Sunday, August 31, 2014

Privacy vs Omniveillance

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.

It has long been pointed out that information is not like other commodities.  It can duplicate itself at virtually zero cost, and those copies can escape even without you noticing it's happened.  That is Fact Number One. Everything eventually leaks.


Fact number two is one I've tried to point out for decades.  That this is fundamentally a clash of values and civilizations.  The Western Enlightenment (WE) has always been the rebel and underdog, versus the 99% standard human (and zero-sum) pattern of top down control by hierarchs. (There was never much functional difference between leftist-communist oligarchies and right-wing wealth-inheritance oligarchies; both hewed to the endlessly-repeated feudal model.)  In contrast, the positive-sum WE has many disadvantages and instabilities, though it is also vastly more creative, successful and productive.  The one trait that tips the balance, though, is Fact Number Two: 


All enemies of the WE are lethally allergic to light. Go ahead and name one. If it is not allergic to light, then it probably is not an "enemy" at all, but a peaceful rival that can easily be incorporated into the diversity-friendly WE. (Indeed, the "western" part is already fading away.)

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?


Let's suppose we do decide to support an ongoing secular trend toward a world of accountability and light. Yes, this end-goal will stymie almost all bad guys. But does that mean we must bare ourselves overnight?  Or completely? Especially, must we do it before the other guy does?


Suppose we choose a path of moderate-pragmatic, incremental, gradually-increasing transparency... what are our options?


== Fretful oversimplification ==


privacy-commodityLet's start with an extensive article on : The Death of Privacy in the Guradian, by Alex Preston, on the psychological, social and cultural repercussions of loss of privately secret space:

"While outposts of civilization fight pyrrhic battles, unplugging themselves from the web – "going dark" – the rest of us have come to accept that the majority of our social, financial and even sexual interactions take place over the internet and that someone, somewhere, whether state, press or corporation, is watching."

Preston continues: "Perhaps the reason people don't seem to mind that so much of their information is leaking from the private to the public sphere is not, as some would have it, that we are blind and docile, unable to see the complex web of commercial interests that surround us. Maybe it's that we understand very clearly the transaction. The internet is free and we wish to keep it that way, so corporations have worked out how to make money out of something we are willing to give them in return – our privacy. We have traded our privacy for the wealth of information the web delivers to us, the convenience of online shopping, the global village of social media."

Death-privacyAll of this is true... and misleading and shrill.  Because it buys into zero-sum thinking, which is the fundamental enemy of everything the WE stands for.  The dismal (but deeply human) notion that every gain must have a paired loss.  That a "trade-off" between security and freedom, or between privacy and all that cool-stuff available online, cannot be evaded, and therefor we must choose the painful righteousness of the writer's simplistic prescription.

Let me reiterate. The Enlightenment's fecundity at problem solving came from refusing dichotomies... like the insane "left-right axis" that has lobotomized politics everywhere.Only people who decide that we can have our cake and eat it and share it with the poor and see the cake thereupon grow... only such people will come up with enough innovative approaches to get any cake at all.

Only they will save the world.


==Giving up Privacy==
In one of life’s ironies, I am “Mister Transparency…” yet I believe some privacy can and should be preserved. A whole chapter of The Transparent Society is about how the only way we can preserve a little secluded intimacy or confidential sharing may be if we live in a society where most of the people know most of what’s going on, most of the time. Only such openness will stand a chance of deterring snoops and busybodies and peeping toms.

But some folks are far more transparency-radical! They “get” that all of our enlightenment innovations — like science, democracy, markets, justice, art and personal freedom thrive best in light… so they demand that it ALL be laid bare! As a moderate pragmatist (though perhaps a militant one) I find such zero-sum passion unnerving. But such people merit our attention.

In one extreme example...

photo-mainNoah Dyer, a professor at Tempe’s University of Advancing Technology, wants to “live without privacy for a full year” by paying a camera crew to film him at all times. “The way I see it is that we’re going to lose our privacy, but that’s going to be awesome. The society that most quickly embraces not having any privacy is going to have the biggest evolutionary advantage. All of their citizens are going to be able to act in their own best interest based on totally accurate information.”  ( Why We Care About Privacy.)

Dyer is getting a lot of press for a hackneyed and simplistically predictable stunt that we've actually seen before… posting online absolutely everything about his life, from his email passwords to bathroom breaks and sex.  

Pardon me for yawning, but if you expect “Mr. Transparency” to get excited about this, either way, sorry about that. Likewise the frantic, “danger, Will Robinson!” hysterics of this reporter who writes about Dyer, in the Atlantic.  Please.

