Tag Archives: privacy

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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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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Fight Back Tuesday Against One-Way Surveillance!

It’s important that we all participate on Tuesday, when the Powers of state and oligarchy will measure the strength of our determination!  More on that below…

… but first a couple of transparency-related announcements.

NSA-surveillance-sousveillanceTHEWORLDPOST looks like a bold endeavor — a joint effort of the Berggruen Institute and the Huffington Post — to create a news and opinion site suitable for people who might actually influence events.  Launched at Davos… it contains in one of its inaugural issues my appraisal of the NSA Imbroglio and how to fix it: Check NSA Surveillance with Citizen Sous-veillance — monitoring from below.

Specifically, I dissect the 46 proposals made by the Presidential Commission and divide them into three categories… those that are for show, those that set up decent procedures… and those that might actually work, helping us achieve the win-win of a positive sum outcome — preserving both freedom and public safety.

The European magazine ran an op-ed in which I tried (for the upteenth time) to explain the difference between two methods of keeping freedom — hiding from Big Brother… or holding Big Brother accountable. And I will keep trying to explain till it sinks in.

Do see the end of this missive for more links to media that are paying attention to what might work.

== World Don’t-Look-At-Us Day ==

TheDayWeFightBack-Feb_12_2014_On Tuesday — February 11 — the Electronic Frontier Foundation will join thousands of other websites and organizations — plus millions of individuals — in an Internet-wide digital protest, demanding an end to mass surveillance: The Day We Fight Back. Visitors will be prompted to contact members of the U.S. Congress or sign a global petition opposing mass surveillance with a banner that can be inserted into any site.

Let me be clear where I stand on this: “The Day We Fight Back” is an important event in one (and only one) way… in that it will provide society’s elites with a metric for how seriously the  public takes the matter of non-symmetric transparency… the kind that only shines down upon the people with surveillance. I urge you all to take part, sign petitions and all of that.  Better yet, fork over a few bucks! Join EFF and ACLU and other orgs who offer to amplify your voice through the democratizing and equalizing miracle of proxy power activism.

Nevertheless… I do feel compelled to add this.  A measure of general public displeasure is ALL that this event will accomplish, for one simple reason. Our most vocal defenders of privacy and liberty — like EFF and the ACLU — are perfectly right to declare that these precious things are under threat! But those defenders remain generally clueless about what measures – specifically – have a snowball’s chance of making a difference. Which steps might offer any hope at all, or any possibility of helping to stave off Big Brother.

“Don’t look at us!” That is the reflex response to surveillance — not just by governments but also corporate, aristocratic, criminal, technological and foreign elites. And it’s worthwhile joining in that shout, as a conversation-starter. But there is not one example from human history when whining ever worked.

SOUSVEILLANCE-SURVEILLANCEThere is another way — emphasizing our power to see and supervise and watch the watchmen. Sousveillance is the answer to surveillance.  The EFF and ACLU should be part of shifting the specific, militant demand — not to blind our professional Protector Caste (which cannot even conceivably work) but to apply fierce supervision, which might render their omniscience powerless to  actually harm us.

Alas, I must again lament: this concept has proved almost impossible to convey or teach. And so we are left with the sole solution on the table.  To complain… and to hope that the Powers will be nice. That they will listen and nod agreeably and promise to stop looking… just a little.  For a little while.

== More transparency insights ==

As Americans have grown increasingly comfortable with traditional surveillance cameras, a new, far more powerful generation is being quietly deployed that can track every vehicle and person across an area the size of a small city, for several hours at a time. Though these cameras can’t read license plates or see faces, they provide such a wealth of data that police, businesses, even private individuals can use them to help identify people and track their movements.

And the debate continues, with this fascinating Pew Poll result: A majority of Americans now believe total anonymity is a pipe dream, despite wishing it were otherwise.

Privacy-TransparencyAn excellent TED Radio Hour on NPR discusses many parameters for “The End of Privacy,” and refreshingly only includes one of the typical whiners demanding “don’t look at me!” without offering any clue how that might happen.  Instead, most of the speakers addressed how we might surf this new wave as knowing, assertive citizens. Yay NPR.

