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RMS: How Much Surveillance Can Democracy Withstand? 264

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the guix-install-freedom dept.
Covalent writes "RMS describes how much surveillance is too much (hint: it's all too much) and how to combat, circumvent, and prevent future surveillance. How much of what is suggested is plausible? How much is just a pipe dream? Discuss!" The article contains an extensive list of things we do that give too much data to centralized organization, and offers solutions to combat all of them. From the article: "The goal of making journalism and democracy safe therefore requires that we reduce the data collected about people by any organization, not just by the state. We must redesign digital systems so that they do not accumulate data about their users. If they need digital data about our transactions, they should not be allowed to keep them more than a short time beyond what is inherently necessary for their dealings with us."
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RMS: How Much Surveillance Can Democracy Withstand?

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  • by Yaur (1069446) on Monday October 14, 2013 @06:50PM (#45126919)
    Look at GMail, vs hush mail vs tormail vs lavabit and the like. The public just doesn't care and probably can't be made to care.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 14, 2013 @07:12PM (#45127107)

      If GMail says to me "You get free mail, in exchange we parse all your email to display you an advert" then I'm happy to lose that bit of my privacy - and with this knowledge in mind I won't use GMail for anything important.

      The public cares, the problem comes when you think your communication is private, but it is actually being intercepted and stored by the US Government. Why does the US Government feel they are so special? I'd like to see the response if another government asked some of these providers to access their entire database.

      • by hackula (2596247) on Monday October 14, 2013 @07:24PM (#45127223)
        This. It is not about everything being private all the time. It is about choosing who sees what. Corporations should be required to disclose disclosures of my information, and the government should have no ability to circumvent that without a warrant. I have no problem with the plumber coming into my house while I am at work. I do have a problem if said plumber is forced to allow the police in at the same time.
    • by fredprado (2569351) on Monday October 14, 2013 @07:13PM (#45127119)
      Although I can empathize with your cynicism, defeatism takes you nowhere. Some people do care, and other people have much lower thresholds to begin caring than you give them credit too.

      Eventually at some threshold everybody will care. We are just not there yet, fortunately.
      • by j_l_cgull (129101)

        Eventually at some threshold everybody will care. We are just not there yet, unfortunately.

        FTFY.

        • I'll echo the parent's sentiment here; you really don't want to see what happens when a substantial portion of society gets extremely angry. I'm hoping the course can be reversed before it comes to that.

      • You're cute. I bet you clap for tinkerbelle every time. The point is that by the time everyone cares, it will be way past reasonably defensible.
        And, given the 90% of people who will roll over and support anything that fights terrorism (pew study), we have a long way to go before that.

        It's not defeatism to admit that there is not a sufficient corps of people with the type of pathos needed to make a difference. Nor to admit it is a large ship to turn around.

        The moment https is everywhere because that's how yo

    • The question may be whether the internet should die and be replaced by something better. The cost of doing business through the internet may be too high compared to some other alternative. It has failed to exhibit a plan for -sustainable- profitability and it is too connected. It is like a brain tumor. It has no core structure that could serve to regulate growth or partition against assault. Designing security or subjective isolation after the fact is becoming an ever increasing burden that will only get wo
      • The question may be whether the internet should die and be replaced by something better.

        Simply implementing ipv6 isn't going to cut it for you?

        • The question may be whether the internet should die and be replaced by something better.

          Simply implementing ipv6 isn't going to cut it for you?

          I never minded having company meetings that included everybody. The internet is like a company meeting where people off the street are allowed to attend wearing a stocking on their head and screaming obscenities and nonsense and grabbing papers from the table, while everybody else is trying to accomplish something. Anything other than limited complexity is just toothpaste in a hole. Ten to the ninth factorial is a REALLY big number. It can never be operated by a competitive population. Maybe human V6 will

    • by sqrt(2) (786011) on Monday October 14, 2013 @07:32PM (#45127287) Journal

      Tor (and Tor hidden services) can no longer be considered completely secure. It's much better than nothing, but if you become a target, the NSA and other government agencies can and have used methods to track people down who use Tor. The FBI has shown that they are willing to actively attack the Tor network by infecting innocent bystanders with malware. The NSA are making a big push on the Tor network, as revealed by recently released Snowden files. We need to rapidly develop and migrate to a new generation of anonymizing networks.

