The word "Terrorism" has jumped the Shark

“You keep saying that word, I do not think it means what you think it means” – Princess Bride. Growing up terrorism meant something. It meant that someone out there could get to you in a very violent way designed to inspire fear in the general population. These events were rare, but horrifying. The first World Trade Center Bombing, Oklahoma City Bombing, The Unibomber, The Olympics bombing, the nerve gas in Tokyo Subway, etc… However, since 9/11 the word Terrorism has begun to change meaning. 9/11 of course was a terrorist attack and spawned may other attacks that were intended to cause damage and inspire fear in the populace. They worked, the US has spent billions of dollars in security measures that are ineffective at best, we’ve spent trillions of dollars on two wars, and who knows how many shadowy engagements using our special forces and drones.

It’s had many other consequences, the no fly lists, the removal of passengers for speaking Arabic or most recently Russian, hateful actions against both Muslims and the religiously unrelated Sikhs – they have turbans therefore must be a terrorist! – and of course more attacks. The disturbing trend however is the lack of even handedness in classifying an act as an act of terrorism. We’re seeing kids getting arrested and facing 20 years for making terrorist threats by posting rap lyrics on facebook. We have the Boston Bomber charged with terrorism (as he should be), but the guys with the guns in the movie theaters aren’t being charged with terrorism.

Most recently in the UK, there was an attack with a machete on a solider that’s being called Terrorism. Just yesterday there was an attack in France which happened in a similar fashion that’s also being called terrorism. Does terrorism mean any attack on non-Muslim by a Muslim? Why are these not politically motivated murders or even assassinations? That is what they are, is that terrorism? I don’t really think so. David Cameron is going to use these murders as an excuse to stamp out what he considers “hate speech” in the UK. Will this simply turn out to be an attack on Muslims in general?

Many of you out there are not fans of the blow back theory, where our actions in those regions are creating hostile agents that attempt to get revenge in any way possible. Initially, I was very skeptical of this stand point. However, as I’ve paid attention to the new more and expanded my sources of information, I completely accept this theory. I believe that there are clear parallels with the US response to hacking activities. The final piece of evidence I’ll provide in support of the theory is this great short read by Juan Cole:  “Who’s the Threat?” It’s a simple chart showing what countries have invaded each other since 1798 and the numbers killed by the “terrorist regions” or the west. Put in this larger context, hearing about drone strikes would be terrifying – especially since you have absolutely no recourse if your brother is “collateral damage” to a strike.

With that in mind, I think it’s paramount that we work to keep terrorism to mean an act of violence that’s more similar to the Boston Bombing than a brutal machete murder which was more of an attack directed against the state than the people of that state.

Upholding of Citizen’s United

Today, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS), upheld the controversial Citizen’s United ruling of two years ago. I’ve written about some of this in the past and I’ve talked to many people about the implications of this. However, there are two major tenets in this ruling that matter. One: that you cannot limit the amount of money spent during a campaign because that restrict free speech. Two: that two separate groups can raise funds and use their right to speech without corrupting the political candidate. Additionally, there were some ground rules that were established as to when you are considered breaking this ruling and in violation of the law. One of these is that the two groups cannot coordinate their strategies and that the two groups must remain independent of each other. 

In this most recent ruling, the SCOTUS essentially has stated that there hasn’t been any reason to revisit their previous ruling and that it now also applies to states. This is important as Montana had laws on the books that limited the amount of money that could be donated. This law was put into place to fight corruption in 1912.

This ruling is difficult because on one hand, at what point can you limit the amount of money someone wants to spend of their own money on political speech without restricting freedom of speech? If someone is willing to let you put ads up and pay money for it, isn’t it your right to do so? That part of the ruling is really difficult to argue with. However, The part that isn’t hard to argue with is the lack of independence. This has been pretty well displayed during the Republican primary. Without some of the mega funders campaigns effectively folded. Santorum is a prime example of this where his primary doner pulled out and that ended his campaign. Was this person willing to fund him because their views aligned extremely well or was Santorum changing his views to align more closely with the doner? We’ll never know to be sure, but it’s likely that there was conversations between parts of the campaigns and the doner.

In the US we will likely continue to have huge doners and this will likely continue unabated until we are able to pass a law or constitutional amendment to make this sort of donation illegal. Many liberals argue that the 1st amendment for free speech wasn’t designed to allow the wealthy to say whatever they want. That it was to give an equal voice to everyone. Sadly, media is run by people that wish to make a lot of money. Until we figure out a better way to disseminate political information that is unfiltered, we will likely continue to have the same unbalanced views portrayed.

