Our society has one great knack above all others -- one that no other ever managed -- that of holding the mighty accountable. Although elites of all kinds still have many advantages over commonfolk, never before have citizens been so empowered. And history shows that this didn't happen byblinding the mighty -- a futile endeavor that has never worked. It happened by insisting that everybody get to see. By citizens demanding the power to know.
Technological myopia comes in when privacy experts claim we can protect ourselves by hiding. Cameras are getting smaller, faster, better, cheaper and more mobile at a rate far faster than Moore's Law. (Some call this "Brin's Corollary.") And yet, nearly every discussion of surveillance assumes that they will remain great big, visible boxes on lamp posts. They won’t. They will shrink and move and zoom and become more numerous than blades of grass. Shall we banish them? How, when they become smaller than mosquitos and more numerous?
Freedom can only be effective when most of the people know most of what's going on, most of the time. Only one thing will keep you free: Aggressively, militantly empowering yourself and your neighbors to see.
To be clear: we need these 'T Cells' as we rush into a technological future. There are so many pitfalls, snake pits, quicksand pools, mine fields and failure modes, between us and Star Trek, that the only conceivable way that we can evade the killer errors is by unleashing millions of avid, immune-system "cells" to sniff and hunt down every possible mistake. Even when they prove wrong -- or to be exaggerating -- the light they shine is cleansing.
Groups that would normally be skeptical of authorities videotaping everything support the idea of camera-equipped cops. The American Civil Liberties Union published a white paper last year supporting the use of the cameras. “Everybody wishes right now there was a video record of what happened,” says Jay Stanley, the author of the ACLU’s paper, referring to the Ferguson shooting. But questions remain over accountability: Who sees the camera footage? Is there supervision and public access to reliably recorded footage?
Ancient Greek myths tell of a farmer, Akademos, who did a favor for the sun god. In return, Apollo granted the mortal a garden wherein he could say whatever he liked, even about the mighty Olympians, without retribution...The alternative was to empower Akademos with an equalizer, some way to enforce the gods' promise. That equalizing factor could only be knowledge. But more about that in a moment
Police are waging a futile war against camera-toting citizens. In The Transparent Society, I describe exactly this kind of tension, between citizens armed with new tools of vision and accountability, and tens of thousands of cops who - from day to day - see themselves as doing a harsh, difficult and under-appreciated job. According to “Brin’s Corollary to Moore’s Law” -- the cameras will get smaller, cheaper, more numerous and more mobile every year. So figures of authority might as well get used to it now.
In the wake of Edward Snowden's revelations about the U.S. Intelligence Community -- and the subsequent storm of protest -- President Obama appointed a blue ribbon commission to survey the situation and report back with recommendations. Headed by Richard Clarke, chief counterterrorism adviser on the National Security Council in the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, it included a lifelong CIA professional and a trio of university professors with experience in both law and security policy (one of whom is a colleague of mine and an expert on privacy matters). The contents of their report -- just made public -- were certain to raise controversy.
If you own something, you must openly avow and say that you own it. That's it. Any property that has not been claimed by a human being, family, or clearly tracked group of humans within three years will revert to the state and be re-sold to pay down the public debt. Think about it. What does "ownership" mean, if you are unwilling to state, openly, "I own that"? So many problems in the world can be attributed to murky title, from peasants abused by a nearby lord to an oil tanker that befouled beaches in Brittany with no owner ever held accountable, because of deeply nested shell companies.
The right way to deal with data redlining is not to prohibit the collection of data, as so many misguided privacy advocates seem to urge, but rather, to prohibit its misuse once companies have that data. As David Brin, author of the prescient 1998 book on privacy,The Transparent Society, noted in a conversation with me last night, “It is intrinsically impossible to know if someone does not have information about you. It is much easier to tell if they do something to you.”
Can we thrive in the info age by embracing, not fearing the power to see? Let's put it plainly. The opposite approach, pushed by almost everyone, simply cannot work. That prescription -- finding ways to control and limit information flows and protect the databases from leaking -- has never once been demonstrated in practice to be effective. Not once… ever! Instead, every couple of months another tsunami spilll takes place… from one company then an agency then a nonprofit then another trusted company... and no one learns the obvious lesson.
Most of us in the west were raised with legends, myths and movies that taught Suspicion of Authority (SoA). Thanks to the great science fiction author, George Orwell, we share a compelling metaphor -- Big Brother -- propelling our fears about a future that may be dominated by tyrants. Whether they emerge from Big Government or a corporate oligarchy or the traditional feudalism of inherited wealth, it is the end result most of us dread… a return to the brutal, pyramid-shaped social order that dominated 99% of human societies -- only now empowered by fantastic powers of technological surveillance and enforcement. Finding ways to escape that fate - and instead preserve this narrow, fragile renaissance of freedom - is the common goal of activists across the spectrum. Though we are hobbled in this effort by the "spectrum" itself, whose artificial divides make us deride potential allies, proclaiming simplistic, spasmodic prescriptions. Nowhere is this sad reflex more prevalent than in the lobotomized modern debate over how to handle information.
