NSA Snowden and other Codewords

NSA Headquarters, Fort Meade Maryland

I haven’t given an opinion on domestic surveillance by the NSA because I haven’t formed one, although, essentially, I already have, I’ve just been working my way up to it.

For years I believed it was going on simply because “they” would be stupid NOT to be doing it.  And “they”‘re anything but stupid.  Oh, “they”re bogged down in bureaucracy and can often have idiots for bosses somewhere up the food chain to make their lives difficult, but “they”re not stupid.  I believed it because it just made sense.

But, of course, it is unconstitutional.  There is that.  It is clearly unconstitutional in spirit for government people to have unlimited access to the electronic communications of private citizens (that would be those effects that are mentioned in the 4th Amendment).  That is against the intention, apparently, of most or all of the founding fathers (and mothers?).  America was formed very strongly in response to its break-away from Britain.  I mean, to have in your bill of rights (itself a telling document) a provision that states that government cannot force soldiers into the homes of its citizens, especially in peace time, rings of a fresh bruise.

What is sad, on the one hand, is the way we can’t violate the bill of rights through mutual, national agreement.  Instead, we have to do it incognito.  I wonder if all the tech savvy thinkers out there who argue so vehemently for digital privacy and the 4th Amendment think that there are literally, till the end of time, no conditions that would cause one of the first 10 rights to be consensually repealed.  Just a philosophical border case to start loosening the edges.

There are many ways to approach a subject like this, depending on who I consider the audience to be.  But whatever hackers who would do me harm and analysts who would target my every bit.  I actually I don’t care about either one of you.

You could make layers of my life difficult and I would shed them like a tattered coat.

Or this garment the world is weaving around each of us could anneal into a real technicolor dreamcoat.

Either way.

In truth, I don’t have a problem with governmental “Total Information Awareness”.  Although I would rather see an AI at the head of the helm than a human.  Human’s are really the worst choice.  Put a dog up there.  Anything but humans as they’ve presented themselves.  He could bark when he senses something amiss in the flow of meaning.

Bof.

I understand, I think, the lesson of Nazi Germany.  Hannah Arendt laid blame at the feet of a denial to think by the German people.  But the German’s are not uniquely subject to that particular foible.

I’ll give two reasons I’m worried about “Total Information Awareness”:

  1. The system itself could be hijacked or compromised (the system designed to protect the system considered as just another system to compromise), perhaps or even probably, silently.
  2. The system, through unpredictable or even manipulated flows of politics, could come under the power of an exaggerated minority, much like the Nazi’s were at their inception.

Nevertheless, the reality is that an immune system is going to have to develop and it is likely, frankly, going to have to be artificially intelligent.  The alternative is the equivalent of a bunch of IT nerds punching away at calculators in Defense Farms.  Perhaps IBM ought to end Watson’s playpen days and put him to real work.

Or Watson’s big brother ought to be dug up.

But the key, I think, to “Total Information Awareness”, is transparency.  And that’s the rub for everyone.  You see, people want two things: they want no one to commit crimes and yet they also want the privacy to commit crimes.

This opposition is essential, however, because as a rule the law is never caught up to the forefront of what is happening, neither technologically nor ethically.

Law is reactionary.

But it goes both ways.  The people are proving to be reactionary too.  Rather than recognize the need to modify fundamental processes, we are seemingly going to let the system crash around us.  Sadly, the consequences in an age where no one knows how to farm, are devastating.

The purpose of privacy, essentially, is to create a space for the activities to gain momentum that push law to evolve along with the governed (or the governed to evolve along with the technological environment they are morphing around them).  The problem comes up when law ossifies but the actual citizenry and their culture changes (or the mass effect of the citizens actions outgrow old boundaries).  We can see this all around us today.

I bet this sort of thing is present in the human body, as well, viz. the immune system, bacteria and virii.

Imagine requesting information from the AI, having to submit your request to be tested by its PROGRAMMED IN REQUIREMENTS that were essentially agreed to by everyone using the network.  Sounds Vannevar Bush, I know, but sorry people of the future or present I don’t know the words you’re using.

But again, even this system could be compromised, although of course it would monitor itself as well as ultimately take part in research on itself.

But now we’re talking Skynet, right?

Yeah, we are.  And Skynet is probably coming.  To a certain degree it’s already here, although in an embryonic form that could be killed off and never recognized for what it is becoming.

I’m sure there are those who’ve already thought all this through to one degree or another.  The consequences keep snowballing.  I wonder what Snowden really had access to?  Certainly there must be networks that the millions of analysts don’t have access to.

Or maybe not.  Who knows the degree secrecy has metastasized with the infrastructure.  A few.  And maybe the wound isn’t too deep.

So, where do I sit on this NSA stuff?  I sit in a place that isn’t comfortable to anyone.  I take “Total Information Awareness” at face value.  I think both the public and the government should give up their privacy to a non-human third party that manages individual access to information as well as curates information for those tasked with preventing/punishing certain types of crime.

But there’s the rub, eh?  We’re going to have to figure out how to create a Procrustean system that somehow manages to both aid in the enforcement of some laws while aid in the evasion of other laws.  We’ll have to trust the AI to know how best to evolve our species on that scale at that point.

Scared yet?

There are decisions on the horizon that we are going to have to start facing.  Making laws against cloning just means that its going to happen somewhere else first.  Ignoring the imperative of developing a non-human protector, or leaving it up to secretive branches of government is equally ill advised.

The cure to Snowden is the PUBLIC open source development of a distributed immune system that would in fact be considered a virus by many.

The purpose of the program, the potential AI, would be to protect humans from themselves as best as was possible given the constraints imposed by material reality.

But this too would become stifling.  Or could it manage to remain pliant enough to become an “integrated” adaption of at first, the human species, and soon thereafter, life on earth?

The Tao’s a difficult wave to surf.

As programmers, wouldn’t the programming of a government be a good testbed for all our expertise, not only at describing and structuring rules, but also at managing processes and projects.  It’s like we’ve been custom designed to build an operating system.

YMMV.