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Pentagon testing mass surveillance balloons across the US (theguardian.com)
483 points by incompatible 46 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 295 comments



> The new balloons promise a cheap surveillance platform that could follow multiple cars and boats for extended periods. And because winds often travel in different directions at different altitudes, the balloons can usually hover over a given area simply by ascending or descending.

Stepping back from the details of this story reveals a striking pattern that most public discussions on mass surveillance miss entirely.

Cost has protected citizens of the world's liberal democracies from sliding into totalitarianism for a long time. Now the brakes are off. Surveillance technology costs are plunging across at the board and capabilities are skyrocketing.

Regardless of size or jurisdiction, there isn't a law enforcement agency out there that doesn't want to (or actively seek to) increase its observational capability.

Tumbling prices allow these organizations to indulge these urges.

Suddenly, basic assumptions about what governments can and can't do go out the window. The equipment is bought and put into production. Better to ask forgiveness than permission and all that.

There is no limit to the appetite for greater visibility into the private lives of citizens. Today it's the war on drugs and terror. Tomorrow it's something else. The justifications change, but these are just thin veneers over the ugly truth. Every government tends toward totalitarianism unless kept in check by something pretty damn powerful.

This train has one destination, and it's not even clear if there will be any stops along the way. To understand where we're headed, try reading the Bill of Rights with the assumption that your government knows everything there is to know about you, and where those who attempt to reveal the extent of these capabilities are imprisoned or executed.


The novelty here is a further reduction in cost by mounting it on balloons, but gorgon stare platforms for total surveillance have been rolled out in cities in the U.S. for several years now with plane-mounted camera arrays. Baltimore’s PD deployed it in secret in 2016 with money from a private donor without even informing the mayor.

The cost is rapidly falling to the point of inevitability for government actors and possibility for private players. Amazon balloons could track your physical shopping behavior to better target you with ads. Criminals could observe people and car movements in entire neighborhoods to better target burglaries and carjackings. The genie is pretty much out of the bottle.


> Criminals could observe people and car movements in entire neighborhoods to better target burglaries and carjackings. The genie is pretty much out of the bottle.

It can't be understated how much impact this, and drones, will have on home invasion crimes. And they will have surveillance ops on standby to help them successfully navigate out of police chases when the need arises.


But cops could also observe criminals, so that probably evens out.


Well, for everyone but the homeowner. :(


And then when people will inevitably start wanting better home security (I'm thinking armored doors and such, not hackable "smart" locks) as a consequence of this, the government will start whining about not being able to break into people's homes as easily when they look for someone.


> Criminals could observe people and car movements in entire neighborhoods

Isn't deploying an airborne surveillance platform (if it has sufficient altitude to survey a useful area) an incredibly conspicuous thing to do?


We need a new deal here. If everyone with power is allowed to just follow their incentives, we end up with an awful place for everyone. What is the contract between people, government and corporations that we can make that allows for the freedom in society that we value? It seems like both the corps and gov are teaming up against team people here.


In France we have a contract: if people are unhappy they rise against. If there's no risk of revolting, the fox is fearless in the chicken hen.


As a french person I don't see that going very well or being very effective.

Now our police force (CRS) are just military and dress like robocop for any confrontation. People get hurt, the news outlets take the government side and the problems stays the same.


This is why many Americans won’t give their guns away. Imagine (not saying it would be a good outcome), but what Hong Kong would be like right now if all citizens hard arms? Well maybe the whole thing wouldn’t have even started. But wow, it would be a very different scene.

Instead it’s more a case of if the military wants to walk in and shutdown the place, it’s going to be a lot easier.

Not entirely a gun rights advocate at all, but I can see some people’s motives.


> but what Hong Kong would be like right now if all citizens hard arms?

The chinese are slowly removing democratic institutions away from the people. The people are rising up to protect them without guns.

Democratic norms are slowly being eroded from the US as well. Extreme gerrymandering, electoral college / popular vote, overt foreign interference, requested foreign interference, voting irregularities, voter purges, voting machine irregularities, a complicit senate, out of control corporate funding / ownership / bribery of politicians.

What are the people with guns doing? Nothing. In some cases cheering it on with claims of "if your side tries anything we are armed and ready".

Does having an armed population really protect the people from the government? Does it protect a democracy? does it protect the constituion? Or is more likely they become a paramilitary wing of a corrupt government? Just look around the world and see what happens in other countries with a heavily armed population? Then tend to form groups to have power, slowly becoming war lords, which the politicians then use a power source to keep the population in check.

Maybe an armed population made sense a few hundred years ago (maybe not though), but am going to have to see some working out to show it is still relevant today before being believed as an unquestionable truth. Some examples would be good. And before everyone shouts SWITZERLAND SWITZERLAND. If you are comparing the US population to Switzerland, I think you have more homework todo as all that shows you, there is a lot more to it than just having guns.


> does it protect the constituion? Or is more likely they become a paramilitary wing of a corrupt government?

Good point, but you are lumping all gun owners into one mindset.

I could definitely see that happening, but it would not be all gun owners, just a percentage. And of the many gun owners I know, the percentage that would support any government and impose anything on others would be really low.


Guns are necessary but not sufficient. Guns + independent, civil society groups are what make a healthy democracy.

The idea is to back civil society with an implicit, but never used, question of force.

If things break down into shooting, that's civil war. And who knows what happens next, but it's not likely to be good for anyone or the country.


okay but like which generally happens in countries with are level of development? definitely the paramilitary reality, not the "rise up" against government reality.


Republican senators in my home state (Oregon) that abandoned their posts actually threatened to shoot state troopers sent after them [1]. It's hard to say guns help democracy when they're so literally being put to use to break it.

I'm rather neutral on the issue itself, I see pros and cons, but the fact that the insane, often completely unreasonable group has lined up on one side makes me want to take the other.

[1] https://www.oregonlive.com/politics/2019/06/oregon-republica...


A good example would be the YPG (People's Protection Units of Rojava), where the defensive power of guns is equally distributed and rotated through the population so that everyone shares in the responsibility. It's hard to over use your power when you know that someone else's grandma will later have that power.


Sorry, I wasn’t trying to convince you or anyone else they having guns = protection for democracy.

It was just more of a thought experiment. I totally understand your point and I’m fully aware that there are a lot of issues and other problems with an armed population that totally suck.


> but what Hong Kong would be like right now if all citizens hard arms?

Your comment didn’t address the quote.

If Hong Kong citizens were all armed, what would be happening right now? Is there a similar historical situation we could look at?


If the HK citizens were all armed, China would roll in the tanks. Good luck shooting at a tank. We live in the 21st century not the 19th.


Not a great argument, look at our 19 year war in Afghanistan.


I'm sure some military nuts will correct me but isn't the problem with tanks in Afghanistan the mountains? Tanks don't work very well in mountains.


Maybe an armed population made sense a few hundred years ago (maybe not though), but am going to have to see some working out to show it is still relevant today before being believed as an unquestionable truth.

Try taking over a Federal installation without being well-armed, and see if it goes anywhere near as well for you as it did for the Branch Dildonians.

Pro tip: cameras are almost as important as guns. Bring both.


>This is why many Americans won’t give their guns away..

...but the way the U.S. laws are written, it's quite illegal to take up arms against or try to depose/overthrow the United States Government - no matter how totalitarian and authoritarian it might get.

In fact, nothing in the Bill of Rights or the Consitution or the U.S. Code guarantees such right[s].

This is not to mention the reality that the arms controls would make it seem like the citizens are bringing paper swords to gunfights nor how catastrophic those casualties might be.


There are (rare) cases in which armed resistance does not result in convictions, and/or in which prosecution of government agents is at least initiated, and civil redress made.

The Ruby Ridge incident comes to mind:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ruby_Ridge

As does the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupation:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occupation_of_the_Malheur_Nati...


The only way a protest with guns is different from a normal protest is if you're willing to use those guns. And using them usually doesn't end well for protesters more than anyone.


See the Black Panthers in the 1960s.

Mind, I don't generally disagree with your premise, and I'm not a guns advocate. There do exist (as is typically the case) counterexamples to the general rule.


The past 50-60 years strengthened the positions of governments vs. their people. These days such a movement would find it a lot harder (or impossible) to go that far.


Again, what's happened is that vulnerabilities and strengths have shifted, as they're prone to do. I do tend to agree that power's hand (government, but also other empowered establishments) have largely strengthened, but the shifts are not entirely one-sided.

Some of those are based on informational vulnerabilities (see the #MeToo movement, and accusations against numerous power icons), some are based on data and information leaks. Some are based on backlashes -- Google's employee revolt against Dragonfly, and Edelman's against Geo[1] come to mind.

Physical sabotage against either very-high-value or very-exposed point or linear exposures (aircraft safety post-9/11, Stuxnet attacking Iran's uranium-enrichment centrifuges, pipeline and marine chokepoint vulnerabilities) expose the weakness of very-high-technology systems often having immense fragility.

What open resistance seems to rely on most profundly, as Gandhi and King noted, was the appeal to other sources of allegiance and sympathy. In truth virtually no power struggle is a naked encounter between two groups, but rather of consortia, with a high level of awareness of just how haywire things might go if one party presses its point too far. There's some evidence that reluctance to move against, e.g., right-wing extremist movements within the US is due to perceptions of high levels of support for those groups, including infiltration of institutions including law enforcement, military, and courts. I don't know for certain that this explains reluctance to act more decisively by the previous US administration, though I have a feeling it's at least part of the reason.

At the same time, open massed armed resistance does tend to be met with overwhelming force or opposition, though even that is often tempered. And in less democratic nations, the more so, as has been the case in, say, Saudi Arabia and Hong Kong over the past weeks and months.

________________________________

Notes:

1. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/30/business/edelman-geo-bord...


S/he just gave you two examples that ended very well for the protesters in one instance, and for the surviving people on the protesters' side in the other.


You mean with militants being killed, arrested, and/or fined? I can think of better endings. You know things aren't ideal when the cherry picked examples still ended with death and prison without (obvious) lasting changes. Other cherry picked examples ended way worse [0].

These were extremely localized protests in terms of people involved and goals. How would it work out on a national scale involving multiple parties and different goals on different scales? The article we're commenting on is about mass surveillance, how would a protest of 1+ million armed people look like, and how would the authorities treat it? As a protest or as an attempt to overthrow the government? And what happens when some of those people are actually pro-government and they also have guns?

Any major civil unrest is all but guaranteed to not end well (in general) because simply organizing it might be treated as a crime. And the fight is unlikely to be just 2 sided, "the people" vs. the government.

