Category Archives: transparency

Sousveillance is the answer to surveillance

       When people complain about surveillance society being bad, what ideal alternative do they imagine? This is the best question I’ve been asked on Quora, all year. I have been asking it since 1995, when I started writing The Transparent Society: Will Technology Make Us Choose Between Privacy and Freedom? 
         First, let’s be clear. I respect the many brave and smart Paladins of Freedom out there, from the ACLU to the Electronic Frontier Foundation to countless journalists, activists and – yes – some politicians and business folk, who are deeply concerned that a surveillance state could lead to Big Brother. They have this reflex in part because of our enlightenment traditions of independence and freedom… but also because of dire warnings told by science fiction! (See my essay: George Orwell and the Self-Preventing Prophecy.)
big-brother-surveil       They all know that if elites monopolize the power to watch and surveil common folk, Big Brother is almost inevitable. Some fret he’ll come from aristocrats and faceless corporations, some from academia and faceless government bureaucrats. All share the same legitimate(!) fear!
          And all but a very few are reacting in ways that are stunningly dim-witted and myopic. Because they then conclude that our best option to prevent Big Brother is to hide from him! To skulk to protect our secrets. To make “cyberpunk” our romantic image of resistance. To whine and holler “Don’t look at me!”

Across 25 years I have never heard a single one of these activists explain how that can be accomplished.

        Nor heard them cite a single example, from history, when anything like it happened. They proclamations are always, always vague and near term. (Now, some near-term “privacy codes” are tactically helpful, I openly avow. But none will work across a ten year frame. Not one ever proposed.

        There is – however – a way out. A way to protect freedom and prevent tyranny and oppression by elite, staring eyes. It happens to be the way we got this narrow window of freedom in the first place. Not by cringing and cowering from elites, but by stripping them of that MONOPOLY on vision! By stripping the mighty naked. By dividing power into smaller, mutually-competing chunks. By looking back at power.

SOUSVEILLANCE-SURVEILLANCE        It is called sousveillance… look it up. It is how we got our freedom. It is assertive, aggressive, militant, and the only thing that can even conceivably work. It is the only way to hold elites accountable. Accountability is key. We must be able to watch the watchers.

        Think. It does not matter what elites KNOW about you, so long as we all know enough about them to supervise, so that they cannot DO anything to you.

        Epistemologically, you can never verify that someone else does not know something! But you can verify that they are not DOING something. If you can see.

        In The Transparent Society – and somewhat in EARTH – I go much deeper. But the essential is that we must not hide. We’ll have some privacy! Because if we can see, then we’ll catch the peeping toms!

        But above all, to be both safe and free, we must be able to see.

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Cop Cams and Transparency

          Should We See Everything a Cop Sees? In a vivid article in The New York Times, McKenzie Funk describes the wide cast of characters in Seattle who are grappling with a problem, how to comply with a court order to make police camera footage available to the public.
see-cop
          It is a giant can of worms, because the department is also legally required to redact or blur personal details such as faces or identifiable voices, for the sake of privacy. While Funk’s article makes for entertaining reading, the story is murky about the context for it all. That context is a proliferation of cameras, getting smaller, faster, cheaper, better, more numerous and mobile at rates much faster than Moore’s Law.  (Indeed, this has been called Brin’s Corollary.)
          This myopia is common to every single person I have seen weigh in – even very bright folks – on this issue.  Sure, a few of us predicted all this back in the 20th Century – e.g. in EARTH (1989) and The Transparent Society (1997) – yet the very notion of lifting the gaze beyond this month, following trend lines instead for three or five, or ten years ahead, seems impossible even for intelligent and critical observers like McKenzie Funk.
          Regarding just the zoomed dilemmas of 2016, Funk’s article does a good job of showing us the trees (the dilemmas faced by police, prosecutors, attorneys and citizens in adapting to these court decisions), without even noticing the forest. The context of why this is all happening and how this is – for all the tsuris and aggravation – a huge victory for our kind of civilization.
RightToRecordPolice          I have called it the most important civil liberties matter in our lifetimes — certainly 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.
          Sousveillance — looking back — is the opposite of surveillance. Watching the watchers is our only method of achieving accountability over the actions of those in power.
          But the forest is rapidly changing! Next year, the same scene that was today only visible on a cop-cam’s footage will have been covered also by the suspect’s auto-record phone app, or a passerby’s dashcam. Or a store’s security system, or chains of cheap button cams stuck on lamp posts by activist groups, or even hobbyists. Follow the price curve a bit farther and you have the sticker cameras that I describe in EXISTENCE, stuck to any surface by 9-year olds who peel them from great, big rolls, each with its own code in IPV6 cyberspace and powered by trickles of sunlight.
          In that context, not a single issue wrangled-over in the NY Times’s hand-wringing article will seem anything but archaic – even troglodytic – just half a decade from now. If there was ever an era in desperate need of the Big Perspectives of science fiction….

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Watching the Watchers of the Watchers

transparent-coveillanceKevin Kelly’s Why You Should Embrace Surveillance, not Fight it, in WIRED, prescribed “transparent coveillance” as the best practical solution in a world where information sloshes and duplicates and flows. I’ve known Kevin for decades as one of the sharp guys who “got” the notions in The Transparent Society long before most did.

Now it’s Home Depot reporting a massive hack-leak of customer information. A couple months ago it was Target and 110 million files. Before that? Open SSL, a critical security backbone. And before that? Shall I go on? Read this article about “Data Breach Fatigue” and how people are starting to shrug in resignation, rather than shout in outrage.

