Russia and the prisoner’s dilemma

For the past few years we’ve been playing a prisoner’s dilemma with Russia. In fact, I’d argue that this goes back farther than just a few years, it might even go back to our two wars in the Iraq and Afghanistan. The US essentially was able to convince through a mixture of sympathy, arm twisting, and out right lies as we know now.

Since then at every turn Russia has been a balancing force or antagonizing force depending on your perspective, to US goals in different parts of the world; specifically in places like Liberia, Syria, and Turkey. In none of these cases was Russia in a position to really push back against the US and definitely could not have pushed for Sanctions against the US.

Now, with the Ukraine crisis it’s not longer through proxies. This is a head to head game against some of the most corrupt politicians on earth. These politicians make our “corrupt” politicians look like kittens. They are not afraid to lock up someone for political dissent, like Pussy Riot or many others. Furthermore, there are a lot of accusations of out right poisoning or murder as well. In the US, there might be calls for sending someone to prison, but truthfully, I don’t think that anyone would be happy if it was incredibly easy to send a duly elected official in the US to prison. We might like it to be easier or whatever, but it’s not and it’s even better that it’s hard for dissenters to be sent to prison.

Obama likely has gained some experience with the brinkmanship that’s happened in the US in the past few months, but that’s really nothing compared to Putin’s experience as a KGB agent and running Russia for the past 15 years. For the Crimea (where Russia has “invaded or not”) this has some serious implications. At this point the US can do a few things, commit militarily, push for sanctions – likely including removing Russia from UN and other international bodies, and little else. To preempt any discussion on sanctions Russia has already said that happens they will simply shift away from the Dollar and stop repaying any US banks.

This is what we have to look forward to with this Crimea Crisis. Russia and the US are both in a no-blink position over this. The US believes that Russia is in the wrong with their actions in Crimea and Ukraine, while Russia believes it is doing nothing wrong.

We’re entering a pretty terrifying time with these stand offs. At this point we don’t know how the people are playing the Prisoner’s Dilemma. Are they all playing the game as if we’re going to have another turn? In all the other cases I’d say that yes, we’ve played as if there will be more turns. However, people are arguing we’re on the brink of another cold-war. I can’t make a claim either way for that – I look back at movies from the 80’s and at times have difficulty remembering the context that movie was filmed in. However, thinking about the tension in this situation and the fear that the other guy is only planning on one interaction that it’s this and never another move, that’s pretty terrifying – especially since I want to keep playing.

CISPA and the problem with volunteering data

So, CISPA, Cyber Information Sharing and Protection Act, is the newest cyber bill on the block. There is a difference between this and the other laws though. In SOPA and PIPA the laws were mandatory, and the government could simply act. In CISPA companies can willingly filter material and this may be based upon information the government provides as a threat. This was a bad situation and internet companies seem to like this law. Facebook and Microsoft are straight up supporting the law. There is uncertainty in the public if Google is or not.

So, in this law the government and internet companies can voluntarily share information about cyber threats and suspicious activities online. However, the problem with voluntary sharing programs is that they can turn into “voluntary” programs. What do I mean? Well, if the government is not required to give the information to all parties that could be affected in some sort of terrorist act the government could decide to give information to companies that are sharing information with the government. Additionally, the government could punish companies, like Twitter, that fight the government over privacy issues by not sharing information.

These are pretty obvious problems with this type of law. It assumes that each event is independent and previous actions have no consequent. This is a faulty premise. If this is viewed as a multi-turn prisoner’s dilemma, it’s obvious that with repeat interactions the best actions will always be to share. This will likely lead to sharing when there are cases of doubt over if the company should share or not. Companies will fault on the side of security over privacy, because the future benefits outweigh any punishment the users can enact on the companies.

These types of pseudo quid pro quo is impacting the US government in other ways including lobbying. It is likely that this information exchange will be used by companies whenever there are negotiations for future laws. They will be able to say, “you need to respect our rights to X, look how friendly we’ve been with the government” and then show a list of times they voluntarily gave data to the government. This was a tactic that Ma Bell used to keep their monopoly as long as they did. Because the company was providing the government with extra public goods (military research), the government was willing to over look the fact that the company was a monopoly and perhaps should be broken up.

CISPA is a dangerous law that we need to carefully weigh accepting. We need to pressure internet companies to step away from the law. We also need, if it passes, better understanding of when companies hand over data willingly and for what reasons. We should also be notified any time a company hands over our data about us to the government for any reason.