We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

Let’s not kid ourselves, because the end of money, as we know it, really means the beginning of the transactional surveillance State, which makes this a serious debate about the boundaries of State power and the dignity of an individual.

Unfortunately, the real world extends beyond Wolman’s polite corner of Oregon.

There are activists and dissidents in hostile regions paying for Internet blogs, food supplies, and safe harbor. There are payments being made to border guards on a daily basis to flee a murderous government somewhere. There are women selling baskets and blankets at street markets to feed their hungry families. There are cancer patients buying weed from a friend if their state doesn’t accommodate medical marijuana. And even before and after the Third Reich, persecuted peoples have always needed a way to protect and transfer what little remained of their wealth.

The persistent war on cash has more to do with moralistic society than it does with civil society as Wolman claims. With ultimate tracking capabilities, how does Wolman decide when a government’s “right” becomes a wrong? Does he defend the victimless crime laws against online gambling and consensual sex for money between adults? Does he defend confiscation of private sector wealth when a socialistic regime runs out of funds? Does he defend an orchestrated payments blockade against whistleblower site Wikileaks? Does he defend brutal government law enforcement measures in Syria and Gaddafi’s Libya?

Anonymity and civil society do mix — it is omnipotent violent government and civil society that do not mix.

Jon Matonis

29 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Julie near Chicago

    “Does he defend an orchestrated payments blockade against whistleblower site Wikileaks?”

    Not to the main point, but I can’t drum up much sympathy for any alleged right of or desire for anonymity for Wikileaks, when they have shown themselves to have no problem disrespecting that right or desire of others. Actual human persons were murdered because of that particular failing.

  • Paul Marks

    What is all this about Perry?

    Paul tired.

    Paul got work in the morning.

    Paul off to bed.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Although I am one of those who get extremely exercised on the right to privacy (where there can be a reasonable expectation of same; that is, where someone would have to make a positive effort to intrude upon it) privacy, which I see as one of the many unenumerated rights guaranteed under our Ninth Amendment. If there is no direct “natural right” of anonymity where there’s a reasonable expectation of it, it seems to me that it’s included in the right to privacy, since anonymity is one aspect of privacy.

  • “The war on cash” Paul. Follow the link.

  • veryretired

    I think two aspects of this situation are fairly obvious—

    First of all, no matter how much we may regret it, the concept of privacy that existed in the pre-internet age is simply no longer operative. It is unrealistic to go online to send, store, transfer and otherwise transmit information about everything from our credit card bills to national defense secrets and expect the information to remain untouched and unread.

    That being said, it would be a good thing, and I imagine a very profitable thing, if someone could come up with the kind of security programs which would allow people to safeguard some of their personal/business information from both hackers and state cadres. I recall there have been some encryption systems devised, and more are sure to follow.

    Secondly, there is no doubt that ordinary people will respond to the intensifying level of state intrusiveness by moving more and more of their activities to black markets and the shadow economy, whether that is accomplished by paying cash with no record whenever possible, buying goods and services from non-licensed dealers, smuggling, or simply exchanging goods and services in a barter system instead of a formal money or credit exchange.

    I read an article a while ago that estimated the true shadow economy around the world as being a fairly large percentage of the eonomy cited in official figures, and there is no reason to believe that amount will lessen in the face of contiued state encroachment.

    Aside from drugs, there is already a robust shadow trade in highly taxed items, esp. liquor and tobacco, and a great many tradesmen are open to a cash payment off the books instead of a formal billing. Given the almost inevitable cost and rationing issues that the new government medical system will generate as it goes into effect, the use of cash payments and barter for access to medical care will almost certainly increase.

    I could care less about wippileaks, and what’s his name and that moronic little weasel that fed him the information can both go to hell.

    The coming age of total integration of all electronic systems will be a serious challenge to the maintenence of anything even remotely resembling our traditional notion of privacy. It may simply no longer be possible to remain outside the system without an extraordinary committment to living at a level of pre-tech primitivism that most would find not only extrremely difficult, but also unattractive.

    On the positive side, this type of system also makes the kind of secrecy authoritarian states desire, and practice as much as they can, almost impossible to maintain. That vulnerability goes both ways.

  • Runcie Balspune

    “Does he defend an orchestrated payments blockade against whistleblower site Wikileaks?”