== More zero-sum contempt == 

TheCircleMuch attention has also been given to Dave Eggers's book -- The Circle -- portraying a future in which Dyer's view is dominant and the plot-propelling oppressive nosiness comes not from a single Big Brother state but from millions of insatiably nosy little brothers, nagging and judging and chivvying those who seem reluctant to "share everything." Most people don't realize that this failure mode... and not an orwellian state ... is the scenario taking place in Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451."  In the Eggers book, his heroes desperately seek a little privacy or space to be themselves, to be unique and autonomous human beings.

Of course, this zero-sum, either-or kind of thinking is poisonous. It is just as oversimplifying as any would-be tyrannical system, clothing itself in sanctimony, by portraying an "opposite" that can be nothing but vile.  A strawman that Eggers sets up in order to be knocked down.

In fact, We do not have to choose between triplet fangs: Big Brother surveillance or stripped-naked little-brother coveillance, or (heaven forbid) the MYOB (mind your own business) rage of privacy "defenders" who just play into Big Brother's hands, by denouncing cartoon versions of transparency.

In fact, the society of nosy jerks portrayed in The Circle will not happen, because your neighbors would hate it just as much as you hate the thought of it!  Eggers's portrayal of his fellow humans and citizens is depressing not because it might come true, but because Eggers and the critics who praise him actually seem to believe (in their sanctimony) that their neighbors would put up with such a world... instead of using transparency and openness to catch the voyeurs and say "hey man!  Back off."

Well, well.  Perhaps they are members of a different species than you and me.

== More shallow privacy articles ==


Is there anyone out there even slightly interested in probing this important matter with nuance and a positive-sum frame of mind?  Maybe suggesting ways we that can win-win?


Jacob Morgan’s rather shallow article in Forbes suggests that “Privacy Is Completely And Utterly Dead, And We Killed It”  -- without contemplating at all whether there are types of privacy, and whether some kinds might be protected, even enhanced, in a mostly transparent world, wherein we are empowered to watch the watchers and to catch the peeping toms.


As I mentioned, in the Guardian, Alex Preston falls into the same zero-sum thinking: “Google knows what you're looking for. Facebook knows what you like. Sharing is the norm, and secrecy is out. But what is the psychological and cultural fallout from the end of privacy?”


At least a little better than those dismal jeremiads... read the article: Why We Care About Privacy. And yes, my positive-sum temperament makes me believe we can gain the advantages of a transparent society without going this far, still, it is a refreshing contrast against the usual zero sum reaction to the info-age… railing laments and demands for levels of privacy that only ever existed in our minds, plus shrilly silly-unrealistic demands that the mighty “stop looking at me!”

As if such wailings ever stood the slightest chance of working. We will never blind the eyes above us.  But we still have a chance to strip them naked.  And look back.

== Can we see what’s watching us? ==

mann-computer-visionTo illustrate how pervasive omni-veillance is becoming.... Computer vision is embedded in toilets, urinals, hand- wash faucets, as well as those domes in the ceilings that monitor you in buildings like banks and casinos (and soon everywhere.) Now, sousveillance maven and Toronto professor Steve Mann has a fascinating paper describing methods to easily reveal the scanning field of such visual sensing systems: The Sightfield: Visualizing Computer Vision, and seeing its capacity to "see:"

“Moving a wand through space, while tracking its exact 3D position, makes visible the otherwise invisible “rays of sight” that emanate from cameras. This capacity to sense, measure, and visualize vision, is useful in liability, insurance, safety, and risk assessment, as well as privacy/priveillance assessment, criminology, urban planning, design, and (sur/sous)veil lance studies.

Mann concludes, "The device may be used cooperatively, e.g. by a user or owner of a surveillance system to visualize the efficiency of their own cameras, or uncooperatively, as a video "bug sweeper" which uses video feedback to detect a hidden surveillance or sousveillance."

There is hope.  If we insist on a general ability to see, that will include the ability to spot voyeurs.  If we start designing systems right, then we will be able to do what assertively brave humans have always been able to do, when some busybody stares.  Tell them: "Hey bub.... back off."


POSTSCRIPT: Following up from last time.

America’s police departments need greater accountability—and it must come from outside the forces.

Yes... though with less sanctimony. Do this progressively, pragmatically, irresistibly, with some sympathy for the 85% of cops who are sincerely trying to do a really, really hard job.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Citizen Power - Part II: Those Cop-Cameras...