“We are in the trough of disillusionment,” says Gartner security analyst Avivah Litan. “Over 1,000 retailers have been hit; it’s not limited to Home Depot. There are 999 others that no one’s talking about.”

When will it sink in that Everything Leaks and that our best security measure will be to stop assuming there’s some solution out there, and instead adapt so that we will not be harmed — and can thrive — in a world where most information simply flows, like water. Believe it or not, we might be stronger and safer and even have more privacy, if we finally face that fact.

smile-video-cameraIn Smile, You’re on Video Camera, Futurist Virginia Postrel offers an interesting little thought experiment about the future spread of cameras and omni-veillance in our lives. The upside potential is vast… providing we remain calmly reasonable about negotiating carve-outs and exceptions. And – above all – if we demand that the light spread “upward” – at least as much as downward.

== Watching the watchers of the watchers ==

Matthew Reed Bailey wrote in, suggesting that the solution to citizen-police tension is not only to record authority, but to “layer” these recordings so that there will never be a way for cops to avoid it:

WATCHING-WATCHERS“One person directly films/videos the Authorities. Another person (or two or three) films/videos the interaction (from varying distances if possible) of the interaction between the first camera and the Authorities. And, then have several “Backup”…”

Indeed, what he describes is the absolutely necessary next step, after last year’s fantastic victory — the 2013 declaration — by both the courts and the administration — that citizens have an absolute right to record their interactions with police… the most important civil liberties decision in 30 years. Yes, it was vital! And predicted in The Transparent Society.

Of course, the next phase was obvious — a plague of cell phones and cameras “accidentally” broken by police, etc.

What I also predicted in TS was that this phase would be short lived, as a layering of recordings would take effect, with cameras at increasing distance from the action watching the watchers of the watchers. What I did NOT expect was how swiftly this transition would happen. Before 2013 was over, we got to see a man in an orange jail-jumpsuit being sentenced to a couple of years in prison, for breaking the camera-phone of the man he was arresting. Because someone further away caught him in the act.

police-shutdownThis is why we must resist attempts to give police the power to shut down all phones in an area. At minimum, we must demand that our cameras still work, in such a shut-down!

You “get” the idea. This is not so much anti-police as anti-bully. We have a right to insist, via accountability, that our police departments hire calm adults.

Take a look at What Battlestar Galactics can teach us about the Militarization of Police: A fascinating… if flawed… rumination about what several thoughtful science fiction films illustrate about the balance of powers among citizens and their protectors, the military and police.

==Transparency Apps==

Transparency-AppsBoycott and BuyPartisan are downloadable apps that let you scan product barcodes and find out if the company… or its officers… have actively supported some cause that you like… or loathe. One would hope that people use these things in moderation… except when it comes to Koch companies. At which point stringent ferocity is called for, lest the Confederacy win this round of the ongoing American Civil War.

Worried about emergency response times? The Peacekeeper App allows you to call upon neighbors in case of an emergency, sending an alert for crises Medical, Fire, Intruder, or Abduction. You can join an Emergency Response Group (ERG) or set up your own alliance of neighbors. The web site has a slightly redolent political aroma… but if it does what it claims, who cares?

Meanwhile the FTC declares that many mobile shopping apps lack sufficient transparency on privacy policies for consumers’ rights.

==Overseeing the Government==

transparency-governmentForty-seven U.S. federal Inspectors General signed a letter this month highlighting problems with access to federal records — problems they say slow their investigations and threaten their independence. In fact, the current use of IGs is scandalous — with many of them forced into conflict-of-interest, owing their appointments to the very officials they are charged to scrutinize.

I have long proposed sets of reforms that might improve the effectiveness of civil servants while simultaneously reassuring citizens that bureaucrats ARE “servants,” accountable and obeying the law. Foremost among these proposals has been IGUS — creating the office of Inspector General of the United States.   

The notion of a separate “inspectorate” dates back to Sun Yat Sen, founder of the Chinese Republic, in 1911. If all departmental and agency IGs reported to a truly independent IGUS, the shift could be so simple that the bill might fit on one page. Yet citizen confidence and trust could be multiplied several-fold.

censorshipFinally…  a very interesting analysis of censorship in China. Researchers find that “Criticisms of the state, its leaders, and their policies are routinely published, whereas posts with collective action potential are much more likely to be censored,” because these create “actionable information” for the authorities.

Seventeen fake cellphone towers were discovered across the U.S. last week. Owned by mysterious entities, they look like Verizon or AT&T towers etc, but sift and steal messages, texts… anything they want. Interceptor use in the U.S. is much higher than people had anticipated. One of our customers took a road trip from Florida to North Carolina and he found eight different interceptors on that trip.

Rumor check: a partial “debunking” or clarification of the fake cell tower story….

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Privacy vs Omniveillance

Media discussions of privacy, freedom and the information age are starting to get more interesting, as folks finally start to realize a core truth… that everything eventually leaks. That the reflex of whining and demanding shadows to hide-in will never work. The data we entrust to banks and retail chains? The trade secrets that companies rely on for competitive advantage? The cherished spy programs of our governmental professional protector caste (PPC)? If these do not leak because of hackers, or accidents, then would-be (or self-styled) whistle-blowers will see to it, sooner or later.

OMNIVEILLANCE-PRIVACYIt has long been pointed out that information is not like other commodities. It can duplicate itself at virtually zero cost, and those copies can escape even without you noticing it’s happened. That is Fact Number One. Everything eventually leaks.

