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We Should All Have Something to Hide (2013) (thoughtcrime.org)
239 points by citizensixteen on Feb 27, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 38 comments

There are a couple different arguments that have been developed to counter the government requests/propaganda for access to our data.

Here, Moxie works on one I don't think has been popularized yet- To reform unjust laws, people must be able to break those laws. That is an argument against allowing the government to have total information awareness, because that access would allow the government to enforce laws perfectly, which would make some unjust laws permanent.

I believe that is the weak bit of the argument- although it's true, there is a big gap between how the government could move from information awareness to perfect enforcement.

Instead, I'd take the argument in the direction that a database of the criminal behavior on every citizen would create the prefect tool for the suppression of dissent. Anyone who became politically inconvenient would have their entries combed for wrongdoing, and their life destroyed.

The weakness with THAT argument is that it assumes a conspiratorial, immoral federal government. Many of us may be able to imagine that, but it's an idea at the periphery of the Overton window.

Which brings me to my point.

We need a reference detailing historic government abuses of data. It should focus on:

    How data was collected
    The original purpose of collection 
    The benign intentions 
      of the original collectors
    How the data moved from the collecting administration
      to the abusive administration
It seems like there should be a wealth of historical examples. What data did the Stasi have, Mao's china, the purges of intellectuals in russia and SE Asia. I bet there are even records of Torquemada's Inquisition.

I want us to make the posibility of a good administration collecting data, and then that data being captured or inherited by a bad administration, a part of the mental vocabulary of the US population. Yeah it's ambitious, but I think that is the best chance we have at fighting the Government here. And, I believe that an earnest civil servant could understand the danger, and want to limit his own power, once this was properly explained.

You don't even have to leave the US - COINTELPRO is a great example of this. In the 50s and 60 the FBI used surveillance data of questionable legality to target a number of groups deemed "undesirable". This included trying to convince Nobel peace prize winner Martin Luther King Jr to literally kill himself via harassing anonymous letters that threatened the release of embarrassing personal details.

Here's a key quote from the letter: "No person can overcome the facts, no even a fraud like yourself. Lend your sexually psychotic ear to the enclosure. You will find yourself and in all your dirt, filth, evil and moronic talk exposed on the record for all time. . . . Listen to yourself, you filthy, abnormal animal. You are on the record."

Nice, eh? When that failed, his marriage was attacked instead, and anonymous audio recordings (again, questionable legality) were sent to his wife. This continued in various forms up to MLK jr's eventual assassination.

You don't even need the entire government to be corrupt and malicious - a single bad department or group can cause an enormous amount of damage, which won't be found out about until decades later (if at all!).

Edit: Source https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2014/11/fbis-suicide-letter-dr...

Dutch municipalities had comprehensive files on every citizen, including religion.

Germany invaded, Holland capitulated in 5 days, and the files proved an organizational treasure trove for rounding up jewish families and deporting them.

"Also, the civil administration was advanced and offered the Nazi-German a full insight in not only the numbers of Jews, but also where they exactly lived."

- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Jews_in_the_Net...

It wasn't immediately obvious what, exactly, was happening to the Jewish families when Germany took over. But even if it had been, destroying all those files in 5 days would have required extraordinary coordination and determination. And that is assuming you make the decision to scorch the earth the second Germany attacks; not exactly a move which would inspire confidence.

Underground resistance forces spent the following five years trying to burn down as many town halls as they could.

> How data was collected

Previously collected census data of Amsterdam.

> The original purpose of collection

> The benign intentions of the original collectors

The usual reasons any state pays to count their citizens. This particular census data included the religious affiliation.

> How the data moved from the collecting administration to the abusive administration

In 1941, when the Nazis occupied Amsterdam, they commissioned the local civil servants this map of a particular subset of their census data:


Each black dot represents 10 Jews. 3/4 of those dots were efficiently rounded up and eventually murdered in the camps.

The weakness in the argument is that privacy or secrecy will minimize one's exposure to unjust laws. I don't think that's the case. It only makes it harder for an unjust system to effect its goals in other words, it introduces delay not necessarily avoidance altogether.

For example, if an unjust government didn't have access to or there didn't exist data at oblique or proximate collection points, they'd go about and find alternative methods. They would set up systems of popular reporting and surveillance as they did in Vietnam where it was beneficial and of self interest to report abnormal behavior or behavior contrary to that sanctioned by the government.

So, yes, privacy and secrecy can delay "the bad things" but they will not prevent it. Moreover, with less than perfect information, a bad government or actor will simply widen the net and accept more false positives. Privacy may defeat the mildly bad but not those intent on real bad.

