Freedom is slavery

by John Quiggin on June 10, 2013

In August 2012, the US House of Representatives voted 414-0 against governments trying to control the Internet

The House resolution calls on U.S. government officials to tell the ITU and other international organizations that it is the “consistent and unequivocal policy of the United States to promote a global Internet free from government control.”

I wonder if we will see more resolutions like this. It wouldn’t surprise me.

{ 22 comments }

1

Sandwichman 06.10.13 at 4:25 am

At EconoSpeak, Peter Dorman explores some of the more hair-raising possibilities that emerge from the NSA surveillance.

http://econospeak.blogspot.com/2013/06/from-big-brother-to-big-data.html

Some time ago I mentioned in this blog that, by all appearance, killing by profile was becoming an established military tactic. Targets for bomb attacks, including but not limited to armed drones, were being selected on the basis of statistical profiles. Given the number of individuals at a particular location, their age and gender, the time of day, whether there was a pattern to their meeting and so on, a decision would be made to blow them up. It was not necessary to have information on their precise identities or human confirmation of their military activities. A simple statistical likelihood was sufficient cause. In the years that have passed the suspicion that profiling was being employed for target selection has become a near certainty.

So the second question is, to what extent do the profiling activities of NSA and other agencies interface with the profiling models employed to take action against individuals—to restrict, punish or kill them? The current discussion seems to be based on the assumption that the profiles constructed by intelligence agencies will be used only as an aid to traditional surveillance and investigation. NSA tells the FBI, watch these guys: they may be dangerous. Or they tell them, here are several suspects for this crime you should follow up on. That sounds only a tiny bit Orwellian, nothing to be too concerned about. But what if that traditional human layer is bypassed, and the profiled data go directly into a profiled action?

2

NomadUK 06.10.13 at 5:48 am

But what if that traditional human layer is bypassed, and the profiled data go directly into a profiled action?

Given that, just a couple of weeks ago, someone was bringing up the idea of autonomous, self-directed attack drones, one would imagine this is, in fact, the whole point.

3

Ken_L 06.10.13 at 7:59 am

They don’t want to control it, only to know what the great unwashed are up to while they’re on it.

4

Drew Fair 06.10.13 at 9:53 am

Yes, the internet could be viewed as the perfect Honey Trap.

5

P O'Neill 06.10.13 at 10:48 am

They’ll need to check with Booz Allen Hamilton before their next move.

6

MattF 06.10.13 at 11:57 am

It’s easy (and generally correct) to mock any unanimous vote by the US House of Representatives… but… aren’t the upcoming ITU negotiations kinda significant? Make fun of it if you like, but which side are you on?

7

Eric H 06.10.13 at 12:35 pm

I frequently come across people who view governments and policies as perfectly benign so long as the right proper party is in control. These people can justify the most outrageous policy with an appeal to intent, even if that intent is neither fulfilled by the policy nor intended by the lawgivers. In that context, I wonder how long it will be before one of these people claim that Drew @4 is correct, that the internet was intended to pull terrorists into the NSA’s electronic surveillance apparatus.

8

Bob W 06.10.13 at 1:29 pm

I suppose one could ask what is meant by “government control.” Without any government regulation or activity I expect the internet could not exist as the most idealist among us would like it. But stipulate that there is more than enough to criticize about Obama’s policies and the lack of transparency. How would you deal with the following situation: There is a known Al Qaeda bomb making operation outside the United States and, with frequency, after various telephone calls and emails to that address (or the phone or computer located at that address) there have been terrorist bombings (or attempts) in the United States. Would it be unreasonable to try and determine from what number in the United States are calls/contacts to that address originating? Particularly if one could do so without — at least in the first instance and without a specific warrant — access to the content of any call or email? Obviously it would be a more comfortable world if that type of activity was not necessary. And, transparency and the best approval process one can devise should be the objective and I would stipulate we cannot assume that is the present situation. But I for one would prefer putting my righteous indignation aside and exploring — I know there are roadblocks in the way — what could be done to assure a lack of abuse than simply putting aside the potential consequences of ignoring who is contacting the bomb makers.

