out, to ignore, to play tricks on and be subversive against anything that tries to assert control over individual decisions.

The question of transparency is thus political, cultural, and psychological rather than technological. A great example of the push against it is Dave Eggers’ novel The Circle, which not only gives a first hand account of absurdity of the cult of radical transparency, but brings into relief questions which I believe will prove deeper and more long lasting for the human condition than current debates over FaceBook privacy settings, or the NSA’s spy-a-thon.

These other, deeper and more existential questions deal with the boundary between self and community, the tension between solitude and togetherness. They are questions that have been with us from our very beginning on the African savanna, and will likely never be fully resolved until our species is no more. These questions along with The Circle itself is where I will turn next time…      


Image: http://www.deviantart.com/art/Eye-Flowing-146215978
Rick Searle, an Affiliate Scholar of the IEET, is a writer and educator living the very non-technological Amish country of central Pennsylvania along with his two young daughters. He is an adjunct professor of political science and history for Delaware Valley College and works for the PA Distance Learning Project.



COMMENTS

There’s a delightfully creepy song, called the Hymn of Acxiom about how transparency is supposed to give us everything that we want by personalizing everything for us. For the curious it’s available here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ttTf8N7Bwg


I think one of the issues is that even if even if everything were perfectly mutually transparent, this doesn’t mean that everything will actually be mutually watched. Large companies and governments can either pay hordes of workers or use data-mining algorithms to gather far more data (and act upon it) than any individual.
According to a state-media report of October 2013, there are 2 million people in China paid to monitor the diffusion of opinions online, (both for sites inside and outside of China.)  [As reported in this BBC Article:
http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-24396957 ]

Most concerning to me, these algorithms could be used to reverse-engineer the precise workings of how ideas evolve, spread, and impact behavior, allowing for far more scientific social control by authoritarian governments and advertisers, as explored in these articles:

http://www.mausstrategicconsulting.com/1/post/2013/05/marketing
-ex-machina-how-marketers-may-be-replaced-by-algorithms-and-
why-non-marketers-should-care.html

http://www.mausstrategicconsulting.com/1/post/2014/02/how-big-
data-may-make-a-future-arab-spring-impossible.html

http://www.mausstrategicconsulting.com/1/post/2014/02
/social-media-warfare.html

Gregory,

Great to see you over here!

Wow, I had never head the Hymn of the Acxicom- it was the first time I think I ever found something beautiful and creepy at the same time. For others I’ll share some lyrics:

        Let our formulas find your soul.
We’ll divine your artesian source (in your mind),
    Marshal feed and force (our machines will)
          To design you a perfect love—
          Or (better still) a perfect lust.
O how glorious, glorious: a brand new need is born.

I am definitely using reference to that in a future post.

Totally agree with your statement:

“Most concerning to me, these algorithms could be used to reverse-engineer the precise workings of how ideas evolve, spread, and impact behavior, allowing for far more scientific social control by authoritarian governments and advertisers…”

There’s a new book out “Social Physics” which purportedly makes empirical claims that we are beginning to be able to do just that,
though the authors see it in a largely positive light. I think given asymmetries of power and wealth they should be more attuned to the dangers as well.

Sorry, this is utter drivel. 

1) It ignores the core processes of the Enlightenment which have been, for 250 years, about the division of power so that elites are kept in competition against each other, and under more spot-lighted transparency than other cultures ever were, beforehand. It happens to be the approach that gave us both the freedom of democracy and the productivity of flat-open markets… as well as the most competitive arena of all—science.

To ignore all of this history, the very thing that enabled Mr. Searle to sit here and arm wave a couple of “thought experiments” and thus dismiss history… is pathetic… if typical of our era.Alas.

2) He gives no examples of “radical transparency” advocates.  I can only assume he refers to me, for my book The Transparent Society: Will Technology Make Us Choose Between Privacy and Freedom?  Ironic!  Since I am no radical. Indeed, my core argument boils down to simply suggesting we go with the only method that has ever increased freedom or empowered markets and/or science.

If Mr. Searle has an alternative… we’d all love to see his plan.

3) His thought experiment is dullard nonsense.  Sure, we average citizens do not spend our hours poring over government documents… because we hire people to do that for us. 

Adversarial transparency means setting up forces like market incentives so that competition pits big players against each other, as the battle over net neutrality pits content creators vs conduit ISP providers. Or the tension between ISPs and government. Or the NEW transparency methods that would pit an Inspectorate of the United States against ALL agencies, on our behalf….

  Above all, if we care about an issue in general, we send our membership dues to NGOs like the ACLU and EFF who make use of top attorneys and mobilized volunteers to play in the arenas—even in face-offs with the NSA.

All of this can be argued about!  Indeed, I could point to dis-spiriting trends that work to undermine all of the methods I described above.

But that’s the point. Mr. Searle could not be bothered to actually think, or study or paraphrase the people he ridiculed. His pat dismissal of the only thing that can possibly stave off a tech empowered Big Brother was below high school level.

