“The Jurassic Park Rule of Internet Security”

 

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Clever girl.

 

Over at Just Security, our good friend Brett Max Kaufman breaks down why the idea that “government and judges, not technology, should decide when the government can get to your private information” is absurd even if you grant the best intentions to security services.

For example, despite reportedly rigorous testing before deployment, the Stuxnet worm used by the United States and Israel to attack an Iranian nuclear facility unexpectedly spread to non-target computers. And when the government sits on a zero-day exploit to be able to exploit it later, there is always the chance that an adversary is doing the same thing. These risks are, for the most part, inherently unknowable beforehand.

I don’t want to spoil what the Jurassic Park Rule is, but you should read the piece. It’s a perfect look of how, as he says, “when it comes to encryption, doors are doors”, and when you or James Comey or anyone else create one, anybody can come in.

Julian Assange Casts His Vote

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His vote will ultimately be worth more than yours.

When you’re thinking free and open society, you’re thinking Donald Trump, right?

Six weeks before the anti-secrecy organization WikiLeaks published an archive of hacked Democratic National Committee emails ahead of the Democratic convention, the organization’s founder, Julian Assange, foreshadowed the release — and made it clear that he hoped to harm Hillary Clinton’s chances of winning the presidency.

(The Times immortally invaluable Charlie Savage put this all together)

So, one could have initially, if one ignored the Russian angle cast this as an attempt to throw a corrupt and evil “democracy”, the world’s great evil and enemy of freedom, into a state of real higgedly-piggedly. But that’s clearly not the case.

Mr. Assange replied that what Mr. Trump would do as president was “completely unpredictable.” By contrast, he thought it was predictable that Mrs. Clinton would wield power in two ways he found problematic.

First, citing his “personal perspective,” Mr. Assange accused Mrs. Clinton of having been among those pushing to indict him after WikiLeaks disseminated a quarter of a million diplomatic cables during her tenure as secretary of state.

“We do see her as a bit of a problem for freedom of the press more generally,” Mr. Assange said.

I’m going to ignore the middle part, where he is mad at Mrs. Clinton for moving to indict him after, you know, breaking the law. I get why he sees her as an enemy, but did that really come as a surprise? Regardless of what you think of the justice or efficacy of the Wikileaks diplomatic dump (and I think they are a different type than Snowden’s heroism), it stands to reason that the US government would be miffed. I get why Assange sees her as an enemy, but really, shouldn’t take it so personally.

It’s the first and third bits that are either idiotically naive or completely sinister, depending on where you stand on Assange. Seeing Clinton as “a bit of a problem for freedom of the press” is fair: the Obama Administration has a terrible track record on press freedom, and Hillary has never been known for her openness, exactly. I think being peeved at the cable dumping, in which legitimate diplomatic communication was exposed and lives were put in danger, doesn’t in and of itself mark her as an enemy. But I get it.

However, the contrast is, and was known at the time Assange made these statements (about six weeks ago) Donald Trump. Donald Trump. Donald Trump. He’s made it…very clear where he stance on the media, the role of antagonistic journalism, and the role of the press in a free society, which is: fuck the press. If they aren’t subservient to him, they are useless. He’s shown it in his willingness to excommunicate anyone who is “unfair” (by which we mean fair) to him.  He’s shown it on his ravaging Twitter feed, where he demonstrates that trying to keep the media in line is a bigger goal than talking about policy or anything else. This tweet— “I was at and met Juan Williams in passing. He asked if he could have pictures taken with me. I said fine. He then trashes on air!”– is a perfect example of his childish authoritarianism.

Not all his authoritarianism is childish and petulant (though really, aren’t those the emotions at the heart of tyranny?). He has made it very clear that he intends to, or at least wants to, “open up libel laws” so that he can sue unfriendly press out of existence. He’s been trying to do that for decades. One could argue the pursuit of this power is one of the driving goals of his Presidency. So even he won’t be able to open up libel laws, as that wouldn’t come close to holding up in court, he’s clearly a man who wants to quash press freedom, either de facto or de jure, in order to burnish his own heroic image. Not exactly an ally of an open society.

