Saturday, July 27, 2013

More news roundup

I see I have a few hundred page views, but I don't know if anybody is hanging on waiting for me to update this blog anymore... Haven't received any comments.

But the basic issue continues to simmer on the back burner of our collective attention, at least, as reflected in the news media. I don't think this issue is going to go away. Every other day comes some new revelation that we are being spied upon to a degree that was never before technologically possible.

The one thing the news media does not do, as they report these revelations, is speculate about what is the motive and what are the overseers going to do with this information.

Because I mean, you can't really expect me to believe the Federal Government needs the passwords to my accounts, even as it is already intercepting and decrypting my messages.

Feds Tell Web Firms To Turn Over User Account Passwords

You can't really expect me to believe the police are monitoring all the movements of our automobiles in all our cities just in order to track terrorists.

The Cops Are Tracking My Car -- And Yours

You can't really expect me to believe that opening my safe deposit box is necessary to fight terrorism.

DHS Claims Authority To Open Safe Deposit Boxes Without Warrants

So yeah, terrorism terrorism terrorism, but I just don't see these steps as being a necessary part of the battle against terrorism.

Sure the concept of broad surveillance may have originated (long before 9/11) as a misguided idea to fight terrorism. But I don't think that's the true, ultimate purpose of it anymore. As the examples above show, it's really going beyond plausibility to think that our government urgently needs to do these things, all without a warrant or court oversight, in order to fight terror.

Of course part of it is just for the money. We're Americans, and what Americans have done for the past 100 years is to take serious, bloody, moral and ethical issues and find ways to make profits off them, profits which of course are amoral. It's easy to convince yourself that spying on your fellow citizens is moral if your salary is paid by people who are buying your surveillance cameras.

Lawmakers Who Upheld NSA Phone Spying Received Double the Defense Industry Cash

I wrote before, that surveillance is equivalent to pornography for people in positions of power. Because the surveillance isn't about monitoring anymore than pornography is about cinematography. Surveillance is ultimately all about control. You have to use this data for something, and as I wrote, if the actual thing you're fighting is pretty small and elusive, you as a government overseer are going to find new uses for the data. You're going to use it, in secret, against people you personally don't like or disagree with. It's not even a slippery slope, it's a highway directly to Hell. It's just how human nature works when granted social authority at the same time as technological miracles. You're just bound to abuse it, no question.

The actual incidence of terrorism is small, and obviously they make themselves hard to find. So those doing the surveillance find themselves going out on a limb and provoking the thing they claim to be defending us from.

Most Terrorist Plots in the US Aren't Invented by Al Qaeda -- They're Manufactured by the FBI [Sting Operations]

As other people have written, one of the major problems with permitting things like torture, assassination and surveillance against "foreign enemies" is that all those things inevitably return back home to be used against the citizens.

DHS confirms it's spying on 'anti-government' Americans

And so if there aren't enough real traitors and terrorists among the domestic citizenry to justify the massive, bloated security operation -- inevitably, the government starts to declare more and more people as enemies and terrorists. It's happened in every repressive totalitarian regime that I know of.

How the US Turned Three Pacifists [an 82-year-old Catholic nun and two elderly vegetarians] into Violent Terrorists

Yet again I have to repeat, this is how empires fall. When the government slowly convinces itself that the citizens are the enemy instead of their employers. That situation can't last for long, historically speaking. One thing or the other has got to change.


  1. Would it be amoral to start working for the local drone company?

  2. Whoa! A Comment!! My first! I'd given up looking! Sorry for the long delay!

    To answer your question, well, it's not black-and-white. (I do want to point out that my opinion on the whole surveillance issue is not that it's black-and-white; my opinion is to say there are nuances that aren't being discussed by the "Oh-well-that's-how-things-are-these-days" crowd.)

    Drones, the techno-utopians are telling us, are going to start filling our skies in a year or two, and they'll be used for all sorts of civilian purposes besides surveillance.
    Shanghai: Drone delivery of cakes, pizza
    Drones deliver wedding rings
    Once again, I'm not sure I approve of this whole thing, but nobody's asking me for my permission. This is one of those tech-geek ideas that somebody somewhere is not going to give up on removing the technical and legal hurdles, until he runs a business. Into the ground, that is, because my main objection is that I think it's inherently too complex and expensive to make a living off of it. But I digress. Anyway, back to your question, if the local drone company is not making drones specifically for surveillance, then I don't think I can say it's immoral.