If you have to hang on to your guns because that's the only sure way to effect change then something somewhere went terribly wrong. And reality is that it was much easier to very slowly erode the freedom and not one single change was severe enough to trigger unrest on more than localized issues that only affected one tiny group of people. By the time people look back and realize what they had and lost, even guns won't help.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waco_siege


The point is that the State Blinked.

It happens.

For numerous reasons. Social resistance: the Prohibition, Civil Rights, and AntiWar (Vietnam) movements in the US, India's liberation movement, pro-democracy protests in South Korea during the 1980s, anti-globalism and 99% resistance movements in the 1990s and 2000s, Black Lives Matter and (to a point) the Alt-Right and militia protests (the latter being very prominantly armed).

The state, and power generally, gives up nothing without a fight. But a sufficiently credible threat will make it at least blink, particularly if there isn't a single central point that can be identified to remove a threat. Or if the power balance as a whole shifts.

While most of my examples don't rise to the level of direct overthrow, they do very much represent an armed resistance to central government authority. And yes, that's gone quite poorly for the opposition in many, almost certainly most cases. But not all.

The exceptions might prove illuminating.


In fact, nothing in the Bill of Rights or the Consitution or the U.S. Code guarantees such right[s].

Correct, it would be redundant. We have a separate foundational document devoted entirely to that right.


>We have a separate foundational document devoted entirely to that right.

If you're referring to the Declaration of Independence, that is a legal document[0] that doesn't enshrine rights - even if we're to posit that it did, it speaks specifically about the colonies and the United Kingdom (Great Britain), so there's nothing to extend those principles to any other government entity.

[0] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Declaration_of_I...


Doesn't sound like you've actually read it. The declaration is a litany of complaints against the regime of George III, but it is also a sweepingly-encompassing document that explicitly endorses overthrow as a core human right.


>This is why many Americans won’t give their guns away.

It's not like those guns do anything. Americans seldom protest their governments laws, and are conditioned to be living and having passed upon them way worse laws than French (without guns) have...


> It's not like those guns do anything.

Isn't the point is that they don't need to actively do anything because they're a deterrent?


I think he's saying that the guns haven't deterred much when viewed through the lens of a French/American comparison.

In a lot of ways, the French are unquestionably better off.

The whole line of argument is moot though anyway, because with these new technologies I don't think the French will remain better off in those ways for too much longer. Neither guns, nor protests will be effective as deterrents in the face of ubiquitous surveillance. Both will be fairly impotent against these technologies in fact.


If America went to shit enough that people needed to take up arms to protect themselves against the government, around half of the people with guns would be on the side of the government. It would not be a battle of the people vs the state, it would be half of the people against the other half, but with only one side getting military backing (unless the miltary itself also split).


I think there's reasonable reason to believe that if things got to that point that the military would be likely to have split allegiance.


Split yes, down the middle or remotely evenly who knows.

A confounding factor is that both the US and UK militaries have been fighting extended insurrection 'policing' actions for much of the last two decades, so you have an army that is used to been an occupying force.

All that said a smart military commander would never use local troops in their own backyard anyway.


>All that said a smart military commander would never use local troops in their own backyard anyway.

Is why the local regiments were confined to barracks, the last time the UK felt the need to put tanks on the streets of Glasgow. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_George_Square


Funnily enough that was what I was thinking about when I wrote my post.


Don't you just love it when that happens. We may have to get better at it though. It may be the only way around the surveillance balloons.


They would be better served by helping to elect politicians who will preserv their civil liberties.


Voter turnout is dismal. 20% for locals, 50% presidential.


But wow, it would be a very different scene.

Possibly use of firearms by the general population against police and government in HK could have led to the simple invasion of HK by the PRC army, with shootings and executions like those that happened at the time of Tiananmen, but on a larger scale. Right now, possibly the lack of firearms is a brake on falling into this doomsday scenario. When you know the other fellow doesn't have a firearm, you don't need to shoot first.


Can't tell if the comment is satire. I guess it's best to assume it is and move on, since any discussion based on the assumption that it's not satire has already taken place many times, following predictable paths. Except that I can't keep myself from pointing out the orders of magnitude of difference in effectiveness between a cohesive, trained and organised force and a bunch of individuals, even if they were equally armed, so I don't even get the point of this idea if it's made as a joke.


>> ... the orders of magnitude of difference in effectiveness between a cohesive, trained and organised force and a bunch of individuals

True for a head-on conflict, but the story in the article has the organised forces' equipment in a vulnerable place - 65Kft above a city.

Asymmetric activity in such a theatre would favour the armed civilian, for now at least.

Ground-based coordinated tracking with 1W laser on rudimentary automatic control could ground such devices. The gas-bag being a large, vulnerable target.

The relative ease of downing a tracking device, capturing, reverse-engineering then publicly reporting its capabilities should help keep them in check. For now.


You keep making really ridiculous assertions, my dear keyboard warrior. You and all the American gun nuts.

Mind you, I served in the army (not the US one), battle tanks, so I'm hardly a pacifist. But you guys are just loudmouths who play too many video games and see too many Hollywood hero movies. No you won't win - and you will not even fight, apart from some very few not so bright people. Because you value your life way too much, liker 99.9% of everybody else faced with overwhelming odds.

The forces the US army is up against are not unorganized, they have pretty good training and equipment - and support from foreign governments. They are not desperate lone fighters.


Haha. You apparently don't know my identity. Not that it's special or anything. But it's not American.

Anyway, I realise now that you were not really responding to what I said. And clearly not to me personally, as a non-American. You just needed a place to get up on your high horse.


> But wow, it would be a very different scene.

Yeah, it would be a civil war with orders of magnitude more dead.

I don't understand the American fascination with guns. When have they ever been useful against the government?


1776, 1789, 1848, 1917, and several smaller ones along the way.

The one in 1861 was ultimately not effective.


So, like a century ago, when the state was 1/10 what it is now?


It's a matter of cost and disincentives.

Want to pass a law that cuts on workers' rights in a country that typically doesn't protest? Sure, go ahead. Want to do that in France? You'll think twice about it after the clashes of 1st May and of the gilets jaunes.


I've heard something similar said about the US, as a sort of justification for their right to bear arms...the government should apparently fear its people, and its people should be armed and able to overthrow said government. I wish you the best of luck with that, in an age of mass surveillance, armed-to-the-teeth governments and unparallelled propaganda machines.


We have a saying in the US, which I don't think anyone follows anymore:

"There are four boxes to be used in the defense of liberty: soap, ballot, jury and ammo. Please use in that order."


How many weeks of protest are in Paris now? It hasn't appeared to change anything.


Be assured that it has changed a lot of things...


OK, I've been duly "assured." Now what?


"Although President Macron had been insisting that the fuel tax increases would go through as planned, on 4 December 2018 the government announced that the tax rises would be put on hold, with Prime Minister Édouard Philippe saying that "no tax deserves to endanger the unity of the nation"."

(...) "On 10 December, Macron condemned the violence but acknowledged the protesters' anger as "deep, and in many ways legitimate". He subsequently promised a minimum wage increase of €100 per month from 2019, cancelled a planned tax increase for low-income pensioners, and made overtime payments as well as end-of-year bonuses tax free."

So much for nothing having changed.

Not to mention tons of France-wide and regional implications, the political impact on several levels, and the pause and hesitation it would bring to politicians considering to unilaterally pass unpopular laws in the future.


The US arguably has a much stronger version of this with the right to bear arms.


Here the revolters are completely wedged and pitted against each other.


The last protest didn't go very well for the protesters.


So how did that work out for you lately? 8 months of fires and tear gas with no appreciable effect on the democratic process.


And what would it end like, bringing back the guillotines?!


The trouble is, you guys seem to 'revolt' over nothing on a regular basis, paralyzing your own economy in the process. You need to learn to pick your battles.


What gov? You mean the corp customer inquiries office?


> “Today it's the war on drugs and terror. Tomorrow it's something else.”

> “This train has one destination, and it's not even clear if there will be any stops along the way. To understand where we're headed, try reading the Bill of Rights with the assumption that your government knows everything there is to know about you, and where those who attempt to reveal the extent of these capabilities are imprisoned or executed.”

Devil’s advocate here. Who’s to say they won’t use it strictly to deter drug trafficking and terrorism? Couldn’t they take steps to be transparent about what data is collected, and where it goes?

The point is, discussions on governmental surveillance usually jump to the conclusion that society is becoming like George Orwell’s 1984.

Could someone explain why these surveillance balloons are bad news for ordinary citizens without using the slippery slope fallacy?


Existing surveillance technology, as per the Snowden revelations, has not been deployed with 'transparency about what data is collected, and where it goes'. Even today it is very unclear what data exactly is being captured, and how it is being used. I do not see any reason why this proposed new technology will be any better.


The people in power today aren’t the people in power tomorrow. Even if you trust those in power today, do you trust the next 10 administrations to have sufficient restraint not to abuse their power?


If a future administration ever has the political power to implement totalitarianism we're stuffed. The lack of a mass surveillance system will not stop them as they will build one. Horrible totalitarian regimes have existed in the past with quite low-tech systems (e.g. East Germany, USSR).


I lived in a totalitarian regime similar to the ones you mentioned (Ceausescu’s Romania back in the ‘80s) and if his bad guys had had access to today’s surveillance tools we would have been really, really stuffed.

As things were you “only” had to watch out for people who would rat you out to Securitate or to Stasi (in East Germany), not an ideal situation but manageable from a certain point on, one could live a decent life from a “freedom” point of view, to say so, you could say political jokes or complain about the regime to the right people, i.e. not the regime’s informers, or you could directly “steal” from the State things you believe should have belonged to you, like the peasants from my grandma’s village were doing when they were taking stuff at night from the State farms that had been built on lands nationalized by the State from the same farmers immediately after the Communists came to power. All these things were highly illegal, I mean the regime trash-talking, the taking of stuff from State farms, the only thing protecting us was that the regime couldn’t follow us all in order to catch us. With today’s tools that would not have been a problem, you can see that in today’s China where every form of political jokes (even in private online conversations) is prohibited and actively acted against.


Thank you for sharing your experience in a totalitarian regime.

I read The Aquariums Of Pyongyang [1] for a take on life and imprisonment in North Korea. Recommended read.

What is your take on Huawei giving 3G/4G technology to North Korea by proxy? Is North Korea technologically advanced enough to abuse technology to suppress its citizens?

