Thursday, June 6, 2013

Can we talk?

I'm in a musing mode. I think this whole NSA story has me thinking about how our political system isn't working these days and that sends me into contemplating the big picture.

As I wrote this morning, the current hysteria about NSA contains within it some issues about what privacy means these days that need to be addressed (for more on that read this). But then, that is true of the IRS situation and the whole tension between classified leaks and journalism. In other words, in addition to critical issues like immigration reform, Obamacare implementation, gun violence, the economy, voting rights, climate change etc, these so-called "scandals" highlight very real challenges we need to face.

But all we see happening is a need to grab these issues and play gottcha power games with them. Everyone jumps to stake out a position and engage the fight. We will NEVER produce results that way.

I think about how President Obama talked about counterterrorism in his speech recently. He basically invited us into a conversation about some very thorny issues. He exposed some of his own moral and pragmatic dilemmas that are very real. In other words, he said "we need to talk." But we're not interested in doing that. We're interested in "winning." Anyone who lets down their guard in defending their position (as President Obama did in that speech) is ridiculed because they're not playing the game.

For today, I'm tired of all that...and a bit discouraged. Who knows, maybe I'll see things a bit differently after a good night's sleep. If I do, I'll let you know.


  1. I recall previous summers when important issues took a back seat to silly season sensationalism. Ratings go down during the summer--they just do. Most people, and by that I mean real people who are busy living their lives, don't give a rip about any of this. They want good weather, backyard barbecues, vacations, graduations, new babies, weddings. There just isn't any significant room left to care about the NSA. They don't care about the IRS, Benghazi, leaks, Syria, immigration reform. They care about how to pay their bills and what to do with their kids now that they're out of school. They're more worried about the weeds in their yard than infrastructure.

    Two weeks from now only the most paranoid noise-makers will still be beating the NSA drum. Everyone else will be onto the next tropical storm and flooding and tornadoes and mass shooting.

  2. Nobody I know is even talking about this. I'm a politics nut, and I often forget that lots of people are not. That's actually a good thing during these crazy times. I have more faith in the people of this country, and less in the media every day.
    MSNBC has just about cured me of watching political shows.

    I'm rambling, but I, too, am pretty disheartened today. How can this president stand it?

  3. I have two thoughts about this. The first is that it irritates me that most of the press is acting as though it is the first time they have heard of what NSA is doing.

    The second is something I have been mulling over for awhile. I have worked with people who do computer and data security so we have talked about the issue of privacy vs security for many years. This didn't start with 9/11. Most have been on the side of privacy emphasizing encryption and anonymity and resisting allowing the government a key for access just in case there is a case where the government could legitimately get a search warrant pointing out that can be used can be miss used. But there is also another side that says learn to love living publicly. Cameras are so cheap and ubiquitous, storage space so cheap, and computing power so great that it is a lost cause. And, data is addicting; you really can find out all sorts of things. Are the large corporations really better stewards than the government? The thought I've been having is more about social controls. For I think centuries now people have been bemoaning the break down of society in the anonymity of the growing cities. And, there is much to support this concern from studies of the evolution of cooperation to the observation of internet behavior. Indeed many crime fighting approaches are involve getting neighbors to know each other. On the other hand in general people need some privacy to think, learn new things, make mistakes, and change their minds. Open meetings have their place in informing the public. But I doubt that they ever produce new solutions.

    So, perhaps this loss of privacy may be good for the world. But personally I am appalled with how closely Obama is followed. He can't see or talk to anyone without it being known. He does seem to have the self possession to hold up under the pressure.

    I think there should be some area where a person should have some expectation of privacy. But realistically, if you don't want something known, don't use a telecommunication device and don't put it on the internet.

  4. The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

    I know you're no Greenwald fan, but hopefully you saw what was publish today on the guardian site.

    I think you're comment of " if you don't want something known, don't use a telecommunication device and don't put it on the internet." Where is the line drawn and who draws or moves that line unilaterally. Would you say the same about a letter sent via USPS? How does that really differ from an email in today's society.

    Worse case scenario, let me know where I stand with my privacy and what is collected in mass. If we know clearly where we have a reasonable expectation of privacy, it's up to us to be responsible.

    1. My last statement is just about how easy it is to seize electronic communication. I don't believe that it that the government should seize ones papers. My sense of no privacy began 30 years ago working for an aerospace company and being told that all off our telephone calls could be recorded, no just metadata. I learned to live with it. You must talk with your doctor or kids teacher sometime.

      Later working with applications on networks, I learned to use such meta data as the NSA is data mining. You can keep the systems running is you don't. For example, if you plan for all traffic to be between Singapore and New York but 80% is really between between Shanghai and Houston, you have a problem. That is a simplification but the fact of the matter is that the big telecom and cloud companies must collect and analyse such data. The question is about what is probable cause for the government to get a warrant.

      Also ever since people started talking about politics and religion on USENET before the web, people have been confused with respect to their rights vs the government and their rights vs their peers and their company. So they are surprised and outraged when their statements effect peoples judgement of them at work.

      This is going to get even more difficult when every one is wearing a google glass equivalent. I personally want to get rid of of all laws forbidding photographing police at their work, but rather make sure we have that right. But where does it end? Where do we have any expectation of privacy when we bring people into our homes who are broadcasting and uploading everything they see to a sever in Finland? I entered this conversation largely because of the title "Can we talk". The networks are giving individuals opportunities to fight tyrant, terrorist a means to coordinate and teach, and tyrants greater ability to identify and track opponents. What are we going to do about it?

      The press hasn't been very useful on the subject. They feign surprise about things that have been talked about for years. They also get their feelings hurt and claim 1st amendments infringement when the white house calls them out on their lies. This needs some careful thought. I think we would all agree that my neighbor could tell the police that he saw UPS deliver a package at a given time. But what if it is the neighbor's camera? What about a traffic cam? What about UPS tracking data that contains where the package was from and who paid for it? That is equivalent to the data NSA is taking in this particular situation. The government is saying the equivalent of - we want a copy of the data in case we need it. We'll get a warrant if we need to analyse it in a way that would identify individuals. What do we think about that? What do we think about UPS doing the same thing for different reasons and not being subject to the need for a warrant because they aren't the government. I have zero knowledge of what UPS does, but I'm sure they at least do traffic studies.

  5. My one hope is that these stories will inspire a serious discussion about how this data is collected, how it is controlled, who will have access to it and for what reasons, and how long they can retain the data. But instead I expect a lot of the yelling to be about whether the data should be collected or not.

    For me that is an argument about closing the barn door after the horses have already escaped. We've passed the point where it is reasonable to expect that all information about our day-to-day activities are private. It hasn't been the case for years. Welcome to the internet!

  6. When I got a Green Card, back in 1975, I had to mail a postcard (form available at every Post Office) to the then INS every time I got a new address or new job. Since I was a kinda freewheeling hippie, that was often. I thought about ignoring the requirement but decided with some amusement to comply. Several Post Office clerks were not aware they had the form, incidentally, but they all did.
    I rather enjoyed being an Alien and having the card to prove it but this eventually became more of a hassle, and promised to get worse, so I finally applied to become a citizen, in the late 90s. I ended up with a face-to-face with a competent bureaucrat because my Congressman had to intervene because of an INS error (a mistyped database entry), so I asked about the postcards. Had they checked them when I applied for citizenship? Hell, no; they were almost certainly buried in a warehouse in Texas but no one was going to look.
    Nowadays, however, with digital data, they might well look; and they certainly are likely to screw up in the same way. I liked life better when there were interstices in the bureaucracy, and humans who would step in to help.