    Business refuses to deal with dodgy customer – nothing to see here.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Well, VR, it’s hard to argue with your sentiments re Wippisqueaks.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Miss Rand said something to the effect that one of the true hallmarks of increasing degrees of civilization is increasing privacy….

  • Well, VR, it’s hard to argue with your sentiments re Wippisqueaks.

    Actually I would find it pretty easy to argue with them but that is not really what the article is about so, perhaps another time.

  • Laird

    I think the last line in the article is the money quote: “As Web anthropologist Stowe Boyd proclaims, anonymous cash equals freedom and we should rejoice in that.”

    France already restricts the ability to buy gold and silver for cash; presumably they want to know who is buying precious metals. (Thanks, Alisa, for that article.) The US is limiting the ability to take cash out of the country, and for years it has required banks to file reports on currency transactions of $10,000 or more (allegedly to control money laundering, but the information obtained obviously has broader application).

    A cashless society means more than merely the loss of transactional anonymity. It also means that your movements can be tracked, and your access to financial resources can be cut off with push of a few buttons. Veryretired is undoubtedly correct that the internet age has brought with it a marked change in our notions of privacy, but that doesn’t mean that we should quietly concede its last remaining vestiges to the state. Encryption technology exists and improves every year; anonymous browsing is easy (I use Startpage or Ixquick); Tor permits secure private communication; and it’s only a matter of time before someone will come up with a secure and anonymous way to transfer funds electronically (maybe that exists already; are Bitcoin transfers anonymous?). We have to keep pushing back against the panopticon state.

  • veryretired

    Perry–we have disagreed before and the world still turns on its axis.

    Laird—I agree, and in no way was I saying we should acquiesce to state encroachment, just that some changes in our definitions were inevitable, as well as our practices.

    Julie—you are very kind to an old fool who rambles far too often.

  • Tedd

    I’ve felt for a long time that there was potential for proxy personhood, at least on the internet. Some mechanism whereby you could carry out transactions without anyone knowing who you were, except the agency providing the proxy service. Yes, I know, governments will always retain for themselves the authority to pierce that veil. But it’s still a veil, a boundary that would have to be deliberately crossed, not merely crossed as a matter of course.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    I was driving home in the snow yesterday when one of those annoyingly cheerful HMRC adverts came on. It announced that businesses that pay their staff through PAYE now had to notify HMRC every time they paid their staff. Apparently employers are supposed to download a piece of software that will provide HMRC with real time information about wage payments.

    “Bloody hell”, I thought. I was surprised something so Orwellian hadn’t come to my attention before being implemented.

  • Paul Marks

    I hate links Perry (in fact I rarely even see them – my eyes do better on movement than differences in shade, perhaps I am part cat).

    Still – now I see the issue.

    War on cash = the drive for the all mighty state.

  • David C

    The idea of the end of cash reminded me of this video from the Tea Party Patriots

  • Richard Thomas

    Llaird, Bitcoin transfers are pseudonymous. That is, the transfer is recorded (in fact, that’s what Bitcoin really is, a distributed transaction log). Depending on precautions taken, it can be very hard to link a wallet to an actual person (I can go into my office, fire up a computer completely unconnected to the internet, create a wallet, record the payment key (and the private key) then wipe the computer clean. If I get that key to you in whatever manner, you can make payments to it).

    Bitcoin is at $66 today, a little lower following some exuberance post the Cyprus thing. If it’s going to make it, it will likely end up a lot higher (there will only ever be 21 million mined). So it’s still probably not a bad time to get in.

  • Richard Thomas

    veryretired, most of us haven’t even scratched the surface of the possibilities for privacy that computers allow us. Heck, most of us don’t even care and many of those because they don’t know to care.

    The technologies are out there. Crypto allows for a lot. Your email client likely has encryption built in if you cared to look. Services like TOR and Freenet exist. Encrypted filesystems exist for your computer. If there were the demand, it could be shoehorned into other areas too.

    How many of your friends have provided you with their public key? Have you third party signed a public key for anyone? At the moment, we’re not used to thinking these ways but there are people who have and, as the government and corporations use technology to put us under the microscope, these technologies will be there and will start to be used.

  • veryretired

    RT—I remember a fuss a few years ago about some new encryption program that I think was so good the gov’t was trying to co-opt it. Other than that, you must remember that I’m truly an idiot child when it comes to computers. I usually have my son or SWMBO set up my stuff, like my ipad or kindle, because it gets done properly with a minimum of fuss, and avoids my throwing the device in question against a wall.

