Before They Come For Us

Martin Niemöller’s famous poem, “First they came for…” has been on my mind recently. I think that it has an important warning for us about what happens when we let people do bad things.
 
Consider how it starts: “They came first for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.” And he wasn’t! So why should he worry about what happened to the Communists? The Communists were different, after all, and what happened to them did not affect Martin Niemöller. What was there to worry about?
 
Of course, the Nazis kept coming for more people, like the trade unionists, and the Catholics, and the incurables, and the Jews, and so on, and Martin (like so many others) still did not speak up. Why should they? They had nothing to fear from the Nazis, who were only going after the undesirables, after all. No need to worry.
 
And then, one day, they came for Martin Niemöller.
 
It turns out that those “undesirables” are not so different from the rest of us, and we now know that if someone is willing to be cruel to them, they will happily be cruel to us as well at the first opportunity. Perhaps Dr. King put it best: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
 
We’ve seen this here in the USA. Consider “asset forfeiture” laws: they tells us that these laws will help fight drug dealers and organized crime, and then they use these laws to steal cash from innocent people. Or how about the surveillance apparatus that was supposed to spy on foreigners and terrorists, but which was spying on all of us the whole time? We should have known this would happen. As one rabbi put it long ago: “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
 
And now, today, I read about children being taken away from their parents as a matter of policy. I read this, and I am afraid. I know that these people will not stop at taking children from immigrants. They will happily take children away from anyone who falls within their power. Don’t think that your status as a citizen will protect you for long. They’ll find some excuse to get you.
 
Unless, of course, we stop them right now.
 
We can put an end to this. While our common enemy is still going after easy targets, we can stop them. Before they hurt anyone else, before they even come close to hurting us, we can stop them. But we have to speak up. So please, speak up. Though you are not a Communist, speak up for the Communists. Though you are not a Jew, speak up for the Jews. Though you are not an immigrant, speak up for the immigrants. Though you are not a criminal, speak up for the criminals, yes, you read me right, speak up for them, because criminals are humans, and if we do not speak up for them, then we do not speak up for humanity, and then who will speak up for us?
 
This is our chance. Before it is too late, speak up, now, for the good of us all, before they come after any more of us.
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Apple vs. FBI – The Spy Draft Marches On

Apple has sent out a letter declaring the need for encryption, and lots of people are talking about it, and fortunately for us, some of those people are intelligent and moral. Check out Bruce Schneier’s post, especially all the good posts he links to, like Julian Sanchez’s editorial and the EFF’s summary of the situation. Schneier doesn’t link to Techdirt’s takedown of the DoJ, but I won’t hold that against him.

As Schneier so aptly puts it, people are seeing this as “Apple privacy vs. national security”, when really, it’s “National security vs. FBI access”. To quote Julian Sanchez:

These, then, are the high stakes of Apple’s resistance to the FBI’s order: not whether the federal government can read one dead terrorism suspect’s phone, but whether technology companies can be conscripted to undermine global trust in our computing devices. That’s a staggeringly high price to pay for any investigation.

Once again, government forces are pushing for measures that will make all of us less safe. And once again, they’re forcing people and companies to cooperate with them. It’s spy draft 2.0, in which you must not only hand over information, but also perform labor, and build a world where infiltration and surveillance are permanently easy.

This must not stand. Do whatever you can to oppose this. Support organizations like the EFF and EPIC that fight against this. If you buy Apple, let them know that you love what they’re doing, but that you and your dollars will leave them if they give up the good fight. And tell your elected officials to make the FBI (and every other three-letter agency) stop fighting against real security in our technology.

This is a fight worth fighting. Resist the spy draft.

The Illusion of Guilt

There is a sickness in our minds, and it runs deep. It is a desire to force the facts to fit our opinions, rather than force our opinions to fit the facts. This madness is especially dangerous when the facts in question are related to crimes and justice. Our institutions have a terrible tendency to force people to appear guilty instead of determining whether or not they actually are guilty.

