Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Uncertain Health in an Insecure World – 44


The whole world’s watching… The whole world’s watching,” was the chant from the protesters at the 1968 Democratic Convention. As the Chicago police cracked heads and enforced The Law on the streets, the muzzling of a free society and free speech was the abiding concern. Today, the unmuzzling of society and speech is the emerging problem.

Today, there are no secrets.

As was noted in post #21, an expectation of privacy is not a guarantee of same.

As the National Security Agency (N.S.A.) monitors U.S. citizens’ domestic phone calls for national security reasons, the promise of the greater good is that we’ll all be better off for that loss of our personal privacy. While the U.S. Senate debated arcane liberty-security trade-offs, The Patriot Act remained in effect under U.S. Congressional oversight, as it has since December 4, 1981 (a day that will live in infamy for civil libertarians).  Executive Order 12-333, which “exercises the necessary supervisory control to ensure compliance with the regulations”, is the epitome of Reagan era “We’re from the government and we’re here to help” intrusions (see post #6). In November 2014, The USA Freedom Act extended the “lone wolf” and “roving wiretap” provisions of The Patriot Act. Last week, the U.S. Senate rolled back these N.S.A.’s surveillance powers for the first time since 9/11.

Writing this month in Foreign Affairs on ‘The Violence of Algorithms’, Taylor Owens describes the intelligence analytics firm Palantir (http://www.palantirtech.com/) – their software is widely used for dense data visualization by the N.S.A., F.B.I., C.I.A. and other police forces (like New York).

Silicon Valley CEO PeterThiel, who previously launched PayPal, made billions on this security platform. Palantir’s company mantra is “radical transparency”, an ideal that “every employee should have the right to know everything that goes on in the company”, unless of course it’s a secret! The company’s goal is to “make a product that spans every step of analysis… from data integration all the way to end-user visualization and presentation.” For those of you who, like me, have found themselves trying to get out of The City using Waze, it’s obvious that this widely used traffic avoidance app (purchased by Google in 2013) is the non-combatant version of Palantir.

Recently, the so-called Dark Net (or Deep Web) internet has been uncloaked from the shadows. Its origins are traced to The Onion Router (Tor) encryption software developed at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory released in 2002. Tor trafficking conceals user location & identity, permitting internet communication anonymity.   Tor usage exploded in 2013 when the N.S.A.’s domestic surveillance program was revealed.

An emerging Dark Net figure is Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht, who was sentenced to life in prison in March 2015 for drug dealing and conspiracy charges tied to his online marketplace. He collected $18 million in bitcoin credits – the untraceable crypto-currency of the Dark Net. In 2014, the CEO of the BitInstant bitcoin exchange, Charlie Shrem, was charged with illegal money laundering for online drug purchasing by Silk Road users. Dark Net devotees put forth a libertarian philosophy in defense of this activity, saying it supports individual freedom & protects privacy. But libertarian fears about state encroachment into personal affairs & freedom of expression do not excuse how this technology has morphed from good intents to evil actions. Over 50,000 Tor browser websites are notoriously used for child pornography, drug dealing and on-line bullying called “trolling”.

Not all Deep Web use has such dark connotations. Besieged human rights activists, journalists and citizens in high risk countries around the globe have stayed connected using the Tor network. Chinese dissidents, Arab Spring-ers, Iranians, Syrians and victims of domestic abuse all have been able to anonymously seek online support.

The Dark Net author Jamie Bartlett even suggested that Anonymous wage an on-line war against ISIS recruiters on the Dark Net!

All of these technology pushes and pullbacks reflect a highly dynamic system that is machine learning in response to a wide array of social media trends and societal ques.

Like you, we in the Square have long operated under what, in retrospect, is a false sense of security.

Can't you feel the Watchers cracking us on the head?

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