Still, occasionally something practical comes along to help individuals assert a little power over their own lives… here’s an Android App that warns when you’re being watched.

Just remember that each pragmatic measure of concealment will be temporary!  For example: Through a Scanner DarklyNameTag is an app for Google Glass that offers a face scanner for encounters with strangers. When you snap a photo of a passerby — the image is sent to the company’s database. When a match is located, the ID loads in front of your left eye — personal data that might include the stranger’s name, occupation, Facebook profile…and possible records in the national sex-offender registry.  Of course Google disowns any relationship and discourages face-recog.  But the world of EXISTENCE is on its way….

sousveillance-watch…at which point your best hope will not be to hide… but to detect and know who is staring at you.

And they will stare!  From a vantage of 10,000 feet, the US Army’s experimental aerostat (unmanned blimp) will cast a vast radar net from Raleigh, N.C., to Boston and out to Lake Erie, with the goal of detecting cruise missiles or enemy aircraft so they could be intercepted before reaching the capital. Tested in Afghanistan and along the U.S. border with Mexico, these systems are becoming vastly more capable.  In this test, only radar and not cameras will aim Earthward.  But be ready for the future.  And hiding will not be an option.  Save your anger and militancy for what matters. Again… nothing will stop us from being looked at.  We need to demand ways to look back.

Ah…  Aerial surveillance … at 1.8 gigapixel resolution.

== On the horizon ==

Bruce Schneier suggests that the coming “Internet of Things” will open upon a whole new world… universe… of places for clever hackers to get into our systems.  Why bother trying to penetrate our computers, when so much is in the cloud and in the back and forth that we send-receive?  Schneier suggests we’re in for a security disaster as hackers figure out that it’s easier to hack routers than computers.  Worse, routers are made cheaply, at low margins, by companies that have no inventive to made them interactively update their security… the way Apple or Dell or Microsoft set up your home computer to do.  “The result is hundreds of millions of devices that have been sitting on the Internet, unpatched and insecure, for the last five to ten years.”

Internet-of-things“And the Internet of Things will only make this problem worse, as the Internet — as well as our homes and bodies — becomes flooded with new embedded devices that will be equally poorly maintained and unpatchable.”

A very good point.  Bruce is at his best doing this.  Pointing to new technologies or else a lazy trend and (when he stays practical, without arm waved generalities) saying we need to talk about this thing here.

Okay, this is going to change those Hollywood chase scenes. The European Union is secretly developing a “remote stopping” device to be fitted to all cars that would allow the police to disable vehicles at the flick of a switch from a control room. Urgh.  Oh no you don’t!  Not till we get people of our own in the control rooms! (This innovation brought to you by those UFO aliens who want to stop us all from using vehicles to escape the zombie apocalypse.)

An interesting and refreshing “yes, but…” turning of a mirror on a tell-all tattle-tale.  Mind you, there are good reasons to wish the TSA would just go… improve a bit.  But always look at the messenger, as well.

== More Brin-snippets ==

Role-internet-futureThis 10 minute podcast — The Role of the Internet in the Future — about Transparency and why the Internet Miracle happened — is one of the best excerpts from an interview I gave a European television station during a recent conference in Lithuania on the digital future.

Another excerpt — On Openness, Privacy and Surveillance — explains the most difficult concept of the information age… yes… once more time hammering on what ought to be obvious. That we should stop whining about how much elites can see… and instead be militant about looking back at them. And yes, I suppose the number of times and places listed here — where media have asked me to explain this — may in itself be cause for optimism!  I hadn’t thought of that, till now.  Perhaps, indeed, it’s getting through.

Technologies-making-differenceAnd this one — Technologies Making a Difference in the Future — talks about technological advances that have expanded what human beings can see, know, and touch.

== Participate on Tuesday! ==

Again, please join us all on February 11, sign petitions… and join the Electronic Frontier Foundation. I may disagree about some tactics and roadmaps.  But the intensity of our desire for freedom must be made clear!

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The Ongoing Privacy Problem: Other Voices

Ah… and so we return to the perennial topic that this astrophysicist never would have expected to stand at the center-of. How we should deal with an increasingly information-rich world.