David,

Your tone is quite harsh for an intellectual discussion.I believe this is because you took this post to be a veiled personal attack. My apologies if you took this to be the case, but it was not my intention. I did not have you in mind as a proponent of radical transparency and I did mention 3: Mark Zuckerberg, Kevin Kelly and Jeff Stibel.

I am aware your views fall into the camp of those who believe leveling the playing field is the way these issues can best be dealt with. I think this position of leveling the field made a lot of sense in the early days, but facts on the grounds have changed. My views are very similar to those of the Electronic Frontier Foundation who you seem to support. Anyone Interested can see their position here: https://www.eff.org/

The best answer is better laws to protect person’s privacy, including privacy against corporations where in the US it is the most egregious.

Can you at least, David, address the issue of asymmetry- how does “adversarial transparency” address the question of asymmetry in power and wealth? 

Yes Rick, I had every reason to suppose I was on your mind when you wrote this.  But no, that has little to do with my low opinion of the silliness of this essay.  Take this from your remise:

“The best answer is better laws to protect person’s privacy, including privacy against corporations—” 

Whaaaa?  You expect “laws” to limit data collection by corporations and governments, without once meeting my challenge to name one time in the entire history of our species when a society’s elites ever allowed themselves to be blinded over an extended period.

You describe no “laws” but merely join the reflex chorus of whining “don’g look at us!” without once describing how you’d make that stick.  With cameras getting smaller, faster, cheaper,better and more numerous way faster than Moore’s Law and data mining faster still… with humans spewing biometric signatures in all directions, you think you’ll get them to stop looking… by saying please?

The incredible lack of imagination is disturbing.

I support the EFF in order to keep up pressure and tell corporations and govts that we take this seriously, even though almost everything EFF calls for as a practical measure is howlingly dumb whining that bears no relationship to anything that will actually work.

You truly do not know what “leveling the playing field” Means.  And I am done here.  Rick I say it plainly… you do not have a clue what you are talking about.


With cordial regards,

David Brin
http://www.davidbrin.com
blog: http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/
twitter: https://twitter.com/DavidBrin

PS… you did ask one cogent question.  “how does “adversarial transparency” address the question of asymmetry in power and wealth?”

It is the only good question you asked and it is important.  And the answer is the same as the one that brought us the harvest of freedom and privacy that vastly exceeds anything known by any of our ancestors.

Accountability.  Dividing power and siccing governments against corporations and corps against each other, and creating NGOs that take our dues and hire good lawyers on our behalf.  And protecting whistle blowers, and a myriad other methods.

I do not need a “level playing field.”  I do not need to police what corps and guv know about me.  It is what they DO with that knowledge that can harm me and actions can be watched and supervised.  Which is why I am FAR more radical and militant about defending freedom than you are.

You would passively whine “don’t look at me!!!”

I demand cameras in the cops’ control rooms that report to us.  I demand emissaries to scrutinize every action of the FISA court.  I demand a true freedom of information act and limits on secrecy.  These measures will protect me.  Yours will create a blithe illusion.

Thank you for the response, David.

Sadly, I think it is your own faith in the transparency project that has in part helped get us into the mess we are in- that is we have blindingly created the tools and allowed ourselves to be willingly ensconced in the tools of mass surveillance that have led to the very opposite of where you hoped we would go- not a “transparent society” which is frankly utopian, but Orwellian surveillance by the state.

My next post takes aims at your views, we are both progressive
but I believe your blind faith in your own imaginary prescriptions has led us into a cul de sac.

Well, it certainly can’t possibly be David’s faith in transparency that has got us into whatever “mess” we are supposed to be in. And neither am I convinced that it is blind faith in transparency more generally. What I think might help, though, is to think of Big Data as a sign that the global brain is starting to become self-aware. I’m not talking here about “consciousness” in the “phenomenal experience” sense I’ve been discussing with Kris, but about self-awareness, that is to say a cognitive model of oneself. I think this is essentially what Big Data is: a cognitive model of the world (and the people that inhabit and are part of it), contain within that world.

As regards what this might mean for how to deal with the “mess” (if that’s how we choose the see the current situation), the first comment I would make is that if the process is really unstoppable, and I agree with David that (absent the kind of civilisation collapse that only genuine nihilists want) it is, because to use Kevin Kelly’s phrase it’s what technology wants, then we had better try to nudge it towards playing the kind of benign role that self-awareness plays on sane, well-adjusted humans. And in this context “accountability” - not trying to turn back the clock - seems a reasonable concept to bear in mind.

Can laws limiting surveillance play a useful role in this context? Perhaps, but I think we need to heed David’s warning that such laws might actually be futile. Not that I think “cameras in the cops’ control rooms” are the answer either. If anything I think the best attitude to have at this point is a rather Zen-like acceptance of the current situation, combined with a positive but realistic vision of how we would like the process to end up.

