Jach's personal blog

(Largely containing a mind-dump to myselves: past, present, and future)
Current favorite quote: "Supposedly smart people are weirdly ignorant of Bayes' Rule." William B Vogt, 2010

Sociology memo: Is Information Technology a Threat to Privacy?

Taylor talks about lives at stake. Well, the price of freedom is a couple planes in a couple buildings with a few thousand dead, not a decade of foreign occupation, thousands of our own soldiers dead, hundreds of thousands of innocent Arabs dead or displaced, an economy in the shambles, and invasion of privacy for Americans. When a country fights for such things as freedom, there are risks it has to take. It seems like the relevant Benjamin Franklin quote always comes up during these conversations: ``Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.'' Airplanes are safer after 9/11 not because of any security increases at airports (such measures are a joke and trivial for any thinking person to get around (which shows you the stupidity of the enemy if they can't get around it (though I suspect the problem is more in the difficult of motivating people to kill themselves, which is not easy and a promise of virgins has little to nothing to do with it))), but because passengers now know to resist terrorists. The recent ''underwear bomber'' was stupid for being obvious, but passengers also resisted him and he was stopped.

If the US doesn't have the capabilities of Dubai, I suspect they might desire them. Dubai identified the assassins of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh extremely quickly, along with releasing video taken from various locations. It's interesting to wonder how much computer power is behind all that. But I digress...

I don't consider it ridiculous to do a flat ban on wire tapping. Wire tapping catches stupid criminals, not the smart ones. The smart ones will communicate using encryption impossible for government computers to crack (unless they secretly have a quantum computer, which is unlikely). The smart ones will use services such as Tor and various proxy networks to hide their online presence, and there's always the Darknet which is architectured in such a way to prevent spying on the information. When humans want to communicate secretly, there's nothing the government can do to stop them. One may argue that measures which invade everyone else's privacy may ``thin the herd'' by removing the stupid, but the stupid are mostly harmless and don't require such invasive measures to capture anyway.

I can't get on board this whole ``watch out for the terrorists!'' propaganda. Some of our favorite stories involve ``terrorists'', though I guess they're white and/or Christian and thus don't receive the term, even when it's clear they're not right in any sense. The use of potential terrorism to further some goal is despicable, and to me automatically darkens any proposal, just like the phrase ``think of the children!''

Really, though, perhaps the most dangerous affront to privacy comes from modern corporations, not the government. As any IT contractor for the government will tell you, the government's machinery is many years out of date and thus many orders of magnitude less powerful than what consumers can buy cheaply. They do not take security seriously, as evidenced when Pentagon hacker Gary McKinnon broke into NASA and Pentagon computers that were unsecured with an administrator password. (Followed by a long extradition battle he is still fighting from the UK, as the US want to make an example of him rather than fix their own systems.) Google, on the other hand, possesses a vast quality of information about individuals it can and does link together, along with computing power to back it up. They process over 20 Petabytes of data for any given day. If this guy wants to increase what the government knows about everyone, he should go for taking the data from corporations such as Google et al. On a related note, it seems that Google-hating is fashionable now because of how they could potentially misuse their data. But until they actually do evil with it, I find criticizing them to be premature. Unless you're smart enough to actually do something about your online security, you should take it as given that you have none. Think nobody knows you're a dog? Think again.

Posted on 2010-05-17 by Jach

Tags: memo, technology


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