Also, to get an idea of the amount of data collected nowadays [2]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Aquariums_of_Pyongyang

[2] https://opendatacity.github.io/stasi-vs-nsa/frame_en.html


天高皇帝远 (Tian gao, Huangdi yuan)

"Heaven is high and the emperor is far away."


> you can see that in today’s China where every form of political jokes (even in private online conversations) is prohibited and actively acted against.

I wonder how you managed to “see” that, since it’s not true at all. If you know Chinese you’ll be able to find political jokes pretty much everywhere on Chinese language websites, especially forums. Some words may be banned by forum software but people just use homophones. Also not surprisingly, no one actually gives a shit about political jokes in private conversations, unless you’re a foreign journalist or known troublemaker or something, I guess (source: done that multiple times within Chinese borders).


> Who’s to say they won’t use it strictly

Them. Laws passed for one reason have already routinely been applied more broadly, data collected for national security has been passed to domestic law enforcement under parallel construction.

We don’t have to worry if government will abuse its power, we know they are doing it now.


> Laws passed for one reason have already routinely been applied more broadly, data collected for national security has been passed to domestic law enforcement under parallel construction.

For my own research, could you provide examples of this?


It's about the priori. The common slippery slope you mention comes from people who believe that historically government abuses power to the extend that they can get away it, and whoever claims otherwise are the one that needs to provide evidence. Of course if you have the opposite priori, then you will ask for the opposite kind of evidence.

I tend to go with the former, since liberal democracies are rarer than totalitarianism and the like.


> Devil’s advocate here. Who’s to say they won’t use it strictly to deter drug trafficking and terrorism? Couldn’t they take steps to be transparent about what data is collected, and where it goes?

What systems would you put into place to prevent abuse?

What about bad cops who would misappropriate the intel?

What would prevent them from tracking non-terrorist/drug related individuals?

How do you prevent citizens from being followed and tracked without a warrant?

And if misuse or abuse does happen, how is that transparently shared with the victim?

This is a weak place to argue that slippery slope doesn't apply, since the government has already had a lot of incidents in the recent past where they said they weren't doing certain surveillance - and then it was leaked that they actually were...

If you could say 100% that these balloons will only ever capture data based on legal warrants - we might have something to discuss. However, I can't think of a system that would guarantee that.


I can think of a system : at the next election, vote for a president with a program about systemic transparency and openness for all the agencies and organizations.


Transparency is not a passive feature, it requires active and vigilant maintenance to be effective. In this case, any and all access to any and all instances of any and all imagery must be controlled and accounted for in perpetuity or you lose transparency.

Allowing a system like this to be implemented under the guise of 'full transparency' is like a political trojan horse. All it takes is a loss of priority in that objective by the same or subsequent administration and you're left with a snake that you can't get back into the bag.


> Allowing a system like this to be implemented under the guise of 'full transparency' is like a political trojan horse. All it takes is a loss of priority in that objective by the same or subsequent administration

I didn't mean we could implement transparency with Pentagon's balloons, I meant : eventually, vote for a president or a party that would cancel that project for the name of privacy and transparency.


What do you do if the president doesn't implement that plan after they are elected? Not vote for then again in four years and hope your next choice follows through?


You would first try to understand why it didn't work, then judge afterward. The party or president you will vote for won't change everything overnight. The president decides about a direction to take, and the administrative and legal machineries work toward it. Fundamental new concepts such as transparency (build upon new communication technologies) will take time to include in every decisions. Anyway, if after 5 years you feel betrayed, take a look at the recent news about how people deal with it : Sudan, France, Algeria, Hong Kong, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, people riot. If you cannot riot because everyone owns a gun, then you are out of luck, I guess.


>Devil’s advocate here. Who’s to say they won’t use it strictly to deter drug trafficking and terrorism?

Anyone paying reasonable attention to either current events or history?


I’m afraid I haven’t been, could you help me out and provide examples?


Town halls resort to spy tactics - https://www.scotsman.com/news-2-15012/town-halls-resort-to-s...

Civil servants attacked for using anti-terror laws to spy on public - https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2009/feb/28/surveillance-gove...

Terror law used for Iceland deposits - https://www.ft.com/content/abf583de-9546-11dd-aedd-000077b07...

The Further Democratization of Stingray - https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2015/04/the_further_d...

WikiLeaks docs show NSA's 10-year economic espionage campaign against France - https://www.theregister.co.uk/2015/06/29/wikileaks_docs_show...

Airbus wants answers from Germany over U.S. spying claims - https://money.cnn.com/2015/04/30/news/airbus-germany-nsa-spy...

Green Party: The police’s secret surveillance of elected politicians with no criminal record is scandalous - https://www.greenparty.org.uk/news/2014/06/16/police%E2%80%9...

Police continued spying on Labour activists after their election as MPs - https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/mar/25/police-spied...


These points would be much better argued if there were a history of people being able to trust the US government overall. But there isn't. It is prudent to think that the government, in general, will head down the same avenues they have in the recent and not-so-recent past.

There is a history of the government using it disproportionately against minorities and folks that want to change the status quo. There is a history of putting some groups in jail more than others. And so on. This lack of trust and history of power abuses and such things seriously dampens any hopes of responsible use. I'll add that some of their "drug trafficking" is to check to see if folks are selling small bits of weed. Terrorism seems like an obvious farce at this point considering they are keen to ignore terrorism from right-wing folks and instead, look to condemn Muslims and to condemn folks that look like they might be "Muslim" or "Mexican".

The government - at least in the us - needs trust first.


People act differently when they know they're being watched. The government does not have the right to alter my behavior that way.

Next reason is that their laws aren't enforced equally. This tech is more likely to be used for small time crooks (and disproportionately, minorities) than used to stop CEOs or Epstein's, or cops that strangle handcuffed suspects of nonviolent offenses


Can anyone really justify why dictators are bad without resorting to "and they do something bad?" I mean, you couldn't even explain to me why you wouldn't want me as a cosigner on your bank account without resorting to something like, "and then whatshisface does something bad." I think it's reasonable to believe in a slippery slope between "gun is pointed" and "gun is fired." I mean, just to play devil's advocate, you could make me a cosigner and I could help you manage your finances.

You can't prove that dictatorial powers won't be used to perfectly simulate democracy, after all absolute power means the power to hold elections. Likewise, I can't prove that after the surveillance system is completed the government won't put black paper over all their computer screens and never look at anything. But, somehow, that doesn't really change my outlook.


>Can anyone really justify why dictators are bad without resorting to "and they do something bad

If a dictator is bad, the citizenship has almost no method of improving the situation. A benevolent dictator may be the best form of government, but there is no reliable way of ensuring it will be attained.


How would a single person be able to choose what is best for everyone, even if benevolent? Benevolent does not mean omniscient and infinitely wise.

The best kind of system is one which ensures no single entity can amass a great deal of power, ending with a state of many smaller entities in continual opposition.


>How would a single person be able to choose what is best for everyone, even if benevolent? Benevolent does not mean omniscient and infinitely wise.

A benevolent dictator can still make mistakes, but so can the smaller entities you describe. The benevolent dictator would be focused on the good of everyone though, while the smaller entities in opposition would be focused on the good of their own group.

The process of setting up a longstanding benevolent dictatorship is what makes the idea ridiculous.


My point is that it is completely unreasonable to expect a single entity to even approach the optimum for the majority of people, unless this entity is god-like. The numerous smaller entities simply have a lot more manageable task ahead of them.

By distributing power into a large number of entities, there is no power consolidation and hence no single point of failure. With such a power structure, it is much harder for a sociopath to replace the benevolent dictator and take control of the whole. Furthermore, if any of the smaller entities go awry, an individual can much more easily migrate to another one.


>My point is that it is completely unreasonable to expect a single entity to even approach the optimum for the majority of people, unless this entity is god-like. The numerous smaller entities simply have a lot more manageable task ahead of them.

With multiple groups, approaching the "optimum" will eventually involve hurting other groups for the benefit of your own. To me, everybody living adequately is preferred to some living optimally at the expense of others.

The rest of your post is about the nigh impossibility of setting up a benevolent dictatorship. It absolutely should not be attempted, even if it would be the ideal form of government.


> government, law enforcement

The thing is when it gets cheap enough, other players start enter the game too. Companies. Criminal gangs. Or even private individuals.

A situation of "if surveillance is outlawed, only outlaws will have surveillance" should be taken into account.


>The thing is when it gets cheap enough, other players start enter the game too. Companies. Criminal gangs. >Or even private individuals.

This last is the worthwhile part. The problem isn't surveillance, it's disproportional surveillance.

That is, people in power can only control the public while they retain a monopoly on power.

Since bulk surveillance is coming, the best outcome is equal surveillance and equal access.

Postscript: Privacy laws tend to lock you and I away from data, not powerful people who ruin lives.


Anybody interested in this train of thought should check out David Brin's The Transparent Society, in which he makes the same argument. I haven't re-read it in a while; it may be outdated technically, but I think that the philosophical thrust will still be applicable.


Not really. The FAA might have something to say about what floats around the sky. At least in the USA.


I think it's naive to expect a showdown between the FAA and the Pentagon, doubly so one where the FAA wins.


You missed the point. The FAA will allow government surveillance but not criminal orgs.


The GP talked about people entering the surveillance game in general, not necessarily operating their own blimps. Smaller outfits will find ways to game the existing rules and add surveillance capability thereto.


the cameras are all made by Huawei, so they probably get a live feed anyway :)



But they will likely step in for companies and criminal gangs. This limits to the Government.


FAA wields enormous (usually dictatorial) powers in things that refer to safe flight and will easily trump Pentagon there. It would not lift a finger on privacy, but will likely enforce that all such balloons carry transponders. This is not a consolation here, but just a note that in its fiefdom FAA will win.


The pentagon has free reign to pretty much define any TFR and the FAA just has to accept it.


Can you provide some examples? I think FAA is usually involved at all stages and should those planned TFR be a pain safety-wise (e.g. encroach on a landing pattern), Pentagon is told to come back with a better plan.

Those two organizations work together all the time and know what works, so such conflicts are rare, but in a direct confrontation I think FAA easily wins.


65,000 ft is above their jurisdiction.


is it really? Not doubting, but looking for a reference. The balloon has to get to 65,000 ft. So launches are covered?


This is reminiscent of some technology and technique learned and developed for operations in Iraq to go after IED planters. Basically once an event is alerted (ex truck stolen; someone abducted, etc) they backtrack or fwdtrack movements and see where perps came from or went to.