== A Transparency Riff Worth Reading ==

PrivacyProblemEvgeny Morozov’s fascinating rumination in MIT’s Technology Review on The Real Privacy Problem  begins with an even more fascinating look back at one of the visionary pioneers of our age:

“In 1967, The Public Interest, then a leading venue for highbrow policy debate, published a provocative essay by Paul Baran, one of the fathers of the data transmission method known as packet switching. Titled “The Future Computer Utility,” the essay speculated that someday a few big, centralized computers would provide “information processing … the same way one now buys electricity.”

“Our home computer console will be used to send and receive messages—like telegrams. We could check to see whether the local department store has the advertised sports shirt in stock in the desired color and size. We could ask when delivery would be guaranteed, if we ordered. The information would be up-to-the-minute and accurate. We could pay our bills and compute our taxes via the console. We would ask questions and receive answers from “information banks”—automated versions of today’s libraries. We would obtain up-to-the-minute listing of all television and radio programs … The computer could, itself, send a message to remind us of an impending anniversary and save us from the disastrous consequences of forgetfulness.””

Privacy-TransparencyBaran was, indeed, almost as much an icon of tech prophecy as  the great Memex seer Vannevar Bush. Or the late Willis Ware, who foretold in 1966 that computers would be everywhere. But Morozov goes on to cite Tal Zarsky, one of the world’s leading experts on the politics and ethics of data mining, who refers to an earlier 1985 prediction by Spiros Simitis that vast, semi-intelligent systems of automated governance, whether run by state officials or corporations, would start predicting and then nudging individual behaviors, even when they are not illegal, starting with route planning and dietary advice and so on, with the danger that such nanny systems might even lose track of the underlying reasons or correlations that  the advice (which starts firming into compulsory tones) is even based upon!   “Data mining might point to individuals and events, indicating elevated risk, without telling us why they were selected.”

Writes Morozov“This is the future we are sleepwalking into. Everything seems to work, and things might even be getting better—it’s just that we don’t know exactly why or how.” 

So far, that is a very cogent description of a subtle and interesting failure mode. His subsequent discussion of rights and and contradictions is certainly an interesting one, well-worth reading.

== The rumination falls apart ==

Alas, Morozov then gloms onto a “solution” based on concealment, obscurity and hiding — one that cannot possibly work. Like nearly every seer in this benighted field, he absolutely refuses to consider how there might be transparency and accountability-based solutions that work with unstoppable  trends toward a world awash in light, rather than raging against the tide.

jaron-lanier-who-owns-the-futureHe buys into Jaron Lanier’s notion of each person having a commercial “interest” in their own information and a right to allocate it for profit or personal benefit. Any business (or government) that uses your personal information would pay you for the privilege. This is an improvement over the fantasy of a legal “right” to conceal your information and to punish those who have it, a stunning delusion in a world of limitless leaks.  Lanier’s notion is certainly a step forward — instead of prescribing futile and delusional shrouds, it envisions a largely open world in which we all get to share in the benefits that large entities like corporations derive from our information.

Except that “our information” is also a delusion that will fray and unravel with time, leaving us with what is practical, what matters… how to maintain control NOT over what others know about us, but what they can DO to us.

In order to accomplish that, we must know as much about the mighty as they know about us.

In-search-of-certaintyAlas, after an interesting discussion, Morozov devolves down to this“we must learn how to sabotage the system—perhaps by refusing to self-track at all. If refusing to record our calorie intake or our whereabouts is the only way to get policy makers to address the structural causes of problems like obesity or climate change—and not just tinker with their symptoms through nudging—information boycotts might be justifiable.”

This notion, that any measures taken by private persons will even slightly inconvenience society’s elites (of government, corporatcy, oligarchy etc) from being able to surveil us,  would be charming naivete if it weren’t a nearly universal and dangerous hallucination. It proposes that individuals attempt to cower amid a fog of their own hamstrung data ignorance, in utter futility, since the lords above them will see everything anyway.

In The Transparent Society I discuss the alternative we seldom see talked-about, even though it is precisely the prescription that got us our current renaissance of freedom and empowered citizenship.  Sousveillance. Standing up in the light while demanding — along with hundreds of millions of fellow citizens — the power to watch the watchmen. Embracing the power to look-back and helping our neighbors to do it, as well.