Continuing our series on co-veillance, sousveillance and general citizen empowerment, on our streets... last time we discussed our right and ability to use new instrumentalities to expand our ability to view, record and hold others accountable, with the cameras in our pockets.

Now -- the other side of this accountability equation. 

Some ideas seem far-out "scifi"... until suddenly they become mainstream.  In the wake of the recent Ferguson, Missouri riots, a petition asking for a "Mike Brown Law" that would require all state, county, and local police to wear cameras. has achieved almost 150,000 signatures. Last August, a federal judge called for the NYPD to wear such cameras when she ruled that the department's stop-and-frisk policy violated people's constitutional rights. But as A.J. Vicens discusses in Mother Jones: "Putting Body Cameras on Cops Is Hardly a Cure-All for Abuses."

Meanwhile, Taser International (TASR), which makes the most widely used police body cameras, increased its bookings for its video unit almost twofold last quarter, signing deals with the police departments of Winston-Salem, N.C., Spartanburg County, S.C., and San Diego. The company provides both hardware and data services related to the cameras and now works with 20 major cities in one capacity or another.

body-mounted-camera-policeGroups 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.

“While no technical solution would eliminate misconduct completely, cameras do seem as if they could help reduce the legal bill. A study published last April showed that complaints against police dropped 88 percent in Rialto, Calif., after that city began randomly assigning officers to wear body cameras. At the same time, use-of-force incidents dropped 59 percent," writes Joshua Brustein: In Ferguson's Aftermath, Will Police Adopt Body Cameras?

armed-with-cameras
See how this was forecast -- pretty much all of it -- in The Transparent Society.  And what did I predict will happen, when both cops and the citizens they stop are armed with cameras, all the time?

Better safety, better law, less injustice... but it will also be the dawn of a Golden Age of Sarcasm.

== But you can tell it's all arrived when the punditry class finally notices... ==


The topic is attracting attention from journalists and essayists, some thoughtful and some paranoid.   For example, Martin Kaste, on NPR, appraised how police cams can be problematic if department policies are confusing, or if it is left up to the officer when to record. Also: there's the matter of the 30-second buffer. When an officer presses record, the camera saves the 30 seconds of images that led up to that moment, but not the audio. The manufacturer designed the buffer to protect the privacy of police officers — and to appeal to resistant police unions — but it also means the cameras may miss crucial noises or words that trigger an incident.”


See my earlier posting: You Have the Right to Record Police, where I discuss the legal basis for a citizen's right to record police interactions in a public setting.

Reihan Salam, writing in Slate, touted the many benefits of police body cameras, and pointed out: "Our capacity to remember past events is notoriously faulty. There is a universal human tendency to fixate on some things while neglecting others. Video recordings can help correct for these deficiencies."

But Sarah Libby, writing for the Atlantic’s CityLab, complains that even if the officer who shot Brown was wearing a body camera, the footage wouldn't necessarily clear up any of the questions the public—or even the victims and their families—have about how things unfolded, at least not right away. And maybe not ever.  In her article --  Even When Police Do Wear Cameras, Don't Count on Seeing the Footage” – she discusses procedural obstacles to public access:

“Here in San Diego, our scandal-plagued police department has begun outfitting some officers with body cameras, and the City Council has approved a plan to roll out hundreds more…. That's because the department claims the footage, which is captured by devices financed by city taxpayers and worn by officers on the public payroll, aren't public records. Our newsroom's request for footage from the shootings under the California Public Records Act was denied. Once footage becomes part of an investigation, the department says it doesn't have to release them."

She quotes Joshua Chanin, a San Diego State professor who has studied transparency measures in police departments across the country. "There are enough instances of cameras 'not working,' footage having gone missing, cops 'forgetting' to turn them on, etc., that rules in place to punish officers who tamper with cameras, erase video are perhaps the most important part of the equation."

But Sarah Libby suggests“The footage their officers record will never show up on YouTube and go viral. Nor will it help fill in the gaps when a major crime leaves lots of unanswered questions. Crime victims or their families may never get to see and hear what the devices recorded."

All told, alas, Libby's is a fairly shallow assessment. We need accountability, which will come (after some kinks are ironed out) when supervisors and Internal Affairs divisions and defense attorneys get reliable access to cop-cam records, even if the raw footage -- for some legitimate reasons -- falls short of being press-accessible "public records."  

We do not require youtubing of everything, in order to gain the accountability benefits. 

