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]

Safe and free?

The BBC reports that US Attorney General John Ashcroft has launched a strident defence of the controversial Patriot Act, saying it was the government’s responsibility to defend Americans in any way it could.

Mr Ashcroft highlighted support for the Patriot Act given earlier by members of Congress and the website lists quotations from members of both parties supporting the legislation, almost wholly dating back to October 2001 when it was introduced.

But since then dozens of cities and counties across the country have approved resolutions criticising the Patriot Act and various lawsuits have been brought to declare it unconstitutional.

Even the Republican-led House of Representatives has become involved in recent weeks, striking down “sneak-and-peek” rules which allowed government agents to search private property without telling the owner.

Other controversial areas – such as agents being allowed to scrutinise people’s library records without showing what crime they believe could be being committed – still stand despite challenges.

Homeland Security is looking for other things to do

White-Rose-relevant comments from Jim of Jim’s Journal about Homeland Security:

Now I happen to have a lot against Bush … besides the fact that I did not vote for him in 2000 and the only good thing I could think of to say about him then was that at least he wasn’t Al Gore.

I don’t think highly of his handling of national security – within the United States – that is, this ridiculous bureaucratic monstrosity called Homeland Security, headed by that total jerk Ridge. (What’s that matter with Ridge? Well, here’s just one thing, but it shows how wrong he is … He wants to use Homeland Security to track down child porn peddlers and Internet perverts. My goodness, how could there be anything wrong with that? Well, what does that have to do with national security? We have a multiplicity of police forces to handle ordinary crimes. Homeland Security was supposed to be about protecting us from terrorists, you know, 9/11 … So if the terrorist problem is so under control that he has to go looking for other jobs to keep his minions busy, well let’s just save a few billion dollars and dissolve his agency instead.)

Indeed, but that of course is not how these things work. Once an “agency” is set up, it mmediately goes looking for other stuff to do as well, and hence in the fullness of time, potentially, instead.

Principles, once conceded in one policy area immediately go wandering, often in the form of the very agency that embodies the original concession.

James Woolsey on security versus liberty

There was an Interesting article by former CIA Director James Woolsey in the Guardian over the weekend, about “World War 4”. The White Rose relevant paragraphs, so to speak, are these ones, I think:

Liberty and security

If that is who is at war with us and why, what do we need to do about it, both inside our own countries and in the Middle East? Inside the US, during the Cold War and the decade of the 1990s after it, we became very used to the proposition that liberty and security do not conflict, that we do not need to worry about that. Liberty we had plenty of, or as much as almost any reasonable, modern society could, and security was something that the navy, the Central Intelligence Agency and so on dealt with overseas. September 11 rather changed that.

The US at least has to understand that for a number of years we will have to face conflicts between liberty and security that did not occur before. We really did have people who were legally in the United States training in aircraft simulators to work out how to kill thousands of Americans. There really were terrorist cells in places like Lackawanna, Pennsylvania.

So we are going to do things that are effective against terrorism, and which may involve steps like special scrutiny of Wahhabi-backed charities, for example, that would not have happened prior to September 11. We also have to realise who we are. We are not a race or a culture or a language. We are creatures of fourth US President James Madison’s Constitution and his Bill of Rights. We can never forget that.

These two conflicting concerns – security and liberty – are going to be with us for a long time. They will conflict in ways they did not appear to before September 11. We have to choose wisely and remember both. We cannot forget the need to be effective, not just politically correct, in the way we deal with the real threats to us. We also cannot forget the Bill of Rights.

This is the X is important BUT argument. The “but” turns everything before it upside down. So look out X, which in this case means look out liberty.

I’m not saying that this man is totally wrong. I’m just saying: he’s saying it.

Bruce Schneier on stupid security checks

Bruce Schneier is an expert on technical aspects of electronic security. His book Applied Cryptography is considered the “bible” for people implementing cryptography based security, privacy, and authentication systems.

Having written this book in 1995, the subtext of which was that technical solutions could solve many or all of our privacy and security issues, Schneier slowly became more and more conscious of the fact that the weaknesses in security or privacy systems were the result of human rather than technology failure. It wasn’t so much the systems themselves as the way the systems were used and relied upon that determined the quality of security and privacy. In particular, blind faith in technology was extremely dangerous, both in terms of making people overconfident that systems would always work correctly, and in terms of adding additional layers of unnecessary inflexibility and bureacracy. Schneier then wrote another book Secrets and Lies: Digital Security in a Networked World discussing essentially how security systems should be established so as to be actually secure. Probably the most important point was that human systems have to be flexible and intelligent. Simply requiring ID of everybody is not especially useful without human beings constantly asking the question of why ID is being asked for. Plus this type of system is predictable, and holes in it are easily found. And it needlessly invades people’s privacy.