Fact number two is one I’ve tried to point out for decades. That this is fundamentally a clash of values and civilizations. The Western Enlightenment (WE) has always been the rebel and underdog, versus the 99% standard human (and zero-sum) pattern of top down control by hierarchs. (There was never much functional difference between leftist-communist oligarchies and right-wing wealth-inheritance oligarchies; both hewed to the endlessly-repeated feudal model.) In contrast, the positive-sum WE has many disadvantages and instabilities, though it is also vastly more creative, successful and productive. The one trait that tips the balance, though, is Fact Number Two:

All enemies of the WE are lethally allergic to light. Go ahead and name one. If it is not allergic to light, then it probably is not an “enemy” at all, but a peaceful rival that can easily be incorporated into the diversity-friendly WE. (Indeed, the “western” part is already fading away.)

Which provokes our core question… is the world of information leakage one that we should (at a fundamental level) be fighting against… at all? Or actively encouraging?

Let’s suppose we do decide to support an ongoing secular trend toward a world of accountability and light. Yes, this end-goal will stymie almost all bad guys. But does that mean we must bare ourselves overnight? Or completely? Especially, must we do it before the other guy does?

Suppose we choose a path of moderate-pragmatic, incremental, gradually-increasing transparency… what are our options?

== Fretful oversimplification ==

privacy-commodityLet’s start with an extensive article on : The Death of Privacy in the Guradian, by Alex Preston, on the psychological, social and cultural repercussions of loss of privately secret space:

“While outposts of civilization fight pyrrhic battles, unplugging themselves from the web – “going dark” – the rest of us have come to accept that the majority of our social, financial and even sexual interactions take place over the internet and that someone, somewhere, whether state, press or corporation, is watching.”

Preston continues: “Perhaps the reason people don’t seem to mind that so much of their information is leaking from the private to the public sphere is not, as some would have it, that we are blind and docile, unable to see the complex web of commercial interests that surround us. Maybe it’s that we understand very clearly the transaction. The internet is free and we wish to keep it that way, so corporations have worked out how to make money out of something we are willing to give them in return – our privacy. We have traded our privacy for the wealth of information the web delivers to us, the convenience of online shopping, the global village of social media.”

Death-privacyAll of this is true… and misleading and shrill. Because it buys into zero-sum thinking, which is the fundamental enemy of everything the WE stands for. The dismal (but deeply human) notion that every gain must have a paired loss. That a “trade-off” between security and freedom, or between privacy and all that cool-stuff available online, cannot be evaded, and therefor we must choose the painful righteousness of the writer’s simplistic prescription.

Let me reiterate. The Enlightenment’s fecundity at problem solving came from refusing dichotomies… like the insane “left-right axis” that has lobotomized politics everywhere.Only people who decide that we can have our cake and eat it and share it with the poor and see the cake thereupon grow… only such people will come up with enough innovative approaches to get any cake at all.

Only they will save the world.

==Giving up Privacy==

In one of life’s ironies, I am “Mister Transparency…” yet I believe some privacy can and should be preserved. A whole chapter of The Transparent Society is about how the only way we can preserve a little secluded intimacy or confidential sharing may be if we live in a society where most of the people know most of what’s going on, most of the time. Only such openness will stand a chance of deterring snoops and busybodies and peeping toms.

But some folks are far more transparency-radical! They “get” that all of our enlightenment innovations — like science, democracy, markets, justice, art and personal freedom thrive best in light… so they demand that it ALL be laid bare! As a moderate pragmatist (though perhaps a militant one) I find such zero-sum passion unnerving. But such people merit our attention.

In one extreme example…

Noah Dyer, a professor at Tempe’s University of Advancing Technology, wants to “live without privacy for a full year” by paying a camera crew to film him at all times. “The way I see it is that we’re going to lose our privacy, but that’s going to be awesome. The society that most quickly embraces not having any privacy is going to have the biggest evolutionary advantage. All of their citizens are going to be able to act in their own best interest based on totally accurate information.” ( Why We Care About Privacy.)

Dyer is getting a lot of press for a hackneyed and simplistically predictable stunt that we’ve actually seen before… posting online absolutely everything about his life, from his email passwords to bathroom breaks and sex.

Pardon me for yawning, but if you expect “Mr. Transparency” to get excited about this, either way, sorry about that. Likewise the frantic, “danger, Will Robinson!” hysterics of this reporter who writes about Dyer, in the Atlantic. Please.

== More zero-sum contempt ==

TheCircleMuch attention has also been given to Dave Eggers’s book — The Circle — portraying a future in which Dyer’s view is dominant and the plot-propelling oppressive nosiness comes not from a single Big Brother state but from millions of insatiably nosy little brothers, nagging and judging and chivvying those who seem reluctant to “share everything.” Most people don’t realize that this failure mode… and not an orwellian state … is the scenario taking place in Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451.” In the Eggers book, his heroes desperately seek a little privacy or space to be themselves, to be unique and autonomous human beings.

Of course, this zero-sum, either-or kind of thinking is poisonous. It is just as oversimplifying as any would-be tyrannical system, clothing itself in sanctimony, by portraying an “opposite” that can be nothing but vile. A strawman that Eggers sets up in order to be knocked down.

In fact, We do not have to choose between triplet fangs: Big Brother surveillance or stripped-naked little-brother coveillance, or (heaven forbid) the MYOB (mind your own business) rage of privacy “defenders” who just play into Big Brother’s hands, by denouncing cartoon versions of transparency.

