Militarized Police

In a little over a year we’ve seen two amazing examples of how militarized our police forces have become. One was a “best case” scenario and the current one is just about as much of a worse case scenario as you can get. In 2013 the Boston Marathon was bombed by a pair of radicals. What happened afterwards was a combination of the full capabilities of the surveillance state, investigation, and militarized police. Through a series of cameras blanked across the area, the Boston PD and other law enforcement offices were able to identify the pair of bombing suspects. Eventually this turned into a chase, shoot out, and then a stand off. During the stand off we saw some pretty amazing pieces of equipment being deployed, including fully body armored SWAT teams, armored personnel carriers, infrared cameras, and other pieces of technology. All deployed to find one man huddled in a boat. Furthermore, the officers conducted full house searches without consent of the homeowners. All of these amounted to some pretty incredible uses of power by the city of Boston and the state of MA. All to find a terrorist.

Now, we’re seeing something similar playing out in Ferguson MO, where the police allegedly shot an unarmed black man in the suburb of St. Louis. This town has 21,000 people and has nearly identical pieces of equipment deployed to prevent protests over what’s clearly a case of perceived police overreach, brutality, and murder. According to Paul Szoldza of Business Insider, vets of the Afghan and Iraq war argue that they had less capable equipment when they were in their actual war zones. This is rather appalling. These are citizens that are essentially delegitimizing the rule of law because of the illegal actions of the police force. In response, the police force essentially sends in an improperly trained military force.

This is abhorrent. In the United States we should never see this type of behavior. We’d condemn these actions if it happened in Russia or a similar regime, yet here in the United States it’s acceptable. Furthermore, the FAA is complicit by enforcing a no fly zone thus restricting free speech – as it prevents any news helicopters from recording or reporting on the story as it unfolds. This isn’t an instance of a free press. It’s free as far as the military police allow it. I’m extremely concerned by these turn of events. I have no idea what we can do about this. It’s continually spreading and will likely only get worse.

Protecting the web and user through a Internet Bill of Rights

The guy who helped invent the internet, no not Al Gore, Tim Berners-Lee wants a new Magna Carta for the internet. If he was American it’d be a bill of rights¬†or declaration of independence, if he was an anarchist, it’d be a manifesto. This call for a clear set of rules for the online/cyberspace is nothing new. The first article was written in 1986 – 3 years before the internet was created. This was when kids were using phones and a few other systems to hack things. The most recent was only a few years ago from an internet website.

Creating these documents is an effort in futility. We already have a bill of rights in the US that SHOULD be protecting us from the NSA, GCHQ, CIA, and other organizations. These organizations, at least the US ones, should be forbidden from given information they “accidentally” collect on US citizens to other governments. They do though. We have secret courts with secret interpretations of laws that we as citizens have no idea what they are. How is ANOTHER Magna Carta going to help?

There’s absolutely no reason to expect our governments to abide by these new laws when they are flouting the current laws – attempting to undermine existing laws through intentionally narrower interpretations of rulings – in many cases getting slapped on the wrist later for infractions that have been going on for years.

Creating a new bill of rights, Magna Carter, or whatever will not solve the problem. The problem is not the current set of laws, though that doesn’t help, the root cause of the problem is corruption and arrogance.

Now that it’s been uncovered that the CIA hacked Congress’s Intelligence Committee, one that had been defending the NSA, there’s all sorts of kerfuffle. Congress didn’t care, excepting Ron Wyden (and a few others), until they realized that they were just as likely targets any the average Joe.

Most members of Congress are funded through companies and special interest groups. These include companies that support the NSA and other intelligence organizations. If any of those orgs funded any member of Congress on a committee that oversees anything related to intelligence gathering there’s going to be corruption. Regardless of if it’s quid pro quo or not.

We will never pass a bill of rights for the internet as long as there’s potential conflicts of interest (funded by companies that bills are trying to regulate). We must address corruption before we can hope to have an effective set of rights for the internet or anywhere else.

Some thoughts on gun issues

I posted the following as a comment to my brother’s comment about gun control. He’s a boarder patrol agent. Basically he commented about how allowing guns (in the right hands) can save lives. He also argued that if you take guns away from most people only criminals will have them. As most of you know I love to shoot guns. I’ve shot all sorts of guns from pistols to an AR15. I think it’s fun and a good way to enjoy some time with your friends. That being said, here’s my comment to him.

“Alright, I’ve been hearing a lot about how gun control won’t fix the problem. You know I like shooting guns and do believe that we should be able to own guns. Now, I think that there needs to be some level of gun control/additional checking before gun purchases are made but I’m not exactly sure what that is. Secondly, simply saying criminals won’t follow the law isn’t a suitable answer either because there’s no completion of the thought. If criminals won’t follow the law, why are they criminals in the first place? What do we need to do to eliminate their supposed need for the gun to commit said dubious act?

