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We Can Avoid a Surveillance State Dystopia 267

Posted by Soulskill
from the with-only-the-power-of-love-and-maybe-some-napalm dept.
An anonymous reader writes "After the past year's revelations about NSA spying, it's hard to read any commentary about society without dire warnings of the coming (or already present) surveillance state. Sci-fi author Ramez Naam makes the point that while government surveillance needs to be fought, it's actually not as bad as what we were promised in decades past. 'Aldous Huxley published Brave New World in 1932. And while Brave New World is remembered more for predicting government-controlled biological engineering of the masses, it also features government surveillance, media manipulation, and thought control. This is an old idea. Yet somehow, today, in most of the world, governments have dramatically less control over their people than they did when Huxley and Orwell wrote those words. Indeed, the average person on Earth is more free today, in 2014, than he or she would have been in the actual year 1984. The arc of history has bent towards more freedom.' Naam also explains that the technological advances allowing the bulk collection of personal data also provide us with cheap and easy means to fight government overreach."
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We Can Avoid a Surveillance State Dystopia

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  • Wait what (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 21, 2014 @07:17PM (#46307413)

    So the government doesn't control the media and control us through fear of terrorism? Because it seems to me that they kind of do

  • umm no (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dlt074 (548126) on Friday February 21, 2014 @07:18PM (#46307421)

    we are not more free. we are over regulated, over ruled, over interfered with. period.

    you can double-speak it anyway you like. spin spin spin. we are less free then ever here in the US of A.

    • Exactly.

      There is nothing they can't monitor and collect these days, the only thing in our favor is ability to analyze the mountain of raw data they have already.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 21, 2014 @07:37PM (#46307581)

      we are not more free. we are over regulated, over ruled, over interfered with. period.

      I think spying on Americans is shitty. Regulating discharge from mining companies or oil drilling companies is completely acceptable.

      That's my opinion.

      You may disagree.

      But where does freedom begin and end.

      As for me, business is always wrong because profit makes people eventually do evil. Capitalism makes people spiral to the bottom because of its nature. The excuse of "our bottom line" creates a mentality to destroy the commons and poison people. I have never seen an exception. Please, tell me when the profit motive has helped people over the long term. I would really like to know.

      Yes, I am implying that Socialism is better over the long term. Although, it's still not good enough.

      Economics is the most backwards 'science" ever - it's more of a religion, isn't it.

      • by Kjella (173770) on Friday February 21, 2014 @09:11PM (#46308199) Homepage

        As for me, business is always wrong because profit makes people eventually do evil. Capitalism makes people spiral to the bottom because of its nature. The excuse of "our bottom line" creates a mentality to destroy the commons and poison people. I have never seen an exception. Please, tell me when the profit motive has helped people over the long term. I would really like to know.

        Money is what keeps me showing up at work five days a week. Now I'd like to think I'm doing something useful there, granted I'm not curing cancer or anything like that but still. Throw me in a "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need" communist hellhole I'll do my best to be useless and needy. Or better yet, one of the people in power who decide if other people are useful or have needs. Give me the Star Trek utopia and I'll be the bloody useless guy who spends all his time on the holodeck. Which is why I think all the basic income people are on crack, because there's frankly jobs you wouldn't do if you could live well without doing them.

        Money isn't really the cause of anything, it's just the objectification of "What's in it for me?" and honestly, I don't ever see most of my money. They just exist as numbers in a bank somewhere, I can't even wipe my ass with them. They're just easier to use as intermediaries and to gain interest on than buying lifestock and breeding them, forests that produce lumber or whatever else produces "interest". If we weren't using currency we'd still have economics, for example people would look for arbitrage in swapping cows for goats for corn for cows if the exchange rates were off. People would look at the ROI for giving you grain now in return for pork next summer. Maybe they weren't so formal about it, but it still happened long before we started using coins and notes.

        • by Urza9814 (883915) on Friday February 21, 2014 @11:18PM (#46308907)

          Money is what keeps me showing up at work five days a week. Now I'd like to think I'm doing something useful there, granted I'm not curing cancer or anything like that but still. Throw me in a "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need" communist hellhole I'll do my best to be useless and needy. Or better yet, one of the people in power who decide if other people are useful or have needs. Give me the Star Trek utopia and I'll be the bloody useless guy who spends all his time on the holodeck. Which is why I think all the basic income people are on crack, because there's frankly jobs you wouldn't do if you could live well without doing them.

          Personally, I've always found that work is the thing that *prevents* me from doing things I consider useful. Gimme three or more free days in a row, and suddenly I start writing code and building things and getting stuff done. Stick me in a cubicle for eight hours, I try to do as little as possible for those eight hours, then go home and stare at the TV until it's time to sleep. The more "free time" I have, the busier I become.

