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Comment: Re:In other news... (Score 1) 254

by Anonymous Brave Guy (#48949839) Attached to: The NSA Is Viewed Favorably By Most Young People

And if someone is trying to find large numbers of people from a certain demographic they don't like in order to capture and do unpleasant things to those people, do you think having a detailed profile of everyone's entire life available at the touch of a button will make this (a) harder or (b) easier?

If the parallel isn't obvious enough for you, please consider a controversial subject like gay marriage and the power of the Christian Right in the US, or the attitudes towards Muslims exhibited by some people in Europe and the rise of far right political parties in the same places.

Comment: Re:Possible reason (Score 1) 254

by Anonymous Brave Guy (#48949819) Attached to: The NSA Is Viewed Favorably By Most Young People

No. Just as correlation does not imply causation but can certainly suggest a potential causal effect worth investigation, so a very clear difference but in only a small sample can suggest something worth investigating using a larger sample and proper controls. The kind of behaviour I describe has been widely reported anecdotally, so unless you've actually do have some more robust data that shows otherwise, it remains a plausible theory that the situation I described among the younger generation I know is also the case more widely.

In other words, I'm not claiming that my own experience is necessarily representative, but I am claiming that it might be until better data shows otherwise.

Comment: Re:Possible reason (Score 2) 254

by Anonymous Brave Guy (#48947717) Attached to: The NSA Is Viewed Favorably By Most Young People

Here's another one still: people who grew up sharing everything publicly on the Internet already take steps to conceal their true identity from anyone they don't want to share with.

Most of the generation before me use their real names on Facebook. I'm struggling to think of anyone of the generation after me who does.

In fact, I'm struggling to think of many who actually use ID-tied sites like Facebook at all, or at least not for extended periods. Multiple accounts, shifting rapidly from one platform to the next, disposable communications via the likes of Snapchat... These kinds of behaviours are almost universal for the younger generation.

Personally, I tend to think that's a very good thing. My major concern is that sometimes the technologies the kids use aren't nearly as private or as temporary as they have been led to believe: plenty of supposedly deleted Snapchat material mysteriously reappears later by one mechanism or another, popular communication tools like WhatsApp might actually be owned by data hoarders like Facebook, modern data mining techniques can still ID people with high reliability from surprisingly small parts of "anonymized" data sets, etc.

Comment: Re:But power corrupts (even if unintentionally) (Score 4, Interesting) 423

Interesting story. One of the things I find most reassuring about the police service* in the UK is that they have long maintained, great consistency and at almost any rank, that good community relations are the heart of good policing. Officers who go out on patrol** have consistently and overwhelmingly said they do not want to routinely carry firearms, because that goes against the basic principle of policing by consent, and instead they tend to assume that the solution to local problems often starts with trying to improve those relations if they are failing. Concerns are also raised often by the police themselves about the balance between having officers patrolling in vehicles for rapid response and having officers literally walking the beat and actually making contact with the public. I get the feeling that police officers in certain other parts of the world have a very, very different attitude to their relationship with the public.

*I remember well that when the local police schools liaison officer visited us, he made a point of saying he didn't like the term "police force" because it had the wrong connotations before you even started to look at what the police did.

**It's curious how often police officers and politicians in some places refer to officers "on the front line", this being about as overt a military metaphor as I can think of (short of being "on the front line in the war against $ABSTRACT_NOUN" I suppose).

Comment: Re:Security is a yes/no question (Score 1) 423

The key point from an ethical/legal point of view might be the warrant. The key safeguard from a practical point of view is that to plant those bugs someone has to actually visit the site and do something. This requires time, effort, and a risk of getting caught, which means it's potentially an option if you really do have a good reason to consider a specific individual to be a threat but it's prohibitively expensive to spy on everyone all of the time. As far as defending democracy is concerned, that is a much healthier balance than mass surveillance of the many by the few.

Comment: Re:When everyone is guilty... (Score 1) 423

All agreed, though I am increasingly of the view that systemic bias in favour of the accused is not sufficient. Merely being dragged through the legal system even if ultimately found not guilty is sure to be stressful, time-consuming, and possibly costly in more ways than one. People who have committed even quite serious crimes are sometimes released immediately after conviction on the basis that they've already served as much or more time than their sentence -- but of course, someone who was entirely innocent and not convicted in court also served that time. Right now you're unlikely to get much financial compensation for any of that, and even less any obligation for those who caused the damage to do anything else to set the record straight or otherwise make things right as much as possible.

The more I've thought about these kinds of issues as I get older, the more I think our modern "justice" systems are no longer fit for purpose, if indeed they ever were. In particular, they take an absurd amount of time and resources to deal with trivial infractions, sometimes at a cost to all involved that is far greater than any damage done by the alleged act itself. For major cases, the court proceedings can cost millions and drag on for years, and by the time they are finally over the result is no longer relevant anyway.