      • by Yaur (1069446)
        This isn't really a problem. If the government has a reason to investigate you having the tools to do so isn't necessarily a bad thing, and is much different than the capture everything and decrypt it if/when we are able to strategy hinted at by the Snowden leaks. Obviously, serving malware with no warrant or a "general warrant" is a serious overreach.
  • Long Answer: only the sky is the limit.
    • by rtb61 (674572)

      Real answer to the question of how much surveillance can a society withstand is defined by whether it is from the top down or the bottom up.

      From the bottom up of course those at the top will keep driving it further and further as long as they can isolate themselves from it. From the top down, well, those at the top will make sure privacy is the single most important right.

      Out job is to force it from the top down. Fuck national security, it is the public's right, the voter's to invade the privacy at the

  • Faulty premise (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 14, 2013 @06:53PM (#45126943)

    After more than a decade of the "war on terror" and its massive abuses, it's safe to say there is no democracy left to be withstanding anything.

  • by BenEnglishAtHome (449670) on Monday October 14, 2013 @06:55PM (#45126959)

    It's too bad that the eminently sensible advice in that opinion piece will be ignored by techies because it comes from a guy perceived as icky.

    It's too bad that anyone who takes that advice seriously and wants to act on it, then seeks out RMS for help, will likely be repulsed at some point.

    In times of upheaval, ideologues are often the only people thinking straight enough to find a way out. Why did ours have to come wrapped in this particular package, a marketing nightmare that makes selling good sense so difficult even within the tech community?

    I despair for the future and this is but one reason among legions.

    • Why do you care so much what a person looks like? Get over it, most of us are ugly too.
      • I don't care. I'm willing to listen to him. I think he has a good message, for the most part.

        In times like these, on this extremely important issue, when he writes really good opinion piece like this one, I think it's particularly important that people listen. Thus, I think it is fair to point out that a weird messenger can cause a good message to be ignored. It's lamentable but it's human nature.

    • Why did ours have to come wrapped in this particular package

      Because the charming and whitty people spend all their time trolling /.

    • Stop believing that it's okay to ignore "eminently sensible advice" and you'll encourage others to do the same. Nobody is always pleasing to everyone. Your criticism against RMS here ends up reading as an ad hominem attack without evidence or a backhanded compliment which you think is more important to raise than the substance of the arguments presented. There's no reason to despair unless you are looking for a reason to do nothing but throw up your hands.

      Eben Moglen is also giving a series of talks [snowdenandthefuture.info] about

  • Last I checked, Democracy is what gave us the Surveillance State.

    • Re:Democracy (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Kjella (173770) on Monday October 14, 2013 @07:13PM (#45127115) Homepage

      Last I checked, Democracy is what gave us the Surveillance State.

      Gilbert: There is one difference. In a democracy, the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars.
      Göring: Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.

      It's not exactly an accident that the NSA legitimized their mass surveillance through the PATRIOT act.

    • by onyxruby (118189)

      Nero original made himself a hero to the people of Rome by burning (what turned out to be just a copy) of the surveillance records that were kept by the government. That's the first example that comes to mind, however I'm sure it wouldn't take long to find examples even older than that. If you know your history you know what Nero's stance on Democracy.

      Stalin had a surveillance state that was pretty much the very definition of a Communist dictatorship. The East Germans employed a significant portion of their

  • by onyxruby (118189) <onyxrubyNO@SPAMcomcast.net> on Monday October 14, 2013 @06:58PM (#45126987)

    The only way to stop surveillance of civilians is to have a clear and unequivocal constitutional amendment that strictly enshrines the right to privacy and limits surveillance of US civilians by our government.

    This is a lot tougher than it sounds as previous language that was pretty plain language to the people that wrote them (read the Federalist papers sometime) about limiting the right of the Federal government from infringing the rights of the people. The first and second amendments alone have been trampled with literally tens of thousands of laws that take away or limit said rights (I haven't even touched the other amendments).

