June 11, 2013

"It turns out that the Gov't has no privacy either. So the joke is on them as much as it is on us."

Writes Richard Dolan in the comments to yesterday's post "Greenwald Says ‘There’s A Lot More Coming,’ Argues NSA Revelations Don’t Harm Security." Dolan continues (the boldface is mine):
The Gov't needs a giant bureaucracy to run its NSA and other 'data mining' projects, just as the State Dept and the IRS need giant bureaucracies to perform their functions. As recent events show, those Gov't agencies can't assure that their own secrets, their own attempts at controlling information, will succeed. Given the size of these bureaucracies, it seems quite unlikely that they possibly could.

In all the talk about how the citizenry is at the mercy of the Gov't's abuse of power, it pays to stop and note that the Gov't is also at the mercy of its own agents' abuse of their power -- the power to disclose, leak, or turn on the Man. So long as there is a market for the kinds of leaked information we are seeing -- not just the NSA stuff, but the State Dept report about shutting down investigations that CBS surfaced, to use just today's example -- these leaks will continue.

A comparison that comes to mind is the (failed) War on Drugs -- the market for illegal drugs doomed that War even before it got going, just as the market for illicitly leaked information will doom the Gov't's attempt to keep its own secrets 'private.' The difference is that the drug market relies on the usual profit motive, all payable in cash. The 'leaks' market has different incentives for the leakers and the leakees -- the leakees have the more traditional incentive since these stories add to a reporter's (or blogger's) reputation, and may even garner a Pulitzer. For the leaker, the incentives are different -- Snowden's were apparently a personal political morality that impelled him to act, as were Manning's -- and not so easily measured. But they are just as real.
Even as we have moved into electronic media and the government can look at us there, the government has become dependent on huge numbers of computer specialists. Who are these guys? Snowden is one of them, but there are masses of them, and they must be trusted to get to the material the government can now get to because millions of computer users have yielded to the charms of the internet. There are the masses of computers users — ordinary people doing social media — but there are the computer specialists — and most of us aren't that familiar with these people whose lives are about computers at the technical and not the social level.

What do you know about their thought patterns? Is there a geek syndrome? Are there notions of altruism and libertarianism that seem to resonate in the American tradition but are really something new and different in ways that we won't understand until it's far too late? Is it far too late?

49 comments:

Matthew Sablan said...

I doubt anyone is getting a Pulitzer for the IRS, Libya, F&F, EPA, State department sex scandals, or any other scandals that have been leaked. Just, you know, a bit of cynicism.

gerry said...

Humanity tends to be cruel, selfish, and morally confused and weak.

If geeks save our asses from collectivists and power vampires like Obama, it likely will be an accident, with all the attendant unintended consequences.

BDNYC said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rhhardin said...

The war on drugs is different because the profit goes higher the more it's waged, so it is and was always economically predictable as a failure.

Buckley and Friedman, neither of them druggies, were against it from the beginning.

There's also a Bootleggers and Baptists effect - both sides lobby for enforcement, for opposite reasons.

El Pollo Raylan said...

Even as we have moved into electronic media and the government can look at us there, the government has become dependent on huge numbers of computer specialists. Who are these guys? Snowden is one of them, but there are masses of them, and they must be trusted to get to the material the government can now get to because millions of computer users have yielded to the charms of the internet

"Cousin IT guy"

BDNYC said...

Government is public and supposed to be open and transparent. At least that's the presumption, unless the government can demonstrate some need to maintain secrecy. Government belongs to the people. (Contrary to what Democrats say, it's not something to which the people belong.)

The presumption is the other way around for private citizens.

The pissed off geek selling government secrets doesn't restore my sense of order in the world. The geek is likely to sell things that we should want kept secret, because those secrets are truly valuable and worth a ton of money. Such disclosures do nothing to enhance the privacy of private citizens, so what's the point?

rhhardin said...

There's geek honor in finding flaws in code, so they check each other constantly.

El Pollo Raylan said...

There's geek honor in finding flaws in code, so they check each other constantly.

Then it's interesting that he fled to China before disappearing. China specializes in the internal snitch code--checking up on each other.

viator said...

That's were the acronym SNAFU came from. The world of government.

Mike Bruner said...