I think we would probably do much better if we built on the kinds of distinction we already make about severity: misdemeanour vs. felony in the US, magistrates vs. crown courts here in the UK, small claims courts with less formal procedures for minor civil disputes, and so on. For example, I don't see why any very minor offence can't be fully tried and a judgement made within a single court session and within a matter of days after the alleged infraction. Either there is clear evidence to convict, or you acquit. If you convict in a fast track procedure, you have strict limits on the level of penalty that can be imposed.

Then for repeated minor offences within some defined time period or for more serious crimes (probably anything including violence that allegedly caused significant injury and/or damage needing repairs exceeding a certain cost, for example) you can extend the timescales involved to a degree to allow for more careful preparation of the case, perhaps increase the degree of scrutiny in terms of magistrates vs. judge and jury and allow the use of expert witnesses, and so on.

Crucial to all of this, in my ideal world, would be the idea that there was also proper compensation for anyone brought through the system at any given level but not ultimately found guilty, making it not cost effective to bring cases in the first place without a reasonable expectation of a conviction. No doubt experienced lawyers could come up with much better ideas for the specific details of any such system, but I think the idea of having more well-defined tiers with strict limits on applicability and proportionate compensation arrangements is basically a sound one.

Comment: But power corrupts (even if unintentionally) (Score 3, Insightful) 423

I agree with your basic point about the need for balance. Of course there are bad people in the world and of course we need police and courts and the like.

I think the problem today is that many in our current political class don't recognise that need for balance so much as they see "them and us" and even start to forget whose side they are supposed to be on. The truly evil part of the situation is that this result seems almost inevitable. The people calling the shots are exactly the people who necessarily deal with the worst of humanity as part of their job. How could this not affect their perspective? They naturally want to trust their allies, who are the people who would be empowered under all these proposed security measures and aided by restrictions on the privacy and security of others. And of course being influential figures within the government, it is highly unlikely that they will personally ever find themselves on the wrong side of a government screw-up and unable to get the problem fixed very quickly.

I don't think these people are evil. On the contrary, I suspect most people in government, including their agents in the police and security services, are probably just normal people who have a job to do and who genuinely want to do the right thing. As with any large group, there will eventually be a few bad actors included as well and it is necessary to identify and contain them, but that isn't usually the main problem.

However, I do think we're talking about people who are heavily biased, even paranoid, because it would take a superhuman level of detachment not to be when you look at the kind of people they have to deal with at times. I also think in most cases they are ignorant about the technologies they are dealing with, and therefore unable to make rational, objective judgements about the likely effects of the technical measures they propose as policy. Finally, I think that the more senior these figures get within the government and its agencies, the more detached they tend to be from reality for average citizens and the more ignorant or dismissive they can become of how things tend to play out for innocent people in less privileged positions who are nevertheless caught up by the measures the politicians propose.

As the saying goes, power corrupts. It doesn't necessarily have to be malicious or intentional. Obviously in some cases it has been, but often I think the corruption is more of a slow but almost inevitable change in perspective caused by the situations you find yourself in when you have power to wield.

And so it is necessary for those who are looking from outside, those who don't spend disproportionate amounts of their time dealing with a particularly nasty minority of the human race, those who understand the technical issues, to speak out about what is happening and where it could lead. As with any issue of civilised government, in the long run you're going to get much further by educating people about relevant issues and promoting intelligent discourse than you are with wildly exaggerated rhetoric and extreme positions backed by intimidation and ultimately violence. The latter are seductive, and often appear quite effective in the short term, but I doubt they've ever truly solved much.

Comment: Re:Security is a yes/no question (Score 1) 423

Notice that I very carefully said secure against a certain attack in my previous post. You are talking about something different to breaking the encryption technically: the xkcd attack, which any large organisation with weapons can apply, but not covertly and not without consequences if they try to apply it systematically against innocent people.

Comment: When everyone is guilty... (Score 5, Insightful) 423

There used to be a saying, something about it being better to let ten guilty men go free than to imprison one innocent one.

Tragically, in today's culture of politics dominated by fear, it almost seems like everyone is presumed to be guilty of something. That means the idea that it might be necessary to protect someone who might actually be innocent, or simply to leave them alone to live their lives without interference, is not given a lot of thought.

Comment: Security is a yes/no question (Score 5, Insightful) 423

Your position seems reasonable enough from an ethical/moral standpoint. Unfortunately, in reality, a device or communication channel is either secure against a certain attack or it isn't. There is not and never can be a middle ground of being secure against a certain attack unless that attack has been lawfully authorised by a competent court.

In short, if the government wants access to your encrypted information, even with appropriate oversight, then it must require your information to be insecure and therefore vulnerable to other parties accessing it as well. If the government wants to encourage security in communications, then it must accept that covert interception of those communications will no longer be possible. You can't eat your cake and have it.

"Paul Lynde to block..." -- a contestant on "Hollywood Squares"