> It only makes it harder for an unjust system to effect its goals in other words, it introduces delay not necessarily avoidance altogether.

...which is what it's supposed to do. There is nothing that makes totalitarianism impossible, what is necessary is to put up as many roadblocks in its way as we can so the people fighting the good fight stand a chance.

> The weakness with THAT argument is that it assumes a conspiratorial, immoral federal government. Many of us may be able to imagine that, but it's an idea at the periphery of the Overton window.

As a matter of fact, the US government was established with this basis in mind. You can see this through the checks and balances system, as well as the representative democracy, and the first ten "rules" of the Constitution, which are rules to protect the people.

The creators anticipated the worst kind of people inhabiting the government and set it up to protect us from them. I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss it.

From what I've read of the process, the 10 amendments were not only not the first ten rules, as they were originally voted down, and only later added as amendments because of a few critics of the Constitution who refused to ratify it.

It's a very good point. Moreover, an abusive administration will almost definitely take over soon, because the scope of data the current one has will attract all kinds of "evil forces", including (but probably not limited to) powerful corporations.

>To reform unjust laws, people must be able to break those laws.

Absolutely false. There are many bad or just silly laws on the books today that are scarcely if ever enforced. The problem with that is that no one will really put any effort into dealing with those "dormant" laws since they don't affect them in any way, but the state will drudge up such a law when they have to if they have it out for someone in particular. Laws that everyone ignores and are constantly violated because they aren't reflective of public morality can become a nightmare for the people that get prosecuted under them. They won't usually try this with high-profile people because the silliness would be obvious, but if you don't have media attention on yourself and they hate you, they will most certainly do this.

The best way to repeal a bad law is to have it strictly enforced. Once it starts affecting peoples' lives, especially powerful people, it will change pretty fast.

I'd love to see a US attorney issue arrest warrants for Larry Page, Sergey Brin, and Eric Schmidt due to Google's continuous flagrant violations of the CFAA and copyright law (though I acknowledge that their personal responsibility for such acts is now well outside the respective 2 and 5 year statutes of limitation). In my opinion, when a big shot violates a law, they should be locked up right away. They should be re-arrested every time the law is broken. In this way, each bad law would be cleaned up within a year or two.

Mandatory enforcement is a good theoretical construct but it has an immediate practical problem. There are so many bad laws that it would require literally everyone to be brought up on charges. There would be no one to prosecute or judge cases because all the prosecutors and judges would be too busy defending themselves from their own charges.

The only way to even consider strict enforcement is to fix the bad laws first, so before we can even discuss strict enforcement we would need a different way to eliminate bad laws. At which point you probably don't need it anymore.

I don't think the battle here is about privacy, encryption, or any of that stuff.

It's really about trust in government.

It's about the specific meaning of the word 'trust' - the idea that 'trust' and 'distrust' are not equivalent to 'good' or 'bad'.

I can distrust my government, without thinking that they are bad.

When speaking to friends and family about this, that feels like the barrier. They believe that current western governments are generally 'good', and that historical ones were 'bad', accidents of some sort, that can't or won't happen again.

That troubles me, more so than any specific issue of the day.

As a programmer... in some ways I feel like it's an issue of abstraction. Naming variables is hard. Right?

We have this 'Terrorism' abstraction. But that's not really what it is. You might have an instance of Terrorism, that affects two people. Then is it really Terrorism? Shouldn't it be something else? I'd say it's just Violence.

The same happens all over the place. Child abuse, theft, piracy, etc. The battle seems to be fought and won by the media when we decide on how to categorise and name things.

So we end up in some frankly absurd situations, because we think we're discussing Y, when actually we're discussing X.

I don't know how to solve this, I just want to get it out of my brain, because it really frustrates me and stops me bothering with debate most of the time when people don't even seem to realise they've done it.

If I thought that eliminating privacy would save 1 billion lives, I would do it. No euphemisms. That would be a sacrifice I'd feel sensible in making.

But I don't want to talk about 'encryption' and 'terrorism' because it's just bollocks, really. It's an absurd simplification; it's a euphemism. You're not discussing anything real anymore, you're just giving platitudes.

The real issue is that people are even talking about terrorism at all. By the state definition more people have died from tripping over their own feet than from terrorism in the last thirty years.

It is not about degrees of abstraction, it is about composition. Terrorism is a wrapper function to obscure the true intent behind the militarization of the police, the expansion of the military, and the implementation of the surveillance state - as a politician, you fear uncertainty and a lack of control. The natural state of affairs is to trend towards totalitarianism - the centralization of power and authority in a society absolutely - and it takes the vigilance of participants to repel its advances.

We have been doing a very poor job of that for quite a long time now, and the results of that gradual trend become more and more evident and indisputable.


