A Trip About Privacy

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
― Blaise Pascal, Pensées

“If terrorists are also wizards, we have a bigger problem.”
― Edward Snowden

Yesterday, I took a trip to the Tuscon area. Went up to the top of Mount Lemmon in the early afternoon and went to UA to see Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald and Noam Chomsky speak about privacy with Nuala O’Connor of the Center for Democracy and Technology as moderator.

MOUNT LEMMON

Scene of the 2003 fire.

Scene of the 2003 fire.

Howard the Hadrosaur

Obviously, a hadrosaur skull fossil. ‘Eye iz a paleontologist wiht pareidolia.’

I’d regale you with the full photo set, but I recall the “Hell’s Bells” segment from Rod Serling’s Night Gallery episode 15 starring John Astin.

"One person's vacay..."

“One person’s vacay…”

If you make it to the area, I do recommend the trip up the mountain. Also amazing to see so many bicyclists making it up 27 miles or so to an elevation of over 9,000 feet. These people are Olympiads. There are clubs that arrange biking groups, if you are so inclined to try that.

UA, TUSCON

The University of Arizona is a beautiful campus, at least the portions I had time to tour. There’s also a nice, if commercial, pedestrian friendly area just across the street.

I found friendly people there and not as I feared young versions of John “LeGrouch” McCain. And the eye candy… Between the cyclists and the sporty types on this campus, well, I may have been a little distracted on this trip. The guy with an owlbear tattoo over his heart, for example. “Owlwha…?”

Which brings me to the next point. On a personal level, the most notable thing about this trip is how little there is to note. The Spookspace Meter stayed right at zero the entire time. And it’s not like I wasn’t expecting or looking for something to happen. But it didn’t. What may this portend? I may blog about that in a few days if I get my thoughts on it in order. In any case, it was a reminder of what “normal” was like. And I kinda miss normal.

The closest thing, apart from the discussion about privacy itself, regarding subjects normally found on this blog came from a simple question from a police officer doing security at the event. He asked me if I made this myself:

A Conversation on Privacy

I explained that, no, it was from a professor from the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences {also involved with this event and a continuing series of speakers on privacy which will begin in October}. She was giving them out for free.

What’s interesting about this question is I think that he was really doing a threat assessment. He was really wondering, “Here’s a guy wearing a baseball cap backwards, looking perhaps a little haggard,” {I brought the hat because I figured some time on top of a mountain was not likely to be kind to the hairdo and I was correct}, “who showed up early and took his seat. May as well see how he reacts to law enforcement.”

But this is exactly how it should be done. Build a rapport. The police and the public are one. All basic law enforcement science, part of what came out of sweeping reforms in the UK in the 19th Century, also known as Peelian Reform, a la Sir Robert Peel. It also works wonders in interrogation. Whereas the Reid Technique and torture will only gum up the works.

A CONVERSATION ON PRIVACY

Noam Chomsky referenced the quote at top as the definition of privacy. I don’t want to delve too deeply into being a target, but this is exactly what is denied you. Regardless of the means and methods, the cause, even being alone in a quiet room does not convey a relaxing effect. It feels as though you are not alone and that the room is anything but quiet. Those who utilize these methods are aware of this and part of the purpose is to destroy the target via these “invisible” means in order to maintain plausible deniability and the illusion that power is limited by law and some sense of morality when the opposite is true.

Some of the things Greenwald and Snowden said they had said before but they bear repeating. If there is a legitimate basis for mass surveillance, then let’s at least let the public know so they can sign off on it.

But there were some shifts in the conversation as well. Added to this was, if we are not informed, then we are ruled from above and not, as democracy is supposed to work, electing people who represent our interests.

They went even further. It has become abundantly clear that the purpose of mass surveillance is not terrorism and to a large extent not even crime. It is because much of, for example the Pentagon Papers, indicate that the public is considered the enemy, that it is hiding things from the public that power spends a lot of time and effort trying to achieve.