A bit remiss

Sorry dear readrs, I’ve been very bad about writing any blogs lately. I’ve had some pretty big changes in the past two months as you all know. I’ve moved back from the Netherlands to the US, did some consulting work and I just started a job at AMD. Consequently, I’ve not been able to post as much as I have in the past. Big changes have been happening in my life.

Because of these changes I wasn’t able to pay enough attention to the CISPA fiasco that just occurred in the US. This law is a terrible step in the direction of data tyranny. I’m even being hyperbolic about this either. I wrote about the risks of having a voluntary data sharing program and in my review of Consent of the Networked I discussed the different data and Government regimes out in the “wild.” These concerns are valid. We need to be aware of what’s going on. Now, I have to say we pretty much blew our collective internet protest load with the SOPA/PIPA protests. Which is actually a problem. I would hazard that in many ways CISPA is as bad or worse than SOPA, however I didn’t see as much chatter about CISPA on reddit, twitter, Google+ or Facebook about CISPA as I did about SOPA.

I think there are a few reasons for this actually. First, the majority of the people were able to clearly understand the risks associated with SOPA. These risks are pretty straight forward and understandable. These risks affect us tomorrow not in some future time period. In many ways SOPA like acts can already happen today. This makes it extremely obvious why SOPA/PIPA are terrible laws and should be opposed at many levels. Second, with CISPA coming so quickly after the SOPA/PIPA protests there was likely something of a protest overload or disbelief that another law could come through so quickly that is as bad or worse than SOPA. Especially with the language that was being used at the time of SOPA. It would have broken the Internet, how could anything be worse than that? Third, there was more support by large companies for this law than for SOPA. Apparently that actually matters more than we realized. We were able to push Wikipedia, Facebook, and other large companies to protest this law. However in this case Facebook and Microsoft supported the law while Google sat on the sideline saying nothing about the law.

I think from this stand point, people that weren’t happy with CISPA but didn’t understand the importance likely didn’t do anything about it. However, whenever a fantastic website like Wikipedia blacks out in protest for a law it will get people who are only on the fence about the law to actually do something about the law.

CISPA and SOPA are both bad but in very different ways. CISPA is something of an abstraction of risk. Losing your privacy when so many people already voluntarily give up so much information about themselves on Facebook and Twitter might not seem like as big of a deal. The secondary abstraction is a lack of understanding of the impact of the data sharing. It’s unclear of what exactly the Feds would do with the data once they have it. It’s unclear how data sharing would occur within the government. However, it is likely that the data would be shared throughout the government including the military. Which many privacy experts are say essentially legalizes military spying on US civilians. The third problem is that many people also feel that if you aren’t doing something wrong you don’t have anything to worry about. However, this is a fallacy as even people who are doing things that aren’t wrong can get in trouble. I’ve discussed the cases where people are fired for posting drunken pictures on Facebook. Additionally, this type of law represents the biggest of the big government that we can imagine. There’s no reason why the government needs to know what we’re doing in this level of detail.

It’s going to be a long and difficult fight to keep our internet free. However, it’s something that we must do and I believe we can do it. We will just need to keep vigilant and work together to ensure that our internet stays our internet.

Free-market, Small Government and Regulations

The free-market has been used to argue against regulations and for small government for years. However, I believe that the major supporters of using the free-market argument are disingenuous in their application of the argument. In addition, the free-market is a flawed theory which needs to be revisited by neoclassical scholars and adjusted.

