portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article commentary united states

human & civil rights | technology

Do We Really Want to Go There?

The price of surveillance.
Most of us have become resigned to a future without privacy, a future where thousands of nameless government bureaucrats, corporate key punchers, and law enforcement sociopaths can look up our most personal information with a few clicks. Nothing we say, write, or do is private in this new world of electronic surveillance, data collection, data aggregation, and access control. The government doesn't need to search your home to know what is in it. They can just check your credit card and check card purchases. Countless nosy people can find out what you read, what you search for on the web, who you send emails to, who you call on your cell phone, what it says in you medical records. You are basically an open book.

You know that kinky thing you search for on the Internet? Well, it's in a database somewhere linked with the rest of the information the world has collected on you. How about those emails you accessed from your office, though they came in on your "private" account, your system administrator has either read it or will if he or she ever finds some reason (or simply has an impulse) to do so. There is nothing that you have done, purchased, or looked into that cannot be found out.

If you've lived for a long time, you already know how evil and petty some people can be. Perhaps an ex-lover has it in for you and you don't know it. She may work for law enforcement now and be looking up dirt she can send to your employer. If she's not in law enforcement, she may work for an ISP, a telephone company, a health insurance company, or countless other agencies and/or corporations that have access to your most personal information. If she's not working for any of the aforementioned, someone in her family or one of her friends may be. You do know that all police officers, without exception, violate the law and snoop for information on the friends, work associates, and neighbors of themselves, their family, and their friends, don't you? They do this kind of thing all the time. Even if you've never been arrested or even charged with a crime, there may be false accusations in those records. Accusations that the district attorney dismissed as baseless. Nevertheless, they are there in your police rap sheet. You don't even know it. The ex-lover silently stalking you, however, does know and she's using it to destroy your life.

You might be under the false illusion that people put in positions of responsibility and authority have a higher ethical standard than the rest of us and can be trusted. If you think this, you need help, quickly. The higher you go up any hierarchy, the more morally corrupt the occupiers of stratified positions. At the very top, you will always find a narcissistic sociopath with criminal impulses. Corrupt, unethical, and criminally inclined people are more likely to seek positions where they can abuse their access to information and the power they yield to advance themselves, their families, and their friends. The more "influential" people you know, the more endangered you are of their abuses of power. Of all the people I have known in my life, the most famous of all have always been the most corrupt, unscrupulous, and self serving.

In this new world in which we live, meritocracy is dead. Those in power will do anything they can to retain their power. Those who advance on their skill, talent, ability, honesty, hard work, or vision will have their privacy violated, skeletons dug up or invented, and then find themselves destroyed. Our new electronic age of ubiquitous, complete, and never forgotten data collection, guarantees that a new dark age of dictatorship by the scummiest amongst us is not only inevitable, but here already.

If we should seek to liberate ourselves from this, we would need more than a revolution. We would need to destroy these databases which have accrued so much information about all of us. We would need to destroy the systems that collect the information. However, even if we did these things, we could never be sure that all the data was destroyed. The best we could do, in addition to destroying the data, is to change our names. We would need to discard our identities and begin anew.

Such a destruction of the data that society has aggregated would imperil us, you might think. If you do think this, you would be wrong. No fly lists do not keep us safe from hijackers. The only things that keep us safe from hijackers are aircraft designed to prevent takeovers by hijackers, physical security at the gate which prevents destructive devices and weapons from being carried on board, and passengers willing to defy and resist hijackers. (Better than that would be an effort to eliminate the conditions that compel people to resort to terrorism.) The no fly list does nothing to protect us. If anything, it makes us less prepared for the possibility that someone allowed to fly is a danger. The no fly list, however, does provide something. It provides the government and all of the self serving sociopaths attracted to its employment with the ability to torment us, constrain us, terrify us, and, of course, tax us to pay for it. That is all the no fly list does. It hands power over to the lessor amongst us who seek power.

Now, you might suppose collecting data helps the credit system work. If you believe that, you will have a hard time explaining our current credit crisis. Banks are collapsing because they don't know how to use that information to give out loans that will be repaid. They do know how to hand that information over to the government, though, where it is aggregated with all the rest of the information that is delightfully fun to snoop through for your stalker, or neighbor, or employer, or identity thief. Besides, who's money is it that they loan out anyway? They loan out your money. That's where it must come from, since you're the one bailing out the banks who made bad loans.

We've reached a point where reflection is required. Is it not better to do away with all of this data than to continue collecting it? There is truth to the dictum: "Information is power." A democracy is supposed to be founded on the Power of the People and not on the government's power to blackmail, manipulate, control, deny, and permit. Shakespeare wrote, "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers," but we would need to start before the lawyers and make "The first thing we do, let's delete all the data" our starting point, for nothing less would enable us to go forward. It's something to think about.

homepage: homepage: http://www.anarkhos.org/randomarticles/privacy.html


Defense 09.Apr.2008 20:58

Ubiq ubiq <a.t.> daggersdrawn <d.o.t.> net

You bring up some really good points. One thing I have realized is that it is important to have a good defense. Too many people don't realize the information they are making public about themselves, let alone how to protect their privacy. It is extremely important that all people, but especially activists, are educated on how to protect themselves online. These defensive tactics can not be properly covered in a single comment, article, or even a workshop.

Right now the Portland Police are teaching a "MySpace 101" course to their officers. This course is designed to help the officers gather information about suspects, and fish social networks. Still, many activists continue to use MySpace.

I have started going back to school, pursuing a computer science degree, just to try to combat the problems you list. If anyone is interested in sharing information about technical security contact me. Perhaps we can work toward spreading the knowledge around the community.

Myspace 10.Apr.2008 04:13

me

Yeah, I still use myspace, and just because the cops surf myspace doesn't mean im going to stop using it. Its not like most activists are stupid enough to post vital or incriminating messages ect. I could care less if they know what I think about the cops and the government. I am not arguing against the fact that people should know how to protect their privacy. I wish I knew more myself. But I think people get a little to paranoid about things and let man's scare tactics get under their skin. There is no reason one shouldnt be cautious, but we cant take it to far.

Notes on MySpace 10.Apr.2008 09:15

Ubiq

It doesn't matter if you make sure not to post incriminating data on MySpace. The site is still used for profiling. For example, if people who wanted to spy on an individual were building a profile on them, they could check MySpace for any revealing data. This data could be about whereabouts (the events/calendar section as well as comments, "That party at my place last night was a blast, thanks for coming!", etc.), likes and dislikes ( this can help attackers gain your trust later on), and most of all social networks!!!! FBI witch hunts can suddenly become a lot more dangerous if they can just look up all of your contacts on the internet!

The scariest part about this is that investigation firms currently have artificially intelligent bots that scan and database information posted on MySpace.

All of that being said, I agree it is possible to stay secure with a MySpace, but one must understand the extent that they are vulnerable and exactly how much of their privacy they are giving up for the "service."