One area where this tendency manifests is in the way cops interrogate suspects. The Reid Technique is currently popular among American law-enforcement agencies as a way to get suspects to confess. It is a powerful technique, with a proven track record of getting people to confess to crimes that they could not possibly have committed. FalseConfessions.org describes how this can happen on this page. Here’s a typical example:

Martin Tankleff had just turned 17, when he found his mother brutally murdered and his father clinging to life after being attacked. After calling 911, he was immediately taken to police headquarters and underwent harsh interrogation by homicide investigators. He was told that his hair was found in his mother’s dead fingers and that his father awoke from his coma to identify young Martin as his attacker. Although he was never Mirandized and maintained his innocence, police finally convinced Marty that he must have blacked out. Confused and scared, Marty came to believe his interrogators that he blacked out and committed the crime. Although not one bit of forensic evidence linked Marty to the crime scene, he was convicted and sentenced to fifty years in prison. After serving close to 18 yeas, his conviction was finally overturned in 2007. (see www.Martytankleff.org)

A recent scientific study, reported here by the Star, concluded that it was extremely easy to get people to believe themselves guilty of a crime: 70 percent of participants in a study were persuaded that they were guilty of a crime, with only minimal suggestions from the researchers. To make matters worse, some of the fooled participants became so convinced of their own guilt that they could not be re-persuaded to believe themselves innocent, even when the researchers revealed the ruse! The scientists prematurely ended the study, frightened of their terrible discovery, but the techniques they used remain common practice in police departments all across America. In fact, the Reid Technique was first developed in 1942, so we have several decades’ worth of false confessions on the books. How many people have already died, wrongfully convinced of their own guilt? I can only guess.

It’s worth noting, as Brian Gallini does in this paper, that the Reid Technique was based off of polygraph techniques – the so-called “lie detector”, which happens to be based on a pack of lies. Gallini observes that the polygraph’s credibility was already in question in 1942, so the Reid technique was in trouble from the start, and yet it has become common practice, in spite of evidence that it does not work! And speaking of the polygraph, that one hasn’t gone away, either: California is now requiring paroled sex offenders to take the test. Apparently, it is too much to ask that our governments refrain from using methods that routinely incriminate innocent people.

The Reid Technique and the polygraph are not alone in the government’s arsenal of methods for conjuring up guilt. Let us not forget that our forces are fighting a War on Terror, and to fight such a war, they must sometimes use “enhanced interrogation techniques” to get critical information out of terrorist suspects. Torture, in other words. But does torture work? There is precious little evidence in its favor. There are many who claim that it is effective, but, as former FBI agent Ali Soufan notes in this op-ed, they have a track record of lying. The US Army’s own field manual on intelligence interrogation notes that “the use of force is a poor technique, as it yields unreliable results, may damage subsequent collection efforts, and can induce the source to say whatever he thinks the interrogator wants to hear”. Alas, it is that final property of torture – that it can induce someone to say whatever the interrogator wants to hear – that makes it so useful to its practitioners. When you want to force the facts to fit your opinion, waterboarding people into submission seems like a great idea. (For a good examination of this mad way of thinking, read this piece by Major Anthony Milavic.)

There is one other information-gathering technique that I wish to discuss: mass surveillance. This one stands out from the others I’ve mentioned because it’s so much less personal, and it doesn’t appear to force anyone to lie. And yet, it suffers from the same failures as torture, polygraphing, and Reid Technique: it’s terrible at getting the truth and great at creating the appearance of guilt.

In defense of the first assertion, consider this post from WashingtonsBlog, in which the author notes (among other good points) that even before the 9/11 attacks, there was plenty of mass surveillance going on, and plenty of data being gathered about the people who would eventually carry out the attacks, but none of that data was able to prevent the attack. Why not? The author quotes from this piece by Nassim Taleb: “Big data may mean more information, but it also means more false information.” Perhaps this is why the NSA’s bulk metadata collection program has failed to prevent even a single terrorist attack.