    What you really need is an entirely secondary constitutional amendment that spells out in plain language that "Shall make / not" means exactly what the dictionary says it does. Once you can do that and wipe out tens of thousands of laws that have been written to take away the effective meaning of your rights to begin with you can have an effective right to privacy.

    The right to privacy is a wonderful idea, but it's worthless until we restore the concept of the "right" to begin with.

    • by AlphaWoIf_HK (3042365) on Monday October 14, 2013 @07:23PM (#45127213)

      limits surveillance of US civilians by our government.

      It shouldn't just be US citizens, but innocent people in general.

      • by jopsen (885607)

        limits surveillance of US civilians by our government.

        It shouldn't just be US citizens, but innocent people in general.

        It shouldn't just be US citizens, but people in general.

        There fixed it for you... privacy is a human right, I'm not saying convicted criminals can't be tracked. But even such surveillance should have limit both in time and reach.

        • Yes. My point was that if you don't have a damn good reason (i.e. if you don't have evidence) to spy on someone, surveillance simply shouldn't take place, and your surveillance shouldn't impact innocent people when you do find someone.

    • by timeOday (582209)
      By focusing on government, your response ignores most of the problem, which is private industry. That's who is building most of the centralized databases. Once constructed their exploitation (by many parties) is inevitable.
      • by onyxruby (118189)

        I can't argue your point actually, and I think it's one that many people overlook. When you get down to brass tacks private industry does far more of the day to intrusion into peoples lives than the government does, and they arguably are a lot more effective at it. Your point can and should be addressed, but without the concept of having the right to begin with, how on earth are you ever going to protect it from private industry?

    • by triffid_98 (899609) on Monday October 14, 2013 @07:39PM (#45127355)
      And here I thought we already had one of those. Are you're saying this one was way too unclear and wordy?

      The Fourth Amendment (Amendment IV) to the United States Constitution is the part of the Bill of Rights that prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures and requires any warrant to be judicially sanctioned and supported by probable cause. It was adopted in response to the abuse of the writ of assistance, a type of general search warrant issued by the British government and a major source of tension in pre-Revolutionary America. The Fourth Amendment was introduced in Congress in 1789 by James Madison, along with the other amendments in the Bill of Rights, in response to Anti-Federalist objections to the new Constitution. Congress submitted the amendment to the states on September 28, 1789. By December 15, 1791, the necessary three-quarters of the states had ratified it. On March 1, 1792, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson announced the adoption of the amendment.
      • by onyxruby (118189)

        Many people have argued that this is intended to give people the right to privacy, and I originally thought of posting your argument. Unfortunately it doesn't actually call out the word "privacy" and that is why in today's climate you need a separate and explicit amendment to that effect.

        The more I thought about it though, the bigger is really the issue of plain "shall" being allowed to be trumped by Congress on a routine basis. Until you can restore the plain language meaning of the Bill of Rights as writt

      • by Zordak (123132) on Monday October 14, 2013 @07:57PM (#45127497) Homepage Journal
        And that's the problem. As long as we keep playing word games with what the Constitution says, it doesn't matter how explicit the guarantee is. Somebody will find a way around it. It's been happening for more than 200 years. How much more explicit can you be than, for example, "The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." Yes, there's a preamble that points out the reason: the people should be able to raise militias for the security of a free state. But that doesn't remotely limit the language that follows it. If anything, that makes "assault weapons" bans even more unconstitutional.
      • And here I thought we already had one of those. Are you're saying this one was way too unclear and wordy?

        The Fourth Amendment (Amendment IV) to the United States Constitution is the part of the Bill of Rights that prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures

        Who defines "unreasonable"?

        and requires any warrant to be judicially sanctioned and supported by probable cause.

        The warrants are judicially sanctioned. And they find probable cause by snooping before asking for the warrant. Again, depends on how "unreasonable searches" is defined.

        It was adopted in response to the abuse of the writ of assistance, a type of general search warrant issued by the British government and a major source of tension in pre-Revolutionary America. The Fourth Amendment was introduced in Congress in 1789 by James Madison, along with the other amendments in the Bill of Rights, in response to Anti-Federalist objections to the new Constitution. Congress submitted the amendment to the states on September 28, 1789. By December 15, 1791, the necessary three-quarters of the states had ratified it. On March 1, 1792, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson announced the adoption of the amendment.