Indeed, once those benefits are secured, it will be time to swivel and show a little sympathy  for public servants on our streets who have one of the most difficult jobs imaginable!  Under a constant spotlight, they will eliminate the crude thugs and bullies in their ranks and keep ratcheting up professionalism! But in return, how about a little pity? You do not need every little expectoration, crotch-scratching, muttered curse or private opinion blared on YouTube. When a hardworking officer pees into a water bottle in his patrol car, because there's been no time for a bathroom break, are you gonna demand we all look?  Come on. Go ahead and assign some ACLU types to scan the raw footage, okay? Only then... 

...when they are generally being good... can we back off from utter voyeurism?  Moderation, in all things.

Nevertheless, and returning to today's friable, fragile present.  We do need to insist that souseillance-co-veillance and accountability march ever forward!  We need our eyes!  And the cops -- heck all elites and all authorities... including ourselves -- must be supervised, whenever we assert power over others.

Indeed, some of this accountability must come from outside the police force. Yes... though with less sanctimony. Do this progressively, pragmatically, irresistibly, with some sympathy for the 85% of cops who are sincerely trying to do a really, really hard job.

Moreover, I do agree with Libby's final assessment, regarding those cop-cameras:

 “If you want to make sure the world will be able to see footage of a cop or a criminal caught in the act, you're better off taking the video yourself.”

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Citizen Power - Part I: using our cell cameras for safety and freedom

If you push long and hard enough for something that is logical and needed, a time may come when it finally happens! At which point – pretty often – you may have no idea whether your efforts made a difference. Perhaps other, influential people saw the same facts and drew similar, logical conclusions! Here is my own latest example:

“Qualcomm and other wireless companies have been working on a new cellular standard—a set of technical procedures that ensures devices can “talk” to one another—that will keep the lines open if the network fails. The Proximity Services, or so-called LTE Direct, standard will be approved by the end of the year.”

This technology, which would allow our pocket radios to pass along at-minimum basic text messages, on a peer-to-peer basis (P2P), even when the cell system is down, would seem to be the obvious backup mode that we all might rely upon, in emergencies. Indeed, failure of cell service badly exacerbated the tragedies of Hurricane Katrina and Tsunami Fukushima. I have been hectoring folks about this since 1995, when I started writing The Transparent Society, and in annual speeches/consultations with various agencies and companies, back east, ever since.

ua93-terror Indeed, it was access to communications that enabled New Yorkers to show the incredible citizen resilience that Rebecca Solnit portrays so well in her book A Paradise Made in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster. Communications enabled the brave passengers of flight UA 93 to “win” the War on Terror, the very day that it began.

A few years after brainstorming with some engineers at Qualcomm, I learned that company was charging ahead with LTE direct, installing it in their chip sets, whether or not AT&T and Verizon decided to activate it. In emergencies, phones that use it will be able to connect directly with one another over the same frequency as 4G LTE transmissions. Users will be able to call other users or first responders within about 500 meters. If the target is not nearby, the system can relay a message through multiple phones until it reaches its destination.

When it is fully operational, the benefits will become apparent. A more robust, resilient and agile civilization will be more ready for anything that might come.

== Phones and Protest ==

Last year, largely unheralded by media, saw the most important civil liberties decision in thirty years, when the courts and the Obama Administration separately declared it to be “settled law” that citizens have a right to record their interactions with police, in public places. There will be tussles over the details for years, as discussed here. And here.

EFF-CELL-PHONE-GUIDE-PROTESTThose tussles could be hazardous! The Electronic Frontier Foundation has published a guide to using cell phones if you are going to a protest or other zone of potentially tense interaction with police.

Good, practical advice. I have long urge folks to join EFF as one of their dozen or so "proxy power associations." I do not always agree with them! But that doesn't matter as much as ensuring that they -- and the ACLU, etc -- remain out there and untrammeled.

For more on your right and duty to join orgs that give your voice see: Proxy Power...

== What worries me most? ==

There are moves afoot to require that cell phone manufacturers include "kill switches" so that phones can be remotely turned off. Ostensibly, this aims to enable you to render your stolen phone useless to any thieves, thus securing your private data and eliminating much of the incentive to steal phones, in the first place.  

Behind the scenes, however, are Security Concerns, e.g. that cell phones make excellent remote triggers for terror bombs.  Or that terrorists can use phones to coordinate an attack in real time. In both cases - and some other hypotheticals I am not at liberty to divulge - the State will be better able to serve and protect us, if it can shut down  service in an area....

...and if that does not give you a creepy feeling, there is something wrong with you.  As legitimate as that necessity might seem, it is countered by our own need and right to stay connected, during a crisis, and to use our tools to perform citizen-level accountability!