Now imagine what happens when they can look at a city, or the whole country, or world, and select one individual and backtrack their entire lives. With audio, recorded from all the devices that surround us.


If you're one of a handful of megacorps collecting phone location data, contact data, purchase data, etc, this seems like it would already be trivial. They don't need a camera physically looking at you (and they often have those too).


I’ve maintained for a long time that the only reason we have a “war on terror” is that the ability of the “war on drugs” to strip us of our civil liberties had mostly run its course by 2001. These are the political issues I care most about. I really hoped Obama would curtail the surveillance state. For 8 years I thought “soon, he will try to rollback the patriot act.” That never happened.

Instead, we got assisinated citizens.

It was just more of the same power mongering bullshit. By the time his presidency ended, I had lumped all politicians, nay, public officials into the same cauldron of corrupt blight. In my eyes, Trump, Obama and Bush are the same. When will a statesman/women/person have the metaphorical balls to put an end to this madness?

Law enforcement (and Hollywood [1]) can go fuck itself. I would rather fear a criminal/terrorist/crack pipe than my own putative government. I’m white. I can’t even imagine how minorities feel about these incessant overreaches.

[1] For some “bizarre” reason, Hollywood leans strongly toward lionizing rogue cops/gestapo agents who trample civil rights.


Reguarding Hollywood and the show business generally speaking, there are two exceptions (that I know of) that reinforce the rule: the TV series “Person of Interest” [1] which started airing in 2011 and of which I’m reminded every time when I read articles like these (they stopped it in 2016, probably what had started out as an almost SF show had gotten too close to real life) and the excellent “Enemy of the State” [2], by Tony Scott, filmed in 1998, just about as the dot-com craze was beginning to take shape and when the Western governments didn’t know exactly what to do about this Internet world.

But ignoring these exceptions you’re totally right, of course.

[1] https://m.imdb.com/title/tt1839578/

[2] https://m.imdb.com/title/tt0120660/


There was JFK..


> Hollywood leans strongly toward lionizing rogue cops/gestapo agents who trample civil rights.

Hollywood, like Legislatures, are giving the majority of the public what they want.


Boy do I have news for you.

"How the CIA Hoodwinked Hollywood

Since its inception, the agency has wooed filmmakers, producers, and actors in order to present a rosy portrait of its operations to the American public."

https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2016/07/op...


And the press. The press is important.


Given that Hollywood profits are at a two decade low[1], it’s not clear that’s true.

[1]https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/01/why-hollywood-as-we-...


They’re low because of television.

Hollywood is a cred game. The actual money since the 1950s has been on television. In fact Hollywood has never been as profitable, inflation adjusted, as it was before the commodification of television sets.

Source: I study history of film. To think of Hollywood in the 20s, 30s and 40s - think of Silicon Valley. Entire cities were made in huge lots behind LA studios. Nobody does that anymore. Gone with the wind, inflation adjusted, is still one of the most expensive and profitable movies ever made.

And yes, trust me - as far as they know (and a lot of things have been tried) Hollywood makes what it makes because it sells. It’s an industry like any other. Instead of cars they sell movies.


I've ha-ha-only-seriously described Hollywood as a complicated, interrelated set of financial instruments which as a by-product also produces movies for a while now.


I’d say you’re pretty bang on. I think it a changed in the 60s and 70s when bankers bought the place (again right after television gutted them).

Curiously in David Mamet’s new play, Bitter Wheat, a Weinstein type figure is described as money launderer.


Legislatures don’t give what the majority want. They give what the rich and powerful want.


Just imagine the East German STASI with todays technology.


No need to imagine anything. It's happening right now in your country.


Go to China? You don't have to imagine.

Well the UK isn't much better now.


The UK has put millions of its citizens in prison because of their religion?


Well, large parts of Northern Ireland became a sort of open air prison for many Catholics for quite a while, with UK army patrols there treating anyone Catholic as essentially automatically guilty of something.

In those territories during that time, the UK army joined up with unionist para-militaries and became essentially a domestic terror force targeting a subsection of UK citizens, selected by the ethnicity indicated by their religion. Shooting unarmed citizens and torturing people became standard practice for sections of our miltary. Look up the Ballymurphy inquiry.

It is worth keeping in mind that it is also only very recently indeed, that it became legal in the UK for the head of state to be married to someone Catholic and it is still illegal for the head of state to actually be Catholic.

Just to be clear, I am not Protestant, Catholic, or Irish. I have no particular dog in this fight. It is just a section of fairly recent history that illustrates rather clearly that the UK is not above using the machinery of the state to target its own citizens based on their religion.


The article is about surveillance, the STASI were known for their insane levels of surveillance. The last time I checked there was a huge number of security cameras in the UK, maybe more than any other country.

Also the UK has put people in prison for the nebulous crime of "hate speech". There are seven hate speech convictions per day, though I suspect most of these are fines and a criminal record.

So the UK is going down the same road as China.


> Also the UK has put people in prison for the nebulous crime of "hate speech".

Almost all these examples usually given involve campaigns of harassment.

And there's nothing nebulous about it: the boundaries are clear and simple.


No not at all. The Chelsea Russell case 17 year old girl on facebook posted rap lyrics, we also have the 'Count Dankula' case which the Scottish court decided it was "Nazi Recruitment" ignoring the context where he clearly said "I am using this to annoy my girlfriend" at the start of the video. I believe there is also a case where some Grime rappers were charged with hate speech for their songs ... this would be the equivalent of locking NWA up for the Straight Outta Compton album.

So no it isn't clear at all.


Chelsea Russell: not convicted.

Count Dankula: broadcast the phrase "gas the jews", then did not use a freedom of speech argument in court, instead saying "it was just a joke". His "I am using this to annoy my girlfriend" defence failed because there's no evidence she even saw the video, and if he was just doing it to annoy her there was no need to broadcast it to his youtube channel.

> I believe there is also a case where some Grime rappers were charged with hate speech for their songs

It's pretty hard to have this conversation with someone who admits they don't know what they're talking about.


> Chelsea Russell: not convicted.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-merseyside-43816921

Yes she was. It was only overturned later because she has (I believe) autism.

The whole point I was making is that it should not happen in the first place.

Do you think we should be dragging autistic teenage girls through court because of rap lyric posted on facebook? I think it is ridiculous.

> Count Dankula: broadcast the phrase "gas the jews", then did not use a freedom of speech argument in court, instead saying "it was just a joke". His "I am using this to annoy my girlfriend" defence failed because there's no evidence she even saw the video, and if he was just doing it to annoy her there was no need to broadcast it to his youtube channel.

The video was obviously a joke and if you just repeat the phrases said on their own without context they don't sound funny. The whole joke is that he is getting his dog which has no idea what those phrases mean to react to them. It is a really old gag that you do something stupid in front of an animal because they are the ultimate dead-pan actor.

As to why his girlfriend didn't see it, it went viral (via reddit) before he had the chance to show her. The reason why it was on Youtube is because they have a night where they just watch Youtube video together and he wanted it to be like a surprise prank. At the time (I know because I followed the case since he got arrested) he had 8 subscribers on his account. His story has been consistent from day one before he lawyered up.

Again he should have never been arrested over what was clearly intended as a joke.

MPs in the House of Commons admitted that the law should be under review because of his case.

The way you tell the situation doesn't give full picture. Almost every-time someone just cherry picks phrases from the video like you did I know they are being disingenuous.

> It's pretty hard to have this conversation with someone who admits they don't know what they're talking about.

The point is that you shouldn't have any legal proceeding against you because of a song. London Grime much like heavy metal (70s) and gangsta rap (80s and 90s) before them is being demonised by the moral puritans. I suspect they will take another run at violent video games once Doom Eternal comes out or GTA6.

This again is disingenuous of you. This makes it pretty obvious you aren't speaking in good faith. Bye.


> It was only overturned later.

You realise that winning on appeal means the original conviction didn't happen right?

> The video was obviously a joke

First of all you claimed he was imprisoned for this, and he wasn't. This is yet another case that you don't understand that you think supports your point when it really doesn't.

He had a trial. He could have used a free speech defence. He chose not to. Importantly he was invited by the judge to make a freedom of speech (article 10) defence, and he chose not to.

> [11] Prior to being addressed by the petitioner at the conclusion of the trial, the sheriff had noticed that a written argument had been lodged by the petitioner,but not yet touched upon. In it, there was an oblique reference to Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (Freedom of Expression). This had asserted that the petitioner’s actions were “entirely compliant” with that article and that the exceptions in Article 10(2) were not applicable. There had been no other analysis. There was no reference to any compatibility issue. At the stage of submissions, the sheriff had specifically asked parties whether they intended to address him on freedom of expression at common law or in terms of the European Convention.

> [12] Despite the sheriff’s express invitation, which included mention of M’bala M’balav France, unreported,10November 2015, App No. 25239/13,there was no reference in the defence address to Article10. All that had been said by the petitioner about freedom of expression was that the court should be jealous to guard it. There was no compatibility minute, which, if such an issue were to be raised, ought to have been lodged in advance of the trial (Act of Adjournal (Criminal Procedure Rules) 1996, rules40.3 and 40.6).

He chose to use the "it was just a joke bro" defence, and failed because he couldn't show that she had even seen the video, and if he was pranking her there was no need to broadcast "gas the Jews" to his YouTube followers. He then tried this defence again for his appeal, and that failed too.

> he had 8 subscribers on his account.

He uploaded it to Youtube with the intent that it would be seen by other people, thus completing the crime. He could have made it a private video, he could have not uploaded it to YouTube. He communicated the video to other people and he had the intent that it would be seen by other people.

> “20... the primary purpose of the [petitioner] making the video was not to annoy [his girlfriend]: it was to make a highly offensive video for sharing on his You Tube channel for consumption by him and his subscribers; the [petitioner] willing (sic)for the video to be shared and viewed by anyone in the world”.

This is what was found at his original trial. He has not appealed against this finding.

> The way you tell the situation doesn't give full picture

You claimed he'd been imprisoned for it and he hasn't. But he uploaded a video containing Nazi imagery while he said, more than 20 times, "Gas The Jews". He knew this would cause offence. Causing offence was his intention. What have I missed out?

For you to claim that these 2 cases equate to widespread human rights abuse in China is laughable.

> The point is that you shouldn't have any legal proceeding against you because of a song

You still haven't named the cases. You're getting the genre wrong btw, it's drill not grime, and they were imprisoned for breaking an injunction that was aimed at tackling gang violence: they made credible death threats to other members of gangs.