It seems unlikely that such rulings, or even restricting legislation, will provide the slightest confidence that such vastly encompassing endeavors in Big Data will actually stop. Indeed, given Moore's Law and the number of elite centers of power that want to look at it all, the only plausible outcome of limits imposed on NSA will be to drive the banned practices underground....Indeed, the one thing that would change all this and make such bans enforceable, is the one thing that would make such bans redundant and unnecessary -- transparency-supervision or "sousveillance," shining citizen light upon the mighty.
Live and work as if anybody might be watching now… Never absolutely count on anything being secret. Always act as if there’s a chance what you’re doing will be revealed.
I am Mister Transparency. But it’s often said that I’m saying everything will be naked and that we’ll have no privacy. In fact, I’m saying the opposite. Privacy is an absolutely essential trait, but the only way we’ll get any is in a mostly open world.
Media discussions of privacy, freedom and the information age are starting to get more interesting, as folks finally start to realize a core truth... that everything eventually leaks. That the reflex of whining and demanding shadows to hide-in will never work. The data we entrust to banks and retail chains? The trade secrets that companies rely on for competitive advantage? The cherished spy programs of our governmental professional protector caste (PPC)? If these do not leak because of hackers, or accidents, then would-be (or self-styled) whistle-blowers will see to it, sooner or later. Which provokes our core question... is the world of information leakage one that we should (at a fundamental level) be fighting against... at all? Or actively encouraging?
The cameras are coming. They're getting smaller and nothing will stop them.
The only question is: who watches whom? ....Can we stand living our lives exposed to scrutiny ... our secrets laid out in the open ... if in return we get flashlights of our own, that we can shine on the arrogant and strong?
Or is privacy's illusion so precious that it is worth any price, including surrendering our own right to pierce the schemes of the powerful?
We should ask which is more important: what government knows, or what it might do to us? Intrinsically, you can never be certain what elites see or know. But actions can be observed and held accountable, by insisting that all watchers be supervised, answering top-down surveillance with "sousveillance," the habit of a brash citizenry monitoring from below – with a goal to preserve both freedom and safety. Sousveillance isn't just a response to surveillance, it is the wellspring of freedom.
Instead of railing against that fact that there will be more Edward Snowdens, let's revamp whistleblower laws, in order to encourage in-house correction of bureaucratic errors. This would also let us calibrate where future Snowdens fall in the wide range from traitor to hero.
On Openness, Privacy and Surveillance -- explains the most difficult concept of the information age… yes… once more time hammering on what ought to be obvious. That we should stop whining about how much elites can see… and instead be militant about looking back at them. We must watch the watchers! Sousveillance is the only response to surveillance.
The cameras will get smaller, cheaper, more numerous and more mobile every year. We are in for a time of major decision as the Moore's Law of Cameras -- sometimes called “Brin’s Corollary to Moore’s Law-- takes hold and elites of all kinds are tempted to utilize surveillance in Orwellian/controlling ways ...often with rationalized good intentions.
Alas, many "champions of privacy and freedom" push the nebulous notion that dark outcomes can be prevented by passing laws against this or that elite lookingat this or that kind of information. In other words, by restricting information flows.
Last year I touted the most important civil liberties event (so far) in the 21st Century, when top U.S. courts (Glik v. Cunniffe) ruled that citizens have an absolute right to record their interactions with police in public places, and the Obama Administration issued a declaration supporting this ruling as "settled law." I went on to say that the matter would continue to be at issue, at the level of the streets, with many cameras and cell phones "accidentally" broken… until that phase of resistance ends the way it must, with more bystander-cams catching -- then deterring -- the breaking of cameras. And of course all of it was portrayed in both fiction and nonfiction 25 years ago.
Face-recognition has reached your smart phone, bringing science fiction closer and also (I expect) a storm of controversy.
Open Data and Transparency: A Look back at 2013: Was this the year that "transparency" came into its own? In this year-end review, we learn of progress in some nations, while others cling tenaciously to old, corruption-prone ways.
Our civilization prospers - and its opponents tend to shrivel - the more open the world and its varied competitive battlefields become. The more open is the competition, the more it becomes a matter for the accountability arenas - markets, science, democracy... that create beneficial synergies out of competition, instead of reciprocal destruction. Further, the more open the playing field, the more standing individuals have, contributing their billions of eyes to a network that can detect errors and criminality, helping the professionals to do their jobs.
Surveillance can’t be stopped; nothing will halt the flood of vision in our world. But instead of isolating ourselves and trying to seal off our secrets we should expose them, and the snoopers surrounding us. For the illusory fantasy of absolute privacy has come to an end.
Information leaks! It copies itself with the ease and speed of electrons. If the NSA and FBI routinely crack open, should you depend upon an even more illusory fantasy of secrecy?
We will remain more adaptable and fiercely sovereign citizens, if we are empowered with light.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is working on the Biometric Optical Surveillance System (BOSS) allowing authorities to identify individuals by their faces -- from images collected by street cams, driver’s license photos, mug shots or other sources. Yet there is little or no legal oversight of such technologies. Oversight and "under-sight" or sousveillance is absolutely essential lest this lead to Big Brother!
As of now, 37 states have enabled facial-recognition software to search driver’s license photos, yet only 11 have protections in place to limit access to such data by the authorities, or install methods of oversight as to how such data is used.
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