In fact, the society of nosy jerks portrayed in The Circle will not happen, because your neighbors would hate it just as much as you hate the thought of it! Eggers’s portrayal of his fellow humans and citizens is depressing not because it might come true, but because Eggers and the critics who praise him actually seem to believe (in their sanctimony) that their neighbors would put up with such a world… instead of using transparency and openness to catch the voyeurs and say “hey man! Back off.”

Well, well. Perhaps they are members of a different species than you and me.

== More shallow privacy articles ==

Is there anyone out there even slightly interested in probing this important matter with nuance and a positive-sum frame of mind? Maybe suggesting ways we that can win-win?

Jacob Morgan’s rather shallow article in Forbes suggests that “Privacy Is Completely And Utterly Dead, And We Killed It” — without contemplating at all whether there are types of privacy, and whether some kinds might be protected, even enhanced, in a mostly transparent world, wherein we are empowered to watch the watchers and to catch the peeping toms.

As I mentioned, in the Guardian, Alex Preston falls into the same zero-sum thinking: “Google knows what you’re looking for. Facebook knows what you like. Sharing is the norm, and secrecy is out. But what is the psychological and cultural fallout from the end of privacy?”

At least a little better than those dismal jeremiads… read the article: Why We Care About Privacy. And yes, my positive-sum temperament makes me believe we can gain the advantages of a transparent society without going this far, still, it is a refreshing contrast against the usual zero sum reaction to the info-age… railing laments and demands for levels of privacy that only ever existed in our minds, plus shrilly silly-unrealistic demands that the mighty “stop looking at me!”

As if such wailings ever stood the slightest chance of working. We will never blind the eyes above us. But we still have a chance to strip them naked. And look back.

== Can we see what’s watching us? ==

mann-computer-visionTo illustrate how pervasive omni-veillance is becoming…. Computer vision is embedded in toilets, urinals, hand- wash faucets, as well as those domes in the ceilings that monitor you in buildings like banks and casinos (and soon everywhere.) Now, sousveillance maven and Toronto professor Steve Mann has a fascinating paper describing methods to easily reveal the scanning field of such visual sensing systems: The Sightfield: Visualizing Computer Vision, and seeing its capacity to “see:”

“Moving a wand through space, while tracking its exact 3D position, makes visible the otherwise invisible “rays of sight” that emanate from cameras. This capacity to sense, measure, and visualize vision, is useful in liability, insurance, safety, and risk assessment, as well as privacy/priveillance assessment, criminology, urban planning, design, and (sur/sous)veil lance studies.”

Mann concludes, “The device may be used cooperatively, e.g. by a user or owner of a surveillance system to visualize the efficiency of their own cameras, or uncooperatively, as a video “bug sweeper” which uses video feedback to detect a hidden surveillance or sousveillance.”

There is hope. If we insist on a general ability to see, that will include the ability to spot voyeurs. If we start designing systems right, then we will be able to do what assertively brave humans have always been able to do, when some busybody stares. Tell them: “Hey bub…. back off.”
POSTSCRIPT: Following up from last time.

America’s police departments need greater accountability—and it must come from outside the forces.

Yes… though with less sanctimony. Do this progressively, pragmatically, irresistibly, with some sympathy for the 85% of cops who are sincerely trying to do a really, really hard job.

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Citizen Communications and Citizen Power

If you push long and hard enough for something that is logical and needed, a time may come when it finally happens! At which point – pretty often – you may have no idea whether your efforts made a difference. Perhaps other, influential people saw the same facts and drew similar, logical conclusions! Here is the latest example of this happening to me:

CITIZEN-POWER“Qualcomm and other wireless companies have been working on a new cellular standard—a set of technical procedures that ensures devices can “talk” to one another—that will keep the lines open if the network fails. The Proximity Services, or so-called LTE Direct, standard will be approved by the end of the year.”

This technology, which would allow our pocket radios to pass along at-minimum basic text messages, on a peer-to-peer basis (P2P), even when the cell system is down, would seem to be the obvious backup mode that we all might rely upon, in emergencies. Indeed, failure of cell service badly exacerbated the tragedies of Hurricane Katrina and Tsunami Fukushima. I have been hectoring folks about this since 1995, when I started writing The Transparent Society, and in annual speeches/consultations with various agencies and companies, back east, ever since.

ua93-terror Indeed, it was access to communications that enabled New Yorkers to show the incredible citizen resilience that Rebecca Solnit portrays so well in her book A Paradise Made in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster. Communications enabled the brave passengers of flight UA 93 to “win” the War on Terror, the very day that it began.

A few years after brainstorming with some engineers at Qualcomm, I learned that company was charging ahead with LTE direct, installing it in their chip sets, whether or not AT&T and Verizon decided to activate it. In emergencies, phones that use it will be able to connect directly with one another over the same frequency as 4G LTE transmissions. Users will be able to call other users or first responders within about 500 meters. If the target is not nearby, the system can relay a message through multiple phones until it reaches its destination.

When it is fully operational, the benefits will become apparent. A more robust, resilient and agile civilization will be more ready for anything that might come.

== Phones & Protest ==

Last year, largely unheralded by media, saw the most important civil liberties decision in thirty years, when the courts and the Obama Administration separately declared it to be “settled law” that citizens have a right to record their interactions with police, in public places. There will be tussles over the details for years, as discussed here. And here.

EFF-CELL-PHONE-GUIDE-PROTESTThose tussles could be hazardous! The Electronic Frontier Foundation has published a guide to using cell phones if you are going to a protest or other zone of potentially tense interaction with police.