> But he uploaded a video containing Nazi imagery while he said, more than 20 times, "Gas The Jews".

You keep on saying this because it sounds shocking to people who haven't watched the video, without the proper context it sounds bad i.e. It was clearly a joke intended to annoy his girlfriend.

I could describe the 2013 Wolfenstein games as "gruesome killing simulator that is full of nazi imagery" and without the proper context it would sound bad i.e. you are playing a guy fighting against a Nazi occupied Europe.

This is again incredibly disingenuous way to describe the video and you know it. That is why you continuously ignore the other parts of the video that explain the context. I find it pretty disgusting that you obviously know lots about the case and ignore the facts that don't fit your narrative.

This is exactly what the court did at the trial. This is why the trial was done with a magistrate and not a jury as if a jury saw it they would have probably laughed at it.


> You realise that winning on appeal means the original conviction didn't happen right?

As previously explained I don't think the whole series of events should have happened.

The conviction was only overturned because she was diagnosed with autism. If she hadn't have been diagnosed with the condition the conviction would have stayed.

> First of all you claimed he was imprisoned for this, and he wasn't.

I never claimed he was. However he could have been and probably didn't see jail time because of the amount of publicity and support he had outside of the court.

> He chose to use the "it was just a joke bro" defence, and failed because he couldn't show that she had even seen the video.

As I said he was arrest before she could have seen it. It was clearly intended as a joke against his girlfriend. He clearly states this twice in the video, you conveniently ignore this fact. It is also convenient you don't acknowledge this or the part where he crudely photoshops a hitler tash onto his dog and plays an old horror sound effect from the 1960s television.

> He uploaded it to Youtube with the intent that it would be seen by other people, thus completing the crime.

It should not be a crime.

The other people were his mates, conveniently you ignored this when I stated it. It was obviously not intended to be seen by a large number of people. They misused a law meant for television broadcasts and applied it to youtube.

This is disingenuous interpretation of events. Again you are being disingenuous because you want to be right.

> This is what was found at his original trial. He has not appealed against this finding.

He did file appeals, they were rejected and if you read the rejections their reasoning was ridiculous. Also the courts reading of the situation is obvious bullshit. He had 8 subscribers when he posted the video (I know because I saw the reddit thread that made the video go viral) and I remember seeing his subscriber count at the time. Those people were most likely his mates.

Again this is disingenuous interpretation of events.

> You claimed he'd been imprisoned for it and he hasn't.

I never claimed this.

> You still haven't named the cases. You're getting the genre wrong btw, it's drill not grime.

It like saying modern R'n'B and Garage are different. They are basically the same beats played at a different speed with a slightly different style.

They Drill, Grime etc are all basically people rapping over a beat and is pretty much just Hip Hop really. This is a silly point to make.

> and they were imprisoned for breaking an injunction that was aimed at tackling gang violence: they made credible death threats to other members of gangs.

The injunction should not exist, it will be another thing that will be abused by the police. As for credible threats of violence Rappers used to make threats against each other all the time back in the 1980s.

In the album Hijack "The Horns of Jericho", the rapper is instructing a man with a sword to abduct, torture and kill Andrew Lloyd Webber. No such chain of events occurred because of the song lyrics.

The knife crime epidemic in London has nothing to do with the type of music being played. As previously stated politicians will demonise the music to distract from the real problem.

People should not be locked up for song lyrics. This is ridiculous. There is no credible threats of violence through song lyrics.

> For you to claim that these 2 cases equate to widespread human rights abuse in China is laughable.

I never said they equatable. I never claimed that. Another misrepresentation of what I said.

I think the UK is going down a very dangerous path because of these laws and I think we will eventually lead up in a similar state as what is happening in China.


Totally agree and when a crime cant be proved successfully in court, you'll get locked up under the mental health act. In my case I was labelled as delusional despite having witnesses to some of the events which the medical professional would not entertain. The spooks are very good at this and Edward Snowdon has confirmed some of the things myself and customers have seen, which happens to be called the Martha Mitchell Effect. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martha_Mitchell_effect Unfortunately criminals have been running the world for thousands of years, inventing different religions and belief systems, assimilating them where necessary as in the case of the Christianity and Paganism. Other criminals have invented the concept of Royalty despite the fact we know from science that a Royal person is just as human as the person sleeping on the street. Its easy to sell various concepts as wanting to maintain the order, but all these entities operate in secret and you can never trust anyone operating in secret. Sure various reasons can be given to explain away why some things need to be kept secret, but keeping something secret keeps people dumb.

Its probably best to view everything in life as being used for good and bad, ying and yan, light and dark etc etc, plus if any of you ever had to sit a Brick test which is a measure of creativity, you will know so many things can be used for different applications. Take Wifi, who knew this existed? https://news.mit.edu/2013/new-system-uses-low-power-wi-fi-si... Another way wifi can be used is by taking a laptop, seeing what wifi signals it picks up and then getting various wifi enabled devices to report tiny signal strength anomalies to work out who is walking in front of one signal, absorbing some of it, like someone walking in front of a light transmitting morse code. Most people will also be familiar with military contracts and secrecy that the likes of Lockheed Martin, Boeing and others will have with the US Govt, you don't get to find out the secret contracts the tech companies have with the military, except perhaps the Intel Management Engine switch. These tech company's wont be in a position to comment on said contracts and so you just wont get to find out what the true capabilities are, although to maintain a charade of a being in a "free" country, you do get to find out about the court orders that obtain data from the tech company's cloud services and other device metrics which can be used as public knowledge.

Bottom line is, don't trust no one, because just like you cant predict when you will next lose your temper, you cant predict when someone you trust will do something to warrant losing that trust, so its safer to not trust anyone.



>"Cost has protected citizens of the world's liberal democracies from sliding into totalitarianism for a long time. Now the brakes are off. Surveillance technology costs are plunging across at the board and capabilities are skyrocketing."

That is false. The collective political will and desire to maintain Democratic institutions, not some prohibitive cost of surveillance capabilities, is what has saved us from totalitarianism.

You are putting the cart before the horse. Totalitarian states establish or use surveillance capabilities to maintain their own power, but many liberal democracies today have more expansive and effective surveillance than the Nazis or the Soviets could have come up with in even their wildest fever dreams.


One thing I recall reading about actual totalitarian police states is that, sure, there's a cost imposed by the existence of the state itself, but that the lion's share of the problems caused by the system were due to bad actors, of which there were legion, but all of them had top-down supervision, meaning they couldn't just run around causing problems, the integrity of the system had to be preserved.

The people had no power, but the actual people with power had an interest in maintaining order. Things mostly sucked, but at least the 'trains ran on time', i.e. people could learn to understand and operate within the system.

Rule of law and liberal democracy ultimately means that the bad actors in society have bottom-up supervision to go along with the top-down. Bad actors aren't just watched by the police anymore, and it's not just the police that has the capacity to watch or decide who a bad actor is. And the federalism of power means that power bases spring up that are ultimately more powerful than the government when they pool their weight.

It was never about rights or privacy. It was always about who gets to decide what rules a society lives by. If the police are acquiring more power, then the people can acquire surveillance tools themselves so they can watch the watchers.

Bad cops think that body cameras are harshing their mellow? Just think what happens when some froggy judge decides to rule that it's nigh time police departments need to make their every official act available and searchable.

I bet they'll be jumping at the bit to start wanting to properly define universal privacy rights then.


Another good bit of reading material is the book 'It Can't Happen Here' by Sinclair Lewis. Bit of a warning, though, it might hit way too close to home for comfort for American readers. It was written in 1935 but still quite relevant if not prescient.

I think it is good for people to be interested in and discussing the nature of oppression and its consequences. As I see it, oppression is incremental, with people as a group generally responding fairly predictably as it increases. I think this is biologically rooted, stemming from fundamental drives toward autonomy. Any time autonomy is violated, regardless of intent, it is a small bit of harm. Sometimes, that harm is justified. If you pull someone out of the way of a speeding car, you have saved their life by violating their autonomy, but the tiny harm still exists and has consequences. These harms accumulate (though I am sure it is a complicated process where the harms are alleviated by other acts of autonomy, so not purely inevitably accumulative).

Just looking at history and at various situations in which oppression occurs (workplaces, prisons, schools, etc, not just nations) it seems to me there are broad patterns. When peoples autonomy is heavily infringed, they concentrate more on the forms of autonomy which are more difficult or impossible for whatever authority is in play to prevent. They express themselves through their dress, through body modification (piercings, tattoos, branding, scarification, etc), through their language with development of new slang or codes, and can even engage in self-harm (cutting, anorexic starvation, bulimia, binge drinking or eating, harmful drug abuse, etc) to exemplify that they still control something.

If the untouchable authority continues to increase the control it exerts, the people begin seeking to establish an alternative sense of a power hierarchy they can influence. They engage in interpersonal conflict, seeking to establish that they are stronger, better, more well-liked, more pious, more loyal, etc, than those around them.

As the oppression increases, those power hierarchies become more formalized and gangs (or cliques, brotherhoods, clubs, etc) form, with members adopting the gangs norms and moral codes as the authority they respect and are loyal to. They cling to their tribal identity, and see the actions of the group as expressions of their own desires, increasing their sense of autonomy.

As it gets more oppressive, the gangs begin to vie for turf or control or influence. Gang wars emerge. These aren't always literal guns-in-the-street or shivs-in-the-exercise-yard wars and can be done through proxy competitions of all sorts. Anything which the participants mutually agree to can be an analog, but in situations with such a high degree of oppression, violence is often the only thing left. A couple warring prison gangs can't really organize peaceful means of establishing dominance as no one has enough autonomy to do so and the overarching authority has a vested interest in not acknowledging the gangs as legitimate organizations.

In the final stage, the gangs dissolve/join and emerge as an army. They rise and destroy the oppressive authority through the only means the authority has made possible - brute violence. Democracy was revolutionary in its provision of a peaceful means of destroying the controlling authority through electing those who can change things. Every oppressive state that I am aware of has gone through these different phases. There has never been a happy, prosperous police state and I don't think that is a matter of just not getting it right. I think the basic human drive to autonomy would make such a state unlivable even if run by infinitely beneficent people and with every restriction being made in the honest best interests of those being controlled.