So when Assange says Trump is “completely unpredictable”, he’s lying, or else he’s not paying any attention, which doesn’t strike me as plausible. Trump has made it very clear he’s a huge fan of waterboarding, and of even more torture. He’s been clear about that his entire run. That Assange chooses to ignore that, and, worse, accommodate it, raises a few questions about motivations.

The charitable interpretation here is that Trump is an agent of chaos, will rattle America, will end the neoliberal agreement that is underpinning much of the world’s immorality. He’s ignorant about who Trump actually is, and underestimates the racism and nativism that undergirds the campaign, focusing on globalization and isolationism.

That’s actually dovetailed with the uncharitable interpretation, which is that Assange sees the US/EU as the real enemies, and any of their enemies– including the ruthless and literal-press-murdering Putin regime– as his friends. That’s pretty sinister, but when someone sets himself against one party, in this case the war-mongering, trade-hawking, and press-stifling US (and all these are legitimate charges!), he tends to cling to any port in the storm.

You are free to question if he is pro-freedom, merely anti-West and pro-Russia, pro-authoritarianism if it’s the right person, or anywhere in between. I don’t think there is a cut-and-dry answer, though I lean toward him being a bit of an authoritarian creep with libertarian clothes. All I know for sure is that with friends like these, freedom doesn’t need the many enemies it already has.

Our sliding expectations

So, in a private forum, some friends of mine and I were having a discussion about Snowden, Greenwald, and privacy.  The discussion turned to whether or not court-driven limitations on the spying programs made things fine, and a very smart friend of mine, the redoubtable Itzik Basman, replied thusly.

…”fine”can’t be as narrow, I’d argue, as what’s admissible in court. That’s epiphenomenal in relation to the whole issue of privacy, the idea of which is, in significant part, space between citizen and state and lies as as a big unstated idea grounding the U.S, Constitution.

I think that is a very interesting point, and one crucial to the discussion today, especially in light of polls that show large majorities of Americans are ok with the government spying programs.   Itzik is arguing, at least as far as I can tell, that there is an expectation and a right of privacy that goes beyond what is strictly given, and indeed it is (part of) what makes us citizens rather than subjects.

But how much of it have we given up?   How many of us are on Facebook, Twitter, Pintrest, have blogs, etc?    There is a slight selection bias here, as most people reading this were steered here by Twitter or Facebook or something, so we’re all pretty connected. (“No one I talk to on Twitter isn’t on Twitter” is a sentimental update on the apocryphal  “I don’t know anyone who voted for Nixon”).   But I think there is a reasonable expectation that the majority of people share things with others in, at the very least, a semi-public forum.   Everyone has a cousin that “never uses any of that”, but let’s be honest: your cousin is an outlier, and frankly, he drinks too much.   Look, someone had to say it.

So my question is: does this willingness to give up privacy in on sphere weaken that bond, that divide between citizen and state?  In an interview with Jameel Jaffar and Brett Max Kaufman of the ACLU in today’s Atlantic,  Andrew Cohen states that he doesn’t “know which America Jaffer and Kaufman are referring to when they declare that ‘no one chooses to live in a surveillance state.’ I think the American people, sadly, have chosen in countless ways to live in such a state. And I think the fact that we have done so is likely to animate the legal and political debate as this important lawsuit proceeds toward its resolution.”

I personally think that is a little unfair.  There is a difference between falling in love with new technologies and methods of communications and actively choosing to give up rights that we previously took for granted.   But if Cohen is right, and American expectations of privacy have been willingly, if not actively, diminished, does that weaken the cloak of privacy that we expect from the government?   The one that Itzik has said is beyond what courts decide?

Now, there is no way to measure this.  It is all feeling.  You could say that there was never a time when everyone wanted privacy, that there were panopticon fetishists  (yes, I know: your cousin again).    And, most importantly, I don’t think anyone ever assumes that their phone conversations should be public.  OK, everyone on the train believe that their phone conversations are a matter of public interest, but that is different than assuming that the government is listening in.

I don’t know the answer.  I know what I think, but am curious to hear other voices.   Does the rise, and easy acceptance, of social media, over-sharing, cameras everywhere, both public and private, and all that goes along with this particularly narcissistic time constitute a collective choice that our privacy doesn’t matter as much?  If so,  does that change the expectation of a barrier between government and private citizens?   And, I think most importantly, would you feel the same if al-Qaeda never existed?