Good, practical advice. I have long urge folks to join EFF as one of their dozen or so “proxy power associations.” I do not always agree with them! But that doesn’t matter as much as ensuring that they — and the ACLU, etc — remain out there and untrammeled.

For more on your right and duty to join orgs that give your voice see: Proxy Power…

== and in related news… ==

Taser International (TASR), which makes the most widely used police body cameras, increased its bookings for its video unit almost twofold last quarter, signing deals with the police departments of Winston-Salem, N.C., Spartanburg County, S.C., and San Diego. The company provides both hardware and data services related to the cameras and now works with 20 major cities in one capacity or another.

body-mounted-camera-policeGroups that would normally be skeptical of authorities videotaping everything support the idea of camera-equipped cops. The American Civil Liberties Union published a white paper last year supporting the use of the cameras. “Everybody wishes right now there was a video record of what happened,” says Jay Stanley, the author of the ACLU’s paper, referring to the Ferguson shooting.

“While no technical solution would eliminate misconduct completely, cameras do seem as if they could help reduce the legal bill. A study published last April showed that complaints against police dropped 88 percent in Rialto, Calif., after that city began randomly assigning officers to wear body cameras. At the same time, use-of-force incidents dropped 59 percent,” writes Joshua Brustein: In Ferguson’s Aftermath, Will Police Adopt Body Cameras?

armed-with-camerasSee how this was forecast — pretty much all of it — in The Transparent Society.  What will happen when both cops and the citizens they stop are armed with cameras, all the time?

Better safety, better law, less injustice… but it will also be the dawn of the Golden Age of Sarcasm.

 

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Ways to make civilization robust

resilienceThe resilience of our entire civilization is increasingly reliant on a fragile network of cell phone towers, which are the first things to fail in any crisis, e.g. a hurricane or other natural disaster… or else deliberate (e.g. EMP or hacker) sabotage.

I have been nagging about this for almost two decades. My recommendation — offered to national and corporate leaders since 1995? That our pocket phones should have a backup communication mode that is peer-to-peer, that could pass messages from phone to phone through any afflicted area until they reach a zone with cell service, at which point the messages would spill into the continental network.

This would be frightfully easy to accomplish, especially for simple text messages. In fact, the technology has been incorporated in Qualcomm’s latest chip sets. Though the major carriers — AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, etc — have all refused to activate it. This despite the fact that they would be perfectly free to bill for any P2P-passed messages — that’s easy. For years I asked national officials to require this backup, as a matter of overall robustness and public safety. Access to working phones made the biggest difference between two disasters… 9/11 – “the Day of the Citizen,” when average folks were able to self-organize and step up – vs the calamitous collapse of civilization during and after Hurricane Katrina.

P2PNow comes terrific news. “Qualcomm and other wireless companies have been working on a new cellular standard—a set of technical procedures that ensures devices can “talk” to one another—that will keep the lines open if the network fails. The Proximity Services, or so-called LTE Direct, standard will be approved by the end of the year.”

I am tempted to proclaim that “nagging eventually pays off!” But of course, there are lots of smart people out there who could see the same things that I did. When I gave a talk at Qualcomm about similar ideas, some years ago, I described how simple it would be to do this with packets, like text messages. The next time I spoke to some of their managers, I was stunned to learn they had not only made great strides in Peer to Peer, but were proposing a version that could even do P2P for real-time voice communication! Now that’s some ingenuity. That’s some company.

== Hey, you, get offa that cloud ==

cloud-dataOh, but trends are far worse on the business side of the Internet. Any company (or person) who tries to be “efficient” by entrusting crown jewel data to the Cloud has got to be crazy. Take this from Mark Anderson, one of the smartest tech-industry pundits:

“There are two chilling trends in Internet security that were underlined this week with the announcement by Hold Security of a Russian crime ring taking around 1.2 billion user names and password combinations from perhaps 420,000 different hacked websites. The first is a ramping of theft success on all scores, from personal IDs to nations stealing crown jewel intellectual property, which simply can no longer be tolerated if innovation and commerce are to continue. 

“The second is a massive movement to cloud computing, driven by financial requirements rather than security requirements, at a time when our internal sources indicate that clouds have already been hacked.”

disparity-transparency-brinThis is related to a another point I’ve made since 1995… and in The Transparent Society… that everything leaks, sooner or later. And we are better off making ourselves and our systems robust, able to shrug off and adapt to this inevitability, than whining and thrashing about, expecting the next “security” measure to work, at last.

It is disparities in transparency that threaten the health of freedom, markets, science and civilization.

Remember this.  Most villains (just like vampires) are fatally allergic to light.  Hence, the trick will be to expose them to it!  Lots of it. The solution is not to cower in the few remaining shadows hoping for concealment.  They are better at that, than you and I are. 

villains-light

== Transparency-related news ==

Here’s an algorithm that could use Facebook Likes alone to reliably determine six million users’ private traits like their sexual orientation, IQ, religious beliefs, life satisfaction, and personality traits—even when the Likes seemingly had nothing to do with the traits in question. Do not get outraged. This is absolutely inevitable! What you can do is shift your passion over to sousveillance.

DRONES-SURVEILLANCEAnother insightful article explores the many potential advantages, when civilians become empowered to fly their own drones. The ability to independently verify events, ensure accountability for public officials and police, provide situational awareness, deliver or fetch important items…. Yes there will be privacy concerns. But how better to catch that neighborhood voyeur than with a drone of your own, so that you can track the peeping tom and tell his mom!