As for creating the appearance of guilt, we need look no further than the strange case of Brandon Mayfield:

But there’s another danger that Snowden didn’t mention that’s inherent in the government’s having easy access to the voluminous data we produce every day: It can imply guilt where there is none. When investigators have mountains of data on a particular target, it’s easy to see only the data points that confirm their theories — especially in counterterrorism investigations when the stakes are so high — while ignoring or downplaying the rest…

Mayfield had converted to Islam after meeting his wife, an Egyptian. He had represented one of the Portland Seven, a group of men who tried to travel to Afghanistan to fight for al Qaeda and the Taliban against U.S. and coalition forces in a child custody case. He also worshipped at the same mosque as the militants. In the aftermath of 9/11, these innocent associations and relationships, however tangential, were transformed by investigators into evidence that Mayfield wasn’t a civic-minded American, but a bloodthirsty terrorist intent on destroying the West…

FBI agents broke into Mayfield’s home and law office. They rifled through documents protected by attorney-client privilege, wiretapped his phones, analyzed his financial records and web browsing history, and went through his garbage. They followed him wherever he went. Despite all this, the FBI never found a smoking gun connecting him to Madrid. They did, however, find Internet searches of flights to Spain and learned that he once took flying lessons. To FBI agents already convinced of his guilt, this was all evidence of Mayfield’s terrorist heart…

While it may seem like there were a freakish number of coincidences here, when the FBI was confronted with evidence that demonstrated Mayfield’s innocence, they twisted it to support their original theory of his guilt. With no evidence that Mayfield had traveled internationally for years — his passport had expired, and the last record of foreign travel was during his military service in 1994 — the FBI simply concocted the theory that he must have traveled overseas as part of this terrorist conspiracy under a false identity…

Because of mistakes made by the FBI — they left shoe prints in the carpet of the Mayfields’ home and broke in one time when Mayfield’s son was home alone — Mayfield concluded he was under surveillance by federal authorities. Paranoia set in. When driving, he would look to see if someone was following him home or to the office. The FBI took his skittishness as more evidence of his guilt.

There is a saying, which some attribute to Cardinal de Richelieu: “Qu’on me donne six lignes écrites de la main du plus honnête homme, j’y trouverai de quoi le faire pendre.” Translated: “If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him.” (Hat tip to Cory Doctorow for telling me about that quote) In other words, it’s easy to make people look guilty. And if six lines aren’t enough, then collect six hundred, or maybe six million. That is what mass surveillance offers: enough noise to cherry-pick any data we want, and invent guilt in any target we choose.

This all has to stop. We have tens of thousands of people being wrongfully convicted, and millions of people being pointlessly spied on, all because our institutions refuse to admit that they can be wrong. I don’t know how to put an end to all of this, but I know we need to do it, and as soon as possible. It is time to stop supporting the illusion of guilt.

All politicians are Nazis (thoughts on the death of irony)

There’s a fellow running for State Senate not far from where I live, by the name of Steven Zachary. I don’t know much about his platform, but I do know his motto: “Family. Community. Jobs.”

There’s nothing particularly special about that motto. You’ve probably heard variations on it dozens of times already, in previous political campaigns. In fact, when I first read that motto, it reminded me of another motto that’s over 70 years old: Travail, famille, patrie, the motto of Vichy France. Travail (work), famille (family), patrie (homeland): all good things that a politician would want to promote, right?

But there’s a problem with borrowing Vichy France’s slogan: Vichy France was a puppet government, a fascistic regime installed by German occupiers. And not just any Germans, but Nazis, who they actively cooperated with in suppressing dissent and exterminating Jews. Thus, Reverend Zachary’s motto comes off less like the mantra of a trustworthy statesman and more like the snake-oil promise of a quisling. Is Reverend Zachary aware of this resemblance?

Alas, it probably doesn’t matter. Steven designed his slogan to have a shallow appeal, and the irony of a black man sounding like a Nazi collaborator won’t reduce his appeal to the people he’s trying to appeal to. For comparison, consider this magazine cover advocating “the case for Romney”. The resemblance to Soviet propaganda is obvious, even without the side-by-side comparison offered in the link, and yet that picture was on a conservative-leaning magazine in favor of a Republican presidential candidate; these are folks who pride themselves on being anti-Communist! And yet there they are, looking to all the world like the Glorious People’s Revolutionary Central Planners, and loving it.