Programmers tend to think they are libertarian but most get paid to create authoritarian systems.

Mitchell the Bat said...

Every native-born compsci teacher I ever had told some version of the story about the programmer who rigged the system so it would somehow fuck his employer if he ever got fired.

The Asian compsi teachers, well, they didn't tell stories, as I recall.

Ann Althouse said...

"Humanity tends to be cruel, selfish, and morally confused and weak. If geeks save our asses from collectivists and power vampires like Obama, it likely will be an accident, with all the attendant unintended consequences."

See, that's the kind of thought pattern I suspect is developing out there in the minds of these computer technicians. Look at the contempt, the grandiosity, and the recklessness.

Obama was elected, twice, by the American people. We studied him. We listened to him. He is surrounded by advisers and checked by Congress and the press.

And somehow you think that some self-appointed altruist of the computer-fixated kind is going to save us.

It's like those movie trailers... in a world where etc etc ONE MAN...

You think that's what will save us?!

AReasonableMan said...

Mike Bruner said...
Programmers tend to think they are libertarian but most get paid to create authoritarian systems.


This is a good point because it gets to the issue of how the net effect of this technology is always authoritarian, irrespective of the beliefs of the people involved in creating the systems. There were a lot of disillusioned nuclear scientists in the 60's and 70's and I think we will see increasing disillusionment amongst computer scientists over the next two decades.

Lem said...

Are there notions of altruism and libertarianism that seem to resonate in the American tradition but are really something new and different in ways that we won't understand until it's far too late?

Where does the auto destruct sequence come from?

I'm looking for a Hitchens video that might answer that but I cant find it.
In the video Hitchens connects religion and nihilism.

Paul Zrimsek said...

"Cousin IT guy"

From the Scott Adams Family.

TerriW said...

A gazillion years ago (well, nearly 20) when I was working as a sysadmin at a small company, one of our salesguys came into the server room to talk to me about something. He looked over at my screen where I had a rolling scroll of the mail server's /dev/log (basically, where a short description of every event that happens on the machine gets written) and he wanted to know what the heck that was.

"You can see all of that?"

And I explained to him what email actually *was*, how it worked and moved around. He was quiet for a bit and then asked, "So, you could read it all?" and I said, Well, yes, I suppose I could but I'm not interested and I don't, and he should think of all electronic communication as occurring on a post card rather than a sealed envelope, because not everyone doesn't give a crap what's pumping through the system.

Basically, Paulie was right.

Jay said...

Obama was elected, twice, by the American people. We studied him.

That is completely fucking absurd.

You did not 'study' Obama.

Obama is not "checked" by the press in any manner, shape, or form.

rhhardin said...

Geeks running a site devolves into which users ought to be restricted and how to automate it.

There are a lot of wanna-be geeks trying to get in.

El Pollo Raylan said...

Obama was elected, twice, by the American people. We studied him. We listened to him. He is surrounded by advisers and checked by Congress and the press.

There was a lack of curiosity on the part of the press which I used to ascribe to shared ideology or some sort of liberal fealty. But lately--and based mainly on the failed business model of the press--I'm suspecting it's just paid prostitution.

edutcher said...

Think Janissaries, Praetorians, etc.

viator said...

That's were the acronym SNAFU came from. The world of government.

Not to mention FUBAR.

Mike Bruner said...

Programmers tend to think they are libertarian but most get paid to create authoritarian systems.

No, there are plenty of Conservatives and a lot of "ponytail and sandals" Lefties.

Programmers are hired guns. They get paid to do a job. The politics (and the CEO where last I worked was legendary for being very "political") are somebody else's thing.

Ann Althouse said...

[anent Bruner]

See, that's the kind of thought pattern I suspect is developing out there in the minds of these computer technicians. Look at the contempt, the grandiosity, and the recklessness.

Don't let yourself think this Snowden kid represents all programmers (if, in fact, everything about him does check out). Most programmers are craftsmen. they want to turn out a good product, but they hire on for a job.

"the contempt, the grandiosity, and the recklessness" is in the minds of the politicians that let this sort of abuse go forward.

Obama was elected, twice, by the American people. We studied him. We listened to him. He is surrounded by advisers and checked by Congress and the press.