In any event, Mr Schneier writes a monthly newsletter discussing these types of issues, which is at least partly aimed at publicising his consultancy business. This month’s issue has some very interesting thoughts on just how we should deal with organisations – government and non government – that needlessly invade our privacy for asking for identification and recording excessive information about their customers. An extract

I had to travel to Japan last year, and found a company that rented local cell phones to travelers. The form required either a Social Security number or a passport number. When I asked the clerk why, he said the absence of either sent up red flags. I asked how he could tell a real-looking fake number from an actual number. He said that if I didn’t care to provide the number as requested, I could rent my cell phone elsewhere, and hung up on me. I went through another company to rent, but it turned out that they contracted through this same company, and the man declined to deal with me, even at a remove. I eventually got the cell phone by going back to the first company and giving a different name (my wife’s), a different credit card, and a made-up passport number. Honor satisfied all around, I guess.

It’s stupid security season. If you’ve flown on an airplane, entered a government building, or done any one of dozens of other things, you’ve encountered security systems that are invasive, counterproductive, egregious, or just plain annoying. You’ve met people — guards, officials, minimum-wage workers — who blindly force you to follow the most inane security rules imaginable.

Is there anything you can do?

In the end, all security is a negotiation among affected players: governments, industries, companies, organizations, individuals, etc. The players get to decide what security they want, and what they’re willing to trade off in order to get it. But it sometimes seems that we as individuals are not part of that negotiation. Security is more something that is done to us.

Our security largely depends on the actions of others and the environment we’re in. For example, the tamper resistance of food packaging depends more on government packaging regulations than on our purchasing choices. The security of a letter mailed to a friend depends more on the ethics of the workers who handle it than on the brand of envelope we choose to use. How safe an airplane is from being blown up has little to do with our actions at the airport and while on the plane. (Shoe-bomber Richard Reid provided the rare exception to this.) The security of the money in our bank accounts, the crime rate in our neighborhoods, and the honesty and integrity of our police departments are out of our direct control. We simply don’t have enough power in the negotiations to make a difference.

It would be different if the pharmacist were the owner of the pharmacy, or if the person behind the registration desk owned the hotel. Or even if the policeman were a neighborhood beat cop. In those cases, there’s more parity. I can negotiate my security, and he can decide whether or not to modify the rules for me. But modern society is more often faceless corporations and mindless governments. It’s implemented by people and machines that have enormous power, but only power to implement what they’re told to implement. And they have no real interest in negotiating. They don’t need to. They don’t care.

But there’s a paradox. We’re not only individuals; we’re also consumers, citizens, taxpayers, voters, and — if things get bad enough — protestors and sometimes even angry mobs. Only in the aggregate do we have power, and the more we organize, the more power we have.

The whole thing is well worth reading, as are the back issues of the newsletter.

Free society is secure society

Since the atrocity of Sept. 11 some have argued that it is necessary to restrict freedom in order to protect ourselves from terrorism while others have argued that to give up freedom for security is to destroy the thing we are fighting to defend.

This is false dilemma. Individual liberty is not a threat to our security. It is or ought to be an integral part of our security system. To illustrate this point look at the bill of rights, the first ten amendments to the Constitution. The first amendment which protects free speech, freedom of the press and freedom of religion adds to our security in two ways.

First, it largely protects us from internal religious conflict. Because the state is forbidden to interfere in private religious matters, religious groups are not in constant conflict to impose their beliefs on each other. Thus we have been mostly spared from having home grown religious terrorists.

Second, by protecting freedom of the press the first amendment increases the probability that our nation will have a winning strategy in the war on terrorism. In any country the number of people in the defense and foreign policy bureaucracy is limited. Moreover many intelligent people interested in defense and foreign policy will not join the government agencies because of the bureaucratic regimentation. In the absence of freedom of the press, only the thinking of members of these bureaucracies could shape our foreign policy. With freedom of the press the ideas of thinkers outside the bureaucracies are available for consideration by the decision makers. Thus the total brain power brought to bare on security questions is vastly increased and the probability of our adopting a winning security strategy is increased. → Continue reading: Free society is secure society