All the irony has gone out of American politics, and we are poorer for it.

On a related note, Century Link is offering a television service called “prism”, and they’re inviting everyone to see prism tv. It seems they are unaware that in Soviet Amerika, PRISM sees you.

The Comedian and the Cop

Cracked has been a consistent go-to comedy site for me for a few years now. They consistently deliver all manner of good, silly articles, such as 6 Bizarrely Sexual Easter Eggs Lurking in Kids’ Video Games and The 6 Most Terrifying Theme Park Rides Ever Built. Nice, light-hearted fun.

But lately, they’ve been getting more and more serious, and it’s got me worried. Not for the quality of the site, but rather for the state of the world.

One of the articles that first got me concerned was 5 Apologies to the Cops Who Beat Me Up for No Reason, written in response to one of the writers being raided by the police by mistake. I had heard of this sort of thing happening, thanks to the work of Radley Balko, but it had never happened to anyone I knew, or even anyone I had ever heard of. Then it happened to Soren Bowie. I think that was when the possibility of being attacked by the police as the result of a stupid mistake became real for me. I had seen all the cases documented by Balko, but then Soren laid out exactly what happened to him in that gently sarcastic style I love so much, and I began to emotionally understand the terrible reality. If the cops could bust up one of my favorite comedy writers, then they could bust up anybody.

Alas, this was only the beginning of the bad news coming out of Cracked. They gave me 5 Recent Trends That Make It Hard to Trust the Police (later followed by a Part 2), they told me about The 4 Worst Recent Police Fails in America, they described 5 Terrifying Ways Police Can Legally Screw You Over, they talked about 4 Reasons Police Are Starting to Look Like Supervillains (note that they changed the title of that article. They have a recurring problem with changing titles. And also a problem with inaccurate titles, but unfortunately that problem does not affect the titles I just listed). There’s been plenty of bad news about the police, and the comedians of Cracked have been unable to ignore it.

But just this week, it’s gotten really bad. First came this article, 4 Weird Decisions That Have Made Modern Cops Terrifying (the title and the URL on that one both got changed. I believe the original title referenced storm troopers). The takeaway from that article is that cops are utterly alienated from the people and communities they’re supposed to be protecting, so they have no empathy to prevent them from just attacking citizens. Then came 7 Important Details Nobody Mentions About Ferguson (the original title was all about farts… read the article, it’ll make sense). Farts aside, the takeaway from that article is that the cops in Ferguson just cannot stop lying. They have given us no reason to trust them at all, and they keep arresting journalists and shooting people for no reason.

What I’m getting from all this is that cops don’t trust normal citizens like me, that they can’t be trusted, that they wield vast power over us (both legal power and firepower) and they’re hopelessly clumsy in using that power. This is the state of modern police work in America. There’s no getting away from it.

This is intolerable. If this is the best that our police force can do, then we’d be better off with no police at all. I say it’s time to consider abolishing cops entirely.

J. Neil Sark wants to rule the Grid

So, back in my old post wherein I disagree with J. Neil Schulman, Schulman himself has dropped by to publicly disagree with me. This is good, because that’s exactly what a comments section is for. Anyways, in the course of insisting that he is right and I am wrong, he reminded me that his preferred term, instead of “intellectual property”, is “media-carried property”, or MCP for short.

MCP… where have I heard those initials before?

Oh, snap! End of Line.

Now, I doubt that Neil intended to reference the tyrannical Master Control Program when he picked the term “media-carried property”, but, nerd that I am, I can’t resist making the connection. And there is a deeper connection, but it is one that Neil has consistently refused to acknowledge.

Neil does not talk much about how to enforce claims of MCP. In his first post insisting that copying is akin to identity theft, he has this to say on the matter:

The questions of how copyrights, trademarks, and patents are currently defined and enforced by States are an entirely separate issue from the arguments I have been making since the 1980’s about property rights in identity and information objects.

For now I would be entirely satisfied if libertarians and anarchists recognized my property rights in the things I create and respected my right to license copies, using no other enforcement mechanism than social preferencing.

