The Living Thing / Notebooks :

The new surveillance state

our revealed preference for revealing our preferences

Do You Want to Know a Secret by Dorothy Gambrell

Catching terrorists without resorting to a Stasi reign of terror by the state.

This will be lots of opinion pieces; for practical info see Confidentiality, a guide to having it. Related to, and intersecting with, state surveillance is corporate surveillance.

Think pieces explaining why one should care

Arguing that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say.

I have much to hide, for one simple reason. I cannot trust people to act reasonably or responsibly when they are in possession of certain facts about me, even if I am not ashamed of those facts. For example, I keep my social security number private from a would-be criminal, because I can’t trust that he’ll act responsibly with the information. I’m certainly not ashamed of my SSN. Studies have shown that cancer patients loose their jobs at five times the rate of other employees, and employers tend to overestimate cancer patients’ fatigue. Cancer patients need privacy to avoid unreasonable and irresponsible employment decisions. Cancer patients aren’t ashamed of their medical status; they just need to keep their jobs.

Over the past year, there have been a number of headline-grabbing legal changes in the U.S., such as the legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington, as well as the legalization of same-sex marriage in a growing number of U.S. states.

As a majority of people in these states apparently favor these changes, advocates for the U.S. democratic process cite these legal victories as examples of how the system can provide real freedoms to those who engage with it through lawful means. And it’s true, the bills did pass.

What’s often overlooked, however, is that these legal victories would probably not have been possible without the ability to break the law.

The state of Minnesota, for instance, legalized same-sex marriage this year, but sodomy laws had effectively made homosexuality itself completely illegal in that state until 2001. Likewise, before the recent changes making marijuana legal for personal use in Washington and Colorado, it was obviously not legal for personal use.

Imagine if there were an alternate dystopian reality where law enforcement was 100% effective, such that any potential law offenders knew they would be immediately identified, apprehended, and jailed. If perfect law enforcement had been a reality in Minnesota, Colorado, and Washington since their founding in the 1850s, it seems quite unlikely that these recent changes would have ever come to pass. How could people have decided that marijuana should be legal, if nobody had ever used it? How could states decide that same sex marriage should be permitted, if nobody had ever seen or participated in a same sex relationship?

If everyone’s every action were being monitored, and everyone technically violates some obscure law at some time, then punishment becomes purely selective. The cornerstone of liberal democracy is the notion that free speech allows us to create a marketplace of ideas, from which we can use the political process to collectively choose the society we want. Most critiques of this system tend to focus on the ways in which this marketplace of ideas isn’t totally free, such as the ways in which some actors have substantially more influence over what information is distributed than others.

The more fundamental problem, however, is that living in an existing social structure creates a specific set of desires and motivations in a way that merely talking about other social structures never can. The world we live in influences not just what we think, but how we think, in a way that a discourse about other ideas isn’t able to. Any teenager can tell you that life’s most meaningful experiences aren’t the ones you necessarily desired, but the ones that actually transformed your very sense of what you desire.

We can only desire based on what we know. It is our present experience of what we are and are not able to do that largely determines our sense for what is possible. This is why same sex relationships, in violation of sodomy laws, were a necessary precondition for the legalization of same sex marriage. This is also why those maintaining positions of power will always encourage the freedom to talk about ideas, but never to act.

within a few decades, we may see something of a “hypocrisy apocalypse”, or “hypocralypse”, wherein familiar ways to manage hypocrisy become no longer feasible, and collide with common norms, rules, and laws.[…]

Masked feelings also helps us avoid conflict with rivals at work and in other social circles. […] Tech that unmasks feelings threatens to weaken the protections that masked feelings provide. That big guy in a rowdy bar may use new tech to see that everyone else there can see that you despise him, and take offense. You bosses might see your disrespect for them, or your skepticism regarding their new initiatives. Your church could see that you aren’t feeling very religious at church service. Your school and nation might see that your pledge of allegiance was not heart-felt.

Of course, some misdemeanors are relevant for judging an individual’s fitness for office. How does this work with the monopsony state blackmailers, though? Or when all trust in everyone is undermined?

…a simple metric I use to assess the claims put forth by wannabe surveillers: simply relocate the argument from cyber- to meatspace, and see how it holds up. For example, Leslie Caldwell’s forebodings about online “zones of lawlessness” would be rendered thusly:

Caldwell also raised fresh alarms about curtains on windows and locks on bathroom doors, both of which officials say make it easier for criminals to hide their activity. “Bathroom doors obviously were created with good intentions, but are a huge problem for law enforcement. There are a lot of windowless basements and bathrooms where you can do anything from purchase heroin to buy guns to hire somebody to kill somebody.”

Admiral Michael Rogers, head of NSA and U.S. Cyber Command, described the Russian efforts as “a conscious effort by a nation state to attempt to achieve a specific effect” (Boccagno 2016). The former director of NSA and subsequently CIA, General Michael Hayden, argued, in contrast, that the massive Chinese breach of records at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management was “honorable espionage work” of a “legitimate intelligence target”

Misc

A quick guide to asking Cambridge Analytica for your data

Our cost-cutting institutions are leaking our info. After all, can you secure an iron cage?

Laura Northrup: Police Charge Arson Suspect Based On Records From His Pacemaker

Guilty before trial.

Confessions of a data broker and other tales of a quantified society.

No-opt-out-gamified citizenship: China builds the mother of all online reputation systems:

China is proposing to assess its citizens’ behavior over a totality of commercial and social activities, creating an uber-scoring system. When completed, the model could encompass everything from a person’s chat-room comments to their performance at work, while the score could be used to determine eligibility for jobs, mortgages, and social services.

“They’ve been working on the credit system for the financial industry for a while now,” says Rogier Creemers, a China expert at Oxford University. “But, in recent years, the idea started growing that if you’re going to assess people’s financial status, you should equally be able to do that with other modes of trustworthiness.”

The document talks about the “construction of credibility”—the ability to give and take away credits—across more than 30 areas of life, from energy saving to advertising.

(see also)

Why we live in a dystopia even Orwell couldn’t have envisioned

Alexa O’Brien summarises: Retired NSA Technical Director Explains Snowden Docs.