9

Anderson 06.10.13 at 4:26 pm

“I’m not *controlling* what you do, I’m just *watching* you while you do it. Go on, do whatever you were going to do. I’ll just be right here. Honest, I won’t make a sound.”

10

MPAVictoria 06.10.13 at 5:57 pm

““I’m not *controlling* what you do, I’m just *watching* you while you do it. Go on, do whatever you were going to do. I’ll just be right here. Honest, I won’t make a sound.”

You will only know I am here by the burning ember of my cigarette….

11

Eli Rabett 06.10.13 at 6:56 pm

Lack of self awareness is a trait of conservatives.

12

John Quiggin 06.10.13 at 7:53 pm

@MattF The ITU negotiations are important, and the US line has been exposed as a hypocritical sham. It’s hard to know what view to take, since it depends partly on whether US democracy manages to resist the rise of the security state (possible, but not looking likely right now).

The most likely outcome will be that other governments will demand what the US has. At this point, there’s a strong case for an international bureaucracy – harder for any one state to control.

13

Bruce Wilder 06.10.13 at 8:54 pm

Bob W How would you deal with the following situation: There is a known Al Qaeda bomb making operation . . . I for one would prefer putting my righteous indignation aside and exploring — I know there are roadblocks in the way — what could be done to assure a lack of abuse than simply putting aside the potential consequences of ignoring who is contacting the bomb makers.

Telling imagined tales, where you know the answer, is a trick of the hack philosopher.

When you already know that there’s a bomb or bomb-making, there’s really no problem. You have, as the lawyers would say, reasonable suspicion, and you act on it, and all that is fine, morally and legally.

The problems, here, are all about not knowing, or, better, not verifying, systematically. There is, if you like, a deep problem of knowledge: what it means to know something and act on it, in a social, institutionalized organization. In a social context, you “know” something as a result of following some process, by which you verify it, according to some method, then label or name that information, and communicate it, using the name (aka language), to someone, who understands that label or name, by reference to their understanding of the of process of verification.

You don’t just “know” something, you find out. Information is emergent from a fog, and to be communicated, it has to be “objectified” into the terms of our common language, with its narrative conventions. So, it has to be “measured” in some sense, measurement being a method (“I saw Johnnie kiss Jane at the party.” implies a method — eye-witness, just as much as some formal scientific lab technique.), and then, framed into a dramatic narrative: e.g., who is to blame? who is intending to do harm? who is “suspicious” (a quality distinct and possibly independent from the fact of being suspected)?

In the real world, where you don’t know, but you are afraid, and lazy, you put costs on other people, and you make mistakes, and you make other people pay for those mistakes. So, at Guantanamo, we have several hundred of the “worst of the worst”, and and lo and behold, more than 90% turn out to be nothing of the sort, but they still languish in prison for years and years, with no power over their situation, except to attempt suicide. In the hack philosopher’s tale, it’s 24 Hours and we magically know that a bad guy has the vital info, and we torture him, and that’s OK, except, maybe for the intentional infliction of pain part, though, as a known bad guy, no doubt he deserved it. In the real world, if we torture, we will torture innocents, and rather a lot of them, searching for a needle in a haystack. We will torture the whistleblower, who told our secret.

And, that’s the other thing: “secrets” (and other claims to intellectual property in information) are all about the power to manipulate the construction of the narrative (sometimes known as Public Relations or propaganda) without fear of contradiction. The key is interrupting, or hiding, the verification step, where method creates label. If that’s sufficiently shrouded, you can believe what you want, and make others believe it, as well. Fitting the narrative to the facts becomes so much easier, because the facts are a “secret” which need never be acknowledged in social interactions (such as a political debate, but also, in the ordinary mechanics of command and control in a bureaucratic organization, or a legal dispute in a courtroom): secrets and lies are just two names for the same truth.