And… that’s it. The end! But I am not satisfied. This tells us nothing at all about what happens when social preferencing fails. What then?

Neil’s theories on matter-based property do not suffer from this lack. In the event that someone does not recognize your property rights in the physical world, Neil says that you have the right to shoot them, and he suggests that you carry a gun. He wrote a whole book on the matter, called Stopping Power (I haven’t yet read it, though I expect that I’ll agree with most of what it says). This is good, because you can’t expect social preferencing to always work. You need a backup plan when people break the rules, and carrying a gun is a good backup plan.

But what about when someone takes your media-carried property? What if they break through your copy protection and make it available as a Torrent? What do you do then, Neil? But he has never answered this question. This situation has been presented to him many times, by both friends and enemies, and he hasn’t even acknowledged it. This leaves a big, gaping hole in his theory of property rights in information.

Of course, Neil is not the first person to claim property rights in information. Many people before him have set out to do the same thing, and they have come up with solutions to fill that hole. Solutions like digital rights management, trusted computing, broadcast flags, notice-and-takedowns, ISP policing, and copyright bots. These all work together to do two things: take away people’s privacy, and take away people’s control over their own machines. And this is where Neil’s MCP runs into Tron‘s MCP. The only way to complete Neil’s theory, and provide information owners a means to defend their claims, is to control all communication. The entire network must be monitored and controlled, and any break-ins must be shut down swiftly and decisively. The media companies have known this for a long time, and they have fought to establish that control over the World Wide Web. To a great extent, they have succeeded. Their copy-protection schemes have infected all of our devices, and their monitoring systems hover over their world, ready to cut off and punish anyone who shares information without their permission. Like the Master Control Program, they reach into systems and appropriate programs and insist that they can run things better than we can.

Every time you get a DMCA notice, just imagine it’s from this guy. You’ll feel better.

This is a massive problem for Neil’s theory, because all of these measures invade people’s property and reduce their control over their own lives. Worse, they all work through the mechanism of State power, and they increase the State’s control over us. We can’t accept any of this. But then how can owners of media-carried property protect their property from invasion? Neil’s theory makes no sense anymore, because there’s no way to implement it. It’s as if he were advocating for the right of self-defense but refusing to let people own weapons. How does it work?

And what of the fact that these controlling measures are all being implemented? Here in the real world, the MCP is winning. Copyright laws continue to get stricter, anti-piracy measures continue to get more invasive, and ordinary citizens continue to get squeezed, and J. Neil Schulman, proud libertarian, is silent. If Neil will not fight for our liberty, who will?

Luckily for us, some people are smarter than Schulman. Like Flynn and Tron, they work to create systems where all information is free and open. They create open-source software that will not betray its users to outside controllers. They support laws that protect our privacy and our right to communicate. They find ways to crack DRM and defeat broadcast flags. They give us the power to protect our liberties. They go by many names: copyfighters, free software advocates, cypherpunks, pirates, and so on. But they all have one thing in common: they fight for the Users.

Real programmers do not normally wear cool outfits like this guy’s. Sorry, everyone.

If these people win, no one will be able to control the network. Information will flow freely. And instead of being a glaring contradiction, Neil’s theory of MCP will simply be left incomplete – permanently, fatally incomplete, like a human body without a heart.

And that is why I keep ragging on Neil. He never acknowledges this problem with his theory (that is, that claims to MCP cannot be enforced without the aid of a total surveillance state). He seems to consider the question of enforcement to be totally irrelevant. Well, Mr. Schulman, you’re wrong. No matter how many nerd jokes I make, I still have to live in reality, and in reality, your claims to media-carried property fail. People do not naturally respect such claims, and even when they try, those who do not respect such claims always have the power to ignore them. Even in our less-than-free society, piracy is easy and rampant, in spite of the State’s best efforts to crush it. Do you think that people will just stop pirating when the State is gone?

If the future is libertarian, then it will run on Free Software and distribute Free Culture, all the better to serve free people. So come on, Neil. Get with the program. Fight for the Users.