The 'inefficiencies' in law enforcement where not everyone is surveilled at all times, which enables some laws to be broken, is not a flaw. It's a feature of the system. And a valuable one. Every ratchet click towards catching every single infraction squeezes people tighter. We've seen in schools what happens when you load the place with cameras, have cops roaming the halls arresting kids for insubordination, requiring ID badges be carried at all times, restricting dress, speech, affectionate contact, etc. Some people will snap and be made to feel so desperate that they are willing to die just to do some damage. What happens when that sort of infrastructure comes to every workplace and every public place including the sidewalk?


I'd like to raise that:

- If a future administration ever has the political power to implement totalitarianism, we're stuffed. The lack of an existing mass surveillance system will not stop them as they will build one.

- Most people's political leanings are already very easy to detect due to social media, social networks, financial donations, etc. So balloons don't seem to make it much worse.

- We can expect severe security threats in the future as WMDs become cheaper, more accessible and more powerful.. The police are not magicians - they need effective tools..


I saw a BBC short video while in Europe last summer. It was surreal. The video was basically showing how awesome these aerial surveillance platforms were. At one point the reporter walked out of the control center and started dancing outside. It looked like he was having a lot of fun watching himself from a few thousand feet up. If anyone manages to find it please post it. There was no talk about the privacy implications. Just a puff piece to acclimatize people into thinking this was normal.

If you don't yet know what these balloons are from articles on Afghanistan, they provide very cheap ubiquitous physical surveillance on very large areas. If one of these things have LOS on you or your home, you no longer have any physical privacy.

If this doesn't piss you off you need to look up what a panopticon is.


Hey the good news for us is the ones in the US don't have self-guided missiles attached, right?


Are you sure? If not yet, soon.



Fu-Go [1] were armed balloons sent over the jet stream during wwII.

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fu-Go_balloon_bomb


FWIW "Kill Decision" describes one scenario where they do have missiles attached.


Anti hypersonic missile satelittes in low earth orbit will soon tho


Somehow I didn't think that it was OK for the US military to operate domestically. According to the Posse Comitatus Act.

But I see that there's an exception for surveillance.

Charming.


I think you are spot on and I am pretty sure Pentagon bureaucrats take PC very seriously. That is why I suspect it is either a test for eventual use overseas (not operational deployment), or DHS is ready to take over


> “Obviously, there are laws to protect people’s privacy and we are respectful of all those laws,” Hartman said. “We also understand the importance of operating in an ethical way as it relates to further protecting people’s privacy.”

Sure /s


It's very carefully worded.

They understand the importance of operating ethically. They didn't say that they do.


I can practically hear the "xD" at the end of that statement.


This is a documentary clip from 2013 that shows what the cameras and systems in these blimps can do. Apparently the biggest breakthrough is their high bandwidth laser data communication system.

The government should not have this much information asymmetry relative to the citizenry.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QGxNyaXfJsA

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QGxNyaXfJsA


Are things flying at that altitude required to have a ADS-B transponder or something like that to prevent collisions with other aircraft? I wonder if you could track the balloons tracking you.


Yes. Google Loon balloons do show up on FlightRadar24, and if you’re close enough you can detect them with a $8 RTS-SDR.


At 65,000 ft (the altitude mentioned in the article), no ADS-B will not be required because it would be above Class A airspace.

Law enforcement and intelligence flights are not required to have ADS-B turned on anyway.

(f) Each person operating an aircraft equipped with ADS-B Out must operate this equipment in the transmit mode at all times unless—

(1) Otherwise authorized by the FAA when the aircraft is performing a sensitive government mission for national defense, homeland security, intelligence or law enforcement purposes and transmitting would compromise the operations security of the mission or pose a safety risk to the aircraft, crew, or people and property in the air or on the ground; or

§91.225 https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?SID=b7f6514979a4014c17...


Well, this is extremely disturbing.

We're reaching a point where we're going to have to start realizing we cannot systematically apply our own laws due to the ramifications of total awareness.

The availability of information will quickly outstrip the capacity of the system to crank through it.

Just today I was discussing with colleagues that it's positively mortifying the way people have trivialized their own children's privacy through things like smartphones with tracking software, and hidden camera's everywhere.

I don't understand how much our societal fabric has decayed that anyone could be even remotely comfortable with the magnitude of advancement in and propagation of surveillance technology, and the relative lack of progress in other verticals, or other facets of civil life.

To what end? Why do this? Why enable such avenues capable of completely undermining society's capability to evolve? Once you have the capacity to track minority faction movements perfectly, the stage is set for violent suppression of politically disruptive movements.

It is one thing to not have the capability to do so; it is completely another to have the capability to do so and to not use it. One can survive the overly ambitious being in a position of power. The other can't.

I don't know as the path our society is going down will be even remotely feasible to course correct. One can only hope.


Is anyone else extremely bothered by the false equivalence of narcotics trafficking and the need for homeland security?

This blurring of the lines between a multi-billion dollar _business_ (probably around 1% of the world's GDP) that in fact relies on the success of the state, and purported threats to the state itself strikes me as extremely dangerous.

I'm contrasting this to American intelligence involvement in central America in the 1980s. During that time, the same organizations involved in cocaine trafficking and production were also extremely political, and crucial to the CIA carrying out their (in my opinion neoimperialist) "responsibilities" in the region.

My point is: I am aware of absolutely no evidence that modern drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) operating within the borders of the US are political whatsoever, so can we really view them as a threat to homeland security? Is there evidence that there is some risk of groups which pose a threat to our security have infiltrated these DTOs, or are piggybacking off their operations somehow?


There seems to be a certain amount of violence that comes with the territory of illegal drug trafficking; that might not be national security per se, but it's certainly something within the government's purview. It's also not that much of a stretch to say that a public health crisis of drug addiction would be a kind of threat to national security. Of course, if that were the real thing, DHS should be going after the opioid peddlers, so...


Well of course it's within the government's purview, but we have to draw a line between law enforcement and military-run surveillance somewhere, and it seems to me drug enforcement (violent or not) falls staunchly within the former's purview. The blurring of that line or its movement altogether strikes me as dangerous (cf. the mosaic theory of the 4th amendment [1]).

[1] https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2032821


To those that are profound, the US has mass surveillance since the first satellite with camera was in orbit


The new balloon cameras have much higher resolution.


I found it really interesting when that link came up on HN recently of a spy telescope taken by an amateur. Can't find the story now unfortunately.

I knew the Hubble was cool, but on that page it mentioned that this telescope was one of ten that the military had pointed at the Earth that are now deprecated.

Imagine what they have now that is even better than ten Hubbles.



To quote Simone Weil out of context (she was talking about political parties):

> If one were to entrust the organisation of public life to the devil, he could not invent a more clever device.


I am not advocating this in the US or anywhere, but how would one disable a surveillance balloon as an act of civil disobedience if necessary (without ending up in jail)?


The point of civil disobedience (often) is to wind up in jail. Civil disobedience doesn't mean "no consequences", it means enduring the consequences as a form of protest to illustrate how absurd they are.


That might be a consequence of civil disobedience, but it's certainly not the point of it. The point is to expose, condem & ultimately change a wayward government's shitty behaviour.


civil disobedience would be to down a max of balloons before getting caught, preferably never get caught


IANAL but acts of civil disobedience usually mean that you refuse to do something peacefully. I’m not sure that there’s a way to passively disarm something.


With umbrellas and parasols. Everyone should walk around with an umbrella to make the surveillance useless. Parasols on your balcony or in your garden.


That doesn't make the surveillance useless. So they see a parasol come out of your house at one time and walk to your workplace. They still have 100% of the information that they had if you didn't walk to work with a parasol.


People are clever and adaptable. How about walking in a crowd and exchanging umbrellas for one simple idea and I've not even had my first coffee of the day.


Finally a project for my purchased and forgotten raspberry pi and robot parts - dronebrella.


You are correct. What's the term for a minimally violent act?


Direct action.


Sabotage


Civil disobedience


Lasers are the only workable option, I think. But locating a small object at some km altitude would be nontrivial. And hitting one with a laser would be ~impossible.

Also, it would see scattered light long before you hit it directly. And even if it had an autonomous targeting system, there'd be a record of its movements. So it would be very hard so stay anonymous.


Atmospheric scattering seems like a big problem, but not location or targeting.

People find satellites by doing long exposures (ideally in the infrared) and then looking for movement that doesn't match the rotation of the earth - indeed, I think it's quasi-automated by now. It's rather astonishing what you can pick up with modern glass - there's videos on YouTube of the space station shot from the ground, and while it just looks like a little squiggly letter H, it's the freaking space station, in space, being imaged on relatively affordable prosumer technology.

I know nothing about the power side of lasers and imagine you'd need a decent size truck to hold one capable of setting something on fire at distance and its power supply, but it doesn't seem beyond the bounds of feasibility.

Of course, it would be 'easier' to hijack the balloon's guidance system but I assume that about 5 minutes after you started broadcasting on restricted radio frequencies people would be looking for you.


OK. But small balloons at 15-20 km? That don't reflect much light? Seems iffy to me. But maybe so.

I wasn't thinking of massive physical damage. Just nuking the FPAs.

Or perhaps small rockets. But guidance systems are hugely illegal to develop. Chaff might work to mask movements temporarily. Or wildfires, I suppose. Not that anyone sane would do that.


"guidance systems are hugely illegal to develop" Curious what laws cover this? I am sure they exist, just not explored this at all. Isn't GPS a 'guidance system'?


> The U.S. government controls the export of some civilian receivers. All GPS receivers capable of functioning above 18 km (59,000 ft) above sea level and 515 m/s (1,000 kn; 2,000 km/h; 1,000 mph), or designed or modified for use with unmanned missiles and aircraft, are classified as munitions (weapons)—which means they require State Department export licenses. [1]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_Positioning_System#Rest...


I've seen reference in a few articles about model rocketry.


Blinding sensors, disabling transmitters (beamed energy / emp burst?), disrupting transmissions, or disabling the platform itself (balloon) would be the most obvious choices.

Legal challenges.


Location and targeting are trivial (as others said balloons will likely have ADS-B or similar transponders). But your laser (prep and action) will be super easy to detect, too.


It is easier to find the control room and drop the pants of operators.


High velocity, heavy caliber hunting right with accentuated rifling, attached to a heavy servo gimble or robotic arm, telescopic lens, laser range finder. Should be able to shoot these down all day long.


A hunting rifle can reach 10-15 km altitude?


not even close, and none of this is civil disobedience. civil would be to have a movement put multispectral bright lights on top of every car boat plane train bicycle ball cap dog collar and then scatter them everywhere at intersections and parks etc. not sure how bright they would need to be to saturate enough to hide the car or dog. you could track the bright spot till they intersect but then I would be iffy to keep them apart at slow intersections I think.