I believe that to truly eliminate (or greatly reduce gun violence) we need to address the root cause, gun control alone won’t work. We have to address the reasons for the criminality. Those include, poverty, inequality, drug addiction, sale of drugs, unemployment, being a convicted felon and so on. All of these causes have significant interaction effects. You can’t separate sale of drugs from drug addiction and drug usage is higher in impoverished areas. So, this indicates to me that we need to address the root cause issue behind poverty and drugs. The extralegal crimes related to drugs include things like murder over turf wars and the sort of activities you’re involved with as a boarder patrol agent, smuggling, etc… We as a society have direct control over what is a legal and illegal drug. We have control over this – it’s a matter of do what we consider the right thing to do about drugs.

The other obvious area we need to address is mental health, which has a different root cause than the others. Many people can’t afford the mental health they need because we as a society don’t value mental health very well and many insurance companies think it’s a waste of time.

In my mind I think that if we want to address the true root cause behind gun violence we need to address poverty, drugs, and mental health. Unless you or anyone else for that matter, is willing to seriously consider fixing many of these issues, then gun control is one of the few options we have to address it. It’s a failed option from the start because it’s a band aid. In my opinion all gun advocates need to pull together and push for reform on those social issues I outlined to keep guns ownership legal as you think it should be. Otherwise we are doomed to repeat this sort of cycle.”

Yes, this is something of a rant, but I think we need to really consider what we value as a culture and how we decide to address an issue like gun control. The events at Sandy Hook and other locations in the past 2 years around the world are horrible.

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.

Book review: Consent of the Networked by Rebecca MacKinnon

I just finished Consent of the Networked today. This title, of course, is a play on the idea of the consent of the governed. Where governments are only able to govern with the express permission of the people it governs. We have seen recently with the Arab spring that it is possible to reject the govdrnment and show that the governed do not consent.

The book starts with a discussion of how the internet is different than traditional governments. As, most people are aware the internet is international, operated by many different actors including individuals governments and companies, and is not has some of its own rules and norms which are different than the physical world.

Because of the diverse set of stakeholders for the internet the way we (an average person) is different based on the country you live in, the network you are using and the relationship between your government and businesses from other countries. Then toss in advocates that use the internet to promote democracy (or are progovernment) and human rights experts and we have a very messy situation that will likely lead to more and more conflict.

Some of these conflicts are unsurprising, such as countriess like China, Iran and prefall Egypt and Tunisia want greater and greater control of their internet and networks. Which the US State department doesn’t want and puts the countries in great disagreement over the future of the internet. However this is not the only source of conflicts. There is conflict in the US itself.

The State department is pushing for more circumvention tools and techniques to make it possible to get around firwalls. TOR is one of these I’ve talked about in the past. However, the US legislature is pushing for more control and better access to what data is flowing and ways to block it. These laws, SOPA, PIPA and now CISPA all attempt to contol the internet in the name of IP or cybersecurity. However, they are methods that allow censorship and control over the internet. The US is not the only country implementing these laws, the UK has and the EU parliment is still considering ACTA.

MacKinnon also indicates that these actions help to validate countries like China. In some cases the support comes from artists like Bono or the RIAA when they say they want the same abilities as China for blocking access to content. However, the laws can only do what companies are capable of providing to governments and consumers and other agencies.

Copyright laws would be useless if companies had not created ways to inspect data and then stop the transfer. Some of this comes in tne form of filters and blockers for parents. These can be applied at the national level. Cisco and other major western comoanies provide equipment through sales to countries like China for the firewalls and censorship abilities.

These are not the only way businesses are complicit with repressive regimes (in many cases the equipment is essentially off the shelf), MacKinnon also describes the cases of Yahoo and other companies where they hand personal information over to the regimes. In some cases this has led to death for the person whose information was requested. Of course this isn’t just in China, but the same companies hand data over in the US and other democracies.

At this point human rights groups and other rights groups have become more active around the world on matters of the internet. A large portion of her book deals with these problems with through a human rights perspective. I believe that this is a good way to look at these problems. This levels the field across socio-economic levels. It begins with the assumption that protection of data should be universal. It frames the perspective that she argues for netizens to engage and to be active in address these issues.

She argues that we can’t expect the next CEO of Facebook to be benevolent as Zuckerberg has sort of been. The netizens need to pressure companies and governments for better clarity of what our data is being used for, how long it is stored and why it is collected. This important, because we “consent” by clicking I accept without reading and with no control over a change in contract. Anger at changes Facebook has made lead to changes, so as a group we have the ability to effect change at companies. We have also seen what collective action can do to government in light of the SOPA and ACTA discussions.

These matters are important because they affect all of us. This book does an excellent job explaining what is at stake. It provides a perspective from the developing world and the people under dictatorships. It highlights the fine line we are currently treading and that countries like the US and UK could easily slip from democracy into digital dictatorships where the views of a select few are paid a great deal of attention and the rest are ignore and censored.

Over all i give this book 4/5. At times the book was somewhat repetitive but it was to ensure the point was made. This book should be read by any cyber activist, developmental scholar and student of dictatorships.