DisputationArenasArrowCoverI agree with Morozov about the need for “provocative services” where he almost seems to get the core idea, that we can solve most of these problems through open and fair confrontation, of the sort that teaches people to behave like adults.  An actual proposal for how such systems of dispute resolution through competitive opposition might work can be found in my article Disputation Arenas: Harnessing Conflict and Competition for Society’s Benefit.

Look, these matters are too important for cliches and unsubtle reflexes. It is a dismal situation when even society’s smartest observers cannot see what is in front of their faces.  One simple fact.  In order to preserve both freedom and safety, we humans need to see.  And in order to see… there must be light.

==Long Live Transparency==

Privacy-Is-deadIn an article, Privacy is Dead; Long Live Transparency, Kevin Drum writes, “I call this the ‘David Brin question,” after the science fiction writer who argued in 1996 that the issue isn’t whether surveillance will become ubiquitous — given technological advances, it will — but how we choose to live with it. Sure, he argued, we may pass laws to protect our privacy, but they’ll do little except ensure that surveillance is hidden ever more deep and is available only to governments and powerful corporations. Instead, Brin suggests, we should all tolerate less privacy, but insist on less of it for everyone. With the exception of a small sphere within our homes, we should accept that our neighbors will know pretty much everything about us and vice versa. And we should demand that all surveillance data be public, with none restricted to governments or data brokers. Give everyone access to the NSA’s records. Give everyone access to all the video cameras that dot our cities. Give everyone access to corporate databases.”

Drum continues, “This is needless to say, easier said than done, and Brin acknowledges plenty of problems. Nonetheless, his provocation is worth thinking about. If privacy in the traditional sense is impossible in a modern society, our best bet might be to make the inevitable surveillance more available, not less. It might, in the end, be the only way to keep governments honest.”

In fact, I don’t go this far.  I believe we’ve retain a bit of control.  Some ability to enforce some close-in privacy.  But this (ironically) can only be assured in a mostly open world.

For more: collected articles about Transparency in the Modern World.

== Dads, tell your daughters! ==

It’s been spoofed and expected for decades. At last, is this the pre-date site you can tell your daughter to check, before going out with some dude?  What’s the delay, already! There should also be blood tests!

== And Finally ==

China-cyberwarA fascinating riff from Kurt Eichenwald’s new piece for Newsweek,How Edward Snowden Escalated Cyber War With China,” concerning the increased challenges facing US efforts to curb widespread Chinese hacking in the wake of the controversies triggered by Edward Snowden’s selective disclosures of surveillance activities. Here is Richard B. Eisenberg, Attorney-Advisor Office of the General Counsel, US Air Force-   

“Some security industry and former intelligence officials say they originally believed Snowden’s apparent outrage at espionage by governments might lead him to expose activities by the Chinese, who use their hacking skills not only for economic competition but to track and damage dissidents overseas and monitor their citizens. There was good reason to believe Snowden had plenty of details about Beijing’s activities – he has publicly stated that as an NSA contractor he targeted Chinese operations and taught a course on Chinese cyber counterintelligence. And while he says he turned over his computerized files of NSA documents to journalists in Hong Kong, he boasts that he is so familiar with Chinese hacking techniques that there is no chance the government there can gain access to his classified material. But outside of American intelligence operations conducted there, Snowden has revealed nothing about surveillance and hacking in China, nor about the techniques he asserts he knows so well.” 

There are screwy things going on. Always remember that there are currents and implications that aren’t simple black and white. Don’t give in to that temptation.

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Questions I am frequently asked about… (Part V) Transparency, Privacy and the Information Age

I’ll now complete my compilation of questions that I’m frequently asked by interviewers. They can all be found online on my web site and press kit. This final section is about… 

== PRIVACY AND TRANSPARENCY==  

Note that my tenure as an expert in these matters arose from the 1997 publication of The Transparent Society: Will Technology Make Us Choose Between Privacy and Freedom?  which won the American Library Association’s Freedom of Speech Award and the McGannon Public Policy Prize.  It revealed many surprising aspects to a vexing and complex set of problems that we must negotiate and navigate in the coming decades, with nothing at stake… other than liberty, survival, and all the things that make life worth living.