          Of course, that's a different kind of work. At work I'm writing scripts for performance testing software. At home I'm building a web-based home theater system with a control console that pops up out of my coffee table. Although I do also volunteer for some community groups, and that goes WAY up when I don't have to work a 40 hour week -- from hours per month or year to hours per day. In the past, when I didn't *have* to work, I'd spend *more* than 40 hours a week volunteering for various groups.

          As for the drugs and holodeck:
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R... [wikipedia.org]

        • Real Freedom is economic security. That's why the 1% have been relentlessly attacking your economic security for 30 years. Declining wages, relentless attacks on Unions, starve the beast [google.com] politics and boom/busts where they buy up property on the cheap because they're the only ones with any money left after the bust. They're all tools to make you poor so you'll do what they say.

          Here, let This guy explain it [moveon.org]. He's much better than I am.
          • by khallow (566160)
            So the problem is that labor is no longer as scarce as it was thirty or more years ago. I'd rather adapt to the reality rather than complain uselessly about it.

            Sure, there's a bunch of people who get most of their wealth from capital instead of labor. They did quite well. But if you actually managed to take them down, you wouldn't get paid any more.
            • by sjames (1099)

              But if you actually managed to take them down, you wouldn't get paid any more.

              Sure you would. They would no longer have any influence to prevent it or other adaptations to the labor surplus that don't end up with the entire benefit landing in their pocket.

        • by sjames (1099)

          So you don't want the utopia because you are by your own admission a lazy selfish asshole? :-)

          Not a problem. You go ahead and plant your ass firmly on the couch. In a year or two, you'll balloon to 800 pounds and die. Problem solved. The rest of us will be making ourselves useful.

          But most of the Basic Income people aim for live 'OKish' without working. To live well, you need to get a job.

          • by Kjella (173770)

            Not a problem. You go ahead and plant your ass firmly on the couch. In a year or two, you'll balloon to 800 pounds and die. Problem solved. The rest of us will be making ourselves useful. But most of the Basic Income people aim for live 'OKish' without working. To live well, you need to get a job.

            Well, you can't have it both ways, either it frees up that burger flipping minimum wage earner to go on and write his masterpiece or he'll still be stuck there in his minimum wage job while it's really a bailout to those with money to boost it up but not quite rich enough to do it on their own. So I was exaggerating a little bit, but there's so many things to do that are just for personal pleasure, self-realization or as a hobby that does nobody else any good. That guy who'll instead go to the gym seven day

            • by sjames (1099)

              Let's take an example. Say the basic income is set at the current minimum wage. Would you be content with a minimum wage lifestyle (but with lots of free time) or might you want to do something useful to get money for nice camping equipment and a gym membership?

              Keep in mind too that employers will no longer be able to make work a drudge like so many do today. They'll have to make jobs either highly rewarding and enjoyable to perform or pay very well. For example, no longer allowing sales to promise the moon

    • First off though, who is Ramez Naam and why should I care what his opinion is?

      Secondly, "freedom" has never been evenly spread in the USofA. So while some of us are less free now, others have seen a net increase in their freedoms.

      Anyway, from the summary:

      Naam also explains that the technological advances allowing the bulk collection of personal data also provide us with cheap and easy means to fight government overreach.

      He might want to look up Snowden and Manning.

      You can "fight" but it is more likely that

    • The internet is an inherently chaotic system with most of the computing power on the edges and very weak central controls. This is by design because it creates a stable, robust network. Individuals (first from universities) swarmed the internet in an explosion of creativity. They were followed by corporations as the net was opened to commercial activity. Government was late to the game and is only now coming to grips with how to use the internet for monitoring citizens.

      As individuals moved online, there

    • just don't drink the water [google.com] while you're doing it.
    • by Mantrid42 (972953)
      Well, except for people who were slaves. Or a woman who wanted to vote before 1920. Or a minority before the Civil Rights movement. How exactly are we defining "Freedom"? We can't measure it without quantifying it. In what way have you been directly restricted by the government?
  • The Problem (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nwaack (3482871) on Friday February 21, 2014 @07:18PM (#46307423)
    The problem is that most 'normal' people aren't going to use things like Tor in order to not not be spied on by their own county, nor should they have to.
    • If it comes bundled with Firefox, they'll use it.
      • If it comes bundled with Firefox, they'll use it.