And in the category of how do you plan to stop this? “By 2010, license-plate scanners had become standard equipment for most urban repo firms, and the number of plates stored in national databases was growing by tens of millions a month. … The richer the data gets, the easier it is to make predictions about a driver’s home address, workplace, gym, or favorite restaurant. Digital Recognition Network (DRN) has one of the largest plate-capture databases in the country, with a fleet of more than 2,000 affiliated trucks and upwards of 1.8 billion scans.”

omniveillanceAnswer: Any attempt to repress this – or face recognition – will only ensure that elites still have this power — governments, corporations, criminals — but such laws will make sure you and I have no access.   They will become gods and we will be permanent peasants. If this is inevitable, then let us all see. And then let’s learn – because of that light – to leave each other alone.

Oh, but then… artists are putting into practice my point about rendering surveillance visible to the rest of us. Some very interesting… and pointedly clever… innovations.

And finally, here’s something that’s simultaneously funny and deeply, deeply offensive. But also a clever way for a company to make its point… and that means it is likely they were all actors, after all, invalidating the whole thing. All told, a clever META view of where we are heading in the VR/AR holodeck world. Faked nuclear war….

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Media Challenge FAA Drone Ban — and drones conveying beauty?

MEDIA-DRONE-BANDrones have already been used on several occasions in the US to document the news. Last week, a storm chaser in Arkansas used a drone to record the havoc wrought by a tornado. But the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has been very slow to adopt rules for private and corporate drone use and has taken a draconian zero-tolerance policy on its interim ban on almost all such uses. Now, a number of media companies, including The New York Times and The Associated Press, accused the Federal Aviation Authority of violating the First Amendment.

Is this a difficult problem? Sure! Just imagine a future city scape abuzz with irritating mechanical vultures — delivery owls and snoopy eye-spies, swooping about, colliding with buildings and each other and power lines, causing blackouts and raining shattered, glowing parts on all below… at minimum city use should involve devices capable of situational awareness and detection of collision hazards and minimum separation rules. But dig it – we will only get there if the experiments can proceed in a few cities to see what really happens!

Start with Houston. They don’t give a darn anyway….

== Drones, androids and robots bring you the news! ==

ROBOTS-NEWSWill human journalists become obsolete? I participated in an online (HuffPost) panel discussion about the latest trend… robotizing the news media.  Here are just a few examples of the trend.

Japan Unveils  It’s First Android Newscaster. Not exactly uncanny, yet.  But they’re busy. With an expected 7% drop in population, their interest in automation is very high.

AP Will Use Robots to Write Some Business Stories.   – 4000 robo stories in the time it takes human writers to do 300.

Shades of Max Headroom! The following couch discussion of this is… fluffy and made me want to replace the panel with robots!  Another News Outlet Is Using Robots To Write Stories

Apparently most sports stories have come to us this way for several years.  (I suspect decades, even generations.)

== And more drones…  ==

Drones… everywhere!  Illustrating what has sometimes been called Brin’s Corollary to Moore’s Law… that cameras get smaller, faster, cheaper, more numerous and more mobile faster than ML. Now… watch how the flying cams are getting far more rugged, using a simple gimbal in a cage approach!  Watchbirds here we come, yippee.

Oh, but see the very end of this blog for one of the best links you’ll ever click, brought to you by a drone.

== The insurrectionary recourse? ==

citizen-uprisingAll the ructions and revolutions overseas raise an earnest question: could it happen here? Dialing in closer: is it still even theoretically possible for a mass citizen uprising to topple the government of the modern, western state? Mr. Harry Bentham makes an earnest effort and raises a few interesting points in “Does Modern Tech Render the 2nd Amendment Redundant?

Alas, his appraisal winds up being rather shallow, simply reiterating his arm-waved and evidence-free assertion that a mass uprising, armed with civilian rifles, could naturally and easily overcome forces of the modern state. Mr. Bentham leaves aside any discussion that:

– Any mass civil ruction will likely feature as many armed civilian “tories” as “rebels.”

– Local police have lately been heavily up-armed to close to military levels. Their loyalties in a crisis would complicate matters.

Jefferson-rifle   – Everything depends upon the morale and attitudes of the troops. If they retain strong connectivity and identification with the populace, they will be unreliable instruments of repression.

These and other factors were discussed in my own treatment on this issue — The Jefferson Rifle: Guns and the Insurrection Myth — where I appraise whether modern westerners — and Americans in particular — still retain an “insurrectionary recourse.”

And why attachment to that ideal is THE driver behind the refusal of the Gun Lobby to consider even modest compromises.

 

Fireworks== Finally… drones and sheer beauty 

I cannot recall when last an item of media so delighted me. I am… for once… speechless. Though proud to live in …
oh, just click this. Full screen. 

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Everything leaks – get used to it.  Use it. Also: is Skynet coming?

== Will Wall Street give us Terminator? Others weigh in ==

AGI-artificial-general-intelligence A few years ago, I posed a chilling hypothesis, that AGI — or “artificial general intelligence” that’s equivalent or superior to human — might “evolve-by-surprise,” perhaps even suddenly, out of advanced computational systems. And yes, that’s the garish-Hollywood “Skynet” scenario leading to Terminator.

Only I suggested a twist — that it would not be military or government or university computers that generate a form of intelligence, feral and self-interested and indifferent to human values. Rather, that a dangerous AI might emerge out of the sophisticated programs being developed by Wall Street firms, to help them game (many might say cheat) our economic system.