Surely you jest. We were not allowed to "study" him - that was racist. Congress (at least the Senate and the House under Pelosi Galore) and the press let him run wild and cover for him and his advisers are probably worse than he is.

And somehow you think that some self-appointed altruist of the computer-fixated kind is going to save us.

Ann, the people are supposed to save themselves. As some of your more persistent critics have observed, you seem to be in search of a Messiah.

edutcher said...

AnUnreasonableTroll said...

[again, anent Bruner's comment

This is a good point because it gets to the issue of how the net effect of this technology is always authoritarian, irrespective of the beliefs of the people involved in creating the systems. There were a lot of disillusioned nuclear scientists in the 60's and 70's and I think we will see increasing disillusionment amongst computer scientists over the next two decades.

Oh, it's the technology that's authoritarian, not the people who run it?

Good luck pushing that one.

Tibore said...

"Even as we have moved into electronic media and the government can look at us there, the government has become dependent on huge numbers of computer specialists. Who are these guys? Snowden is one of them, but there are masses of them, and they must be trusted to get to the material the government can now get to because millions of computer users have yielded to the charms of the internet. There are the masses of computers users — ordinary people doing social media — but there are the computer specialists — and most of us aren't that familiar with these people whose lives are about computers at the technical and not the social level.

What do you know about their thought patterns? Is there a geek syndrome?"


I don't know if the overstatement was made out of some Socratic-methodological intent to draw out responses, but: Implying a uniformity to computer "geek's" personality traits is to make an unsupported assertion. The Wired article cited is a special case in location and attraction of personality characteristics, not to mention it's also specifying Asperger's/Autistic children as well, making it the epitome of isolated examples. Drawing conclusions from that to any and all geeks outside of Silicon Valley, or even just anyone involved in the specialized case of handling government restricted data is an unwarranted leap.

People have this desire to "profile". It's a social phenomenon epitomized by the popularity of entertainment lauding the practice in criminal investigation. Unfortunately, it's about as accurate as throwing darts; look up the profile the FBI drew up for Ted Kaczynski aka the "Unibomer" sometime. The only thing they got right was that he was white, and what they got wrong was egregiously wrong. Such as their prediction that his education was limited, for example; Kaczynski had a Ph.D. in Math. Profiling presumes patterns. If that's the case, then patterns need to be established based on a sampling of the group and a listing of characteristics observed, not a presumptive "What characteristics do we think they have in common?" query.

Don't get me wrong; I'm not trying to stifle discussion. It's just that I fear that that a discussion of characteristics and "thought patterns" will lead to conclusions unwarranted given the lack of firm foundation. We simply need to keep in mind that we can easily guess at personality traits - heck, I can do so myself, being smack in the middle of the IT field professionally - but we can't have confidence in the conclusions without real investigation to validate things.

In short, the best we can do is draw up testable hypotheses i.e. "All computer geeks are (fill-in-the-blank)". Anything beyond that is blowing wind.

Aridog said...

TerryW said ...

... think of all electronic communication as occurring on a post card rather than a sealed envelope ...

Perfect. And that was 20 years ago. As I have asked, what exactly did we learn new from Snowden that wasn't already very well known?

PS: I am not dismissing Snowden or ignoring him, just his drama queen shtick. If up to me he'd be put away in a nice "federal pound 'em up the ass prison" ...to quote the guys in "Office Space." :-))

Craig said...

Snowden was fifteen years old when Jim Carrey's movie, The Truman Show, hit the theaters. CNN International broadcasts from Hong Kong. They could add a one hour a day reality television segment called The Snowden Show. He should aim for Fiji instead of Iceland.

Mitch H. said...

I'm starting to get a real strong whiff of class-conscious snobbery off the Professor today. Snowden has committed the cardinal sin of being controversial and without credential in the public sphere.

Michael McNeil said...

See, that's the kind of thought pattern I suspect is developing out there in the minds of these computer technicians. Look at the contempt, the grandiosity, and the recklessness.

Yes, and it's nothing new. See the film Things to Come from 1938 (based on an H.G. Wells novel), where much the same attitude is displayed. In that case the brilliant technicians, seeing better than anyone else, who are going to save the world from the idiotic politicians are the united aviators.

Chip S. said...