For more detail, see a compilation of some articles and interviews  about transparency, freedom and technology .

–Do you worry about the loss of privacy as both the government and amateurs have more and more access to surveillance?

TinyTransparentI got some of my nicest letters based on Chapter 9 of The Transparent Society, where I disassemble my own theory, appraise and talk about all sorts of ways that a transparent society could go wrong! For example, you could have a really nasty version of majority-rule, such as Ray Bradbury shows in Fahrenheit 451. Even if transparency prevents Big Brother, will that mean we’ve traded top-down tyranny for the lateral kind? Oppression by hundreds of millions of judgmental Little Brothers? 

Serious concerns, Still, real life offers reason to hope. If you look at the last 50 years, whenever the public learns more about some eccentric group, it judges that group on one criterion: Is this group mean? 

Are they harmful and oppressive to others? When the answer is yes, the more we learn about the group, the less they’re tolerated. If the answer is no, the more we learn about the group, the more they’re tolerated. Look back. More exposure and information about others reduced racism, sexism, homophobia… but increased our aversion to groups like the KKK or Stalinists.  No other criterion explains this. 

9mlZmETE6m2NEkSrxM63fTl72eJkfbmt4t8yenImKBVaiQDB_Rd1H6kmuBWtceBJIf that’s true and if it holds in the future—if people continue to defend others’ eccentricities because a) they think it’s cool to live in a world of harmless eccentrics and b) for the sake of their own protection—then you would likely see a 51 percent or 60 percent or 70 percent dictatorship by a majority that insists on crushing just one thing… intolerance. Okay, that’s still group-think majority-imposed will. But the least harmful one you can imagine. 

As far as privacy itself is concerned, I have a simple answer to that. (It makes up chapter 4 of The Transparent Society.) Human beings want it. We naturally are built to want some privacy. Moreover, if we remain a free and knowing people, then sovereign citizens will demand a little privacy, though we’ll find that we must redefine the term for changing times. 

techtransThe question really boils down to: Will tomorrow’s citizens be free and knowing? Will new technologies empower us to exert reciprocal accountability, even upon the mighty? It may seem ironic, but for privacy and freedom to survive, we’ll need a civilization that is mostly open and transparent, so that each of us may catch the would-be voyeurs and Big Brothers.  So that most of us know most of what’s going on, most of the time. 

It can happen!  The proof is us.  Because it is already the method that we’ve used for 200 years. And to see this all laid out, have a look at one of the only public policy books from the 20th Century that’s still in print and selling more each year.

–What do you foresee as tiny cameras proliferate? 

SousveillanceSurveillanceEssentially, this is the greatest of all human experiments.  In theory… sousveillance (looking at the mighty from below) should cancel our worst fears about the surveillance state, if we get into the habit of stripping the mighty naked. 

If that happens, we should eventually equilibrate into a situation where people – for their own sakes and because they believe in the Golden Rule, and because they will be caught if they violate it – eagerly and fiercely zoom in upon areas where others might be conniving or scheming or cheating or pursuing grossly-harmful deluded paths… 

… while looking away when none of these dangers apply. A socially sanctioned discretion based on “none of my business” and leaving each other alone… because you’ll want that other person to be your ally next time, when you are the one saying “make that guy leave me alone!” 

That is where it should wind up.  If we’re capable of calm, or rationality and acting in our own self-interest.  It is stylishly cynical for most people to guffaw, at this point, and assume this is a fairy tale. I can just hear some readers muttering “Humans aren’t like that!” 

Well, maybe not. But I have seen plenty of evidence that we are now more like that than our ancestors ever imagined they could be.  The goal may not be attainable.  But we’ve already taken strides in that direction.

PrivacyAccountability copyWhat do you see as the major problem in achieving a more transparent society?

When it comes to privacy and accountability, people always demand the former for themselves and the latter for everyone else.

-How will greater openness affect our society?