This is a great idea! Prices of bright LEDs have dropped considerably in recent years. So it wouldn't require that much energy. With enough bright spots, scatter would complicate tracking anything specific.

Also, that'd provide cover for the occasional targeted high-energy laser pulse.


This reminds me a bit of the "Harriet Tubman Sarah Connor brigade" (actual name). They were opposed to GPS satellites and knew they couldn't get them after they went up... so they successfully attacked them while they were on the ground (prelaunch) with wood axes. Did quite a bit of damage too.

https://theatlantic.com/article/386656/


Are you comparing the surveillance balloons to GPS or are you saying it's best to disable before launch?


I'm not sure I would say "best", but tactically it's a lot better play to destroy a thing on the ground with an axe than develop whatever high-powered laser was being discussed elsewhere on the thread.


Given their flight ceiling is up to 65,000ft, they are quite a bit lower than Felix Baumgartner's record breaking jump, so I guess you could try skydiving into one.


Total novice here, but a drone locked onto the balloon transponder? You could pre-program the drone hours or days in advance. Use all 3D printed parts with reclaimed batteries? Assembled in a clean room? (just a thought experiment)


Unless it is a jet-powered drone, it won't reach the altitude. Rotors stop creating uplift at some height, because the air to create uplift is far too thin. And if you are able to build a jet-engine -- well you could basically call it a guided missile system. You'd need a launch facility, lots and lots of fuel and you'd be detected by ATC once you launch (if you haven't already been detected procuring resources to build the thing).


The conclusion is easy, then: you should probably use a balloon (/dirigible) to take down the balloon.


At 65,000 feet, I don't think you do.


Movies Contact and Arrival had few good ideas.


High power laser on a technical vehicle.


Using drones could work I guess?


maybe concentrated solar light could burn them


nah, that's stupid given the distance


The article notes that this uses the same balloon technology that Google's project loon uses.


Possibly. What the article specifically states is that US Southern Command (Southcom) is using the same supplier as Project Loon:

> Raven Aerostar, the company that is supplying the balloons for Southcom’s tests and launching them from its facility in South Dakota, told the Guardian that it has had balloons remain aloft for nearly a month. Raven also makes balloons for the Alphabet subsidiary Loon, which uses them to help deliver internet and cellphone service from the stratosphere.


Ah so loon possibly was never about internet


Loon didn't supply the balloons, they just have a shared supplier.


That’s not usually how these supplier partnerships work.

Loon needed a balloon which was probably not available off the shelf. They paid a certain amount of money to get someone to build balloons to their specification which probably involved a great deal of R&D, manufacturing tooling, real world testing, etc.

Because Google didn’t develop the technology in-house, and perhaps as a consequence of how the contract was written, we cannot say how much of the technology developed for Loon could have ended up here, and if or whether Loon should have paid more for exclusivity or restrictions on how that R&D could be used, or if in fact Loon paid a lot less specifically because the supplier was able to defray development costs through expected future military applications.

Or maybe the tech really was off the shelf and destined for military use and Loon just happened to use the same thing for their own Good Samaritan project.

However, several of Google’s balloons crashed to Earth so it’s a pretty good bet that they were paying for prototypes and significant R&D was going into the balloons.


At what point do we just start a non violent movement of taping over cameras wherever we see them?


I have a roll of black circle stickers in my bag and I regularly put them over small cameras in public (such as the ones hidden in video advertising screens).

They're purposefully non-destructive and I've even made the effort to select a sticker type where the adhesive doesn't leave a residue when peeled off.


Got a link for those? I'm liking this!



There was a camera-spotting movement in Belgium some years ago. Basically people started marking all known cameras on a map. I think people gave up once they realized the sheer impossible scope of it.

Most cameras are too high up to reach anyway. A can of spray paint on a stick might be more effective, but that will almost certainly lead to vandalism charges.


Do it at night with a mask? Basically 0 chance they would catch you



I already do this with the cameras that are in an increasing number of airplane seat backs.


Oh, charming: airplanes now have cameras installed against the will of the airlines operating the planes.

https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.usatoday.com/amp/3022742002



Where does the article say it is against the airline's will? It only says that the airlines have never activated the camera, and currently have no plans to.


It's hacker news.

How about hacking them?


Duct tape is a hack.

Low-tech hack, but a hack nonetheless.


We could have a discussion about the definition of the word Hacker vs Cracker - but people have been arguing about that since the 90s.


There's a bit of scaremongering in the headline; these are being tested domestically by the DOD use outside of the US. The DOD isn't allowed to conduct domestic surveillance.


Sure.

They parked a visible radar blimp over I95 outside of Baltimore and operated it for a couple of years. What’s the difference between “test” and “really using it” when the tests last that long?

There are many loopholes for domestic stuff too. A National Guard member controlling the thing for example.


Full season durability testing. Developing operational procedures to deal with routine issues. These could easily take a few years.


and then you can test again, and again, and again. Each time for a few more years.


They've been slowly giving police departments "surplus" military equipment for some time now. I can easily imagine a similar fate for this, just as I can easily see the FBI, ATF, or other such government agency using this.


Kind of ironic that they are testing them by performing domestic surveillance then, huh?


well if "fascism can best be understood as bringing the methods of imperial rule in the colonies into the metropole." Then aside from the obvious imperial attitude of 'its ok since the DOD is developing this for non-americans,' americans themselves might be worried about the future implications of this technology.

http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/27/074.html


That is a very useful and succinct definition.

And we did use these blimps in Afghanistan. Very apt and chilling definition.


I can't fathom this level of good will afforded to the DOD, the history of the US govt's intelligence services _must_ earn them zero presumption of innocence by now right?


I bet there is a direct correlation between how much good will someone extends DOD and how much they believe their history books.


The FBI and state governments are allowed to conduct domesticated surveillance, and they inherit military tech.


Once the technology is proven out they could sell the equipment to law enforcement.


And they'll probably sell them "very lightly used" at steep discounts.


So this is basically Google's Project Loon but with more spying? How do they deal with cloud cover? It's not much of an issue for Loon, but I suppose it would be problematic for anyone doing anything in the visual range.


This is disturbing


Good thing Belgium already sold this NATO spec technology to China...


Got a link for that?



Kinda weird that there isn’t more backlash to this

davisr 46 days ago [flagged]

I don't comment much, but I feel compelled to mention how this currently has a 36:1 vote-to-comment ratio. The kinds of thing the US military is testing on their own people is horrific, and it's our duty as American citizens to oppose this kind of surveillance.

I sometimes feel I'm talking to a ghost. It is truly terrifying that my fellow Americans are selling themselves out. Ring will let the government, Amazon, and your neighbors spy on you. Grammarly will keylog and text-capture each webpage. The FBI will fly planes overhead. Balloons will be launched, always watching everyone.

There is no way to opt-out of this. I can't believe how stupid the "Hacker" "News" community is--commenting on things that don't matter, then shutting up for matters of grave importance.

You all deserve the tyranny that is coming.


The fact that people haven't commented "this is bad" doesn't mean lots of people don't think it's bad. But such comments don't change anything, and the site guidelines specifically discourage them because they just add noise.

Insulting people, however, tends to derail any useful discussion.


I've said the obvious before, but technology is going to make mass surveillance relatively easy. Natural protections are no more. We have to reaffirm our liberties and not tolerate unreasonable search.

Also, let's cut out the criminality when it comes to drugs. The rationality this rests on can be chopped out from under it if we just regulate the drug industry better. Give drug users the drugs with limitations, which is better than having them served via some barbarous criminal enterprise.


Seriously. The constitution must stay general. We can’t let them narrow down our rights.


The only way to do what you suggest is...you know. That's the only thing that will roll it back even a little. I'm available whenever, but I have no misconceptions about how brutal it will be.

Just locally where I live I've watched the total state moving forward. Police are moving in unmarked/low marked vehicles a la Gestapo, intersections all suddenly have cameras, I've read articles about how LE have tracked people via their cell phones--there is a "digital fence" that the police automatically get notified if someone prohibited enters with their phone. Is that not total surveillance state? When you can't even move around without someone tracking you? Granted, they can turn off the phone or put it in a Faraday bag, but the point is, we should not have to!

Slippery slope may be a fallacy, but damn, it sure doesn't seem like it when all the dots start getting connected.

I'm not on board with any of it. I am not some kind of serf, peon, or resource to be exploited. If some shit has to burn down to make that point, well, that's what will have to happen.


> technology is going to make mass surveillance relatively easy

> a la Gestapo

In 2013 Tom Scott made an incredibly prescient sketch of our grim surveillance-state future. It absolutely terrifying.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RIuf1V1FhpY

It's terrifying because it's the power of Stasi-style informants modernized into a simple Uber-like app. No more scary clandestine meetings, now you can inform on your friends, family, and neighbors with one click from the comfort of your own home.

Similar to the "social credit" system, Tom's "Oversight" could work, because they both efficiently incentivize close peers against each other. "You should stop spending time with your friend John. I heard him talking like a dissident recently... that could damage your Social Credit rating!"

> enters with their phone

Which is exactly why I follow Dan Geer's advice[1] and don't carry around a tracking device. He's been trying to warn us for years[2], and we still aren't listening[3].

[1] https://www.wired.com/brandlab/2015/06/cia-cybersecurity-gur...

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nT-TGvYOBpI (transcript: http://geer.tinho.net/geer.blackhat.6viii14.txt )

[3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gbDEbfijxNY (transcript: http://www.bsidesdc.org/history/geer.html )


[flagged]


Calling others stupid is insulting, no?

We don't ban people for that. HN hosts prolific discussion of topics like this one. The current submission is on the front page because moderators put it in the second-chance pool (described at https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11662380).

YC is not invested in Palantir, but I suppose if you're going to make something like that up it makes sense to throw in "heavily" as well.

We moderate HN less, not more, when YC's interests are involved. That's the first principle of HN moderation: https://hn.algolia.com/?sort=byDate&dateRange=all&type=comme....

Edit: there's a good example on the front page now. NYT published a profile of Brex with a baity title that—no surprise—is dominating discussion in the thread (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20598025). Normally we'd change the title to indicate that the article is really a profile of a particular startup. But I've not done so because this is a YC-funded startup.


This is, in my opinion, a really baseless claim. There’s plenty of critical discussion on HN that runs against YC interests. There’s also plenty of intelligent political discussion on here. The modded stuff is modded because it is content-free, off topic for the discussion, trollish, or ad-hominem and other low forms of debate. I’m personally very thankful that it gets moderated.


