There is nothing more important than the right to vote. That’s why John Lewis got his head cracked open trying to get his right to vote back. And the idea that this most precious of democratic commodities is in the hands of someone whose only previous experience in government was presiding over a company that defrauded it is a measure of how unworthy of those sacrifices the nation has become. Charles P. Pierce ☀
Weibo users’ conduct will be enforced with a points system (yep, they just gamified censorship) wherein you lose points for posting rumors or criticisms and earn points for, say, verifying your own identity. If you get down to zero points, your Weibo account gets terminated. You think terms of service are tricky? Check out this Chinese ‘code of conduct’ ☀
The Internet stands at a crossroads. Built from the bottom up, powered by the people, it has become a powerful economic engine and a positive social force. But its success has generated a worrying backlash. Around the world, repressive regimes are putting in place or proposing measures that restrict free expression and affect fundamental rights. The number of governments that censor Internet content has grown to 40 today from about four in 2002. And this number is still growing, threatening to take away the Internet as you and I have known it. Some of these steps are in reaction to the various harms that can be and are being propagated through the network. Like almost every major infrastructure, the Internet can be abused and its users harmed. We must, however, take great care that the cure for these ills does not do more harm than good. The benefits of the open and accessible Internet are nearly incalculable and their loss would wreak significant social and economic damage. Vinton Cerf ☀
The Automation of Government Coercion ☀
- Mark: Switching gears just a bit... We've watched the SOPA/PIPA controversy, now its CISPA; the "Stellar Wind" project was featured in Wired last month, and recently an NSA whistleblower, former Director William Binney, came out and said flat out that the government is lying, they intercept and store everything we do, Constitution be damned. It seems the government won't stop until it completely controls the flow of information on the Internet and has the ability to monitor and record everything we say and do online. You're a counter-terrorism expert, how much of this is hype and how much of it is really necessary to safeguard national security, in your opinion. And what about our civil liberties and right to privacy?
- John: It’s a mixed bag. There’s certainly lots of concern in regards to how the NSA gathers data on US citizens. Added to what the private sector is gathering, its safe to conclude that we don’t have any privacy.
- For example, nearly every new phone sold today has a GPS chip in it. It’s constantly gathering data on where that phone is and sending it to the phone company. All of that phone company data, from all of the phone companies across the world, is aggregated and provided to select governments for use in counter-terrorism. In short, the three billion people that are using cell phones are being tracked in order to help find and kill a couple hundred terrorists (its contribution is probably limited to being the primary source for neutralizing a couple of terrorists a year).
- What do they do with this data? All of the public and private data collected -- from credit card purchases to library records to Internet usage to GPS cell phone data to EZPass info to aerial photos -- is being constantly analyzed by computers for what is called a “terrorist profile.” This network analysis software is looking for patterns of activity that would indicate a specific person is a terrorist, or part of a terrorist cell. The problem with this analysis? It doesn’t work if you don’t have a starting point, a known terrorist, that you can work outwards from. If you don’t have a reference point, the analysis generates too many false positives to be of use.
- This analysis gets really scary when you President can now designate any US citizen an enemy combatant without going through a judicial process. This Presidential list is the equivalent of hit list. What does it take to get put on this list? How big can this list get? Nobody knows. It's probably safe to assume that this list will become increasingly automated over time with nearly zero human oversight (just guidance).
- On top of all of this, killing people designated as terrorists is getting much, much easier. When I was in counter-terrorism, getting to the bad guys and back safely was risky. Every operation put dozens of people at extreme risk. Now, all you need is an armed drone. Armed drones are killing hundreds of people a day now in Pakistan. Drones, instead of troops and airplanes, are increasingly becoming the way the US controls the world. From a political perspective, using drones is nearly costless. No shot down pilots on TV. No body bags. All it costs is money, and less and less money as drones get smaller, smarter, and more deadly.
- So, if you combine the automation of terrorist identification with an administrative “hit” list with automated drones that execute the order, you have a global killing machine. A machine that requires very few people to run and can kill almost anyone that triggers in in a matter of minutes.
- What will be done with it? If we end up in a disorderly economic depression, as it increasingly looks like we will, we’re going get a good demonstration of what life under automated authoritarianism.
- Last word. There’s also a whole host of laws and regulations that are aimed at restricting our freedoms in favor of the Intellectual Property mafia. They want the ability to censor everything we see and shut down web sites if there is even a whiff of IP infringement. Massive, automated censorship is going on now. Google blocks 300,000 URLs a week from its search results due to corporate pressure. Are all of these requests to block infringing content reviewed? No. It’s automated. It’s non-judicial. It’s simply corporate censorship.
