[ExI] The NSA's new data center

Anders Sandberg anders at aleph.se
Tue Mar 27 16:18:41 UTC 2012

On 27/03/2012 10:57, Eugen Leitl wrote:
> The centralist high-expert-power surveillance approach will always 
> beat decentralist many-shallow-eyeballs sousveillance approach.

I think this is an important angle.

What properties of technologies tend to give states (or other big power 
concentrations) advantages in power compared to the citizens? A few 

* High cost of entry (keeps small actors out)
* Economies of scale (big systems do the job better)
* Produces information or products of more use to states than individuals
* Requires rare expertise that cannot be distributed

Conversely technologies with low costs of entry, network effects (many 
users potentiate each other), producing citizen-useful results and that 
can be used by non-experts will tend to help the citizens. When it comes 
to surveillance the first two factors are fairly equal on the state and 
citizen side, but there might be enough difference in the second two to 
make it more useful to the concentrated power.

Brin made the point that many of the "antibodies" of the open society 
are semi-cranks who obsessively focus on certain things and pursue them: 
that they are often somewhat isolated and often wrong doesn't matter as 
long as their signals can be picked up and amplified by the saner 
mainstream. These antibodies to some extent represent rare expertise. 
Technologies that would make it easier to track certain interests might 
amplify their power.

> Technology cannot route around broken politics. 

The reverse is also true. Politics cannot route around broken technology 
except by brute force.

> As most people here are aware US has basically zero information 
> privacy laws. This is causing an increasing impedance mismatch in 
> transatlantic dealings.

In a way it is a good experiment to see the EU experiment in privacy 
compared to the US experiment in zero privacy. Unfortunately so far the 
technology and politics seem broken on both sides.

Anders Sandberg,
Future of Humanity Institute
Philosophy Faculty of Oxford University

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