[linux-elitists] Political solutions to mass surveillance?

Jeremy Hankins nowan at nowan.org
Sat Jul 26 10:04:01 PDT 2014

Don Marti <dmarti at zgp.org> writes:

> I can't see how there's a way to say both (1) we have
> a secret intelligence program and (2) we have public
> policy that meaningfully restricts that program.

This is a hard problem.  Theoretically this is why we have a FISA court
that is cleared to see secret documents, and why members of congress
have some degree of oversight as well.  It's that whole separation of
powers/checks and balances thing.  While neither of these are very
satisfying solutions, they could be better than they are.

How much of this can be traced back to dysfunction in congress?  One
could imagine a congress that raked public officials over the coals,
destroyed political careers, and so on.  But so far as I can tell very
little of any real significance has happened.  Part of this is may be a
partisan accident (how would things have been different with a
republican administration and a democratic house?), but even so I'd
expect more opportunistic challenges from politicians hoping to make a
name for themselves.  Why hasn't this happened?

> There are symbolic stands that carry more weight,
> though. The State Department's support for
> freedom-enabling technologies is a good one.
> Maybe what we need is action that can be taken in
> public and verified in public.

Yes, I agree.

>> 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?
> Arms dealers, of course.  But this one could have
> positive externalities in the form of increased
> software quality and maintainability.  If Alice finds
> a bug in her company's product, it's worth little to
> just fix it, but potentially a lot if she can secretly
> tell Bob and he can sell it.  A lot of software
> development today is set up to facilitate "insider
> bug trading" and all the solutions I can think of
> involve more programmer respect, compensation, and
> emphasis on quality.

But this assumes that more money -> more cultural awareness and ethics,
which is not at all obvious.  This brings to mind the recent thread on
"brogrammer" culture.

Jeremy Hankins <nowan at nowan.org>

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