    Although that has only happened twice, one laptop and one phone, so I guess it’s not like there are things flying around here every day.

    Every few months maybe…

  • A while back I posted at CCinZ about Margaret Atwood and her novel “The Handmaid’s Tale”. What struck me msst about the book was that one of the primary techniques that the totalitarian Republic of Gilead used to get into power was to abolish cash. They made the usual claims that this would combat fraud etc. Then they froze bank accounts. That was the primary of the RoG. Does any of this sound familiar to any Cypriots out there? Ending cash transactions is (a) doable and (b) desirable for much of th political class. In Atwood’s World (the book is from 1985 – I think) it is to create a deranged theocracy that is at best a parody of Christianity but – and this chilled me – it could be used s an extremely powerful tool to impose almost an totalitarian system.

    And it could be done plausibly. Whip up enough hysteria about the use of cash to buy guns, drugs, porn, whatever and enough people will buy it so to speak.

    Now the way the RoG did this was to make cash illegal. Then they simply hit a kill switch on all female’s bank A/Cs. The titular “Handmaid” (a sex-slave basically) only realises how stuffed she is when she tries to buy a pack of ciggies.

    I don’t expect exactly that. Oh noes! Not exactly. No, I expect it to be used to ration things. Fags, booze, fuel…

    Welcome to an endarkenment folks! Ed Balls will be like a dog with two cocks.

  • Laird

    This is supposed to radically simplify the sending of secure messages and texts. Anyone know much about it?

  • Laird, I wouldn’t put my trust in any service that depends on a centralized server.

  • Richard Thomas

    veryretired, please don’t think I’m pointing fingers. I’m just noting that the technology is out there and just because we don’t see it in use, doesn’t mean it’s not there.

    I think it’s important to remember that the government, powerful as it may seem, treads a somewhat narrow path. As it steps off that path, people will react to combat the overreach. Grey or black markets arise. Bitcoin is arguably a reaction to governments overstepping their reach. The technologies have been there for decades, it’s simply the right time. People are willing to put up with the status-quo, in the most part, because it works OK without too much hassle. We have lives to be getting on with and can’t spend our time tilting at windmills (albeit that we are being taxed to pay for those windmills). If that ceases to be the case, new ecosystems are created. Those with foresight will see which way the wind is blowing and be ready.

    “The art of taxation consists in so plucking the goose as to get the most feathers with the least hissing.” This applies to other sectors too and the government is simply getting too greedy for feathers.

  • Richard Thomas

    I don’t see much revolutionary with the silent circle things and I tend to side with Alisa on the central server thing. Not that it’s necessarily a bad thing.

  • Laird

    Well, the more I read about Silent Circle the more impressed I am with it. But it is a bit pricy; I suspect it’s aimed at the corporate market, and unless the price comes down a lot I doubt it will gain wide acceptance with the hoi polloi like me.

  • Laird: it’s not that I’m ruling it out. I don’t put my trust in it, but for that matter I don’t put my trust in anything else, either. It does not mean that I don’t use services which I do not trust with my privacy. I think that the best approach is “eggs and baskets”. All services have their own inherent vulnerabilities, the trick is to understand them and tailor your behavior accordingly. It’s not easy, but I think it is possible.

  • Bod

    The firm I work for is doing a thourough review of SilentCircle with a view to blanket implementation across all supported devices. At a conversational level, what’s becoming apparent is that it may serve our current interest in ensuring that traffic ‘on the wire’ outside of our offices is as obscure as possible within the limits of supporting a wide range of devices.

    Primary objective was to ensure that interception of information and injection of malign information by non-state actors is as difficult as possible, right down to wire sniffing or router packet capture at routers at communications centers.

    Secondary objective was to ensure that no primary data of any kind should be stored in an unencrypted state, outside of our data domain. This is actually quite complex and makes it very difficult to deliver some of our client data to investors who have retired and are sitting in their condos in Florida, retrieving their K1 tax reports on their (insecure) iPads.