        No they won't. Have ever had google just ban you and not let you search claiming that you are a robot no matter how many captchas you successfully fill out? Thats a regular occurrence on tor. You make tor the default and half your user base will be on chrome before you can say "browser". I'm am all in favor of any and all anonymity/encryption efforts but the general public doesn't care enough to encrypt their email let alone use tor.

  • You're too late.

  • by medv4380 (1604309) on Friday February 21, 2014 @07:29PM (#46307517)
    We're ether in a surveillance state run by the State, a surveillance state run by Corporations, or a mixture of both. Avoiding one means getting the other at this point. I don't see a third option without destroying the tech that makes it possible, and I'll be keeping my my computers until the Amish Technology Police State take them from my cold dead hands.
    • by Immerman (2627577)

      How about banning all non-essential collection, storage, or exchange of personally identifiable data without explicit permission from the originating party? ISPs must flush all account-specific information as soon as it's no longer necessary for correct functioning. Google and Amazon can't make horribly inaccurate personalized recommendations unless I opt-in (and opt-in must not be mandatory). etc. etc. etc.

      I'm not seeing any loss of functionality for citizens, except what's lost due to lack of surveillan

    • by dbIII (701233)
      To a large extent parts of it are a surveillance state run by the State for the benefit of corporations. Airbus vs Boeing had it's day in court to confirm that around a decade and a half ago. While some may see it as "good for business" such a situation tends to suck for any business that does not have someone from the government in their pocket. Such a government sucks for anyone that would like to be represented instead of the state doing whatever they have been bribed to do.
      There may be problems now b
  • by Spazmania (174582) on Friday February 21, 2014 @07:33PM (#46307547) Homepage

    It's because we have so much freedom that we know enough to be alarmed by how much government intrusion there is.

  • ...if only there was some process we could use by which we could affect change in our government.

    • by Immerman (2627577)

      Yeah, that *would* be nice.

      Unfortunately due to extensive lobbying and the well-understood weaknesses of first-past-the-post voting, in the US we're pretty much limited to picking between Sock Puppet A and Sock Puppet B every couple of years, with potentially independent 3rd-party candidates being unable to compete. They may work for slightly different subsets of powerful special interests, but the evidence is pretty clear that they don't actually listen to their constituency much - just look at the voting

  • by nurb432 (527695) on Friday February 21, 2014 @07:39PM (#46307603) Homepage Journal

    You cant avoid it. You are not in control of it.

  • by liquid_schwartz (530085) on Friday February 21, 2014 @08:02PM (#46307751)
    My grandfather was able to do many things that I cannot. My father was able to do less than him but still more than me. I have already gotten to do things that my kids won't be able to. Need examples, try how many places you can go hunting / fishing / hiking / off roading / target shooting / camping. You can't even have campfires at developed sites in some areas. Consider what firework options you have, they have probably gone down. Granted I live in the Peoples Republic of Kalifornia, so many of you will have more options than I do. Even so, the trend that I've observed is that options (another way of looking at Freedom) are going down. I don't see an end in sight either.
    • by dbIII (701233)
      I've got mixed feelings about that.
      One of my relatives who played with relatively low powered fireworks once is missing a couple of fingers. Another who played with a lot of stuff up to and including cordite (the nearby army base had poor security) in his early teens had no damage apart from a reputation for being "that kid" who blew things up.
      I've probably still got mixed feeling because in Australia it's still the situation where some people found with explosives near a major dam upstream from a major ci
  • by VortexCortex (1117377) <VortexCortex.project-retrograde@com> on Friday February 21, 2014 @08:06PM (#46307799)

    TFA is disinformation or ignorance, do not believe the message therein.

    You are only as free as they let you be. [youtube.com] The news is not the news. [youtube.com] You are slaves to corporations that farm you. [youtube.com] Your wars are fought to privatize economies. [youtube.com] Since secrets were allowed in government they have been actively against all activism, [wikipedia.org] because activism the only thing that affects change, your votes do not matter, [snagfilms.com] the political system is rigged. [snagfilms.com] Maintaining the social, economic, and political status quo, even against the will of the people, is what "national security" means. [theguardian.com] They don't have to fake disasters, they can craft legislation and posture politically so that when one comes along they can turn a blind eye if need be. Each disaster makes the people more powerless, increasing the wealth gap. This is disaster capitalism, and it is working great even in communist nations.