        • Who defines "unreasonable"?

          How much more clear can one possibly be? There is no way to make a huge blacklist of all the things the government shouldn't do, so what can be done there?

          • Who defines "unreasonable"?

            How much more clear can one possibly be?

            Well, that's the whole problem with this situation. The limit on federal power hinges on what is considered "unreasonable", and that is dependent on who provides the definition.

            The NSA says it is reasonable to be able to gather intelligence on foreign terrorists. The military says it is reasonable to prevent attacks on our soldiers. Department of Homeland Security says it is reasonable to prevent attacks on our civilian population. So, when the government is defining "reasonable", they give themselves the m

    • by jodido (1052890)
      Sorry, but passing yet another law isn't going to stop the government agencies that have been breaking existing ones for decades.
    • What you really need is an entirely secondary constitutional amendment that spells out in plain language that "Shall make / not" means exactly what the dictionary says it does.

      Unfortunately, the dictionary is not a programming reference and the English language is not a programming language. There is no such thing as an unequivocal 'plain language' meaning.

      The right to privacy is a wonderful idea, but it's worthless until we restore the concept of the "right" to begin with.

      As above - there's no con

      • by onyxruby (118189)

        Actually the Constitution, Bill of Rights and other critical documents that the Founding Fathers wrote did come with what you could call a 'dictionary' where they spelled out their intent and meaning. The set of documents that was written where they described exactly what they meant when they wrote what they wrote, context of meaning and so on. These documents are called the "Federalist Papers" and have been available for anyone to look at online for many years. They arguably are among the most important do

        • Actually the Constitution, Bill of Rights and other critical documents that the Founding Fathers wrote did come with what you could call a 'dictionary' where they spelled out their intent and meaning. The set of documents that was written where they described exactly what they meant when they wrote what they wrote, context of meaning and so on.

          Except for the part where it's not a dictionary, not a part of any statute or law, and wasn't written by the Founding Fathers (but rather by a limited subset thereof

    • All we need is a constitutional amendment that whatever the government does to the people, the people can do to the government.

      If the government can read anyone's email, then I can read the email of anyone who works for the government. If they can listen to my calls, I can listen to theirs. If the can see my bank and medical records, I can see theirs.

      FTFY

      • All we need is a constitutional amendment that whatever the government does to the people, the people can do to the government.

        I think that was the implicit point of the 2nd amendment.

    • There is no law you can pass that will accomplish this, as it depends on people to enforce it.

      It was blatantly illegal to seize the property of and imprison American's of Japanese descent during WWII, but we did it.

      In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, prior to the Patriot Act being passed, you think anybody bothered with warrants to listen in to phone calls, search locations, whatever, checking if any other attacks were imminent?

      You think the police didn't search houses without a warrant after the Boston Bom

    • The only way to stop surveillance of civilians is to have a clear and unequivocal constitutional amendment that strictly enshrines the right to privacy and limits surveillance of US civilians by our government.

      There already *IS* such a constitutional amendment. It is the fourth and it is quite clear.

      What you really need is an entirely secondary constitutional amendment that spells out in plain language

      And when you create that, over the years, twisted interpretations will eventually aggregate enough to where some bright bulb pops up and says we need a new constitutional amendment that is unambiguously clear and the process repeats.

      The Constitution and the Bill of Rights is crystal clear on these issues. The federal government of the United States of America is clearly operating outside of the Constitution. Just beca

  • There was an article, or a cartoon, or something that I read once.

    1970: You want to give every American a little tracking device so that we know where they are at all times, and can follow them as they move around? You're out of your mind if you think that will happen.
    2010: I need another iPhone!

