Monday, June 17, 2013

Multimedia: Why The Distinction Between Collected And Analyzed Is Useless

To address one comment that many, including President Obama, have made about PRISM: They say that the PRISM system is not an unreasonable, widespread search and seizure of communications because it is only a computer that collects and aggregates the communications, and no NSA human employee listens to the conversations until such time as they have reason to believe the conversation is connected to terrorism.

"Nobody is listening to your phone conversations right now," the President said, in so many words.

I believe this is a distinction without a difference. No person is on your phone line tapping your conversations right now, but thirty seconds from now, somebody can order it up for whatever reason they can get past the bureaucrats. Or 10 seconds from now. Or 5 seconds from now.

Good science-fiction always attempts to address present concerns by cloaking them in a disguise about a compelling problem in some imagined future world. One thing science-fiction has taught us is, when it comes to digital surveillance, the past begins a fraction of a second ago. If you can store up complete and accurate records of the past, and call them to your ears or fingertips at any moment, that's effectively the same as if you are eavesdropping all the time. Because the "past" begins a fraction of an instant ago, as far as computers are concerned. There isn't any scenario in the real world where it makes a difference, between storing all records of the "past" starting a half a second ago and making them instantly available, versus sitting on the phone line in real time. There is no difference versus having somebody eavesdropping on your conversation right now since he could just as well be doing it a half a second from now.

That's one of the topics the following book review discusses:

The above brief podcast was submitted to the sci-fi review portion of the podcast, "Escape Pod", but it was never accepted. (It was never rejected, either, it fell between the cracks when they switched editors and nobody seems to have reviewed it.) Because it was prepared for "Escape Pod", it uses the format and the music of the Escape Pod story reviews, but the content has not been approved or endorsed by Escape Pod in any way.

These old sci-fi stories, discussed in the audio review, didn't foresee that Americans would willingly allow corporations -- let alone governments -- to amass this kind of surveillance data on everybody. Listening to what I wrote six years ago, it's pretty ironic. Nevertheless, one topic most futuristic fantasies agree upon, is that if the surveillance goes one way but not the other, it is a tool of oppression. If large financial institutions and governments can summon up our every move on their Panopticons and analyze it for patterns, but _we_ can't see what crimes they are committing over the same networks, tyranny is the only possible result.

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