Indeed, more money is being poured into AI research by Goldman-Sachs alone than by the top five academic centers, put together, and all of it helping to engender systems with a central ethos of predatory opportunism and parasitic amorality.Oh, and did I mention it’s all in secret?  The perfect Michael Crichton scenario.

Barrat-Final-INvention Now comes a book by documentary filmmaker James Barrat — Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era — reviewed here on the ThinkAdvisor site — Are Killer Robots the Next Black Swan? — in which Barrat discusses a scenario sketched out by Alexander Wissner-Gross, a scientist-engineer with affiliations at Harvard and MIT, that seems remarkably similar to mine. Opines Wissner-Gross:

“If you follow the money, finance has a decent shot at being the primordial ooze out of which AGI emerges.”

Barrat elaborates: : “In other words, there are huge financial incentives for your algorithm to be self-aware—to know exactly what it is and model the world around it.”

The article is well-worth a look, though it leaves out the grand context — that “emergent-evolving” AGI make up only one category out of six different general varieties of pathways that might lead to AI. To be honest, I don’t consider it to be the most likely.

But that has not bearing on what we — as a civilization — should be doing, which is taking reasonable precautions. Looking ahead and pondering win-win ways that we can move forward while evading the most obviously stupid mistakes.

Secret schemes of moohlah masters — that’s no recipe for wisdom. Far better to do it all in the light.

== Everything leaks ==

Heartbleed: Yes It’s Really That Bad.  So says the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). Heartbleed exploits a critical flaw in OpenSSL, which is used to secure hundreds of thousands of websites including major sites like Instagram, Yahoo, and Google. This article in WIRED also suggests that you can redouble your danger by rushing to trust fly by night third parties offering to fix the flaw… and meanwhile, “big boys” of industry aren’t offering general solutions, only patches to their own affected systems.

The crux? (1) change your passwords on sites where financial or other vital info is dealt-with, then gradually work your way through the rest, as each site offers you assurances. (2) try not to have the passwords be the same. (3) help ignite political pressure for the whole world of online password security to have a rapid-response component (not dominance) offered by a neutral agency… one that is totally transparent, neutral and separate from all law or espionage “companies.” And…

Everything-leaks…and (4) might I ask if you’ve noticed that this kind of event happens about twice a year? And it has been that way since the 1980s? Each of the events a scandal in its own right… hackers grab half a million Target card numbers… or Microsoft springs a leak… or Goldman Sachs… or Equifax… or Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange and Edward Snowden rip off veils of government secrecy… and pundits howl and the public quakes and no one ever seems to draw the correct conclusion —

that everything eventually leaks! And that maybe the entire password/secrecy model is inherently flawed. Or that there is another, different model that is inherently far more robust, that has only ever been mentioned in a few places, so far.

Here is one of those places.

Meanwhile, whistleblowers remain a vital part of reciprocal accountability. I would like to see expanded protections that simultaneously expand reciprocal accountability and citizen sousveillance… while allowing our intitutions to function in orderly ways.

Whistle-blower-lawsNow this announcement that the Project of Government Oversight (POGO) install SecureDrop… a new way for whistle blowers to deposit information anonymously and shielded from authorities trying to root out leakers. As author of The Transparent Society, I sometimes surprise folks by straddling this issue and pointing out that the needs of the bureaucracy should not be discounted completely! Or by reflex. Whistle blowing falls across a very wide spectrum and if we are sophisticated citizens we will admit that the revealers of heinous-illegal plots deserve more protection than mewling attention junkies.

Still, there is a real role to be played by those pushing the envelope. Read more about Pogo here.

Then again… Facebook can now listen in on your activities with a new audio recognition feature for its mobile app that can turn on smartphones’ microphones to “hear” what songs or television shows are playing in the background. Sounds cool… um, not.

== Brandeis the Seer ==

The famous dissent in Olmstead v. United States (1928)To , by Justice Louis Brandeis, is a vital mirror to hold up to our times. Take the most famous part of eloquent dissent, regarding a seminal wiretapping case:

Brandeis-criminal-law-olmstead“Our Government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher,” Brandeis concluded. “For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example. Crime is contagious. If the Government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy. To declare that in the administration of the criminal law the end justifies the means — to declare that the Government may commit crimes in order to secure the conviction of a private criminal — would bring terrible retribution.”

Which brings us to Andrew O’Hehir’s article on Salon, recently, using Brandeis as a foil to discuss – and denounce – some recent polemics against Edward Snowden and his journalist outlet, Glenn Greenwald. To be honest, I found O’Hehir tendentious and sanctimonious, but there were some cogent moments that made the article worthwhile, especially when he shone some light on the incredible prescience Brandeis showed, in his 1928 dissent:

“If Brandeis does not literally predict the invention of the Internet and widespread electronic surveillance, he comes pretty close,” for Brandeis wrote, “The progress of science in furnishing the Government with means of espionage is not likely to stop with wire-tapping …Ways may someday be developed by which the Government, without removing papers from secret drawers, can reproduce them in court, and by which it will be enabled to expose to a jury the most intimate occurrences of the home.” Brandeis even speculated that psychiatrists of the future may be able to read people’s “unexpressed beliefs, thoughts and emotions” as evidence. O’Hehir notes, “…as far as I know we haven’t reached that dystopian nightmare yet. (But if that’s the big final revelation from the Snowden-Greenwald trove of purloined NSA secrets, you read it here first.)”