I think what I'd say about this is that essentially 'Terrorism' has been defined as some sort of catastrophic instance, of collapse of society, fear of going outside, whatever.

But it's being applied to relatively trivial crimes (e.g. one soldier was stabbed in the UK, and that becomes 'terrorism', when really it's just premeditated murder).

I agree that there seems to be some sort of campaign to deliberately misuse terminology in this way. I'm just not sure what we can do to stop it other than to educate people about these 'tricks'.

Terrorism is just the threat. The nebulous conceptual threat - in the same way the US thought declaring war on psychoactive recreational plants was a sane proclamation, declaring war on the fundamental idea of violent political dissonance through fear is also equally untenable but also equally effective in placating the population through fear of the "other" / "sin" just by the simple animal brain logic of different == dangerous == threat == destroy.

You don't want to finely define your threat when you want the threat to be perpetual to justify your seizure of power. Is it sad that this is literally what the awful Star Wars Prequel's did? The evil sith lord orchestrated vacuous foes for the much larger, much stronger Republic to fear, and then used that fear to see himself given absolute power so as to seize total control of everything once the curtain was pulled back and he was revealed the ultimate puppet master.

In much the same way, terrorism in the modern world is constructed with American arms and money, to create the strife that funds private defense contractors and military arms manufacturer's profit margins. It is a fabrication to instill fear, to enable the expansion of authority in exactly the same way - and everyone agrees those movies were terribly written because the Emperor's plot seemed so impossible with so many people around him to see it, yet we are living it out ourselves in much the same way today - and the super majority of people are entirely ignorant, or even protective, of the fear-mongering.

I think declaring war against pot fit nicely into the puritanical history of America, and a few crazy controlling people like j edger hoover. We do seem to let those types get into power. Hopefully it won't happen with Trump. I would believe that some of those types of people would try things like that to control people.

But I think there's a lot larger group of conservative law enforcement and politicians that just go along with those restrictions.

Now I have even seen some republicans coming out against this national surveillance as they think about what it would be like if trump had access to that, instead of "their guy".

It will be hard to reverse the national surveillance state. The first step is contacting your representatives and reminding them of your objection.

I think one of the common terms for this is a "motte and bailey doctrine", where people define their terms one way during an argument to make their statements super-defensible, but later redefine them to mean whatever crazy thing they actually meant. People seem to use this intentionally and unintentionally a lot.


I'm with you, and want to add that the government is not at all monolithic.

I am a state employee, but I work for a University nonprofit. Needless to say they didn't open up the Book of Secrets during orientation. ;)

I distrust the FBI much more than the Supreme Court. I distrust the House more than the Senate. I distrust federal level more than state level.

It is a privilege to live under a diverse governing body and some of those bodies are, imho, more functional than others.

The most relevant quote i can think of:

    First they came for the Jews
    and I did not speak out
    because I was not a Jew.
    Then they came for the Communists
    and I did not speak out
    because I was not a Communist.
    Then they came for the trade unionists
    and I did not speak out
    because I was not a trade unionist.
    Then they came for me
    and there was no one left
    to speak out for me.

I do like the quote, but the part which isn't incorporated there is the conversion of the populace against the group.

It seems as if 'they' are another entity; but they're not, right? The government isn't some external group - they are an extension of you and me.

The current examples we have are pedophilia and terrorism, which have been painted as crimes so heinous that they must be eliminated from the planet, at any cost. And the general populace do seem to agree with that.

Once that happens I feel like we're done for, because all ability to debate rationally has been shut down.

There doesn't seem to be a cost benefit analysis going on - it's just all or nothing. One case of child abuse, 20 people shot in a school, and people lose their minds. How can we stop that? Is it the media? Is there something more nefarious going on? I don't know.

It's like - imagine that 90% of Jews were murderous villains. If that were true, perhaps civilization would be on the brink of collapse, and we'd have to forego the principle of innocent until proven guilty in order to prevent a descent into chaos.

But what we actually see is some tiny, minute fraction. 0.001% of users of encryption, say, are murderers. One so small that the world would continue to spin for quite a while, possibly indefinitely, if we simply did _nothing at all_ and waited for suspects to get caught.

And people go insane and call for actions against innocents.

It's just odd. Really odd.

> And the general populace do seem to agree with [getting rid of terrorism/rape/etc].

when framed that way, anyone would agree. However the measures being taken is eroding liberty, asserting more control over people. And yet, people agree to having such measures imposed, because they've been convinced via propaganda that those measures are effective.