    With unemployment up, you are still spending too much time working: One can not truly fulfill their potential as humans without time to relax, enjoy life, create, and explore new opportunities. Your office jobs are pointless, replaceable either by computers or outsourcing to individuals with less cost of living, and we do so increasingly to ensure no job stability -- nearly everyone is a buggy whip maker one step of progress away from being an "unskilled" homeless person. The labor jobs largely have no unions so their working conditions suffer. In both blue and white collar cases people are given no time to seek new avenues of employ, or even manage their finances (you think bankers hours aren't such for a reason? Information disparity is the source of all evil). With inflation out-pacing pay, money in savings is diminished so that people can not safely leave employ -- The better to entrap and farm you with my dear. If you had a little more time you'd have leverage at your disposal to find better work or keep a plan B so that you can bargain for better pay and working conditions. Each disaster allows the system to ratchet your belts a bit tighter, more reliance, less time to be human. This is why banks are not held accountable, and are rather encouraged to destroy markets. How could anyone benefit from economic disaster and the mayhem it brings? Humans will do whatever it takes to survive, and the unscathed upper echelon will capitalize on this.

    What is worse than 1984 is having it worse while fools like the article writer think it's not as bad. Classic ignorance. An example of thought control at its finest. When I became an adult I looked upon your world as though an alien from a distant planet -- I managed to forget all the programming about what "the real world" is, and question everything as a scientist would. The most telling and alarming is your willful resistance to application of the scientific method to governance and worklife. It's fucking disgusting. No engineer or scientist would agree to be ruled thus.

    The answer is to modularize and decentralize your production of necessary resources, but no one wants to hear that... Moronic NIMBYs, you deserve what you get for your apathetic ignorance and inaction. The government has codified resistance to sustainable coexistence. That's why farmers can't grow excessive crops, even for personal use, [wikipedia.org] and no city can survive on its own. Hell, school kids aren't even taught basic technologies like how to start a cooking fire, swim, sew, butcher, or bake -- Not survival

    • by khallow (566160)

      The most telling and alarming is your willful resistance to application of the scientific method to governance and worklife.

      Maybe it's because you're using the wrong tool for the job? Scientific method works nice when understanding is the highest goal. When instead, it's some other agenda, then it's going to fail hard. And you just mentioned two of the areas where such sufficiently large agenda exist.

  • Not in America (Score:5, Insightful)

    by srichard25 (221590) on Friday February 21, 2014 @08:12PM (#46307843)

    "Indeed, the average person on Earth is more free today, in 2014, than he or she would have been in the actual year 1984"

    Maybe the average person on Earth is more free today, but the average American is most definitely NOT more free today than they were in 1984. Try to buy a large soda in New York. Try to smoke just about anywhere indoors. Try to board a plane with a pocket knife, or even just a soda. 20 year old adults can serve in the Marines, but can't buy a drink.

  • The first step is to stop asking for more state and pretending that the government is a solution to control corporations, banks and any other "evil" out there.
  • I guess this /. news is in itself sci-fi !
  • So wait - because we haven't yet started losing a lot of obvious freedoms yet we shouldn't be worried about an ever-more-invasive surveillance state? That seems disingenuous. It'd be a pretty stupid tyrant who tipped his hand before he was sure he could squash any opposition, especially if the tyrant in question is an association of powerful individuals who prefer to remain as anonymous as possible. Can you name the 100 most powerful people in the world? I bet you very few of them have ever intentional

    • "Can you name the 100 most powerful people in the world? I bet you very few of them have ever intentionally appeared on television."

      Fuck yeah I can! And they have all been on TV.

      1) Obama
      2) Santa Claus
      3) Putin
      4) Chinese dude that runs China, what's his face.
      5) Gandalf
      6) Bill Gates

      What do you mean the powerful people don't want to be on TV. That doesn't even make any sense. Tell former Mayor Bloomberg or Ted Turner that powerful people don't want to be on TV. You make no sense, man.
      • by Immerman (2627577)

        Politicians want to be on TV, but if we all agree they sell out then who, exactly, do you suppose they are selling out *to*? The corporations? Okay, but those are ultimately controlled by the stockholders, a few hundred of which collectively have controlling interest in every major corporation on Earth. Could you name those people?

  • by EmperorOfCanada (1332175) on Friday February 21, 2014 @08:46PM (#46308061)
    The simple problem is that information is power. The typical psychopath who runs for political office or backstabs their way into top civil servant positions know this in their very cores. They want this power and they don't want us to have this power. This is why freedom of information requests can be the end of governments and many civil servants jobs and this is why they do their damnedest to fight them or exempt data from them.

    A great example of this would be when the receipts for UK ministers got leaked that it instantly resulted in political career loss, criminal charges, and probably helped with a change in government. Obviously this was powerful data that when leaked resulted in a massive positive for society. Yet the government claims that this data is dangerous to have public; yet they can't show any damage that came from the one time it was made public. Plus the only claim with any real basis (account numbers and potentially credit card info) is nonsense as those could be blacked out with little loss to the public. But there has been no move to make this data public and an investigation into who leaked the data. If they did catch the person I suspect that they would end up facing penalties greater than those who were caught stealing from the government.