We already live in the openness experiment, and have for two hundred years. It is called the Enlightenment — with “light” both a core word and a key concept in our turn away from 6,000 years of feudalism. All of the great enlightenment arenas — markets, science and democracy — flourish in direct proportion to how much their players (consumers, scientists and voters) know, in order to make good decisions. To whatever extent these arenas get clogged by secrecy, they fail.

imagesBut the next step in people empowerment is even more impressive — those burgeoning “smart mobs” Howard Rheingold and Clay Shirky and Vernor Vinge talk about. (Also shown in my latest novel, Existence.) It’s agile. It’s wired. Every generation innovates, or the Enlightenment dies.

– In EARTH (1989) you forecast that a huge world issue in the 2010s and 2020s would be international banking secrecy. Now, daily revelations seem to be bearing that out.  Do you still foresee something like a “Helvetian War”?

An actual, physical war, waged by nations of the developing world against the great banking havens?  Well, not really.  That was an exaggerated metaphor for a novel that achieved dramatic effects. But I do still expect increasing radicalization and pressure from many newly rising nations, when they realize that their former, kleptocratic lords stole literally trillions that might save and give hope to millions of children back home, if the money were recovered.

NothingToHideThis issue won’t go away. Just recently (April 2013) a cache of 2.5 million files has cracked open, spilling the secrets of more than 120,000 offshore companies and trusts, exposing hidden dealings of politicians, con men and the mega-rich the world over. In my novel, Earth, I predicted this would be the core issue of our times.  I still think things will play out that way.

See: more articles about Transparency and Openness

Or:

Return to Part 1: Questions on Writing and Science Fiction

Part 2: Questions on Science Fiction and Fantasy

Part 3: Questions on Brin books and The Postman

Part 4: Questions about Prediction and the Future

 

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Is Technology offering Transparency…or spying on us?

A look at how technology enables greater transparency…but not always both ways:

Google Goggles… or Project Glass… is finally announced.  See the official preview… and an amusing satire. These futuristic Goggles would project information directly in your field of vision, offering updates on the time, weather, map directions, road closures, upcoming appointments, names of colleagues, buildings, etc. You will be able to leave memos to yourself, send email to friends, read restaurant reviews and take/share photos or video (but can you do all this while walking?). Of course this is just scratching the surface (so to speak).  I portray this technology taken thirty years into the future (including solutions to the “walking problem), so stay tuned in just three months for a glimpse of where it will all lead. in Existence.  Or see it presaged, back in in ‘89, in Earth.

Ah, but is two-way vision always a good thing? At the Consumer Electronic Show (CES), Smart unveiled a new Smart TV that demonstrated how the seamless integration of sensors, built-in cameras and microphones enabled “smart” features such as gesture control, voice commands and all kinds of interactive and connectivity.  But this Smart TV can also turn into a spy within your home, reporting without your knowledge.  There is no indication as to whether the camera and audio mics are on. You can point the camera toward the ceiling … but there is no easy way to physically disconnect the mic to ensure that it is not picking up your voice when you don’t intend it to. Will your Smart TV soon be spying on you? Onward Orwell!

Navizon’s Indoor Triangulation System allows anyone carrying a WiFi-equipped smartphone, iPad or notebook computer to be tracked (inside as well as outdoors) without their knowledge or consent — and with no option to opt out. This Buddy Radar enables locating shoppers in a mall, doctors in a hospital, clients in a convention hall…or lost children in a crowd. If this bothers you — then disable WiFi on your devices when you’re not using it. Not a convenient solution.

technology-spyingAnd there’s corporate surveillance: Dunkin Donuts installed an employee monitoring system that monitors  their staff with video cameras and tracks every punch of the cash register. The result: a drop in employee thefts by 13%.

Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the web, tells internet users they should demand their personal data from giants such as Facebook and Google:  “One of the issues of social networking silos is that they have the data and I don’t … There are no programs that I can run on my computer which allow me to use all the data in each of the social networking systems that I use plus all the data in my calendar plus in my running map site, plus the data in my little fitness gadget and so on to really provide an excellent support to me.”

I must agree.  The really frustrating thing is not that elites will know about me.  That’s inevitable.  But what is dangerous as hell is their reluctance to let us have full access to our own information… or reciprocal information about them.

