[ExI] Privacy vs the future

Sergio M.L. Tarrero sergio.ml.tarrero at mac.com
Sat Aug 28 08:22:20 UTC 2010

This is my first post to this list in a very long time. I happened to  
open up this mailbox today, and what I saw compelled me to write.

Very thoughtful observations, Samantha. I totally concur. Particularly  
with your comments in the last paragraph, following your questions.

In case some people here have not read it, the Lifeboat Foundation has  
a program which advocates sousveillance via all kinds of sensors, from  
the large to the very tiny. It's currently called the Security  
Preserver: http://lifeboat.com/ex/security.preserver

For the resons that you well point out (namely, that we really want to  
have the freedom to record our lives, everything that we see and hear,  
to begin with, or it's going to turn into even more of a logistical  
nightmare; etc.), I have advocated for transparency for a quite a  
while now. I have also advocated for mutual accountability, and  
sousveillance. We may still have a window of opportunity to push for  
reform of our legal systems to allow for such--but we'd better start  
soon, because it's not going to be easy to convince bureaucrats and  
lawmakers, and people in positions of high power in general, who are  
still living in the past (and, somewhat, the present) that this is  
what needs to be done. Top-down surveillance, such a police  
surveillance and surveillance by intelligence agencies, may stop some  
crime, and some terrorism... so it cannot be avoided, nor regarded as  
totally a bad thing. But we all know that, depending on the particular  
agent or agency doing the surveillance (within the system), the  
particular state doing it (and its values and goals), and even down to  
the particular individual doing it (or using the information to give  
orders), and so on, it can breed oppression of the worst kind--and it  
often has, in the past. The power and resources of a state, and a  
multitude of cameras and mics spread over a city or country (or  
beyond), against an individual.

Given our unusual and changing circumstances, and given the level of  
threats that we are starting to encounter in the world (and they are  
only going to get worse with more advanced technologies with potential  
for genocide), sousveillance, if set up correctly, can be a good  
thing. Some good things about it that immediately come to mind:

- Open source monitoring and police work. By pooling on the eyes, ears  
and brains (and cameras, mics, sensors, computers...) of the populace,  
it becomes much easier to spot foes, terrorists (or those promoting  
terrorist mindsets/activities), active criminals (of the kind that  
hurt or plan to hurt others or their property, women, children...),  
nasty polluting corporations, and so on. Once it becomes fashionable  
for people in mass numbers to record their lives much more intensely  
(initially with simple devices such as video-recording glasses), the  
wiggle room for people who hurt others or endanger others' lives (I am  
always annoyed and amazed by what some people get away with, day after  
day, while driving their death machines...), automatically and  
radically shrinks. So much so, in fact, the eventually it simply does  
not pay to do such things... and those who take their chances and  
choose to do it, would live much more paranoid lives (which would also  
raise some flags in people around them), try to avoid being watched or  
recorded (more flags), and mostly end up being psychologically so  
uncomfortable with it that they may desist in their ways. Or else...  
they may simply get caught doing harm or planning to do harm to others.

- Preventing police abuse.

- Preventing abuse by employers and corporations of their workers.

- Documentation of human rights and animal rights violations at home  
and abroad, for use by the appropriate policing organizations  
(ideally, imo, international organizations such as those encharged of  
human and animal rights issues today, but with much more enforcement  
powers than they have today... merely giving recommendations and  
fines, way after the fact, to the nations committing such or allowing  
such to happen within their borders, is definitely not enough to stop  
the crimes).

- Focused sousveillance of those in positions of power, and  
particularly those in positions of high power. We are all human beings  
(for now). A lot of power can be concentrated in specific people or  
groups--this is not the best situation, but that's just the way things  
are. However, these people or groups should not be allowed by the  
majority to live in total unaccountability and secrecy... particularly  
because their actions, their 'conspiring', and so on, affect many  
others' lives, sometimes in very deep ways. Their decisions can mean  
the life, imprisonment, or death of some (or sometimes many, sometimes  
many many) other human beings.

- Huge employment opportunities. Very few people could afford, or be  
inclined to, without compensation, donate a lot of their precious  
lifetime to become sousveillance agents. So... as the opportunities  
for employment decrease with time, particularly as technology starts  
taking more and more jobs from the economy, there seems to be a niche  
there which could potentially grow indefinitely. It would be nice if,  
once given the appropriate training and certification, any decent  
person could engage, maybe with greatly loose, open schedules (or no  
schedule at all... you do it when you want to do it... you can  
consider it a "back-up job" that is always there), on sur/ 
sousveillance activities. Always in groups of at least 3 people (who  
don't know each other), chosen at random from a huge pool of  
sousveillance "agents" who happen to be online at any given time, they  
could go in specific missions to investigate, eavesdrop, gather  
evidence, etc., in situations or contexts which require such.