  • by Radical Moderate (563286) on Monday October 14, 2013 @07:09PM (#45127077)
    I was watching an old Ellery Queen (shot in the 70s) episode last night, it featured a Russian diplomat, who asked if the detective's office was bugged. "I beg your pardon!" Queen's father roared furiously. "This is America!" I actually LOL'd...then cried inside.
  • by deathcloset (626704) on Monday October 14, 2013 @07:15PM (#45127139) Journal
    FTA:

    Internet-connected cameras often have lousy digital security themselves, so anyone could watch what the camera sees. To restore privacy, we should ban the use of internet-connected cameras aimed where and when the public is admitted, except when carried by people

    I've actually thought that open and accessible cameras in public are a good idea - so long as they are accessible by the public. To me this would be akin to the many-eyes philosophy of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linus's_Law [wikipedia.org]

  • by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland.yahoo@com> on Monday October 14, 2013 @07:36PM (#45127321) Homepage Journal

    it's how that data is used.
    We are going to be watched, because modern society is watching everything.
    Democracy can handle the monitoring of everything, if protection and regulations are in place an enforced.

    NSA? all that data they have in no way impacts democracy.

    • it's how that data is used.

      Given that the people in the government are not perfect angels and that every government in history has abused its powers in horrendous, there is absolutely zero reason to believe that giving the government that much data could ever, in any conceivable way, be a good thing; this whole affair is an absolute disaster.

      if protection and regulations are in place an enforced.

      Even them possessing the data at all is dangerous.

    • by geek (5680)

      NSA? all that data they have in no way impacts democracy.

      Really? Ever heard of someone named J. Edgar Hoover who had files on everyone and manipulated politicians with it? Do you really think Obama and whoever replaces him are not/will not use this data to pressure opponents? Have you been living in a cave and not noticed the abuse the IRS has inflicted upon conservative groups at the will of this administration? Do really believe the administration will not use the NSA data to the same ends?

      You are the "low information" voter everyone is pissed off at. You're a

    • Democracy can handle the monitoring of everything, if protection and regulations are in place and enforced.

      False. Policies and procedures are paper-thin. They do not reflect social reality; they do not reflect organizational reality; and they do not reflect technical reality. And tomorrow--when the next witch hunt, the next red scare, the next 9/11 happens--all those high and mighty policies will be changed with the stroke of a pen or (more likely) no pen at all... just silent, expectant pressure from the top.

      The only policy that prevents misuse of data is that of not collecting it in the first place. Even

  • by Anonymous Coward

    We don't have a democracy in nations like the UK or USA. 'Voting' does NOT equal democracy. In the UK or USA you can ONLY bring one of a number of shell-entities into power that represent the exact same interests. Liberal, Labour or Conservative - Republican or Democrat - whoever the sheeple 'vote' for, the same force controls the nation. The same over-arching agendas are pursued and implemented.

    In the UK, a party that had sought to win power for decades (the Liberals) on an unchanging ticket that access to

  • He says laws are insufficient, and proposes that these surveillance technologies should have built-in artificial limitations that defy the will of the user. What does that sound like?

  • Reading past some very busy sock puppets lets try for some basic solutions:
    We know the internet as a whole is watched domestically. The encryption offered by many top US brands is junk, the legal/commercial protections offered by US brands is junk. The coding skills of some US staff is very surveillance friendlily by design or lack of academic interest.
    So what can people do:
    Use a chip thats well understood: http://guiodic.wordpress.com/2008/09/17/richard-stallman-interview/ [wordpress.com] ~Lemote machine.
    Use an open
  • RMS may know all there is to know about technology, but he apparently knows little about history or politics. "[R]estore democracy"? Might be true if it ever existed in the US.
  • How much surveillance can a democracy withstand? That will be very hard to answer in the absence of a democracy to test it upon. Democracy, liberty, rights, etc., all that has been gone for some time now. We live in a nation that has the appearance of democracy without the substance. Over the last 30 years public policy has continuously moved in a direction opposite from what the overwhelming majority of people want. Polls have continuously shown for 30 years that people believe the minimum wage should
  • Germany post WW2 is NOT a democracy for very obvious reasons. It is an "rechtstaat" or however that is spelled. Which means the law is the absolute ruler in Germany.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rechtsstaat

    To be a modern liberal democracy, you first got to have the rule of law to curb the excesses of democracy. Democracy got to be curtailed, to survive.

    But what is a rechtstaat? What is a law? A law is anything that is enforced. Good or bad. You can have a rechtstaat that sends people to the gas chambers.

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