Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Daniel J. Solove: "Nothing to Hide" (review); Why ordinary people should care about surveillance, both private and government

Author:  Daniel J. Solove

Title: “Nothing to Hide: The False Tradeoff between Privacy and Security
Publication: 2011, Yale University Press, ISBN 978-0-300-17231-7, 245 pages, indexed, paper, 4 parts, 21 chapters, indexed. 
Amazon link:  
Dr. Solove, a law professor at George Washington University, who has authored books covered here on online reputation and privacy, put forth this book two full years before the Edward Snowden incident, but it seems perfectly prescient.

Why should ordinary citizens, or innocuous newbie publishers like me, worry personally about surveillance?  I haven’t done any thing legally “wrong”?  Oh, I’m socially unpopular with some people or powerful interests.  I’m a loudmouth.  What, “me worry?”
I think one example could be a false accusation of some kind of crime or something threatening consequences.  If the government, or private plaintiffs, are able to mine ordinarily unrelated metadata about one’s whereabouts and particularly Internet or mobile activity, a legal or physical adversary could sunder one’s reputation and put together a case that in practice cannot be overcome, even if it is wrong.

A core concept is that "metadata gathering" by government and by private interests (particularly commercial advertisers on the Internet) is supposed to be legal and innocuous.  It has long been seen as OK for the government to collect and even release "pen register" data of communications, ever since the days of the telegraph (and even Carrington)  But metadata can show a lot about a person's connections and suggest, possibly misleadingly, a person's future intentions.  Solove gives an example of a person doing Internet searches about ricin or polonium.  It obviously could help the government trace assault weapons accumulation.  What, as Solove suggests, if the researcher is merely a novice novelist aiming at the next "Tom Clancy" or "Stephen King" bestseller about a new kind of horror?  Solove extends the discussion to profiling at airports, and the disruption that can result because of appearances. 

Solove makes a few other startling observations.  One of the most important is that the Fourth Amendment (against unreasonable search and seizure) does not apply to data or objects held by third parties, or to objects that have been abandoned.  Solove gives an anecdote of a murder suspect who was apprehended thirty years after his crime when the police, without proper judicial suprervision, tricked him into returning a mail envelope sealed with saliva for DNA evidence.  Good result, but wrong way.

The lack of application of the 4th Amendment protection in third party situations results in vulnerability to search of online activity (where the notion of possession is so ambiguous) and even in materials left to be repaired, with supposed child pornography on computers or undeveloped film.

Solove provides discussions of the shortcomings of the ECPA (Electronic Communications Privacy Act) and SCA (Stored Communications Act), which become quite convoluted when lawyers try to apply them to email, tweets, blog and social media posts and comments or interactions, and particularly to search arguments, which are embedded in URL’s and which technically may not be protected communications the way the contents of a letter in a lick-sealed envelope is supposed to be, 

Solove provides an interesting perspective on physical surveillance, with cameras in public places.  People typically expect "obscurity" with ordinary commerce in public spaces, even with recreation.  In fact, private picture taking in bars and discos has started to surface as an issue since about 2010 because of concerns about abuse in social media, leading to even more possible surveillance.  
Solove notes that in 2005, well after 9/11, requirements of verification driver’s license and id cards were tightened, which should have made underage fraud much harder, but I know that it still happens. 

Thursday, July 04, 2013

"The Spark": A mother nurtures her supposedly autistic son's intellectual gifts

Author: Kristine Barnett
Title: “The Spark: A Mother’s Story of Nurturing Genius
Publication: 2013, Random House, ISBN 978-0-8129-9337-0, 250 pages, hardcover
Amazon link
Kristine Barnett and her husband gave birth in 1988 to a son, Jake, who was at first diagnosed as autistic, perhaps with “only” a severe end of Asperger’s.  But before grade school his enormous potential intellectual talents awakened, and his social skills gradually improved, to the point that he was able to attend college classes in mathematics and physics at middle school age.

The most recent video I could find right now is on BBC and shows Jake at age 14 to be quite articulate and composed on television.
Jake’s brain seems to be able to use “memory” as a “cheat sheet” and he can read it the way a person would read a crib sheet. Another analogy is to say that his mind has a “flash drive”.   Kristine also writes that he sees objects in more than three dimensions (there are eleven, according to string theory).  It may not take a large genetic “mutation” to provide such ability, but it seems that when it happens, other functions (associated with “street smarts”) are compromised, partly because parts of the brain are used in unusual ways. 
What is remarkable about most of Kristine’s story, though, is the degree to which she is (and was already) involved in helping disadvantaged children, in her midwestern Indiana community.  She, and for the most part her husband Michael, were totally socialized in this area already.  Their family and neighbors were hit very hard by the post-2008 recession (after taking out a mortgage on a pre-recession-priced house), to the point of sparing on meat and having to interdepend on friends.  One family lost a business or home to a weather event and found that their insurance company was broke, too.  The narrative suggests that in “real world” America, people give up most discretionary income when they have families, and have very little personal cushion for hardship.

Kristine also had severe medical issues with her pregnancies, which some women do. These included a stroke, and lupus.  These problems probably were autoimmune in nature.  The possibility that a woman will need a lot of physical support from a spouse (and maybe others, like in the workplace) can never be predicted, so it is becomes a responsibility for others that doesn't have anything to do with "choice" or "personal responsibility" in the usual libertarian sense.  That has possible moral consequences down the road in the way of supporting some socially conservative expectations that men particularly honor their gender roles.  

All of these points hint at the “moral problem” of being “special”.  Your gifts relate to a world where people have the wealth, stability and surplus to use them.  Not everybody does.  “You” get called upon to show you can help them in a more personal way, and that is not easy for someone who is “different” can cannot “compete” socially according to usual norms.  I know this from my own personal experience.  I had some of the same pattern as Jake, but with much less in the way of extremes.  So my being different was viewed, especially during my coming of age in the 50's and 60's, through a moral lens, and it let me to look at others that way as an adult.  

The book does not number its chapters (it does name them) or provide a table of contents.  Doing so might have been helpful.
Second picture: Near Brown County St Park, south of Indianapolis (personal picture, 2012);  visited also in 1970. Third Picture: Indiana University in Bloomington, same trip.