The free-market theory comes from the idea that there is an invisible hand that guides the market towards equilibrium between supply and demand. This assumes that once the equilibrium is hit it will stay at that point until there is some shock to the system which would find a new equilibrium. Each time that there is a shock, the invisible hand would push the market into a new equilibrium. This idea came as a side comment in the Wealth of Nations. This idea has become enshrined in the minds of neoclassical economics in a manner that Newtonian Physics was presumed to be accurate. In both cases the theory is incorrect. Relativistic Physics has replaced Newtonian, but in Economics the free-market is still the prevailing mechanism for policy creation. There has been no evidence for an invisible hand at all. In fact Metcalf created the theory of a networked economy which argues that the value of a good becomes more valuable as more people use it. I’ve mentioned this in the past. Essentially, this will prevent any equilibrium from every being found as the price can increase and people will still adopt the networked item because it’s becoming more valuable to the user. Or the price can remain constant even when it should drop for other factors such as a reduction in cost of production. A perfect example is the iPhone. According to research Apple has a whopping 72% margins on the iPhone, even if production was moved to the US Apple would still make 42% margin on the iPhone. There also is an over production of the iPhone and strong competition, which would indicate that the iPhone should drop prices as they are capable with that large of a margin. This market has a great deal of competition and has a large number of companies producing, which indicates that it Apple should be under pressure to drop prices. However this isn’t happening because of the networked value of the iPhone. There are a huge number of apps for the phone, the apps are high quality and the product works well with other iPhones. The market has had no impact on the cost of the iPhone.

However, free-market champions would look at any effort to change the labor practices of Apple as wrong headed and regulation that isn’t required. The Market isn’t demanding any change to labor practices because the market can bear the current prices and the demand indicates that people don’t care about labor practices. However, it’s well known that there are no alternatives to Apple’s iPhone that are produced in an ethical manner. So voting with your money wouldn’t actually work here. The problem arises because there is something of a monopoly in the manufacturing of the smart phones in FoxConn. In this case there is a market failure. Which is something that neoclassical theorists argue cannot occur. The market cannot send a signal to firms because there is no mechanism in which the market could send a signal. This is can be understood if you view this industry as a networked economy. Where you see the ties between manufacturers and handset companies, which would show a massive connection to FoxConn.

Efforts to regulate the manufacturing of devices have been argued as the reason for moving the manufacturing to other countries. However, this is not the case in the case of Apple, as they would still have huge margins. It’s because the company is attempting to maximize profits, not reduce costs to be profitable. The same arguments have been used to argue for smaller government. Saying that since there are no market failures the government should not intervene in the industry.

The unfortunate thing is that these arguments immediately disappear when it comes to protecting the profits of record industries. The same free-market advocates then move to argue that intellectual property must be protected. Essentially, creating protection for a specific product through IP causes a market failure and prevents the market from operating at its most efficient because there are not other competitors in the market. Creating IP requires a huge regulatory framework from the mechanisms of registering, logging complaints and prosecuting actors that infringe on the IP.

This type of industrial policy is typically derided by the small government fans, as it is a type of regulation that selects a “winner” (IP owners) over “losers” (non IP owners). Which may be fine. However, whenever this selection pushes our government to select a winner (Music) over the fastest growing, possibly only growing, part of our economy (internet based companies) there is a serious risk to the future. As I’ve mentioned before these laws represent huge risks for innovation.

These laws are SOPA and PIPA, which I’ve discussed extensively. However, the next round of internet regulations come in the form of CISPA. This bill, which requires allows companies to share extensively with government agencies. This type of sharing of user data and information about the activities going on at the company would not go over very well from the the free-market advocates if this was a request for data about customer data for car dealerships or steel mills. Essentially, this is going to increase the cost of doing business in the US. This may prevent companies from working in the US and prevent innovation. If I was to create a company that dealt with social data I would not want to do so after the passing of this bill. It would be likely that I would be blackmailed into giving the government data about my users that I had no desire to give them.

The internet is the perfect example of a networked economy. Facebook’s value comes from the fact that it has a huge user base. This is true for Google, Amazon and Instagram (List of companies that support CISPA). Without the users the services is literally worthless. With the users a company without any revenues can be worth $1 Billion (Instagram). The difference between this bill and other bills like SOPA and PIPA is that the agreement is bidirectional. The government will likely help Facebook and Google fight Chinese attacks and give information to each other about the activities of online hacktivist groups like Anonymous. It is likely that 4chan will end up giving over IP data and other information related to anonymous and Anonymous users.

This is regulation that the internet doesn’t need and will stifle innovation. The government already has these powers, which maybe why the Obama administration is opposed to CISPA. It is also ironic that Obama plans on sanctioning countries that use Tech to abuse human rights specifically committing genocide. A whistle blower has recently announced that the NSA has intercepted 20 TRILLION emails and likely has copies of all of these stored somewhere. The passing of CISPA and any other law of similar persuasion  would likely protect companies like AT&T from future lawsuits for being complicit with these activities.