    Or amoral. Which is an interesting distinction. All jobs in the Capitalist system, I think, are inherently designed to be _A_moral. As originally conceived, I think society was supposed to regulate Capitalism's morality through other means, such as religion and politics. But now those outside influences have basically withered away to subservience of Capitalsim. But I digress again.

  3. So, say that you were offered a job at a "local drone company" that was building drones specifically for surveillance. But they were for sale to everybody, government and the general public. Would that be amoral? Not according to the terms of this blog. Once again, this blog talks mainly about the one-sidedness of the surveillance as it's currently being implemented. They can spy upon us, but we can't spy upon them. Selling spy drones to the public would help rectify the imbalance. People could catch things like police brutality or perhaps even graft with their cameras -- imagine a passing drone capturing a picture of a politician meeting with a mob boss. That would help even out the imbalance where the police and NSA can at will track our movements and gin up suspicious patterns according to their whim. I don't particularly like the idea of a surveillance arms race between the public and the government, I'm not sure I would actually buy a drone and participate, but in terms of morality that would be righting an imbalance.

    So as you can see, one of the reasons we find ourselves in this difficult and unpleasant muddle of murky moral questions is because the complexity of a society tends to increase. Until collapse. There aren't any simple black-and-white questions anymore. Which is one reason I'm blabbering about this on the blog so much. This is a complex issue which the pro-surveillance people, and even the "no opinion" people, are looking at and discussing in black-and-white terms. "Hey, leave this issue alone," they're all saying, "because it's only supposed to be the good guys surveilling the bad guys. Anything else is trivial, just a simple error or a criminal misuse." Well, what if it's not?

    So then we come to the black-and-white case. What if your "local drone company" offers you a job which you know is specifically producing surveillance drones for the government to use domestically on people like yourself?

    In that case I'd say -- and I'm not sure why anyone would take me as a moral authority, I'm just tossing up my opinion on the Internet --

    In that case I'd say it's analogous to working for a gun factory or a military bomb-maker. In an ideal world, nobody would take those jobs. In an ideal world, they'd be unnecessary as well as immoral. The people in the real world who do end up taking those jobs probably believe in their own personal morality which says the need for surveilling terrorists outweighs the side effects of the little baby steps they're taking towards creating a police state. In that case, their disagreement with me is probably about the moral principles, far beyond just the wage job. I would have to work on changing their moral principles before I ever had any success convincing them that their job was amoral. We'd have to have the bigger discussion.

    The bigger discussion is just what society lacks right now. The fundamental problem is not whether Joe Sixpack or Frannie Receptionist takes a job at a drone company, so I'm not inclined to quibble with X or Y individual about their particular employment. The fundamental problem is that the whole society is slouching towards fascism in numerous different ways, beyond any individual effort at a drone factory or NSA switchboard.

    I think I quoted a friend in an earlier post, who said "We are hellbent towards creating this future," [the surveillance society], "all we can do is see what it looks like when we get there." I'm not in the business of offering career advice, I'd just like to get people to take a good look at what this society is shaping up to look like when we get there.

  4. Whoops, when I said "Complexity of a society tends to increase, until collapse", I meant to link to this article:
    Ugo Bardi - Peak Complexity

    A fascinating article, long and intellectual, but I think well worth a read.

    In the end, I don't lose a lot of sleep over this whole issue, because I think the complexity inherent in surveilling and processing and understanding the surveillance data in any meaningful way is just too much complexity to be maintained in the long term. This situation will eventually pass.

    My current worry is, in the years before this situation eventually passes, the rich and powerful will be the ones who can invent and exploit loopholes in the surveillance. And with this as in other societal issues, as the rich and powerful fight to maintain their privilege in the face of environmental, economic, and energy collapse, this is one tool with which they're going to casually bring about a lot of depredation, government abuse, misery an suffering for the 99% of us on the bottom of the pyramid.