I'd like to remind the Gov't of what its good friends like to say to us crackpots who resent being spied upon by it:

If you haven't done anything wrong, then you don't have anything to worry about.

Larry J said...

Ann Althouse said

See, that's the kind of thought pattern I suspect is developing out there in the minds of these computer technicians. Look at the contempt, the grandiosity, and the recklessness.


If you want to see massive contempt, grandiosity and recklessness, look at the politicians, the judges and the legal profession.

Obama was elected, twice, by the American people. We studied him. We listened to him. He is surrounded by advisers and checked by Congress and the press.

That has to be about the dumbest thing I've read on this blog, and that's including your idea that men wear shorts to appear young. Yes, Obama was elected twice but you weren't allowed to study him. The Press made sure you couldn't.

What was his legislative record, both in the state and US senate?

We were told endlessly about how intelligent Obama is. What is his academic background? I'm not talking about the schools he attended but what classes did he take and what grades did he earn?

Did he ever release his medical records?

What accomplishments did he have outside of politics? Has he ever had a real job in his entire life?

You didn't know a single substantive thing about him and the Press went out of their way to cover for him.

It's funny how the so-called, self-proclaimed "elite" couldn't see through Obama's fraud but the rest of us could. Maybe the elite aren't really that special after all.

Jack Wayne said...

Dear Ann, you're missing an important point. To foil this crap, all we need to do is send emails with the word bomb in them. Or talk on the phone and use phrases like "the subway is the bomb". Pretty soon NSA will have so many hits they won't know what to do with it. Remember with computers, it's always GIGO! Giving super powers or even Hollywood Geek powers to programmers is silly.

Jack Wayne said...

Dear Ann, you're missing an important point. To foil this crap, all we need to do is send emails with the word bomb in them. Or talk on the phone and use phrases like "the subway is the bomb". Pretty soon NSA will have so many hits they won't know what to do with it. Remember with computers, it's always GIGO! Giving super powers or even Hollywood Geek powers to programmers is silly.

Tank said...

Larry

While I agree with your sentiment, you're simply wrong. There was plenty of information about Zero even before the 2008 election. For a variety of reasons, it was not used, or not disseminated, or not taken into account.

I, and many others here, saw him for the unprepared, America-hating, incompetent that he was prior to that first election. Every listener of Sean Hannity knew all they needed to know. It was out there. Or, enough was out there.

Reason 923 of why voting is overrated.

edutcher said...

Tank said...

While I agree with your sentiment, you're simply wrong. There was plenty of information about Zero even before the 2008 election. For a variety of reasons, it was not used, or not disseminated, or not taken into account.

No, it didn't get out because the Establishment Media refused to address it.

Another reason why voting is vital.

Tank said...

ed

I'm just a schnook in NJ with no special connections and I knew more than enough about the Con Man. Didn't you?

How did your voting help us in the last two presidential elections?

Keep in mind, we're on the same side.

Ralph Hyatt said...

I have been working in IT since 1981 when I got out of AIT (Advanced Individual Training) in the Army. I have worked a wide variety of jobs since: keypunching, mainframe operator, system administration on 80s mini-computers from Honeywell whose name I can't even remember, System Admin on various nixes (nixi?) Solaris, HP, Unisys, Linux. I have also ran lan cable and configured network equipment and have a pretty good working knowledge of relational DBs and have coded quite a bit of SQL scripts.

I then got involved in a couple of mission critical telecom projects that required me to use my wide range of experience to help develop, deploy and provide 24/7 support to phone company techs in the field for about 10 years. Currently I am working on enabling "cloud computing."

In the course of this I have, obviously, interacted with a thousands of other IT workers and my experience is that trying to categorize them as the professor is doing is futile.

IT people are just like any other large group with one thing in common, the are otherwise diverse. Christians, atheists, democrats, republicans, anarchists, authoritarians, country music fans, rock fans, hip hop fans, etc. are all found admist the group of people known as IT. If they have anything in common other than that they work in IT it is that the ones that are good at their jobs is that they enjoy problem solving.

So are IT people thinking grandiose thoughts and thinking they are superior? Some most likely are. Just as many non-IT people are. However, most of us are thinking things like:

"Booz Allen Hamilton is paying $200,000 a year for a job in Hawaii to a guy with no IT credentials??!! I need to apply for a job with them!"