==Transparency in Science==

Scientists are not immune to bias, and they should be transparent about the sources of their funding. The director of the US National Institutes of Health called for a  compulsory online registry of researchers’ interests as a condition of federal funding. “The public may not always understand the intricacies of rigorous science, but most individuals quickly grasp the concept of bias.” Nothing came of this proposal. Each university should have a publicly searchable database of academics’ external sources of money. And that’s fine, so far… but where does this simply become a way to bully scientists, making them look over their shoulders with every step?

If we scientists do have to set this example of transparent accountability, then can we at least have back a little respect?  And start seeing Wall Street follow suit?

 == Dire news on the medical front==

Up to a third of what the U.S. spends on medical care may be wasted, in large part because of over-testing and over treatment.  Now a major panel has cited nine procedures that doctors should resort to far less often.    Fascinating article.

One of the most highly-valued contributors to this blog’s comment community, an emergency room physician, reports,  “We stand on the brink of the post antibiotic era.” One of the worst antibiotic-resistant staph infection strains called cMSRA, which can penetrate even healthy, intact skin, has just learned to defy the last defensive drug that physicians could use without fearing major consequences to children or the allergy-prone.

This is not a good time to back off from science.  In the 1950s, the most popular man in the United States was Jonas Salk.  Today, most Americans have never heard of him, and nut-jobs on both the left and right rail against vaccination and the Medical Establishment.  It seems we get what we deserve.

== Science & Tech Potpourri ==

Experiments are finally moving ahead with solar updraft power towers… of a kind that I mentioned long ago in Earth. These systems use a very large surrounding “greenhouse” – many square km of clear plastic or glass – that heats air to flow up a tall chimney while driving generators.  Efficiency is much lower than solar thermal, but start-up simplicity and load balancing are attractive, as is mixed use of the land below the sheeting.

==On the Lighter side==

Examples of my Uplift meme used in modern humor.

Terry Bisson’s classic, hilarious little story about why we may not have been contacted. “They’re Made of Meat” has been produced for a lovely, ironic radio show.

The Purdue Society of Professional Engineers team smashed its own world record for largest Rube Goldberg machine with a 300-step behemoth that flawlessly accomplished the simple task of blowing up and popping a balloon.

== And finally…  A Sober Thought on Pop Culture ==

Stooge alert!  (woop, woop, woop!)  Like most American males, and all American kids (something happens to women, I guess) I love the Three Stooges.  I haven’t seen the new movie.  I hope it’s good, though even if it’s great I expect my wife to get her year’s quota of eye-rolling exercise!

Now, let me stand up for this in philosophical terms.  The best of the old scenes weren’t the plain hitting. That was always lame. No, it was those stunning metaphysical contemplations of the inherent, hopeless irony of existence.  In other words… art!  In that art  connects the viewer directly to life’s inherent poignancy without words or persuasion.

Take some of the most perplexingly ironic-tragic stooge situational dilemmas, like the boys using Curly as a battering ram to punch through a brick wall, then trying to pry him back out with a crowbar. Oh, the expressions on his face, as the crowbar hook moved back and forth in front of him, preparing to strike like a cobra… or like implacable fate. He is hypnotized, transfixed, the way all of us have been, at various train-wreck moments of “real” life.

Nothing better distilled for me the inherent unfairness of the universe… or the absolute impossibility of human beings being able to think our way out of this puzzling quandary called the life – the game that you simply cannot win.  And yet the boys never stopped trying. Persevering. Coming up with one “hey, let’s try this!” hopeless gambit after another. And sometimes something brilliantly stupid – or stupidly brilliant – actually worked!  And you came away thinking… maybe I should keep trying, too.

I confess, that philosophical depth may just be rationalizing away what’s really no more than Neanderthal immaturity.  (See the “laughter scene” in the amazing paleolithic film QUEST FOR FIRE.) So? Nevertheless, I made my Tymbrimi and Tytlal characters big stooge fans, and for reasons that they found wholly adequate!

Ever see the Stooge flick in which they made fun of Hitler, a full year before Charlie Chaplin started THE GREAT DICTATOR?  Oh, they had guts too.

Final note.  It is a tragedy that we never had a four stooges film, with brothers Curly Howard and Moe Howard sharing the screen with both Larry Fine and the other brother, Shemp Howard.  I consider Shemp to have been a comic genius of the first order and always enjoy him immensely. I hate the fact that he is excluded from Stooge Festivals on TV. History and fans are unkind to him because we compare him to Curly, who was a force of nature – akin to gravity or electromagnetism.

