[linux-elitists] Political solutions to mass surveillance?

Jeremy Hankins nowan at nowan.org
Fri Jul 25 11:53:43 PDT 2014

Don Marti <dmarti at zgp.org> writes:

> It seems like a political solution in this area would
> do for privacy what cutting back on software testing
> does for system stability.
> * No effect on foreign surveillance. 
> * No effect on private sector surveillance. User
>   data is still in company databases, where it can
>   be compromised (as it regularly is) or acquired.
> * Affects "public secret surveillance" but not true
>   "black programs."  You could put Bruce Schneier
>   in charge of NSA, and reduce its function to just
>   going to standards meetings and running the museum.
>   But all the stuff that was secret pre-Snowden would
>   just move to another budget, and the taxpayers
>   would buy a new agency another office complex.

If this is true (and I'm not saying it isn't) doesn't that suggest that
any kind of effort to limit government prerogative is doomed?  So we
should just throw up our hands in despair and bow to our
"democratically" "elected" overlords?

As for the first two points, there's the whole soft-power angle of
trying to use moral suasion to influence the behavior of foreign
countries.  That works much better if we don't seem totally

And even in a worst-case scenario where any kind of government action is
doomed to failure and/or toothlessness, a symbolic stand still counts
for something.  Hypocrisy is the respect vice pays virtue, etc., and
cynical as it may seem I suspect we're better off at least pretending to
do something rather than just accepting it -- we may be hypocrites, but
at least we haven't lost sight of what we *ought* to be doing.  Maybe
our grandchildren will be made of sterner stuff.

Frankly, I don't see purely technical solutions as being any more likely
to solve the problem.  It's great to use encryption and good security
practices, but those aren't going to end surveillance.  Ask yourself,
who wins in an arms race?

(Nor are technical measures going to do much for improving trust and
transparency in government, which in my personal view are more important
issues than the surveillance itself.)

Jeremy Hankins <nowan at nowan.org>

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