Ralph Hyatt said...

I have been working in IT since 1981 when I got out of AIT (Advanced Individual Training) in the Army. I have worked a wide variety of jobs since: keypunching, mainframe operator, system administration on 80s mini-computers from Honeywell whose name I can't even remember, System Admin on various nixes (nixi?) Solaris, HP, Unisys, Linux. I have also ran lan cable and configured network equipment and have a pretty good working knowledge of relational DBs and have coded quite a bit of SQL scripts.

I then got involved in a couple of mission critical telecom projects that required me to use my wide range of experience to help develop, deploy and provide 24/7 support to phone company techs in the field for about 10 years. Currently I am working on enabling "cloud computing."

In the course of this I have, obviously, interacted with a thousands of other IT workers and my experience is that trying to categorize them as the professor is doing is futile.

IT people are just like any other large group with one thing in common, the are otherwise diverse. Christians, atheists, democrats, republicans, anarchists, authoritarians, country music fans, rock fans, hip hop fans, etc. are all found admist the group of people known as IT. If they have anything in common other than that they work in IT it is that the ones that are good at their jobs is that they enjoy problem solving.

So are IT people thinking grandiose thoughts and thinking they are superior? Some most likely are. Just as many non-IT people are. However, most of us are thinking things like:

"Booz Allen Hamilton is paying $200,000 a year for a job in Hawaii to a guy with no IT credentials??!! I need to apply for a job with them!"

Ralph Hyatt said...

I have been working in IT since 1981 when I got out of AIT (Advanced Individual Training) in the Army. I have worked a wide variety of jobs since: keypunching, mainframe operator, system administration on 80s mini-computers from Honeywell whose name I can't even remember, System Admin on various nixes (nixi?) Solaris, HP, Unisys, Linux. I have also ran lan cable and configured network equipment and have a pretty good working knowledge of relational DBs and have coded quite a bit of SQL scripts.

I then got involved in a couple of mission critical telecom projects that required me to use my wide range of experience to help develop, deploy and provide 24/7 support to phone company techs in the field for about 10 years. Currently I am working on enabling "cloud computing."

In the course of this I have, obviously, interacted with a thousands of other IT workers and my experience is that trying to categorize them as the professor is doing is futile.

IT people are just like any other large group with one thing in common, the are otherwise diverse. Christians, atheists, democrats, republicans, anarchists, authoritarians, country music fans, rock fans, hip hop fans, etc. are all found admist the group of people known as IT. If they have anything in common other than that they work in IT it is that the ones that are good at their jobs is that they enjoy problem solving.

So are IT people thinking grandiose thoughts and thinking they are superior? Some most likely are. Just as many non-IT people are. However, most of us are thinking things like:

"Booz Allen Hamilton is paying $200,000 a year for a job in Hawaii to a guy with no IT credentials??!! I need to apply for a job with them!"

edutcher said...

Actually, 122,000, which is still good money.

PS Love that "System Admin on various nixes (nixi?) Solaris, HP, Unisys, Linux".

edutcher said...

Tank said...

I'm just a schnook in NJ with no special connections and I knew more than enough about the Con Man. Didn't you?

How did your voting help us in the last two presidential elections?

Keep in mind, we're on the same side.


One side wins, one loses, but at least I can say I tried, rather than spent the last 5 years sitting on my ass whining.

The bad guys always win if the good guys stay home.

PS You lose the right to bitch if you stay home.

elkh1 said...

"...the Gov't is also at the mercy of its own agents' abuse of their power -- the power to disclose, leak, or turn on the Man."

Yeah, but they can hunt down the leakers, disappear them(?), put them in jails months or years without trials, cost them millions of lawyer fees to defend themselves, ruin their lives.

The govt can use secret info to attack the Man's enemies: IRS agents attacks of conservatives, leaked Romney donors' tax returns to the Obama campaign, audit opponents' donors... selectively prosecute conservative businesses...

The leakers could never do those things to us.

National security? What national security they are talking about? Obama said the War on Terror was over, why snoop? The Chinese have their own ways to hack our not too secure govt systems that use Chinese made computer chips and components. Dangle some "campaign contributions", our politicians will give them whatever they want. Remember Charlie Trie, and Loral in the Clinton years?