Oh, never forget that the greatest city in the world — fittingly the home of Wall Street, where stooge-like intelligence and antics are the norm — was pre-named, as if precognitively, for one of Curly’s most perceptive lines. Nyuck Nyuck.

Whether the new film is a fitting tribute or (most likely) a travesty, still carry the deeper lesson with you, every day. Persevere you knuckleheads, numbskulls and dollfaces. A civilization that can produce such art should be able to achieve anything.

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Transparency: Privacy in an era of Sousveillance

For H+ Magazine, I was recently interviewed by Ben Goertzel on accountability, surveillance and sousveillance. and our chances to maintain some level of personal privacy in the coming age of transparency and light.

An excerpt: In The Transparent Society I devote a whole chapter to how essential some degree of privacy is for most people. I argue that in a society full of liberated people empowered with highly functional sousveillance technology, sovereign citizens, able to apply sousveillance toward any center of power than might oppress them, will likely use some of that sovereign power to negotiate with their neighbors, and come up with some way to leave each other alone.

This is the logical leap that too few people seem able to make, alas. That fully empowered citizens may decide neither to hand power over to a Big Brother… nor to turn into billions of oppressive little brothers.

They might instead decide that the purpose of light is accountability. And shoving too much light into the faces of others, where accountability isn’t needed, well, THAT would also be an abuse, a socially unacceptable activity. One that you can be held accountable for.

Science Tidbits:

This wondrous solar powered plane isn’t a gimmick anymore! It looks so retro nostalgic… like something from the 1920s… yet it works. It stayed aloft 26 hours on just sunlight & batteries… and looks so cool. Also, it probably doesn’t have much of a heat signature….

The world’s leading climate change research organization issued a report yesterday that has renewable energy boosters cheering, as it foresees substantial growth in alternative energy sources over the next 40 years.

The military is taking climate change seriously. A recent report for Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, said: “We must recognise that security means more than defense” — urging a strategy of sustainability as climate change is “already shaping a ‘new normal’ in our strategic environment.” The military intends to adapt, as must shipping, insurance, and even oil companies…

No one has ever floated a boat on another world, but NASA is now considering doing just that, on Saturn’s icy moon Titan. With a proposed launch date of 2016, the Titan Mare Explorer would drift upon the ethane-methane lakes of Titan, performing chemical analyses and looking for signs of exotic life.

An accidental discovery by Japanese researchers found that Red wine turns a metal compound into superconductor! Sake, beer and whiskey also appear to work! The better it tastes, the more effective it is, claims lead researcher Yoshihiko Takano.

Wow. Stunning video: NASA captures a giant comet diving into the sun. My doctorate was for analyzing the composition and behavior of comets BTW. Put a lot of this science into my novel, Heart of the Comet, which I co-wrote with Gregory Benford. And at Caltech I was a solar astronomer! So, it’s very cool to see the collision of comet and sun! Amazing.

Red colobus monkeys in Uganda’s Kibale National Park are being hunted to extinction—by chimpanzees. According to a study published May 9 in the , this is the first documented case of a nonhuman primate significantly overhunting another primate species.

Pixar as an early propaganda wing of the Uplift Institute? The relationship between human and non-human characters is central to these movies. Whether the character is an insect, robot or rat, non-humans are sentient intelligent beings — that “humanity does not have a monopoly on personhood.”

The World Science Fiction Convention will be held in Reno this August. If any of you know teachers or librarians who happen to love science fiction and also live near Northern California or Nevada, clue them in that this year’s World Science Fiction Convention will feature a college credit course on the teaching of science fiction!

Musings about life:

Finally… a clarification. Satiation? I call satiability one of the hallmarks of sanity, and it is… but only if it means you shift your longings! When you get what you said you wanted, you should be happier! And need that thing (e.g. money) less) But that should not stop ambition and longing in general!

As Mignon McLaughlin put it, “Youth is not enough. And love is not enough. And success is not enough. And, if we could achieve it, enough would not be enough.”

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