[ExI] chilling effects

Anders Sandberg anders at aleph.se
Fri Oct 25 20:25:47 UTC 2013

On 2013-10-25 20:32, Eugen Leitl wrote:
> Anders, do you remember Assange? He used to post to this list.
> Have you received email from him? Encrypted email? Are you one
> one or two hops away from people that are known targets? Have you
> received packages from any such? Have you had any significant
> exposure to Bitcoin circles? Did you travel to Bitcoin conferences
> as a speaker? Are you a computer security researcher? Are you
> a member of political group even remotely considered daring,
> or are you connected to people like that? Do you travel a lot,
> into diverse countries? &c&c
> If any of these apply, consider yourself a likely target for
> telco surveillance.

Sure. I also get invited to speak to the US and UK government. If they 
*didn't* check me out, they would be rather remiss. You wouldn't want 
one of the Bad Guys to visit the MoD or NSC shindig, right?

In fact, one intriguing issue is government self-surveillance. When the 
Army invites me to a meeting, no doubt the NSA has to check out the 
people attending - they are dealing with somebody in the network of 
"interesting" people! Ah, yes, obvious Swedish military and crazy 
libertarian connections, hey - double second-order links to Assange! 
...wait, a third order link to *Saddam*?! And vice versa, by going to 
that meeting I am now by definition an "interesting" person and my 
government contacts are worth checking out a bit more... The problem is 
of course to rein in the spread of who to keep tabs on - and big data is 
providing its own apparent solution: "all of them". Plus that large 
scale trawling will tend to pick up lots of things just by default. 
Which actually means that various agencies are gathering data other 
agencies would rather not have gathered. Just ask David Petraeus. At 
least humans know better than to spy on the boss, but the software can't 
tell the president apart from another suspiciously well-connected person 
who is meeting with shady people.

Add to this the normal craziness of intelligence ( 
http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2013/10/spook-century.html ) 
and there is plenty of potential for tragicomedy.

But the upshot of this is not that I should keep silent: *it doesn't 
matter*. I am in this mess whatever I do, even if I follow the best 
opsec and sigint practice. The risk of me being targeted is less 
affected by my actual activities and more affected by arbitrary group 

>> Most dire warnings I hear about how the Powers are doing sinister
>> things seem to be more about getting attention and playing human
>> social games than actual intel. And they do damage by their chilling
>> effects - I have met people who are afraid of being associated with
>> cryptography or working for better intelligence oversight because
> They have reason to suspicition that this adds a flag that can
> make a difference in future, but perhaps being flagged a coward
> stings a bit more.

The most worrisome effect is that a certain kind of people take those 
putative flags very seriously, and deliberately live amazingly bland 
lives. You can see the young politicians who have nearly no net shadow 
except party activities, and plan on being electable because they have 
no scandals. You can see it among the admin people who aim at conforming 
maximally, thinking this is a clever career move. The problem is that 
this can lead to a feedback loop: if the officers vetting you have a 
perspective of what a proper life is based on their own conformist 
lives, they will gather people like themselves in the institutions of 
power. Most bureaucracies love bureaucrats, because they make sense to 

But this is specific problem that is more narrow than the general 
problem of *badly founded* fear of omnipresent and omnicompetent Powers 
making people conform.

Dr Anders Sandberg
Future of Humanity Institute
Oxford Martin School
Oxford University

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