Terrorists? Obama can just subpoena the membership list from the NRA, and the Tea Parties. He should let his IRS give them non-profit status to better track them. The Islamists? They don't communicate, every case is either work related incident or an act of loners. No need to snoop there.

Larry J said...

Tank said...
Larry

While I agree with your sentiment, you're simply wrong. There was plenty of information about Zero even before the 2008 election. For a variety of reasons, it was not used, or not disseminated, or not taken into account.


I learned enough about Obama before the election in 2008 to know he was at best an empty suit. However, I learned about him probably the same way you did. The Blow Job Media wasn't my source. They almost never said anything substantive about him. A lot of online research helped me see through his smokescreen.

Methadras said...

That makes no sense. Government has the power to tax, to take, to seize, to warrant, to subpoena, to enforce any and all laws by sheer force if necessary, print money, write and ratify treaty's. The notion that government is somehow not subject to privacy is a false argument. They are beholden to us or used to be, but we can't do any of the things I outlined above without going to prison forever. Want to tell me again how government not having privacy affects anything in any meaningful way? It is so huge, it simple does not care anymore if you see what they do because the response is, "Hey, what are you going to do about it?"

Aridog said...

Chip S. said... 6/11/13, 9:57 AM

I'd like to remind the Gov't of what its good friends like to say to us crackpots who resent being spied upon by it:

" If you haven't done anything wrong, then you don't have anything to worry about."


Among all the arguments on this subject, that statement is the stumbling block for me. I can't get it out of my head. It is non-sense. Innocence has never been much of a protection against false prosecution.

So, no, even if I disagree about the seriousness of it all now, I do NOT think you are a "crackpot." On the contrary. The debate needs to occur.

Seems like we've avoided little details like the fact that no NSA database needs to "download" all this data, it can simply [demand] live links to it on others' servers and then run its query scripts on sundry servers via the linkage, including on archives ....saving maybe the meta-data only, when necessary...and caching only such transcriptions that are of interest to NSA.

My admitted cynicism about Snowden and his dramatic NSA "revelations" sans critical detail... including his & the Guardian's "we have more" remarks [stay tuned?] is because I have presumed the worst for the last couple decades. In short, I. Am. Not. Surprised.

But I damn sure do appreciate your position on this topic.

Aridog said...

Methadras said ...

"Hey, what are you going to do about it?"

That is about it. That would make a great bubble caption to put over Steven Miller's head during his testimony before Congress. Damn sure fits his snot nosed attitude.

On, wait ...while we're on about stuff...BENGHAZI! :0

Is it almost buried yet?

Chip S. said...

Thanks, Aridog.

In turn, I appreciate your willingness to consider alternatives to full-scale data dragnets.

cubanbob said...

Obama was elected, twice, by the American people. We studied him."

Twice the electorate failed in their studies. We need a new electorate.

Ann Althouse said...

I quote gerry again and my response to him in this new post, in which I bracket in some different material that reflects that I now think I misread gerry. I think gerry and I are actually on the same page.

His first line "Humanity tends to be cruel, selfish, and morally confused and weak" made me think that he was making a pronouncement, which he agreed with, that represented the grandiosity that I imagine to be in the mind of the Snowden's of this world.

But now I think he's saying Snowden, like everyone else, is subject to weakness and likely to help only by chance.

My answer still stands: the structures of democracy and law are better safeguards that the individual taking on a superhero role.

Aridog said...

Chip S. said...

...I appreciate your willingness to consider alternatives to full-scale data dragnets.

It seems like a damned if you do, damned if you don't issue. I tend to react to things based upon my own experiences, as well as my education. I tend to favor the experiences and that may be a flaw. Because I understand database operations I could never say they are fail safe...thus constant criticism of their use is necessary. Not just worthy, but necessary.

The old saw about "nothing to worry about" if innocent is NOT a valid statement in my experience. Therefore I have to listen.

Unknown said...

Heh. Somebody is finally noticing. I have been making a living in IT since 1984 (queue dramatic music). Even back then this joke was old: "Keep them thinking computers are taking over the world. That way they'll never suspect it's really the computer programmers."

Jullie Smith said...

Its REALLY Nice sharing. Keep sharing more.
Tent Rental Miami