What is even happening?

I, like many of you out there, are really wondering what the hell is going on right now. Has our country gone crazy? Have we elected a man that is going to bring ruin down on us all? Should we protest? Should we resist?

To put it bluntly, this is something our country hasn’t seen before. We’ve had issues before where there were disagreements over how to run the country, but there really weren’t blatant attempts to completely destroy the current political infrastructure in place. There was an implicit acceptance that while you may be a Democrat and the President a Republican, you’d still do your job and be trusted to do so. That trust has been breached. Furthermore, there were norms to ensure that the experts at least had a crack at what was going to be turned into an Executive Order, but that’s gone now too.

Our Executive Branch has gone crazy, the rest of the country hasn’t, well maybe the silent majority of the Republicans in office have, but everyone else is still doing the right thing.

You see, I think that America should be a shining light on the hill. Our ideals and values, in many ways contentious, really have the opportunity to lift people out of a rough life and into something that is greater. Right now, we aren’t even a flash light shining on a puddle of mud as a government. As a people, we’re doing right by our ideals. Protesting, one of the most American things you can do; welcoming refugees, originally, the US was founded by refugees or asylum seekers – it is only right we continue in this vein. Fighting injustice and oppression – we’ve gotten this wrong, a lot, but we also have had a history of continually moving in the right direction, despite our fits and starts. We Americans are doing this now in the face of what is only the beginning of push back from Trump.

We have a pretty clear idea of what will happen to anyone that is a government official and they refuse to obey trump. They will be fired and if possible I’m sure trump will figure out a way to prosecute that individual. Today, trump fired Sally Yates for up holding her oath as a public servant. His response is absurdly juvenile and was clearly penned by the president himself.

Trump's note for firing Sally Yates

Trump’s note for firing Sally Yates

This is an embarrassment, but this is the type of person that we are dealing with here. I don’t think that this is even a partisan issue at this point either. When the president of the US decides that he can ignore the rule of law we’re at the point where the government itself is at risk of no longer being a democracy. I believe that we can put aside our differences here and protest together. Pushing for Mike Pence or other subordinates to impeach trump. If he is unable or unwilling, I believe that an organization like the ACLU will ultimately sue to impeach trump regardless. However, this is a time when the leaders on the right need to stand up and say, “No, country before party, we will not be pulled into a dictatorship, we are a democracy. In a democracy you must obey the rule of law.”

Should you protest, though? I think this is a really personal question, but I think that you must protest in some form or another if you want to see this stop. There are many ways to protest that don’t include holding a sign, but you must at least commit time, energy, and possibly money instead. I have already donated $20/month to the ACLU and another $10/month to an anti-corruption organization (which is non-partisan looking to elect both D and R). You can write, you can tweet, you can also run for office. There are a lot of ways to stop this, but you need to decide what you can or cannot do. For me with my travel, it’s difficult to get my bearings in whatever city I’m in to effectively protest. Instead I will write, donate, and support anyone willing to make a difference. I am also working on a podcast with a few friends. The goal, like my goal on this blog, isn’t to preach or really push my ideals, but to try to educate so you can make your own informed decisions.

So, let’s make America the shining light on the hill. Let’s fight against corruption, fight to level the playing field so that everyone has an equal chance, fight so that women feel like they have control over their own body, and to fight to make sure that we can take in those huddled masses.

Owning your data

Yesterday Facebook and the FTC came to an agreement on privacy settings. This will require Facebook to undergo privacy audits twice a year by a third party firm. In Europe Facebook users are already able to download their data as I mentioned in a previous post. I think we’re living in an age where users will need to be well educated on the impact of the privacy policies of websites on the users personal data. However, how can we do this? I personally never look at the privacy policy on a website. Why? Because I don’t really trust them. Effectively, just by going to the website I agree to these policies and effectively whatever is stated in the privacy information I’m bound to. However, I have to go to the website before I can read it, thus creating a catch-22.

If I did disagree with something written in the privacy policy, I’ve already agreed to accept their terms and if they said “we’re going to steal all your cookies and sell them for profit” and I object to that it’s too late. They already did it.

This puts us users in a bind. We enjoy the benefits of cookies. We don’t have to always remember our passwords, we automatically get logged into our favorite websites. Personal settings pop up as soon as we log in. There are plenty of benefits from using cookies. We lose all of these as soon as we use services like Incognito from Google Chrome. Some of my readers have commented that they have switched to using an Incognito window, but it’s much more of a pain to log into Facebook and they have actually started using the service less. In terms of Facebook to compensate I use TweetDeck which pulls my news feed from both twitter and Facebook. However, it doesn’t get everything including messages from friends, which is annoying, but not the end of the world.

To deal with these privacy issues, the EU is proposing a pan-European standard for privacy policies that a website has to get approved. Companies like Facebook are actively fighting against this rule. I think that this is a great step. I know a lot of people don’t like new government regulations. However, in this case the public is woefully uninformed and find getting informed on these topics cumbersome. A lot of money is being made off of people’s ignorance. Now, many people would say that’s their fault for not properly investigating this topic.

There are a few resources out there to help with getting a better understanding of how to protect yourself. The EFF has an entire section of their website devoted to privacy issues. The ACLU has a Technology and Liberty section which includes topics like privacy.

So why should we care about this? If you aren’t doing anything wrong you don’t have anything to worry about. I’m sorry, but this is a really naive way of looking at privacy issues. Some of you readers out there have fences in your back yard. Many of them are called privacy fences, if you aren’t doing anything wrong why do you have a fence? Others will have a safe to store valuables and important documents, why do you need a safe, if you aren’t doing anything wrong you shouldn’t need a safe.

Putting this into a physical context highlights the absurdity of the not doing anything wrong argument. It also highlights the differences between privacy in the physical world and in the digital world. It’s really easy to understand how to increase your privacy at home build a fence, better curtains better locks, bars on your windows etc.. Fixing privacy on your computer is much more difficult. Security experts have tried to make things as simple as possible by using names like Virus scanner, Firewall etc.  Most people don’t really know how to use these properly.

Adding a Firewall to your computer can make using it difficult and clunky. Services that you use frequently suddenly stop working correctly and it’s not always obvious why at first. There needs to be a movement within security companies to make everything as simple as possible for the broader population. There should be advanced settings for the people who really want to control their data. Basically we need the firewall to turn into a fence for most people but with settings to turn it into the Berlin Wall if an advanced user wants it.

All users need to understand the risks, just like they need to understand risks of burglary, they shouldn’t need to be a security expert though.

Other potential resources (I have no idea if they are any good, I just searched for privacy resources)
http://www.privacyresources.org/
http://epic.org/privacy/privacy_resources_faq.html
https://www.privacyinternational.org/article/ephr-privacy-resources