For devotes of the Free-Market these laws create market distortions and will cause serious harm to innovation on the internet. For people that understand networked economies, this will greatly undermine the value of these networks as users will likely change their behavior to mitigate the amount of information the Government can compile on them. CISPA and its sister laws SOPA and PIPA represent big government actions attempting to control and regulate industries that do not need to be regulated. In this case there is no market failure that needs to be addressed. Privacy is something that the users have been pushing for and Facebook and Google have steadily improved on those accounts. Surprisingly industry is doing a decent job at regulating itself. Finally, regulations being pushed by advocates of small government and free-market smack of hypocrisy and a lack of understanding. These laws require a deep understanding of the internet and how the market of the internet works. Without this understanding terrible laws will be passed that will damage our privacy and freedoms. For the issues that this law would protect from there are other methods that could be employed to gain the desired results without passing laws.

Contact your congressional members to fight against this bill.

Content and implicit threats

I’m reading “consent of the Networked” right now. The book is about digital rights, privacy, government and the internet. Once i finish I will write a review for the Urban Times. I found out about the book through TechDirt’s book club. One of the major points the author makes about repressive regimes is the activities of pronationalist actors that are not truly part of the government.

These actors are typically regular people and act as hackers, journalists or progovernment rally organizers. They are found in many countries including China, Iran, the former regime of Tunisia and Libya. In a way these groups are a counter weight to “organizations” like Anonymous, dissent groups and the “liberal” media. However, these organizations are unlikely in the US and Europe right?

Well according to the author now. These groups do exist in the US and in some cases are formal business like HBGary. Some of them actually work for the US government and others do with a wink and a nod. These groups help monitor internet users and potential members of groups like Anon. In many cases this extends the impression of continual  observation by the government and other actors, which can lead to self censorship and self selection for activities.

Has this happened to me? You bet it has, but I didn’t really think much of it at the time or how it could really impact me. One of the times happened during a Facebook conversation about Wikileaks, which I was supporting. The person I was discussing doesn’t like me much and thinks I’m “a rube.” He suggested that I should get a job which requires security clearance so I would get an understanding of how things actually work and that I was niave. Of course I disagree with the fact that I’m niave and I view the world in a much more complex manner than his black and white view. However, I had been thinking of applying to a government type position and he told me I should be careful what I say, which he is correct. This then led me to rein in my views and self censor. This had serious implications on how I discussed topics for some time.

The other times are slightly different and after I started blogging. For one my brother is in the Boarder Patrol which gives him clearance and my sister does stuff she can’t talk about. So, to some extent, I don’t want to negatively impact their ability to work either. This does have a moderating affect as well.

The final source was actually my dad writing to me about my post about anonymous and my discussion of using DDoS as potentially a source of public demonstration on the internet. I was not surprised that he suggested I be careful, he did retire as a Major in the Army Reserves. However, when responding I told him I was already being careful with my wording due to self censorship. I already expect that I’m likely to have my material spring up on someone’s radar due to the content I write about. So, I do try to be careful.

In a democracy where these threats should be minimized we have to worry about it. Why should the rest of the world be different or any less oppressive?

Economics, Philosophy and Science

The Occupy Wall Street movement has spawned a great deal of branch protests. It has increased our awareness of economic, educational and governance issues. We have seen a series of aggressive police actions and amazing responses from victims. Historically, universities have been a sites of unrest. Berkeley had it’s riots in the 60’s, there’s the famous Kent State shooting picture and there are many other examples. What do much of these have in common? The state has used it’s authority and power to overly aggressively clamp down on protesters. However, violent protesters can’t be accepted, but non-violent protesters cannot be met with force. It’s part of our heritage to protest the government.

However, it’s important to understand what we’re protesting and why. It was clear from the beginning of the OWS movement that most of the people didn’t really understand what they were protesting. Very broad general things like Wall Street making too much money or the fact that no one has gone to jail. I think it’s important that for protesting to be effective the leaders and a majority of the protesters need to be well educated on what it is exactly they are protesting.

In this case the protesters needed to be educated on economics and philosophy/morality. Why economics, those guys are like the bad guys man? Well, sadly, to have an actual conversation with these people you need to speak their language. You don’t have to actually accept their assumptions as true or accurate, but you need to be well educated on the topics. Additionally, if you are well educated on economics, you’ll know there are different capitalist perspectives on economics that indicate that a more equal society is a safer and happier society. Using evolutionary economics, policies can be crafted to help protect economies from crashes. In addition, being educated in slightly beyond the basic supply demand curve, it will help prevent the wool from being pulled over our eyes. This will also allow more members of our society to enter public discourse and understand and speak intelligently about the topics that impact all of us. People will actually understand what socialism and communism actually mean.

