Tag Archives: Privacy

The future of espionage

Okay, so it is now official that the infrastructure for a police state is already there. The infinite possibilities of mass espionage are laid out. Time to move on and think how we want this to shape our future privacy.

Perhaps it is a new kind of ninja skill to move over the net unseen. Alert. Always on the lookout for ripples in the digital waters. Unless we jam the entire grid there will be those who stand outside the law. By that fact, they will be able to tune in to any conversation you’ve had in the past ten years, and will have in the near future. Let’s, for the sake of this argument, forget about them.

To prevent wild growth of espionage activities by different parties, I could imagine that it would have to become basically illegal to access privacy information of any innocent civilian. Breaching that code -also if done under the authority of a state- could result in penalties, ranging from fines to prison time. Victims could be compensated.

It might also be smart to give criminals a (temporary) loss of privacy. After getting out of jail, I could imagine a trial period in which samples are taken from the contacts these people are maintaining. It could be a way to prevent them from falling back into harmful lifestyles. This subject is tricky, because when is something a crime? The Egyptian government, for example, has recently prohibited demonstrations. Conspiracy against the state is seen as something very severe, while it is sometimes the only way to induce positive change.

Or what to think of the option for augmented privacy for people on delicate positions? It could be accompanied by higher penalties for breach. It might be quite functional in times of difficult governmental decisions. But how do you sell that to the mob? Could mankind find an agreement on this? Augmented privacy could also be a reward for those who have prevented a cyber attack on a big institution, or whoever has helped arrest an anonymous hacker.

The market of privacy protection will probably grow soon. This could make the rich become more powerful, and the poor weaker. Would it even be ethical to allow for such a development? It already is like that in many ways, of course, but didn’t the internet finally add a tiny bit of equality to civilization? Should we give it away as easily as this?

 All people are private, but some are more private than others?

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Bait

If you were a fish, which bait could a fisherman use to catch you? Money? Sex? Love?

There is a program that’s able to estimate your age and sex quite accurately just by what you tweet. And have you heard of Kred? That’s a website where all data on Twitter activity are put into graphs. These data are now accessible under the motto of transparency. Paying customers can then see analyses about many types of influential words, sentences and multimedia. They could study reactions of target groups, but also those of individuals. It’s a start. I think that these techniques will get much better in the near future, up till the point where programs will be able to detect our childhood traumas from the photos that we post.

With the arrival of social media and E-identities, psychologists and cognitive scientists have access to endless data on the patterns that guide the human brain. What determines our choice? Which patterns make us into who we are? Marketers, states and many others will learn and take a leap closer to the aspects of ourselves that we thought were safely hidden. If, over the course of the coming century, we’d like to stay mentally free, I think it’d be wise to join in on that learning.

It is an option to back off from internet interaction, in order not to be deciphered. In that case, the fishermen will study your neighbours, brothers and sisters. They will still find out who you are and where your desires are hidden. Another option is that you start to fish for yourself and see what works and what not. Taste some of the bait from time to time, and see how you respond to it. In that case you will add information to the pile and give the insights you gather back to the mass. You’d contribute to the creation of better bait that makes more people snatch. Either way, the bait will get tastier, juicier and more thought through than ever.

If you were a human, which bait would lure you?

Access

We curse the spies. N.S.A: the evil-doers. But we have ourselves to blame.

If you were given the choice, would you rather be safe or be free? Security, the absence of fear. Edward Snowden wants mankind to be free, and chooses life in exile. And fame.

Obama’s response: the US spy agency has prevented over thirty terrorist attacks in Germany alone, just by overhearing our phone calls, and reading our e-mails. We should be grateful.

I have personally never feared terrorist attacks, even now that I live in the capital of The Netherlands (who joined the wars in the Middle East). They are too helter skelter to fear, really. And their scale is too small. Almost like natural disasters; hitting merely when they hit. But we humans would like to control everything. If, of the six billion people around, one wants to wreak havoc, is that a valid reason to spy on all? And what if there are a thousand criminals? How many people’s privacy have the same value as another person’s life? What if it’s your life?

There are many sides to this issue. Say it works. Say you can truly prevent terrorist events in this way, does that resolve the problems that motivate these people to attacks? How about this one: if government agencies can see us pick our noses while holding our genitals, then who else can? Or this: where will this stop? Are we heading to Orwell’s ’84? Will we have to justify every dialogue one day? To whom?

Once again, the human nature has been tempted, and once again, it has fallen into the trap of curiosity. Instead of addressing important questions in a timely debate about cyber ethics, most media and the mob blame the bad guys for doing what they do. What many people fail to see, is that the access to our privacy is a vital property of the global network we are building.

It is the purpose of telecommunication to provide access. Using this medium means being heard on a larger scale. We are bringing our self-image to the surface for all others to admire, but when indeed we are seen, we start to scream. Whether it is the government who hears you, or your parents, or a group of obscure individuals who are up to no good, you are the one who gives them this chance. Internet without spies is like friendship without conflict.

We are entering a time in which transparency has a different meaning than it had before. Instead of moaning, be aware of it next time you plug your soul in.