The quote is apropo, because by the time they 'come for me' - me being the fact that the new rules instituted is now restricting me from being able to live the way i want - it's too late. Imagine if the gov't had a recording of you at all times - you'd be immediately identified as soon as you have an inkling of civil disobedience, or any hint of activism that the gov't disagrees with.

This _must_ be nipped in the bud, before you no longer have a process to affect change because you'd be too scared of the secret police.

You removed the 'at any cost' fragment from the sentence, which I think basically describes what you're saying.

I think it's about the tinkering occuring at all - basically, people are giving the government authority to fix problems which don't exist to begin with, or have minimal impact - and those fixes have negative side effects.

It's like re-writing a piece of software entirely to fix a radio button that doesn't work. Even if it's the only possible way to fix the radio button, is that really a good idea? Can't we just live without the radio button?

A more fleshed out example:

I could, tomorrow, drop a glass whilst retrieving it from an overhead cupboard, and blind myself when it smashes over my head. Something like that.

If I were worried about it, I could fix that particular situation by not storing glasses above my head.

What I wouldn't do, is go and remove every instance of glass or ceramic from my house.

That's what I often feel like these situations are coming down to. Someone gets shot in a school, and rather than looking at that problem, we go insane and look at 'how do guns get into the country at all' or 'how can other people end up with different thought patterns to me' or something utterly bonkers.

Glass falling over your head isn't exactly the same as a gun shooting in a school. When a glass breaks, that's an accident. When a gun fires - it does what it was made to do. Living in a guns-free society is not similar to a glass-free one IMHO.

> me being the fact that the new rules instituted is now restricting me from being able to live the way i want

The 'come for me' has a completely different meaning than 'restricting me from being able to live the way I want'.

A huge part of the problem is that when people start talking that way, they sound like that peasant on Monty Python's and The Holly Graal that keeps screaming "Look! I'm being repressed!"

When one goes through that route, however relevant and pressing issue he's taking about, people just tune out and ignore.

> Law enforcement used to be harder. If a law enforcement agency wanted to track someone, it required physically assigning a law enforcement agent to follow that person around. Tracking everybody would be inconceivable, because it would require having as many law enforcement agents as people.

It is not inconceivable. It was very much real in east germany! People tracked each other, everybody became a law enforcement agent.

Most people have committed a few felonies this year and either don't even know it or don't care.

Once prosecuting people becomes as automated as a license plate scanner generating hundreds of tickets per day, suddenly they are going to wish they had a little more privacy to balance the government being overbearing.

The problem is we give incredibly powerful weapons (both literally and figuratively) to law enforcement and then when going after the real big criminals turns out to be too difficult, they turn their eyes to the easy to catch regular folks with little way to defend themselves, just so crime prevention figures can look good in the budgets.

Well, a wsj article from 2009 claims in the US it is an average of three felonies per day [1], and I doubt the situation has become better since then.

[1] http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB100014240527487044715045744389...

It is an interesting post and certainly a concern around automated law enforcement in the future. That is certainly something folks need to keep in mind.

There are some skeptics breaking down that article however.[1] I am not saying I agree or disagree with their analysis. It is still very much a concern even if that article chose the incorrect examples to use for their thesis.

[1] http://skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/22530/does-the-a...

Thanks for the link, it's good to be skeptical. But even if the number is inflated by an order of magnitude, it's still a very frightening one. And it's two orders of magnitude away from ck2's estimate.

" If a law enforcement agency wanted to track someone, it required physically assigning a law enforcement agent to follow that person around. Tracking everybody would be inconceivable, because it would require having as many law enforcement agents as people."

On the other hand, the Stasi and the KGB were infamous for the vast armies they employed in this task. Maybe they couldn't track everyone all the time, but they could track enough people enough of the time that people were generally aware there was a non-zero chance of being tracked, and doing anything that might arouse the suspicions of the authorities carried risk. Also, in those societies, everyone was at risk, whereas in the US, the risk is perceived to be weighted toward 'others'--if you are not in the targeted group, it is easier to be complacent.

We should. But we might not be allowed to in the digital world in the future.

A bill by US lawmakers, set for release in March, could require encrypted devices to be able to give un-encrypted data to law enforcement. Feinstein says the bill is "coming along ... some people are making it a lot harder than we think it needs to be". An alternate proposal is also on the table


If this is genuinely important to you, don't forget to vote against every politician who supports mass surveillance. Do it in primaries and the general election. Write someone in if you have to, but do it, and don't make excuses about the lesser evil.

Its a bit worrying that someone feels its necessary to write an article explaining how the government constantly spying on everyone could be bad.

(The post is from 2013. Shouldn't that be mentioned in the title?)

It should include 2013.

This is only becoming more true every year. I hope that more folks read this post.


From 2013.

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