As a more general comment, I think one of the reasons I tend to be more positive and less critical about transhumanism than you do, Rick - and I know this is a discussion we’ve had before - is that I think the main risk at the moment is people’s ostrich-like ignorance and denial about where technology is taking us (actually that’s unfair to ostriches: unlike us they have very good reasons to bury their heads in the sand), and not the tendency of some transhumanists and other (techno)progressives to get carried away with their visions. It may be that this will change in the future, but for the moment I prefer the “cult of transparency” to the utterly unrealistic business-as-usual scenarios that underpin much of mainstream society’s thinking about the future, and I think the impotent whining about surveillance and privacy that David refers to here is a symptom of that.

@Peter:

The problem as I see it is that the law has not kept up with the reality. Limits on government power aren’t “futile”- authorities need to show probable cause and have a warrant issued, to tap your phone, but they are not legally restrained when it comes to your “meta-data” i.e. your phone records who and when you emailed etc. Things are “a mess” because the government has been enabled to build a surveillance architecture which is almost Orwellian.

To the extent that Brin has 1) promoted our too easy acceptance of corporate monitoring out of his own ideas of a utopian society this “transparency” could lead us to, and 2) spreads a skepticism regarding the primary limits we have always had against those in power, technologically enabled or not, he has inadvertently and with the best of intentions contributed to a situation none of us who value ours and others’ freedom should want to see continued let alone extended.

Thanks Rick. My previous comment was a response to your “discussion” (perhaps that’s a euphemism!) with David rather than a comment on your article as such. Having looked now at the latter I somewhat share David’s impression that you haven’t quite grasped what Kevin Kelly has in mind with his “What Technology Wants” idea. It somewhat reminds me of when you thought I was too easily dismissing Doug Rushkoff’s “Present Shock” idea. Having read about half of Kelly’s book What Technology Wants I think Kelly has hit on a pretty important issue, namely that while we do have some limited influence on the direction in which technology is taking us, that influence may indeed me much more limited than we often imagine. And I think he’s made a pretty convincing case.

Re laws not keeping up with reality, I think this is part of a wider problem, or perhaps question, namely: can the traditional forms of governance possibly keep up with accelerating technology, and assuming (as I tend to) that it cannot, what might replace them? At the beginning of your article you make the point that Facebook-style social media might turn out to be a fad, but while that will undoubtedly turn out to be the case (indeed to some extent alrrady has, whch is why they bought What’s App) with regard to e way we use social media, the fact that this technology has become available and is radically changing the way we live is not something that’s just going to fizzle out and fade into history.

The idea that technology “wants” things is clearly a metaphor, but I think it’s a useful one. And on this issue I’m really with Kelly” we need to listen to what technology wants (that’s partly what I mean with my “zen-like acceptance” point), and - unless we can come up with a credible alternative, which seems relatively unlikely - indeed consider how we are going to live in a world of ubiquitous tracking.

@Peter,

Oh, I’ve read Kelly’s book and I get his argument, I just don’t agree with it. Kelly takes this feature of technology that it “evolves” in a sense towards best use and applies it in a way that distorts the actual reality.

I agree that technology evolves in something like this way- the original version of a hammer might have not had a hook until one day someone had realized how convenient it would be if his hammer and his hook were one tool not two and the next thing you know people have a hooked hammer. The fact that a hammer is a tool for using nails almost makes it inevitable that people independently and living all over the world will hit upon this hammer-hook combo. The technology of the hammer in some sense “wants” to have a hook attached. 

The problem I see is that Kelly then goes and applies this understanding too broadly. There’s a kind of determinism to technological evolution as he views it that ignores the fact that tools today aren’t just invented and tweaked by users and craftsmen but aggressively marketed and sold by companies who want their version of a tool- along with how it should be used to win out.

And besides, Kelly’s argument that technology wants to be “watched” just doesn’t match what is actually going on. How does it explain all the technology that deliberately seeks not to be watched? As in security software, phones that don’t allow tracking etc. etc. As I said in my post closer to the truth is that technology “wants” a contest between watched and watcher. 

BTW:If you’re interested, here’s a review I wrote of WTW before my writings could be found at the IEET:

http://utopiaordystopia.com/2011/12/29/what-humanity-wants/

Regardless of Technology used as metaphor for entity/phenomenon or not, this does not seem altogether useful. Together with the aid of increased transparency and global sharing – “technology” is yet still not a hammer free of restraints nor control, or a means to and end out of the control of Humans? And even in respect of some imagined teleology for an evolving global mind/brain, again this teleology is evolving impartially without wants so we should not get carried away too much with romanticism.

I would say that the claw/ball pein hammer evolving was initiated by innovation and utility, yet is also not without the further influence of marketing, such that it may be difficult to find a hammer that is not now universal, (not a bad initiative in and of itself as market forces are steered by “what Humans want” – regardless of the arrogance of the likes of Steve Jobs and his attitude to consumers in general – an attitude that Apple continues in his absence as legacy)?