> You all deserve the tyranny that is coming.

That's the bit that feels insulting. I don't want this mass surveillance, but I also don't really have anything at the top level to comment about it that hasn't been hashed and rehashed.

> so it's reasonable that the mods try not to let content exist that might agitate investors.

Having read the discussions, I feel like there are often many commentators — and articles — that point out and criticize the surveillance state, to the extent that if there is censoring being attempted, it's not really very good.

I'm not sure everyone who reads here is convinced, so maybe, IDK, it is still worthwhile to try to change some minds. I do feel like I see back and forth to bad arguments like "But I have nothing to hide!", so I don't think everyone here is on the same page, though HN is orders of magnitude more aware of it than the public. If we are ever to effect real change, either we need to convince the public that this matters and that they should care or maybe the ACLU/EFF can pull something off for us. (So, you know, donate to them if you believe they would help do good.)

Tech stuff often gets lost though behind other issues like gay rights, abortion, climate change, guns&terrorism. (Which, honestly, might be more important, so can we please get those settled and move on to the tech stuff maybe?)


The site guidelines and moderation policies are intended to steer the comments towards as prissy, non-critical, de-politicized conversations as possible. Anger is a perfectly reasonable part of political discourse, and political discourse and thought is an important part of being a person in the world w/ agency. I think most would agree that there's a "beating a dead horse" point in comment sections, but the amount of preemptive moderation of anything mildly heated about politics is goofy, and not actually conducive to the goal of making a place for conversation that's "intellectually curious" or whatever. There is no topic that can be discussed in a political vacuum, and there's no conversation that's politically honest if there's not a little bit of struggle, but the mods on this site treat that like its a 5-alarm emergency.


You have some good points and I agree with most of this, but you're overestimating the capacity of a large, open internet forum to host intelligent angry discussion. This isn't about being prissy, it's about not dying a death of boredom. Flamewars get stupider and more tedious as they burn, and each one turns the site a bit more into hell. So we take a broken-windows-theory approach.

If you think otherwise, I'd like to see an example of an large, open internet forum having intelligent no-holds-barred political debate. In my opinion you're underestimating how dumb that gets, and how quickly. For the sort of conversation you're talking about to be high-quality, you need a community that is closed and vastly smaller. This has been the case with that sort of debate in the past—for example, exchanges in journals or between writers in opposing journals.


Dayton OH tried this crap with Persistent Surveillance Systems equipment that's basically a time machine: a high altitude camera that photographs the whole city and lets you follow a vehicle forward or backward in time, inferring meeting places, routes, etc. The outcry that arose cancelled the project. So yes, protest works!

https://www.acluohio.org/archives/issue-information/warrantl...

The one over Baltimore is JLENS by Raytheon: that didn't get struck down because it was never put to a vote; it was privately funded.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/oct/15/baltimore-surv...

https://technical.ly/baltimore/2015/08/19/another-surveillan...


There’s an excellent RadioLab episode about Persistent Surveillance. The anti-crime powers it brings to a city are compelling, only overshadowed by the powers for abuse.

Worth a listen IMHO: https://www.wnycstudios.org/story/eye-sky


Being able to back-track in time after a violent crime has been committed is a fantastic application of this technology.


Being able to back-track in time after a (legal) protest has been committed is a horrific application of this technology.

This is one of those "We should discuss the upside/downside before doing it" subjects.

I mean if you want to radically increase safety, just shove everyone into an 8'x12' padded box.


The tech here is so good I don’t believe it went away. I just think it will exist in secret and only used when they really need to. We will get a snowden style leak about it in 10 years.


> There is no way to opt-out of this. I can't believe how stupid the "Hacker" "News" community is--commenting on things that don't matter, then shutting up for matters of grave importance.

There are a lot of people here who take these concerns extremely seriously, and are working to fix things.

But they may not post much about it on Hacker news, because not every site needs to be political, even if it's far, far more important right now than most of the content here.


Surveillance isn't a political issue, or maybe rather, like drinking water standards, it need or should not be a toxic political issue.


Unfortunately, any issue where there are different groups that want different things is a political issue. Newbies to politics often feel that there are some things that transcend politics but there's a kind of dual answer to that.

The things that transcend politics are your values - the things that you will fight for and the tender feelings you ascribe to the state of the world. However, when you want to make them reality, you must find alliances and ways to pressure opposing groups to make them materialize in the real world.


Surveillance isn't a political issue

How could it not be


There are other people that aren't Americans on the net.

That aside, what are you doing to oppose this? People may not be commenting because they dont know how to go about stopping it or simply don't think it can be stopped; leading by example is more powerful than an appeal to pathos.


I agree, but all of that said, the surveillance state is much much worse right now in Britain, so I'm told.


It's even worse for us non Americans. American public is generally more okay letting us get tested on. And we don't get to vote against it.


Yup. Apparently it's fine to spy on everyone else, everywhere else. Just not on US soil. Wiretapping everyone's communications, forcing SWIFT to forward details of everyone's bank transactions to the NSA. Because apparently the 7 billion non-Americans are all potential terrorists or some such nonsense.


Our continuous spying and surveillance of non Americans is the perfect answer to the naysayers that argue the government wouldn't spy on us if it could. It literally does everything it can to fuck everyone over it isn't legally not allowed to fuck.


The guidelines literally consider politics contrary to intellectual curiosity, and in the category of cat photos and disaster videos. As someone who studied political science in school, it's an abomination of a guideline. The mixing of ideology, politics, and technology is obvious, and the ensuing conflicts are inevitable, and HN guidelines say take it elsewhere, this is not the place for those conversations. Meanwhile, objective trash ends up on the front page all the time, and stories involving technology used to subvert human freedom routinely gets rank demoted contrary to the HN community's votes.

So I think it's possible your complaint is really not with the community but with the guidelines. If people don't care for an article, they don't have to vote for it. If people don't like heated debates, they don't have to participate in them. But the guidelines make that decision for the community.


"I don't comment much but you lot are going to hell because you don't comment"...?


lol, suggesting that people are worthy of tyranny based on comment ratios is about as quintessential HN filter-bubble as I can imagine. Comment ratios mean absolutely nothing, especially a single cherry-picked example in a swamp of front-page posts.


The most important thing one can do is write, AND call, their legislature. Don't ever shut up about it. Does it stand a chance against corporate lobbyists? Probably not, but it leaves one with a clear conscience.


Or your city council. I got a personal reply from one of my council members this morning in response to an email I sent based on this: https://www.seattleindivisible.com/daily-actions/2019/8/1/no...

She promised to investigate and follow up on a policy front. Good use of two minutes of my time.


The most important thing you can do is put your body in the way of the machine. Sure, writing persuasive letters is good, but what actually moves the needle is showing up at public meetings, making noise, engaging in civil disobedience, and risking arrest or worse. Reasoned argument is unfortunately not an effective political lever unless you have some sort of power (eg political, financial, military) with which to bear down upon it.


[flagged]


Please don't take HN threads into partisan flamewar.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


Pelosi is appeasing a dictator? The current POTUS can't get enough of blowing kisses to the world's dictators.


I don’t think that sending a sternly written letter should have any bearing on one’s conscious. I upvoted GP, but on the same note I know there is nothing we can do at this point against a powerful bureaucracy with a lot of ideological and financial incentive to proceed. That this has continued and accelerated under multiple administrations with varied talking points should tell you everything you need to know about the power of the modern vote at this level.


That's sad. So why even have kids, or go to work?


Being sad does not make it untrue. Indeed, many political problems seem to stem from an unwillingness to grapple with truths that make people uncomfortable.

I’m not sure why you think an unaccountable political regime relates to children and work— there are plenty of obvious and unrelated answers as to why people do those things.


Maybe you already are, but if that's how you feel... organize! People must speak to each other about their problems in person, debate what is to be done, and work towards implementing it. That's politics away from the spectacle of television and social media.


> then shutting up for matters of grave importance. You all deserve the tyranny that is coming.

Rather than whining online about surveillance, it is more effective to build your personal defences and do your research on OPSEC. It is perpetual cat and mouse game.


Wtf are you doing about it? Commenting on hackernews ain't solving anything.


Technically we tested them on Iraq and Afghanistan.

Guess it's our turn.


>testing

It's been tested, look up gorgon stare.


Comment more


> I can't believe how stupid the "Hacker" "News" community is--commenting on things that don't matter, then shutting up for matters of grave importance.

Topics like mass surveillance are considered by HN moderators to be "political" and any commentary about them is considered the equivalent of graffiti that defaces the site for everyone else.

As hackers we have a social responsibility to participate in important political issues that we have insight about.

People's political beliefs are typically quite different when the issue is something they actually know about. Most HN content is technology focused and so there is (in my opinion) a desirable kind of political discussion that is backed up by experience and knowledge.

Surely one of the mods will chime in that my comment is a flame, which is their special word for comments that discuss content they wish to censor. My comments are always polite and respectful, so obviously the issue is content and not tone.

> ... this currently has a 36:1 vote-to-comment ratio.

HN is becoming the sort of benign, bland environment the mods want it to be.


I would guess that surveillance gets discussed here almost daily, and most readers are probably familiar with why it’s bad and that we should oppose it and write our legislators and etc. Parent poster’s comment - a call to arms - is almost free of novel content, and we can find similar comments at the top of our newsfeeds on every other social network and forum.

The next highest post in this comments section, written by Apo about the dynamics of the falling costs of surveillance and the tendency for states to slide towards authoritarianism, is an example of the kind of insightful and thought provoking comment that I come to hacker news for. This thread that we’re all commenting on is a red blooded, knee jerk reaction fest by comparison.

Of course it’s important that we get angry about surveillance and inspire others to be activists about it, I just don’t think that it makes for an interesting or unique discussion. We can get that on any news site and social network. By contrast, hacker news’ moderated discussion can shift your worldview and provide useful points of debate, and a wide perspective that you can bring back to the world.

With that in hand we can get a lot further by fighting smarter and more strategically. I’ll take hacker news’ gentle discussion guidelines over red blooded calls to action any day, because honestly the internet is already full of those, and there aren’t enough discussion spaces like hacker news.


You only complain when you notice something? Satilite with cameras has been around forever


The vast majority of the comments on 'hacker' 'news' are either anecdotes based on the title or nitpicking the title. Since no one has any anecdotes to argue about and the title is pretty straight forward, there are very few comments here.


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