I think there are two important issues in this “scandal”, and neither one of them involve anyone’s righteousness about “privacy” as a right protected by taboo, whether it is the righteousness of someone struggling to think of a reason, why their phone bill should be safe from the scrutiny of the government (but no one else, since it is, in effect, “public” by reason of being technically so readily accessed — and make no mistake, the NSA might need massive resources to handle everyone’s phone records, but accessing anyone’s record is not exactly rocket science), or righteousness about wanting the government to do everything it needs to do, to keep us safe, unimpeded by silly technicalities. (One moment the problem is that they are torturing people in prison; the next, it is some mysterious and foolishly picayune technicality standing in the way of justifying a search warrant for someone, who is obviously guilty of something. “We know, but we can’t say, so I guess we’ll lie in a good cause.” kind of a thing.)

“Secrets” which are knowable by up to 2 million authorized people are not “secrets” in the ordinary, common sense. This is a program for disciplining the disclosure of inconvenient truth, and part of the apparatus of propaganda.

There are two reasonable targets for reform. One is the apparatus of propaganda and public relations. That’s a very big job, with many subsidiary tasks. But, taking away the “secrets” doctrine, by which those in power seek to monopolize the construction of narrative, could be one of those tasks.

The others is the architecture of data. The electronic communications and computation “revolution” came about with an open architecture, composed of pieces, which, as some wag insightfully put it, consisted, at each step, the simplest thing, which would still work. We are living through an episode of the Empire Strikes Back, a turning of the cycle, which began with rebels in garages with microcomputers and geeks with spreadsheets, taking power away from The Man in the IBM white shirt and tie. Networks have formed, and centralization is emerging again with great power, as knowledge (and secrets) are power. It is not enough to handicap the government; the government is the least of our problems, and, potentially, our only hope, against the neo-feudal power, lurking in the shadows. Beware Booz-Allen-Hamilton.

Ultimately, it is the phone company, which has chosen to handle your phone bill and the associated data in the way that it does, treating your data as their corporate property, and being careless (and commercial, you can bet on that!) about it, to add insult to injury. We need to think about changing the architecture of identity.

14

Anarcissie 06.10.13 at 8:55 pm

‘… At this point, there’s a strong case for an international bureaucracy – harder for any one state to control. …’

And at yet another remove from the people whose Internet it controls.

On the other hand, the inevitable bureaucracy, secrecy, obfuscation, gaming, corruption, and internal authoritarianism should make it easier to crack, evade, and subvert.

15

bexley 06.10.13 at 10:49 pm

Given that, just a couple of weeks ago, someone was bringing up the idea of autonomous, self-directed attack drones, one would imagine this is, in fact, the whole point.

I for one welcome our new Skynet overlords and I’d like to remind them as a trusted blog commenter I can be helpful in rounding up John Connor and Glenn Greenwald.

16

Sandwichman 06.11.13 at 6:07 am

“I for one welcome our new Skynet overlords…”

Oh, me too! Goes without saying…

17

Zamfir 06.11.13 at 6:21 am

Crookedtimber was not yet on the PRISM corporate supporters list, I thought?

So I’ll say it perhaps for the last time from safety: I do not welcome our new robot overlords.

That felt good. On Facebook, I will have to lie.

18

Alex 06.11.13 at 9:25 am

Everyone’s thinking of “wiretapping” when they should be thinking of “archives”.

19

Ginger Yellow 06.11.13 at 11:25 pm

And at yet another remove from the people whose Internet it controls.

Exactly how close to the people, especially non-American people, are ICANN?

20

Tony Lynch 06.12.13 at 6:52 am

I suppose one could say that hypocrisy is the tribute of vice to virtue.

21

Pete 06.12.13 at 5:44 pm

ICANN are the House of Lords of the internet: no legitimacy other than history, but not actually all that bad in practice. And knowing that any overreach on their part would see them quickly removed.

22

jonnybutter2 06.12.13 at 10:10 pm

But freedom simply *is* slavery – although I would prefer words other than either ‘freedom’ or ‘slavery’.

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