Jobs Quote paraphrase “..A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” (like total transparency?) And moreover a lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show them what they don’t want? Snowden and others have showed us this?

Yet we must also take care not to make sweeping statements, on both sides of political positioning. I do find David Brin’s comments rather mysteriously harsh, obviously he feels personal sleight at the article. Perhaps this is because of comments elsewhere or even here at IEET regarding debates over transparency?

For what it’s worth, I will add my 2 cents..

There is need to persistently debate the “rate of change” of state surveillance, and there is need of (international) “laws” to protect citizens – how else is the citizen to protect themselves against purposeful and determined restrictions to “freedom” and “freedom of speech”? How else, against increasing illegal activities of hackers and identity theft, (themselves the consequence of increased transparency)? Is “Transparency” of state surveillance a necessity? I would say that it is essential to aid to protect individual freedoms?

The way to ensure personal security is not merely through biometrics, (as even this can be hacked), yet eventually, it would “seem” that total transparency of identity would be the only way to protect our identity, and through various means, we will all require to be data catalogued, (as we already greatly are by state government and law)?

Two suspects board a plane to Malaysia with fake passports – who is responsible? State security or individuals? Regardless, increased transparency does not make up for oversights in security anyhow – although this is the excuse customarily used for increased state surveillance?

Sure enough small camera’s are becoming increasingly ubiquitous, yet being “old school” myself I do not yet see the necessity or the paranoia to carry a personal sousveillance item for my protections – although, the future transparent society may well dictate that I must, for litigious practicality, as my claims in future may be dismissed as invalid without proofs from my personal sousveillance technology?

The pros and cons of transparency are debatably endless, yet there is still need to separate transparency arguments from the needs of privacy and secrecy. Even David admits the need for state secrecy, so how about market/corporation industrial secrecy, and financial privacy to protect business from violation and hostile acts etc?

Personal privacy is not merely a cultural norm for most of us Humans, it is a psychological need as Rick states. There is a limit to what we may accept as part of a free and transparent society – some 60’s swingers out there may feel that certain personal privacy’s are irrelevant, yet even swingers may not want society to watch them on the can or Record their most intimate conversations/sentiments with loved ones and etc. So there will always be need for “personal privacy”. I do not want “any entity” probing my mind where/when I do not wish, either today or in the future?

This asymmetry that Rick points to is real enough, and no more easy to ignore or overcome than the massive inequality and power of wealth. Money will always be powerful, so even while international laws and state governance may practice the best of intentions, market entities and business will not. A corporation will attempt it’s best to protect its own privacy whilst “freely” encroaching and spying upon the competition, there will be no end to this ultimately? For the likes of you and I – well we are just pawns to be played in the global market – who really cares when the sub-prime market is manipulated/played, or the consequences for real lives and for real people?

Transparency would help us uncover massive corruption, yet transparency will also place a further burden of proofs upon the individual, increasing their “personal responsibility” whilst at the same time relinquishing accountability for international co-operation for Human rights and freedom. Good luck taking on a global corps with your sousveillance camera?

It’s all about “rate of change”? Be angry, be vocal, make your demands – this is how the “transparent” and democratic society will progress?

Assymetry in power is what makes massive surveillance dangerous,
and why sousveillance doesn’t cancel it out.
See http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/surveillance-vs-democracy.html.

@CygnusX1:

Thanks as always for trying to see my side of the story. I have a new post that will address directly Brin’s ideas, which was not my original intention, but I’ll bring up some observations now based on your comment:

“Transparency would help us uncover massive corruption, yet transparency will also place a further burden of proofs upon the individual, increasing their “personal responsibility” whilst at the same time relinquishing accountability for international co-operation for Human rights and freedom. Good luck taking on a global corps with your sousveillance camera?”

One thing I don’t think Brin pays enough attention to is that there can be differential rates of “going transparent” sure the state may permit us to look into its doings as we try to encourage it to be transparent but the same adoption of transparency by average citizens- monitoring, tracking, etc proceeds much quicker. It amounts to unilateral disarmament against the state and corporations by the citizenry. Let the state and corporations go transparent first and then we will, or better yet, why not just make the state, and some, corporate or criminal activities transparent and leave the individual alone. 

In the end I think Brin’s Transparent Society was brilliant for the time it was written but the world has moved on. Maybe this moving on is what has made him so prickly. What we have is something very different and worse than what he was hoping for and rather than double down on that model we should retreat from it before we go too far, if we haven’t gone too far already.

@ Rick..

I do not totally disagree with the Transparent society, although for all of the reasons I have stated above – and especially including as importance, protections of future personal identity, to which all transactions and activities will be linked. You think identity theft is bad now? Wait until it gets much worse, the ubiquity of data transmissions/storage will make hacking a full time profession for a global majority?

“It amounts to unilateral disarmament against the state and corporations by the citizenry.“

Agreed that Mass surveillance amounts to unilateral disarmament, and we have all bought into this dilemma/situation with the abundance of free apps and “something for nothing” attitude that we Humans see as “profit” from little effort – who is to blame? Look in the mirror?