Digital information, unconstrained by packaging, is a continuing process more like the metamorphosing tales of prehistory than anything that will fit in shrink wrap. From the Neolithic to Gutenberg, information was passed on, mouth to ear, changing with every re-telling (or re-singing). The stories that once shaped our sense of the world didn’t have authoritative versions. They adapted to each culture in which they found themselves being told. Because there was never a moment when the story was frozen in print, the so-called “moral” right of storytellers to keep the tale their own was neither protected nor recognized. The story simply passed through each of them on its way to the next, where it would assume a different form. As we return to continuous information, we can expect the importance of authorship to diminish. Creative people may have to renew their acquaintance with humility. John Perry Barlow ☀
…I’ve come to realize that this actually is what America is all about, built on the backs of slaves, then whatever cheap immigrant labor could come along until we had a brief period of union strength and a dominant middle class, and now that is being crushed so the robber barons, the financiers, and the monied classes can profit. We’ve had our fits of patriotism every now and then with a good solid war, but even then the rich make it richer while the poor go off to die. And when we aren’t exploiting our own, we’re profiting at the expense of someone else in another land who we will never have to hear about. Maybe I am just pessimistic tonight, but what has happened to America isn’t un-American, it’s as American as hot dogs, Chevrolet, and Halliburton, and always has been. It just took me 35 years to figure it out. Balloon Juice ☀
It’s not the free and open democratic society that aspires to eliminate risk; it’s the police state. The police state does not succeed. I spent four years in the Soviet Union and, occasionally, there were incidents of political violence: we didn’t hear about most of them. But they occurred here and there, and if there had been a real movement in that country that wanted to use political violence, I don’t think it would have been possible for the KGB secret police to prevent all incidents at 100 percent. You just can’t do it. In a modern society, particularly where people are mobile, where people have vehicles that they can load up with explosives, or people go to public areas and are willing to wear explosive vests and blow themselves up, it’s impossible to reduce risk to zero. So, the question is: “How much risk are you willing to tolerate to have a free society?” That’s not a calculation that’s really mathematical. It’s psychological. It’s really hard to come to a clear conclusion about it, because as individuals, or even as a society, you have less power over this than you may imagine you do. David Shipler ☀
Losing Our Civic Religion: A Conversation With David Shipler ☀
- Matthew Harwood: What was the most disturbing or enraging story you wrote about in the book?
- David Shipler: There are two. One is the basic situation of personal frisks and car searches in these poor black neighborhoods. That was disturbing on two sides. One, that it was permissible and, two, that the residents acquiesced. Our Constitution exists not only because there is case law, but also because of individual citizens observing it and believing in it and fighting for it. So, when you have a whole group of citizens in neighborhoods that no longer fight for their constitutional rights, the rights go away. They exist only when they're exercised.
- The second one was Brandon Mayfield for two basic reasons. One was the use of surreptitious searches that ultimately couldn't be challenged, the sneak-and-peek break-ins to his house; the collection of DNA evidence, cigarette buts; copying the hard drives on three computers and one external drive; planting bugs in his house and his law office, violating attorney-client privilege.
- And the second part of that was the intellectual dishonesty of the FBI. Because what they did, and I think this has implications for a lot of other investigations, is they took particular facts that they had discovered in his house through the FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] warrant and arranged them in an incriminating fashion to make it appear as if he were involved in the Madrid train bombing. They took a faulty fingerprint match and used it as a pivot around which they spun a whole theory of the crime. We know this, by the way, only because he sued and pried documents out of the FBI. Most of these investigations we don't know about. We don't know the details. But in this case, we know because he got these documents.
- To me there were so many intellectual failures in the FBI investigation, beginning with the lab, that it really does create a certain terrifying concern for citizens. These people are pros, so they should be professionally trained to keep open minds the whole way through and not discount exculpatory evidence and not arrange evidence in a way that supports their theory of the case. There were a couple of mistakes that no good scientist would ever make doing a clinical trial. One was that there was context bias. The examiners knew what the case was about. So when they got the print from Interpol, they ran it through their computerized system and it spit out ten to twenty possible matches; they came in on a weekend and they knew that this was the case, the Madrid bombing. They had to solve it. That was the first problem. They shouldn't have been told what the case was because that heightens the sense of urgency to find the match even where it might not exist.
- Secondly, all the examiners knew what all the others had concluded. So, their first examiner, who was very experienced, concluded that this was a match [of Mayfield]. And the next examiner, who was supposed to exercise independent judgment, already knew what the first one had concluded. This was hardly a double-blind study.
But when we abolished slavery the meaning of “freedom” became entirely unclear. Its opposite was gone. It’s as if the color “black” was abolished: how would we now understand the color “white?” Freedom is much harder to define after 1865: what does it mean without slavery? I know what I prefer—the capacity to speak my mind, a certain amount of property rights, protection from violence—but if you ask me to define “freedom” it’s going to be a challenge. Freedom obviously can’t mean “the right to do whatever you want,” since that impinges on the freedom of others, and it can’t simply mean “the possession of property,” since property could be gained by violent means. The laws which secure my rights (or if you like, my freedoms) are also constraints–they require the paying of taxes and a degree of obedience to authority. Lots of people now equate freedom with choice, imagining something like “I’m free because the market gives me 100 different choices of breakfast cereal.” This is clearly not quite what Jefferson had in mind, and of course you might have 100 different kinds of breakfast cereal but little or no choice about the kinds of work you might have to do to earn a living and little meaningful political choice. “Freedom” is hard to define in the absence of slavery. Libertarians always refer back to the age of “classical liberalism,” the age of Jefferson and Locke. This is not coincidentally also the age of racial slavery: slavery gave meaning to freedom, while racial slavery legitimated a notion of natural rights founded in biological difference. Racial slavery wasn’t a regrettable accident: it was crucial to the formation of ideas about liberty and freedom. It was the opposite that gave those ideas meaning. Because the end of actual slavery destabilized the notion of freedom, modern libertarians have to keep finding new forms of “slavery” to keep their world view sensible. Why Libertarians Love Slavery ☀
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