    My personal view is that nothing that government does should be kept secret with the single exception of personal medical records. That basically if you work for or interact with the government that it should be 100% open. Some records could be sealed for a year or so such as undercover operations but that should require a special judge to approve and even then should have a time limit.

    I see this as no different than if I owned a company and one of my employees told me that I couldn't see a contract they were negotiating for my company. If any employee said no to any information request I made then I would say, "No problem sorry to bother you." And then with security I would have them thrown out of the office while IT changed every password they might know and a forensic investigator would be pouring over their records before the day was over. Plus I would criminally charge them with the slightest wrong doing found. Whereas if an employee came to me saying they screwed up I would be quite forgiving and work with them through the problem.

    Keeping things in the light is always the best policy. But too many government officials seem to think that we can't handle the truth. The reality is that the violent reaction they get when leaks do happen is that we are usually more annoyed with the coverup than the actual events. Benghazi would be perfect: it was layers of lying that brought about those events, events in a violent country where violence should be expected, and then the cover-up after. Few people would have been surprised that strange things happened in Libya, so covering them up was just stupid.

    So no, this whole government getting more information is a terrible terrible thing. These people have long proven themselves to be 100% untrustworthy and quite hostile to our wellbeing. What has kept them from doing their worst was a combination of their having bad information combined with leaks that gave us great information. But now they can look at any "dissident" who by definition will be anyone questioning their behavior including normal political opposition, and not only figure out their entire network of supporters but as any mathematician will tell you with a network is that there are a few key nodes. Thus they will be able to effectively destroy any opposition not through routing out every little dissident but by highly selective targeting of very few people causing the network to disintegrate. To use the American revolution as an example I suspect that the British would have loved to find the few financially key supporters and throw them into the Boston harbor. If they had the lists of supporters that we now know as founding fathers the revolution could have been ended with one afternoon of hangings. And I am talking pre-teaparty; by reading their correspondence they could have seen trouble brewing, and with a few trumped up charges kept the ink off the declaration of independence.
  • As the public and press after the Snowden whistleblowing finally wakes up to been activly tracked and logged over decades what can be done?
    Popular culture sort of understood aspects of Echelon back in the 1980-90's via books and magazines, early internet use. The wider public where fooled by notions of legal protections, enshrined domestic law, population size, private vs public, computing power to store/sort vast data sets, brand and shareholders vs bad PR, powerful private sector crypto and other wonderf
  • I'm considered by my friends as the most tech savvy guy around, but I use my good old Halda typewriter to type my blog & memoirs. It doesn't get much safer than than.
    • by AHuxley (892839)
      Much cash has gone into domestic signals intelligence, electronic intelligence (traffic analysis). Every POTS phone call account, cell phone use, colorful web 2.0 experience, email can be stored for later examination.
      If your memoirs require gov clearance recall Operation Dark Heart (a 2010 memoir by U.S. Army intelligence officer)
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/O... [wikipedia.org]
  • Right now, the Technology we have is changing the world. The thing is, is that there are still large sloths of the US Population that still has a White Supremacist, or Christian Supremacist Medieval of the world we live in. To these people freedom and egalitarian thinking is the enemy. "The other populations" must be kept 'under control' The technology will be abused to whatever means possible to control what are seen as a domestic enemy population to uphold traditions of ancestors, and this can get as fi

  • We now have two salient facts about our technology:

    (a) A constant flow of communication

    (b) The ability to monitor it

    Someone will do this. It's inevitable that government will want to in order to keep an eye on true threats. Sort of like Echelon, but domestically, as our threats are now domestic more than foreign.

  • Unless of course you want to send an email and feel confident that it's confidential.
  • Don't see a lot of talk about the thousands dead in the OVER TEN YEAR long war in the middle east do you?

    This is the kind of things the Smothers Brothers said that made the president of the united states call the president of CBS at 3am too tell him to shut them up.

    But you can have sex just about anyway you want as long as the partners are of age.

    Drugs and religion are fine too.

    Just don't bother the powers that be where it really matters to them. If you do that, you'll be unemployed (freedom of speech prot

  • by cshark (673578) on Saturday February 22, 2014 @07:23PM (#46313281)

    This is an outright, prima-face lie, based on nothing.
    Why is this even on the Slashdot home page? Are we dedicated to spreading liberal and progressive propaganda now?

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