- The more power and influence a person or group has, the more lives  
her/its everyday decisions touches... the more intense the scrutiny  
that may fall upon her/it.

- Those people, groups, organizations, agencies, governments trying to  
create (illegal, hopefully according to international law, whatever  
that means at the time) pockets of privacy, could be easily spotted,  
and something done about it. A "transparent society", fairly  
established (after much discussion of what this means, and some  
sensible agreements reached), would be, by definition almost, much  
more humane, its peoples' much more accountable to each other, to  
humanity at large.

- With such systems properly in place, it should be easier for us to  
stop some highly visible and potentially deadly acts of terror before  
the perpetrators of such acts have the time to cause mass death and  
destruction. With the advent of cheap DIY bio and eventually  
nanoengineering, it becomes important, for public health reasons, to  
start being a lot more vigilant.

Some major problems that I see achieving this vision:

- Those in positions of power (or high power) may likely, at least  
initially and probably for some time, oppose it (some fiercely). Given  
the fact that, today, they have the "upper hand", it may be hard to  
reverse this. They might fight, kick and scream so that this is not  
done... so, without strong social support for such systems, and quite  
a bit of activism, they may never come to pass. This view is hard to  
accept even by the average citizen right now, still living in 20th  
century technological and scientific realitites (in their minds), and  
with 20th century threats in their minds.

- Even if one nation were to decide to test or implement such  
sousveillance systems, others may not. Unless sousveillance systems  
are organized somewhat globally, via adequate international  
organizations, it would be hard to properly monitor activity of the  
worst criminals and terrorists, who have the freedom to go elsewhere  
to plot their misdeeds.

- It would be complicated to set up such a system. If we end up doing  
none of this, maybe for lack of public support for such measures (a  
public which may not hear about these possibilities in the first  
place), maybe a benign superintelligence, if we are successful in  
developing such, may eventually do the equivalent (both the top-down  
and the bottom-up monitoring), but without taking so many resources,  
and without taking so much time from people (the time that countless  
sousveillance agents around the world may invest in monitoring  
activities). However, my opinion is that it would be worthy to push  
for such a social movement and to spark intense political action  
encouraging lifelogging, transparency and sousveillance--if only  
because the risks of "privacy" and unaccountability in the world are  
starting to get out of hand. Such has been also looked at and analyzed  
in more detail by authors such as David Brin, with his book The  
Transparent Society, and I'm sure Gordon Bell and other proponents of  
intense lifelogging.

Sergio M.L. Tarrero
Lifeboat Foundation   http://lifeboat.com

On Aug 27, 2010, at 12:33 PM, samantha wrote:

> What exactly does privacy mean as technology advances? Today we have  
> in the palm of our hands the ability to record full video and  
> transmit it pretty much anywhere in the world.  As technology  
> advances the ability to record in excellent fidelity anything/ 
> everything we witness will certainly increase.  If many of our  
> fundamental dreams are achieved the ability to do so will  
> increasingly be an internalized part of our person - inside the skin.
> For this to happen the notion that it is legitimate to forbid the  
> recording of any interaction with anyone becomes problematic.     
> Such would effective forbid an enhanced individual such as many of  
> us will likely soon be from using parts of his her sensory  
> capabilities and parts of his her brain and memory.  It would  
> effectively be handicapping the individual[s] involved from acting  
> in their full normal capacity.   Imagine how useful it would be to  
> be able to perfectly remember that part of that talk or lecture  
> germane to a current activity.  Imagine what it would be like to  
> never forget anything except on purpose.  Imagine what it would be  
> like to share something of importance with another without being  
> limited to a mere poorly remembered word picture summation.
> Yet this ability does have far reaching consequences.   Much that we  
> think we have secured by obscurity or lack of records will no longer  
> be so.  This has both good effects and potentially bad effects.  It  
> is at the least highly disruptive.
> As the technology advances each of us is also under much more  
> continuous surveillance (in the true top down sense) by the  
> authorities.  In some nations and cities there are literally enough  
> cameras and microphones to record what everyone does outside their  
> home and much of what they say.  There is a move in Britain and in  
> the Netherlands to make all speech in all public places fair game  
> for surveillance by authorities.   This obviously has potentially  
> huge possibilities for oppression and other governmental abuse.   At  
> the least it must be balanced by sousveillance, observation and  
> recording from the bottom up.
> How must we ourselves change as these capabilities come online?  How  
> must our legal structures change to avoid punishing or the threat of  
> punishing everyone for the inevitable infractions of the  
> impenetrable web of regulations and laws that exist today?  At the  
> very least the state must stop punishing people for any and all  
> behavior that does not harm another or amount to the initiation of  
> force.  Else the massive inevitable surveillance capability is very  
> problematic indeed.
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