In fact, it is easy to imagine a negotiated solution... a win-win that could help the Protector Caste without leaving us citizens reduced to impotence, to the level of bleating sheep, bereft of tools exactly when we need them most. I have long pointed out that access to communications was the trait them empowered New Yorkers and the brave volunteers on flight UA93, in contrast to the disastrous consequences of communications breakdown, after Katrina and Fukushima.

 Certainly the cell-phone's camera functions... and the ability to upload images to safety at trusted cloud sites... should be safeguarded from any and all kill switches. (Indeed, these are things you don't mind a thief doing, with your stolen phone!  You might get it back!)

Or else (and I recommend this highly) you should go all retro.  Buy and maintain several cheap, old fashioned digital cameras.  Keep them around.  Just in case.

Forever.


Continue to Part II: Those Cop Cameras

Friday, August 22, 2014

Next Technologies!

To conclude my recent spate of science and technology roundups, I'll do one a final sweep of S&T news...
INFRASTRUCTURE
Let's start with a fascinating rumination on future Infrastructure… major projects -- such as Tube Transportation networks and atmospheric water harvesters -- that might consume (and be well-worth) hundreds of billions of dollars of investment, and returning far, far more in benefits. Take a look at this article 2050 and the Future of Infrastructure by futurist Thomas Frey...though he left out half a dozen that I mention in EARTH, alone!  

An article - The Trouble with High-Speed Trains - covers the challenges facing high-velocity maglevs -- as well as Elon Musk's Hyperloop.

NEXT-TECH.JPLooking ahead: Five “next” technologies. For example: DARPA researchers have fabricated a prototype with three gyroscopes, three accelerometers and a highly accurate master clock on a chip that fits easily on the face of a penny.

Now, a new catalytic system for converting carbon dioxide (CO2) to methanol — a key commodity used to create a wide range of industrial chemicals and fuels. You still need a source of hydrogen, so energy must be put in, upstream, by splitting water… another area of developing research. Along those same lines, researchers at Brown University use copper foam to turn CO2 into useful chemicals -- including chemicals currently made from fossil fuels.

A new transparent sheet can harvest solar energy -- mounted on windows -- without blocking the view.

Researchers at NASA‘s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), California Institute of Technology, and Pennsylvania State University have developed a 3D printing process that transitions from one metal or alloy to another in a single object.

Now here is a cool innovation… literally! A doorless refrigerator that saves energy and reduces food spoilage.


== Ah… more singularity stuff ==

An excellent background article on Programmable Matter, this piece nevertheless commits the typical flaw of ignoring the role that excellent hard science fiction has played in enhancing, exploring and drawing attention to a potentially groundbreaking field.

Hacking-matterIn this case, I highly recommend the works of my colleague Wil McCarthy, such as Hacking Matter: Levitating Chairs, Quantum Mirages and the Infinite Weightlessness of Programmable Atoms.

Google Glass hack allows brain wave control. An EEG headset can be used to measure when certain parts of the brain show a greater level of activity. Within Google Glass's "screen" - a small window that appears in the corner of the wearer's right eye - a white horizontal line is shown. As a user concentrates, the white line rises up the screen. Once it reaches the top, a picture is taken using Glass's inbuilt camera. So much for the claim that people will always be warned by: "OK Glass, take a picture" - or by seeing the user tapping and swiping on the side of the device. But seriously, you expected that to last? This is the future.

Can we create Dyson spheres?


A tech forecast of mine from 20 years ago is coming true today at MIT… a needle table that responds to the user’s motions and emulates him/her in moving objects around.  We aren’t yet at the exercise floor I portrayed in my short story, “NatuLife.” But clearly it is coming.

Smart roofs to help NYC Cops fight crime, via ShotSpotter sensors. Now keep the cops professional by watching them.

Microsoft Research introduced “Project Adam” AI machine-learning object recognition software at its 2014 Microsoft Research Faculty Summit. The goal of Project Adam is to enable software to visually recognize any object .

A California startup is developing flexible, rechargeable batteries that can be printed cheaply on commonly used industrial screen printers.

== Programming and SciFi ==

Regarding a longstanding complaint over a lack of reliable-easy access to entry-level (and universal) programming languages… from my famous “Why Can't Johnny Code?” essay… the makers of Scratch have now come up with Scratch Jr, aiming it squarely at kids in the 5-7 year old range. Interesting.

Sci-Fi-novels-science.jpgAnd finally… here are Ten Sci Fi Novels that will make you more passionate about science! Glad to be included -- with my novel, The Practice Effect.

Pessimists are fools.