Yet..

“..Let the state and corporations go transparent first and then we will, or better yet, why not just make the state, and some, corporate or criminal activities transparent and leave the individual alone.”

This will not work ultimately, as these entities are comprised of “individuals” who may or may not be corrupt from birth, yet on the whole become corrupt with the ease of power plays and lack of accountability?


“What we have is something very different and worse than what he was hoping for and rather than double down on that model we should retreat from it before we go too far, if we haven’t gone too far already.”

I don’t think it is necessarily worse than any other situation – look at North Korea? Is the world to continue with totalitarian rule without transparency and accountability? I don’t think retreat is an alternative, but I do agree that peoples should demand “laws” to help mitigate more mass surveillance and promote a democratic global society that values freedom and not merely stifles it?

Again, the US has a constitution written specifically for these purposes/dilemmas – why not follow it, the ethos is sound – transparency helps, but should not be permitted to hinder?


Regardless.. Technology = Transparency = Accountability


@ rms – thanks for the link!

@Rick
I tend to agree that what technology “wants” is a contest between the watched and the watcher. And, of course, that is a contest that will never be won decisively by either side.

Whether Kelly is taking technological determinism too far is another matter. It’s not immediately obvious to me that the aggressive marketing and agendas of companies differs fundamentally from the tweaking of individual users, except in scale. What is clear is that the world is evolving to something that is fundamentally different from what we have known, and that we tend to find this very disturbing. I think this often causes us to first our anxiety at some kind of visible target - your latest apparently being the “cult of transparency” - and blame everything on that. In any case, some kind of Darwinian process of natural selection between technologies must be at work, and provides some fairly obvious constraints on how technology will evolve. Companies may want their version and usage of a tool to win out, but if other versions and usages work better then eventually it is they that will win out. So it’s just not clear to me that Kelly is wrong - or, for that matter (based on the excerpt you quoted in your article) that he is part of any “cult of transparency”.

Clearly the asymmetry point is crucial, and I agree that David dismisses it too lightly. But if he is “prickly”, then maybe it is less because things have turned out worse than he thought than because you’ve indeed set up something of straw man by interpreting the writings of Kelly and others as part of a “cult of transparency”? I’m speculating here, but it does seem to me he may have a point.

Rick, I am almost done talking to you.  You show zero cogency and even less willingness to entertain even the simplest thought experiment.  You accuse ME of technological naivete when that is your trait, top to bottom.

You have not once answered what to do about the Moore’s Law of Cameras, which leads to them becoming invisible and everywhere.  Or universal face and biometrics recognition, and a myriad other trends that cannot be staunched by “laws.”

Indeed, your faith in “laws” stopping surveillance by corporations and governments is naive to the point of insipidity.  Tell us such a law!  Present it to us!  Show it to us!  And show us how it will not and cannot be easily side-stepped and/or suborned. You never do.  You remain utterly vague and insist that it will work to whine “stop looking at me!”

There is only one way that such laws will work… by instituting sousveillance supervision inside govt and corps… which _might_ let you enforce such laws. 

But… oh… geee…

…that’s Brin’s solution.  To strip elites and supervise them.  Exactly the method that got us our freedom in the first place.

Oh, but then you say: “Brin has 1) promoted our too easy acceptance of corporate monitoring out of his own ideas of a utopian society this “transparency” could lead us to…”

Of course with that, you reveal your true colors as a goddamn liar.  A slanderer, who, if you were heeded by any large portion of the public, would hear from my attorney.  Fortunately, you are a fool and hardly heeded by anyone,  So it’s fine.  I am able to simply chuckle. At a fool.

To all and sundry though, I hereby declare.  Rick Searle does not understand any of these topics above a third grade level and every time he has characterized my positions he has erected a strawman that bears almost no relation to any of the arguments in The Transparent Society.

I expect he does that to other people, too.  A bit of advice.  Wander elsewhere for cogency.

David, I think there may be an element of wishful thinking in your attempt to portray Rick as a “fool…hardly heeded by anyone”. It’s true he’s not exactly a household name, and certainly the discussions we have here are followed only by a small and perhaps not-very-influential crowd, but if what Rick and others write here is so utterly irrelevant then why the need to get quite so upset? You seem to be protesting a tad too much, and that’s without even getting into Buddhist Right Speech and IEET’s commenting policy…

Yet worse than the fool is the sycophant? or the sycophantic fool?

David Brin - I am surprised at such harsh language, if this was but anyone else Peter Wicks would be all over them like a plague?

BTW ... is this relevant to the debate at all? (hint: examples of how “law” can push back powers of surveillance and help support transparency - but don’t shoot the messenger if you don’t like it?)

Defence lawyers granted access to Fisa surveillance documents in terror case

“A representative of a criminal defendant has for the first time been granted permission to view the origins evidence gathered against him under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, one of the wellsprings of authority for terrorism surveillance.

