Quote of the day—Bruce Schneier

Across the US, states are on the verge of reversing decades-old laws about homosexual relationships and marijuana use. If the old laws could have been perfectly enforced through surveillance, society would never have reached the point where the majority of citizens thought those things were okay. There has to be a period where they are still illegal yet increasingly tolerated, so that people can look around and say, “You know, that wasn’t so bad.” Yes, the process takes decades, but it’s a process that can’t happen without lawbreaking. Frank Zappa said something similar in 1971: “Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible.”

The perfect enforcement that comes with ubiquitous government surveillance chills this process. We need imperfect security­ — systems that free people to try new things, much the way off-the-record brainstorming sessions loosen inhibitions and foster creativity. If we don’t have that, we can’t slowly move from a thing’s being illegal and not okay, to illegal and not sure, to illegal and probably okay, and finally to legal.

This is an important point. Freedoms we now take for granted were often at one time viewed as threatening or even criminal by the past power structure. Those changes might never have happened if the authorities had been able to achieve social control through surveillance.

Bruce Schneier
2015
Pages 97 and 98, Data and Goliath
Via Mass Surveillance Silences Minority Opinions
[This line of thought can be extended to many other victimless crimes still on the books from gun “crimes” to gambling, social nudity, sex toys, and various activities involving consenting adults.

The counter point is that with near perfect surveillance political corruption, murder, terrorism, and other horrible crimes could be significantly reduced. So the question becomes, “How do you balance the tradeoffs?”

It appears to me the greatest threats to society come government (look at the number of murders committed in the 20th Century by governments against their own citizens as opposed to murders committed by citizens on each other). Hence as a “common-sense good first step” I am of the opinion that greatly enhanced surveillance for government employees is a good thing. Implement the most extreme surveillance practical for politicians and others in positions of power. Encrypt it and store it securely. But if they are accused of wrongdoing their data comes out of storage and is reviewed for evidence of criminal activity. The rational could be, “With great power comes great responsibility. With great responsibility comes great oversight.”—Joe]

9 thoughts on “Quote of the day—Bruce Schneier

  1. Extreme surveillance won’t prevent corruption by those in power. It allows them to silence critics by blackmailing them. Let’s say a Speaker of the House or Supreme Court justice has a skeleton in their closet and NSA has video…

    • Agreed. High levels of surveillance simply serve as a motivational source for corruption though selective enforcement, blackmail, and bribery.

    • “The counter point is that with near perfect surveillance political corruption, murder, terrorism, and other horrible crimes could be significantly reduced. So the question becomes, “How do you balance the tradeoffs?”

      You can’t. The problem is that near perfect surveillance can only be implemented by the regime currently in power – they have the funds and authority to install the cameras, keystroke-loggers, etc. They selectively store, review and lose the data as it suits them.

  2. One striking example of thinking through what happens when you thoroughly enforce a law is in the novel “Hope” by Neil Smith and Aaron Zelman, in a discussion of what it would take to fully enforce a ban on abortion.

  3. “The counter point is that with near perfect surveillance political corruption, murder, terrorism, and other horrible crimes could be significantly reduced.”

    Sorry, but it will never solve political corruption, because the political crooks will be in control of the surveillance. It will ONLY be used to crush political opposition and facilitate more corruption through blackmail, bribes, etc.

  4. re: Carl Stevensen, above:

    Or it would move the problem of political corruption to one of surveillance corruption. Who watches the watchers? It could merely transfer the actual power from the political sphere to the surveillance sphere, changing the election cycle into even more of a charade than it already is.

    The best we could hope for would be to transfer the corruption from one to the other, but what we would probably get is twice the corruption, from two times the bureaucrats, or four times, if it increases exponentially.

    • Who watches the watchers? Answer: a well armed and suspicious citizenry.

  5. Sunlight disinfects. Air out the dirty laundry.

    As noted above about corruption of those in power, the surveillance is only beneficial if it is always available to everyone, without filters. Storing it for later prosecution is to vulnerable to “wiped servers” and lost e-mail messages and so on.

    Imagine if every one of your official business e-mails was publicly available. We have to worry about proprietary secrets with business, but most governmental functions should be conducted in the open. If a governmental drone thinks their official e-mail should be off limits, I wonder if they are acting legally and ethically.

    • This is why attempting to hide things, as Hilary did, needs to be a felony with serious jail time required.

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