    The tertiary objective is to evaluate the extent to which we would protect ourselves from state actors making use of their statutory monopoly in coercion. This is the $16 trillion dog-turd in the punchbowl that some of my colleagues think a bit silly, but a surprising number of whom are prepared to admit that if a technology we select can provide some too, it might be a good idea. Cyprus helped crystallize this, when they were asked how the Cypriot government obtained such specific information about the demographics of the banks’ investors.

    Our primary objective could be met by SilentCircle et al, and I think that it deserves consideration if you’re trying to make sure a competitor can’t frontrun you, or crush you in a short squeeze. However, systems like SilentCircle will have to be (and be capable of proving that they are) highly trusted environments, so you can reasonably expect that Russian oligarchs are going to be kept out of the mix.

    Our secondary objective looks as though it’s going to be best served by old fashioned paranoia. Sure – we don’t want client data browsed by anyone other than the client, but on the other hand, we have a responsibility to ensure that the right (and often non-technical) people DO get access to what they should, so for this, we’ve decided that a combination of home-brew technology (with all the attendant cunconventionality risks that exist) and in-house hosting. Security via obscure technology if you like. While I have no doubt that somewhere, there are probably some vulnerabilities in the system, anyone who wants to get in won’t be able to do it with a black hat kit sold to them by some 14 year old fresh from a conference. For some of our applications, we can’t implement anything more complex than SSL and Internet Explorer 6 compatible markup.

    The tertiary objective – can only be met by a distributed (and probably open-source) system, and maybe not even then. We’re now at that stage in the game where the public demands (implicitly) that the companies that serve them MUST rent seek (if Google were to suffer some kind of apocalyptic corporate event that threatened their existence, how large would the constituency be that squealed that Google is ‘too big to fail’?). ISPs and firms like Google are subpoenaed every day to surrender information about private individuals, and when the event does get any press attention (rare), few react. If there’s someone Uncle Sam (or John Bull,or Kenny the Kiwi, or Walter the Wallaby) needs to profile in order to ferret out some hitherto unexpected legal infraction, there’s always someone prepared to fold – often, with remarkable willingness -but in the end – EVERYONE folds. There’s no significant corporate opposition to this behavior by the government, because there’s no downside when they do. Their market share and profitability don’t change much, there’s no impact on shareholder value, nobody firebombs their premises because they’re lickspittles for Leviathan, nobody on the board of directors is found hanging under Blackfriars Bridge.

    So, we (at my firm) are coming to the conclusion that the ‘safe’ answer is to use either SilentCircle or something like it, if we want to wait, and while officially, that’d be hunkydory, we’re also aware that it’ll do us NO GOOD WHATSOEVER in protecting us from the next District Attorney who wants to catapult himself into political power by investigating whether there was gambling at Rick’s Cafe. Our inevitable selection will be consonent with so many financial firms’ choice of Blackberry. It pretty much works, and if our security is compromised, well, we can always claim that we’d adopted an industry-standard solution and that we did exactly what all our competitors did. There’s a cost associated with aspiring to be exceptional; just ask Harrison Bergeron.

    No, you can’t trust your personal safety in these circumstances to organizations whose raison d’etre is profit. Not because they’re ‘evil’ but because your interests (not being banged up in the Strangeways Hotel) are not aligned with theirs (shareholder value, I hope). It’s why I’ll never sign up for cloud-based services like Google Docs or Dropbox, no matter what security they claim to have in place.

  • Laird

    Bod, thank you for that thoughtful comment. I would be interested in hearing what you decide to do (utilize Silent Circle or something else [does it have any competitors?]), and also whether you become aware of an glaring weaknesses or other concerns with them. On the surface, they look solid (great pedigree).

    FWIW, I agree with you about cloud-based services. The convenience they offer (access to data from any computer, minimizing the need to upgrade as software versions improve, etc.) sounds great, but to me the risk that Google (or whoever) will have access to that data is unacceptable. I have resisted taking my firm in that direction and see no reason to change.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Bod, I concur. Thanks very much for the info, and I too would be interested in anything more that you can tell us.

    Laird–Agree that “the Cloud,” dropbox and so forth are no place to keep information more sensitive, or important, than a copy of “Jabberwocky.” (Not that I underestimate the value of said work!) We won’t discuss “social networks.” :>)

  • Nick (nice-guy) Gray

    I think that what will really get the cashless society going will be when they find a way to imprint 666 in pretty colours! Barcode Black is boring, but Purgatorial Pink would look so cool!