Judge Sharon Coleman, a federal district judge in Illinois, issued an order on Wednesday permitting a lawyer for Adel Daoud, who is accused of attempting to detonate a car bomb near a Chicago bar, to learn the origins of the information the FBI or other US authorities collected about him under an order from a secret court that permits surveillance on terrorists or “agents of a foreign power”.

http://www.theguardian.com/law/2014/jan/29/defence-terrorism-case-fisa-documents-surveillance


and this..

“The federal surveillance court that has approved all but a fraction of the NSA’s intelligence requests nonetheless rejected a petition by the government to retain phone records for longer than five years, as is currently allowed

The US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (also known as the FISA Court) was established in 1978 as a gatekeeper that would approve or deny surveillance warrants against suspect foreign enemies living inside the United States. Since that date, the court has denied 11 of the nearly 34,000 surveillance requests by the government.”

http://rt.com/usa/loss-fisa-rejects-justice-retain-574/

 


Sometimes I wonder if there is “ever” a serious and progressive debate to be had here at IEET?

 

Nice one, CygnusX1 - you just couldn’t resist getting in a little dig against me.

I’m not being gentle on David Brin because I’m a sycophant (but thanks for the thought, it’s the kind of civility I have come to expect from you, so consistent with your trumpeting of peace, harmony and “universal values”, not a hint of hypocrisy there of course), but because (i) Buddhist Right Speech seems to be more or less dead on this site anyway, and (ii) David doesn’t stalk people relentlessly, so there doesn’t seem to be much need to be “all over him like the plague”.

To recall, we introduced BRS at IEET at a time when the debates here, principally about religion, we’re getting increasingly polarised and ugly, and I see a risk that this kind of thing is going to happen again (though not specifically about religion).

In any case, when you attack me, I will attack you back.

@David Brin:

“You have not once answered what to do about the Moore’s Law of Cameras, which leads to them becoming invisible and everywhere.  Or universal face and biometrics recognition, and a myriad other trends that cannot be staunched by “laws.”  “

The only thing that needs to be “transparent” about such cameras is their GPS location and owner.  How do you get there? Laws and regulations on how such cameras can be built/sold.

The fact that you see near total transparency- something we will never have- as some sort of paneca, and rather than plain old transparency as just one of our many tools indicates to me that you are a Hedge Hog “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing”  and hedge hogs, even when brilliant, get the world largely wrong.

Or perhaps I should just quote for you from The Transparent Sociey “Humans have found one fairly reliable antidote to error; criticism.” 

@CygnusX1:

“I don’t think it is necessarily worse than any other situation – look at North Korea? Is the world to continue with totalitarian rule without transparency and accountability? I don’t think retreat is an alternative, but I do agree that peoples should demand “laws” to help mitigate more mass surveillance and promote a democratic global society that values freedom and not merely stifles it?”

There are relative degrees of badness and North Korea is very, very bad- we are nowhere near that. I am not even sure how I would rank us in terms of our own history are we better or worse than the “Alien and Sedition Acts”, the repeal of Habeas Corpus in the Civil War, The Red Scare?  Who knows. What I do know is that we’re at a time that shares the same risks as those times and the risk is probably worse because of what technology can now do. We thus need new laws and policies to respond to the new situation. Greater transparency by the government needs to be part of those laws, but only part- we need restrictions on what the government can do i.e. laws. 

@Peter:

“What is clear is that the world is evolving to something that is fundamentally different from what we have known, and that we tend to find this very disturbing. I think this often causes us to first our anxiety at some kind of visible target - your latest apparently being the “cult of transparency” - and blame everything on that.”

I think the word “evolving” takes us human beings too far out of the loop, we, through are action and inaction, are pushing or allowing history to move in some direction. Perhaps it is where nature “wants” to take us, but we push against other natural processes- like death.

I am really not blaming “everything” on the “cult of transparency”- that would be silly and ideological thinking which I try not to do. In fact, I think much of my criticism is actually historical. Edward Snowden was like the Lehman Brothers of the transparency movement a signal that the ideas had led to a crisis point and had had their day and we were returning to clarity- for a while at least- until we repeat like mistakes all over again.

“The only thing that needs to be “transparent” about such cameras is their GPS location and owner.  How do you get there? Laws and regulations on how such cameras can be built/sold.”

That still feels to me too much like trying to turn back the tide. I’m not condoning the language that David is using, whatever CygnusX1 may like to insinuate, but the following request does seem pertinent: “show us how [such a law] will not and cannot be easily side-stepped and/or suborned”. I’m not arguing for regulatory defeatism, but this doesn’t look like a solution to me.

GPS location and owner seems a lot easier to achieve than Brin’s near total transparency, so if we can’t get even that, then, we’d have to just rest with the deterrent of harsh legal penalties for anyone who was caught using such devices.