In addition to a good economic ground work, we also need to understand some basic philosophy. People are accused of moral relativism, we need to know what it actually means (morality is flexible based on the situation) and how that impacts people’s actions. We also need to know when our leaders are behaving morally, immorally and what sort of freedoms we should be giving to people. Our country is founded on the philosophical ideas of the enlightenment. The US government was founded on rights, which all people should have regardless of sex, race or whatever. This includes speech and protest. If these are within our rights, then we need to protect them from people that believe it is their right to physically assault you when you exercise your rights. Morality and ethics can also drive our legislature to define laws based on humanist principles to ensure living wages and the right to live for all people. Or at least the need to create the social mobility claim to have in our society. Decreasing costs of education reduces the initial burden after school which allows people to take more risks, which may allow them to move from one social strata to the next. These should be done for moral reasons and because education and research has been shown both neoclassical economics and evolutionary economics to be a huge driver of sustained economic growth.

We also need a strong scientific foundation, which will provide a healthy dose of skepticism for government and data published by any group on either side. It gives the tools to decide if we should accept these data or open our tool box and figure out where the flaw in the data is. Science is the driver of current economic growth. It is what allows the next big break through at the platform level. We’ve had several platforms, coal, steel, rail, and we’re currently on the silicon platform/computing platform. To develop new platforms we need to continue to drive to the frontier of science.

Our founding fathers embodied these ideals. Jefferson was a philosopher that wrote his own version of the bible. He and Franklin were both accomplished scientists. All of them believed in the rights of the people that exist not because they are given to them by the government, but because they are natural rights all people have. It is important that we acknowledge these rights and make sure we are educated in these topics to ensure an actual debate over the problems we’re facing as a society. Without being educated in the importance of these topics we’ll begin to argue based on the best sound byte and not on the content of the message.

In closing, all people need to become literate in these topics to provide the best foundation for an argument. Without being able to speak the right language, you’ll sound like whining children that’s wondering like a child lost in the woods, or out of your element if you will. With these tools, anyone can talk coherently and powerfully against the very things our own government protests in other countries.

The different meanings of internet freedom

This week we have seen some incredible riots in London. Interestingly, some of these riots were actually predicted by some of the youths a few weeks back, at the end of the video one of the youths mentions that there will be riots. David Cameron had some choice points about the use of social media, Ars Technica has a good discussion about the different sides of social media. However, it is mostly discussing it in terms of causing the riots as well as leading to the clean up of the cit of London.

I find the reaction that we’re seeing on the internet to the usage of Black Berry Messenger and Twitter interesting. These are the same forces that while in affect in countries like Tunisia and Egypt, social media were forces to be praised. However, now that they are being used in England instead they are being vilified. Also, we are seeing pressure from the government to use social media to arrest the members of these gangs.

First, I think what these groups did was horrible. If I was able to I’d try to help the victims of these crimes. However, we need to be aware of the precedence we are setting in the response to this. While there are some differences in the actions, there was looting in Egypt and Tunisia, there are also differences in the situation. The major difference comes from the leaders being elected compared to being despots.

Based on the interviews the Guardian conducted we can see that the youths are unemployed and marginalized. This is similar to what was going on within Tunisia and Egypt. High unemployment and lack things for the kids to do. It’s something of a structural issues. Which Cameron acknowledged yesterday in a speech. So some of the reasons are similar between the rioters in London and with the Arab spring.

However, since it is England asking for data from Twitter and BlackBerry, they are much more will to cooperate with the police. I’m not entirely sure this would have happened in any of the countries involved in the Arab Spring. Leverage over Twitter during the Arab Spring could have killed it. Do we pick and choose which riots we support? I think it’s clear that we do.

We just need to be aware of the precedence we are setting and that all countries around the world are going to emulate the response of the US and England in this riot. There’s no reason why China, Iran, North Korea, or any other country shouldn’t expect Twitter to comply with them if Twitter complies with England.

The actions that our governments take in this case could have long term implications in regards to internet freedom. It also will indicate if there are two different classes of countries when it comes to the allowable types of internet freedom.

I don’t condone what happened, but we need to really understand the repercussions of the actions in wake of these riots.