== Transparency media ==

Anyone care to review this for us? Post-Privacy and Democracy: Can there be Moral and Democratic Development in a Totally Transparent Society? by Patrick Held. It provides arguments why the end of privacy or at least secrecy might be inevitable given our individual demand for technology.

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Must we hide behind masks?

== Hide from the Man? ==

hiding-behind-masks“Our world is becoming increasingly surveilled. For example, Chicago has over 25,000 cameras networked to a single facial recognition hub,” reads the URME (pronounced U R Me) site:

“We don’t believe you should be tracked just because you want to walk outside and you shouldn’t have to hide either. Instead, use one of our products to present an alternative identity when in public.” What product? A rubber mask bearing the likeness of URME’s founder Leo Selvaggio.

If lots of people go around wearing these masks the proto Big Brother system of all those cameras will be…

ever so slightly inconvenienced, while store-owners and bank guards and mere passers-by will have their tension levels ratchet up.

Yeah yeah, I’ve heard it all. This is a cool stunt and it draws attention to our decaying yadda yadda. And it accomplishes nothing else. Except to help promote the never ending chain of whining from those who think we can protect freedom by moaning “don’t look at me!” (I lived in Britain in the 1980s, where the cameras were already blooming everywhere, inspiring me to write The Transparent Society. In Kiln People I portray how masks will provide only slight and superficial anonymity, till someone is motivated enough to scrupulously backtrack images.)

surveillance-camera-streetYes, proto Big Brothers are all over the place! And yes, the camera networks could help bring us Big Brother! I fear the same outcome and I am just as militant in opposing it. More so!

Only there’s this. I know what works… what stands a chance of working. What has already worked well enough to give us the freedom that we do have….

…and it did not come from hiding…

…or whining “don’t look at me!”

== Wiretapping updated? ==

Strict-liability two-party consent eavesdropping laws seemed fair when they were passed in dozens of states, back in Stone Age days— like the 1960s — when the ability to record was unevenly possessed and when furtive recording seemed unfair. Today, it’s foolish for anyone to assume, at any point, that what they are saying has no chance of being played back, some other time. In particular, such two-party consent laws have been used to criminalize citizen recordings of their interactions with police and other government officials.

As reported here, the most important civil liberties matter in our lifetimes — certainly in thirty years — was hardly covered by the press. In 2013 both 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?

(This was forecast in EARTH (1989) by the way.)

openness-accountabilityIt is important to take a balanced view… not to surrender all expectations of privacy, but to know that openness and accountability will let us both stay free and enforce a little privacy, or at least insist that we be physically left alone.

In particular, the recent rulings about citizen recordings of police absolutely eviscerate the snarky-stupid shrugs of cynics who proclaim that it’s all defeat and spirals into Orwellian hell.

Let there be no mistake. The cynics are enemies of freedom, not its defenders. Their tirades of gloom undermine the confidence and can-do spirit of problem solving that might get us across this transition era.

Indeed, sometimes “looking back” works! 

== Owning our data ==

haggling The Price of Haggling for Your Personal Data: This SLATE article discusses the notion that each of us might leverage and benefit from the economic value of our information.

It is one (absurd) thing to declare “I own all the info about me!” and to demand others not look. That’s a non-starter and if we pass laws to forbid the mighty from looking at us, that will only make them furtive about it and ensure we’ll get no benefit. As Heinlein said: “The chief thing achieved by privacy laws is to make the (spy) bugs smaller.”

But it is reasonable to say that people have “interests” and “value” in their information and a right to derive royalties or a fee for its use, especially if some commercial interest is making money off it. Moreover it is in an open society that we might be able to track who is using our data and insist on routine and proper payment for such use. The idea of people controlling and selling their data for personal and economic gain—as Jaron Lanier describes in Who Owns the Future? and Doc Searls elaborated on in The Intention Economy: When Customers Take Charge—is gaining traction.

In this interesting article on Slate, John C Havens asserts that it’s not just about money: “But it won’t take hold until we answer a more deeply fundamental question: What are we worth as a whole?”

jaron-lanier-who-owns-the-futureIndeed, a number of Internet mavens over the years, including Jaron Lanier, have prophesied that citizens will – at some point – demand to benefit from the commercial use that major entities and corporations are deriving from information about hundreds of millions of people.

Our data is being swapped about and – as author of The Transparent Society – I don’t find open information flows to be the problematic thing. It is the cutting out of us little guys from any participation in the value chain deriving from our data.

Indeed, the way our data is shuttled and sold is invisible to us!

An article by Gregory Maus — How Transparent Big Data Markets Could Better Protect Your Data…and Your Rights — suggests setting up transparent, privately-owned, but publicly-regulated markets for the data. “Imagine something like an Amazon, Alibaba, or New York Mercantile Exchange, focused on the purchase and licensing of Big Data. Suppliers could increase their markets, buyers could increase their options, and all transactions would be public record.”

Now comes the Hub of All Things (HAT) project. The HAT is building a database which will be owned by individuals who produce data in the first place. That includes social media data, energy use data and internet of things data from our homes, such as the goods you use or the medicines you take. Kind of vague, so far. Indeed, I am doubtful. But over time, we must as a society develop ways that each person benefits from a strong interest in his or her information.

 

cynicism-problem-solvingFor more on Transparency, Privacy and Accountability

 

 

 

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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 ground. Then 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:

TransparentSociety1- 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 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 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 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 the next, totally predictable phase. I’m glad that Watts and others perceive.

But the next step — that immediately follows — 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 did not see that next 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?

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.

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== 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.

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