@Rick
Our previous comments crossed. I don’t believe in “near total transparency” either; as I wrote above I’m inclined to agree that what technology wants is a contest between the watched and the watcher. Re “we push against other natural processes- like death”...yes, we do, but I think technology actually does want us to do that. What I really find when we start to look seriously at accelerating technology is that much that previously seemed realistic seems unrealistic, and much that seemed completely “out there” (like defeating the aging process, perhaps even mind uploading) suddenly starts to seem nigh-on inevitable. And this is where I find Kelly’s ideas (and those of Kurzweil, of course) very powerful - perhaps somewhat hedgehog-like, but compelling and insightful nonetheless.

Actually in some ways I quite like the fact that so many people are utterly ignorant about where technology is taking us, because it gives me a niche to occupy. But from the perspective of where we want to go as a species - and how we can nudge technology so that it “evolves” in ways we find relatively congenial - I see it as a much more serious problem than any “cult of transparency”.

@ Rick

” What I do know is that we’re at a time that shares the same risks as those times and the risk is probably worse because of what technology can now do. We thus need new laws and policies to respond to the new situation. Greater transparency by the government needs to be part of those laws, but only part- we need restrictions on what the government can do i.e. laws.”


Well these risks, (varied), are ever present because Humans never, ever learn, (lives being as short lived as they presently are)? I can’t speak for the better days of the enlightenment, yet I always have a soft spot for the Renaissance, perhaps an even more noble and dangerous time to be courageous and critical and outspoken?

The problem is again, not technology, but what technology is utilized for, and even more so, how this technology is then applied in practice, (ie; data storage/mining of personal details for market forces, and including especially what is deemed by “law” as presently highly confidential information, and presently protected by such laws - for example, UK medical records etc will soon to be available “internationally” online for the benefit of all UK citizens… oopsie.. I mean for the benefit of Healthcare Insurance companies/corps?

I still reason that, Humans being the flawed characters they are, are often quick to apply new technology and innovations in the only way they know how - to maintain the status quo/power of wealth and increase further “authoritarian” rule over representative democracy and the freedoms afforded to us all now through such evolving technology and transparency?

I believe the NSA and GCHQ apply this surveillance technology mostly “because they can”, and they want to see if it is viable and cost effective? Danger is, there is no voice to stop them, the veil of ignorance/secrecy being what it is.. yet all is slowly being revealed through constructive “transparency”, and mostly still by “courageous individuals” and whistleblowers like Snowden? Hence, whistleblowers, whilst venerated and even protected under modern employment policies and legal rights are still persecuted in practice?

We do need evolving laws and “Right and Just” personalities to set precedent, yet we cannot expect “individuals” to do this for all of us? We each have responsibility to demand that technologies are used to benefit, to ease suffering and not stifle freedoms?

Transparency is increasing, technology is helping us get there. Take a look at phone tapping and the “News of the World” ongoing saga. These people will be held accountable. More and more government officials are being held accountable each day.

Yet I also still have concerns regarding the future of individual privacy. People often conflate the want of privacy with some sinister motive, to promote guilt and then use as excuse to justify increased surveillance. Yet really, the state is fearful of democracy and the powers that technology and transparency can provide - this is why we find ourselves in the situation we are today?


Data Protection Act 1998

http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1998/29/contents

 

 

@CygnusX1:

“Well these risks, (varied), are ever present because Humans never, ever learn, (lives being as short lived as they presently are)?”

In a way, I totally agree with this every generation carries our universal human flaws. And yet, although the model is far from perfect it might be helpful: there does seem to be a kind of WISDOM gained and lost social learning that seems linked to the human lifespan – (a great argument for longer life!)- as a society we forget the lessons our grandparents had learned as they pass from the world. The crash of capitalism in the 1930’s led to prudent controls that were then abandoned until a new crash. America forgets the tragedy of Vitenam and enters the tragedy of Iraq. I think we forgot the deep connection between our privacy and our freedom as we had learned from the example of the totalitarian societies and our own “Red scares” and J.E. Hoovers- and allowed the mass surveillance state to be created as a consequence. 

It’s as if we have just a few years of collective wisdom to put down some guard rails for human nature which our grand children will likely dismantle till they derail.

Seriously, you fellows are still paying a scintilla of attention to a loony who would say: “Brin’s near total transparency,”?

Searle demonstrates time and again that he does not even care that he doesn’t understand a thing.  Certainly about what I have said or written.  This is either a relentless liar or a mind of very low caliber.

I will not return.

@Brin:

That’s one piece of good news I’ve had today.

Sorry, Have to post this as separate comment as I can no longer get the edit function to work, (via Android)

NHS England patient data ‘uploaded to Google servers’, Tory MP say

“A prominent Tory MP on the powerful health select committee has questioned how the entire NHS hospital patient database for England was handed over to management consultants who uploaded it to Google servers based outside the UK.”

“The patient information had been obtained by PA Consulting, which claimed to have secured the “entire start-to-finish HES dataset across all three areas of collection – inpatient, outpatient and A&E”.