When power talks about protecting the nation, what they mean is preserving state power and economic/corporate power. They do not mean protecting the public at large nor the public interests which often run contrary to these former concerns.

I was liking what I was hearing. No more playing the “game” of pretending to, or on good faith actually doing it, take power at its word. This is a huge step in the right direction. I cannot express how frustrating it was, and still is for so many media outlets and people in general, to simply assume power says what it means. It’s a huge waste of time and energy to do so.

Snowden also said, “Privacy is how we know what we think.” This is another way of describing that quiet room. How can you stop, get away from all the influences, if those influences are constantly in your face? Whether watching FOX or CNN, or being glued to Facebook or on that Rightwing Dad mailing list {many of those emails being penned by political operatives no doubt} you cannot, are not, making up your own mind; you are parroting someone else’s opinion without critical thought.

And, really, free will is not quite as free as we’d like to think in the first place per the neuroscience and perhaps even some psychology models. Take away that quiet time and it becomes orders of magnitude less free.

Edward also pointed out the terms we use and why we use them. “Private citizen.” “Public official.” We are supposed to be scrutinizing these people, not the other way around.

And yet... "I have a wide stance."

And yet… “I have a wide stance.”

And, even though they’ve said it before and I’m sure will again and yet often do not get credit for having done so, both Snowden and Greenwald were clear to point out that corporate power is also an issue. For example, the Apple v FBI thing. “Apple did not react the way it did because it suddenly became a privacy advocate; it did it because it’s afraid people will buy some German company’s products instead.” Edward threw up the SilVal timeline slide of when NSA had access to their servers, which of course included Apple and Google.

Which brings me to my only nitpicky criticism of Greenwald for the evening {because I thought the tie was fine, but see again what I said about wearing a baseball cap backwards}. When he told people to “google 2004 Rumsfeld report on terrorism.” I sometimes get prickly over political correctness, especially when it is really nitpicky, but given Google’s status as part of the surveillance state can’t we instead say “Duckduckgo 2004 Rumfeld Report on Terrorism” now?

Chomsy also brought up how lucky we are in the US to have as much openness as we do. While I think, and think he would agree, that we don’t have near enough {Snowden and Greenwald also brought up Chelsea Manning and how one million secret documents being released did not bring the Apocalyptic scenario that pro-classifiers suggest doing so would}, I think he has a point. He means from both FOIA and leaks. Of course I must remind folks about the FOIA reform NATSEC carveouts that may or may not find their way into the final version once the House and Senate versions get reconciled.

But his larger point was we can see, as noted above, power really considers democracy a drag, that the public is enemy number one.

Combine this with the stats on terror attacks–Al Qaeda actually killed fewer people than the IRA, for example–and you can see that someone is trying to cook the books. What are they trying to distract us from? Commercialization of…everything.

Brussels came up and Chomsky said it must at least be worth taking a look at why ISIS claims it is doing what it is doing. If you want terrorism to end, then it would be smart to do so. “And it would work,” he added, to applause. ISIS says it is hitting back for being droned. Pretty simple.

What is perhaps the most strange thing that was said was when Chomsky suggested that good, eg Ivy League, education can lead people to not question authority. That was an astounding thing to note, but pretty clearly true, especially in the UK.

You can read Eric Ortiz’ live blogging of the event for more:

Eric Ortiz, “Live Blog: A Conversation on Privacy With Noam Chomsky, Glenn Greenwald and Edward Snowden,” Truthdig, 25 March 2016:

truthdig.com/eartotheground/item/ live_blog_a_conversation_on_privacy_20160325

Or watch the video on Monday.

Overall I think things are moving in the right direction in terms of the serious dialog. Of course, policy, law, and oversight are other matters, but I’ll take what I can get.

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1 Comment

  1. […] partial disability, the spookspace meter dropped from about a 7 on the 10 scale to a 2. As I noted regarding the visit to Tuscon University to see Chomsky, Snowden and Greenwald discuss privacy, there was very, very little to report. So it […]


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