The data set was so large it took up 27 DVDs and took a couple of weeks to upload. The management consultants said: “Within two weeks of starting to use the Google tools we were able to produce interactive maps directly from HES queries in seconds.”

“Last month, NHS England announced it would delay by six months the rollout of its flagship care.data scheme linking GP records and hospital data, amid criticism of how it has run the public information campaign about the project.

The extracted information will contain a person’s NHS number, date of birth, postcode, ethnicity and gender. Once live, organisations such as university research
departments – but also insurers and drug companies – will be able to apply to the new Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) to gain access to the care.data database.”

www.theguardian.com/society/2014/mar/03/nhs-england-patient-data-google-servers


PS. Hacking a patient’s NHS Number would give comprehensive information, including full contact details, next of kin and contact information, social security number, address, and details of specific and confidential health treatment, illness and appointment dates!

Q: would like to know how US data protection laws size up to the UK - are they similar?

 

 

CygnusX1:

All very troubling.

So how would you address this, Cygnus, what mix of transparency and law would you suggest? On which would you more lean? Is there a third tool we could use to contain mass surveillance that I haven’t thought of?

One thing of interest you could tell me about, being in the UK, is your experience with CCTV cameras. I know that Cory Doctorow, who also lives there has said they really haven’t PREVENTED crime so much as made catching criminals after the fact easier. That the deterrent effect of knowing you’re being watched just doesn’t work when people are already acting irrationally. What’s your take?

@ Rick

Well I guess the mix would be someplace between a Martini “too strong” and “too weak”, rarely a perfect end to the day?

A third option I have not really contemplated, as a strong advocate of “social justice” I fully support democracy, real democracy and strict mandate by representative government - where the majority fail to speak out, I will regardless - as you are witness! But am hoping, and have faith that people still do care? Apathy is after all, the World’s worst enemy?

CCTV?

Well the UK is allegedly the world leader in citizen surveillance, yet you know, one doesn’t even notice now, (unless clinically paranoid), which is just the way Big Brother likes it. As you know we English are very repressed and often smile and say Thank You to our camera eye vanguard. Yet honestly, and on the whole, it appears to have effect.

However, you are correct, It will not prevent outrage, road rage, or prevent street mugging or drive by shootings, (yes we have them in UK now, US export). This is why God invented the “hoodie”?

Quite honestly I feel the UK has the laziest police force in the Western world - they not only rely, but expect the benefits of utilizing CCTV to solve crimes, and all over a “nice cup O tea”, the triumphant climax from any camera incrimination customarily exclaimed as “Aha! you’re nicked sunshine!”

ps - Just read your piece over at your blog, very good. And we appear to align with most of what I also added here - without any prior reading. You know what this means? This makes me an idiot also - doh!

;0)

 

 

 

@CygnusX1:

I seem to have this habit of getting into dust-ups with some pretty rude characters, and you seem to have a habit of sticking up for me.
Much appreciated, hopefully someday I can return the favor.

@ Rick

Please note, I am not here to make a habit of sticking up for you, but to speak out for what I think and feel is right. Often I see value in your concerns and articles, even though “some” may say they are insignificant and devalue them, I think your hits speak for themselves.

I will not agree with all of what you say, and you will not agree with me - and that is the way debate/argument is structured. And you know I will endeavour to let you know if I agree/disagree with your opinion.

I still cannot understand why David has taken this whole article so personally? Politics involves opinion, and if we are to ridicule opinion, then there frankly is no discussion and no progress to be had? The reality is, that laws do exist to protect us, as you have pointed out. Although I do not necessarily agree with your positioning against the threats of increased transparency, I do have much concern for increased state surveillance and authoritarian rule - and especially the erosion of privacy, which you have highlighted further on your blog. (Am I repeating myself again?)

Dust ups.. ?

You don’t need me to tell you not to be timid.


#Integrity speaks for itself?

“I still cannot understand why David has taken this whole article so personally?”

That looks like a rhetorical question, but just in case you’re actually interested in understanding…I think to some extent it’s just his style. Once again I’m not condoning it, some of his remarks were way out of line with IEET’s commenting policy, but as I implied a above it’s not really being enforced in any meaningful way at the moment. And perhaps that’s as it should be…perhaps the “crowd”, and naming-and-shaming by fellow commentators like us, is sufficient.

That said, let’s not assume that “integrity speaks for itself” as much as we might wish it to. For example, judging from the way you react to many of my comments you seem to see me as some kind of sycophantic, hypocritical fool who applies a morally repugnant “utilitarian calculus” to ethical question where you think I should be taking a former stand in favour of certain principles that you would like to be “universal”.

And obviously you think I misunderstand you as well…

No edit button, so: “ethical questions” and “firmer stand”.

Assymetry in power is what makes massive surveillance dangerous, and why sousveillance doesn’t cancel it out.
See http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/surveillance-vs-democracy.html.

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