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‘hanging out the dirty linen’ to delve into the ethics of IT’s role in society.

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Ever wondered whether you could just start a war with just drones and metadata? The US government sure wishes it could and I spent way too long researching the answer to this for my Pecha Kucha.

Pecha Kucha Video

After recording for the third time, I realised I hadn’t talked much about the stakeholders but that’s because, after the US government, it almost ends there with potentially Turkey as other potential stakeholders to drones and when it comes to metadata, everyone is a stakeholder, with civilians, businesses, major tech giants and even the US government themselves being stakeholders to metadata, making the stakeholders feel almost too obvious. Perhaps the most surprising stakeholder I found during research was JSOC but none of this went into the recording.

ITGS Online (weekly)

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ITGS Online (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of ITGSonline group favorite links are here.

ITGS Online (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of ITGSonline group favorite links are here.

ITGS Online (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of ITGSonline group favorite links are here.

ITGS Online (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of ITGSonline group favorite links are here.

Institutional pressures are rules established by a particular institution that you must abide by. Schneier believed that you need universal laws to achieve social order, the example of that is social contract theory when people willingly grant government power compelling ppl to choose long term group interests over self-interest to protect all citizens, without this pressure, defectors will ruin things inevitably, one of the examples without it is. Laws are only as good as society’s ability to enforce them provided fines are being assessed and collected, jail time is being served, they only make sense when they come with consequences. Elinor Ostrom won a Nobel prize for studying how societies deal with the trend of Tragedy of the commons. She also gave certain features of institutional pressure like:-

Credit: Getty Images/Handout      The Tragedy of the Commons Explained in One Minute - YouTube1.Everyone must understand the group interest and know what the group norm is  

2.The group must be able to modify the norm  

These pressures provide a basis for people to trust one another, for example, a certified doctor is more trusted. Like every other type of pressure, these fail too, for example, perfect security and the rate of crime being 0 doesn’t exist, you need a lot of institutional pressure to attain that leading to becoming a country like North Korea or no pressure like Somalia, they are two unhealthy extremes. The solution to this is to strike a balance between the polarities of interests.

Schneier ends this chapter with an interesting quote

“Sometimes and for some people, laws aren’t enough, sometimes the incentives to defect are worth the risk. That’s where technologies come in  ” 

Schneir likes to define Security systems as a way to technologically enhance natural defenses. They work even if a defector doesn’t realize that he/she is defecting. He concludes that eventually everything acts as a security system, for example, Morals as a preemptive intervention system, reputation as a detection system. Doubling our security budget, will not reduce defections risk, I feel it is different for everyone. Eventually, crimes only occur when passion overrides rationality. Security systems are often calls an experiential good because usually people dont understand the value of it until they have already bough , install and experienced it. The interesting example I liked was Robinhood, he is an example of a defector with a competing moral interest as his actions serve a greater good. One of the papers you will come across calls them “ Lethal Altruists “

Coming to organizations and corporations,  Schneier talks about how every type of pressure influences a particular organization in numerous ways. And how security systems work differently as it works against the individuals inside the organization and not the organization as a whole. Societal dilemmas are different for every person, it is hard to match them in a big group of people similar to an organization which is teemed of.An example of this is the principal-agent problem, the principal hires an agent to pursue the principal’s interests. But because the competing interests are different, cooperation will be difficult. But few corporations never stop functioning because of defections in the society is a testament to how well societal pressures work here. Usually, moral, reputational, and institutional pressures fail against them Some examples of corporations who managed to prevent defections are:-

1.National security agency analyst Thomas Drake

2.Nancy Fern Oliveri – Apotex

Nancy F. Olivieri - Convocation - Dalhousie University3.Jeff Baird – New York city police

Senior Deputy Prosecutor Jeff Baird retires after 36 years | Employee News

One of the notable quotes that were mentioned “Corporations have neither body to be punished nor souls to be condemned, they, therefore, do as they like “

Corporations have managed to deliberately manipulate institutional pressures so they can directly benefit from them, they basically are changing laws to suit their desire without adding any value, this technique is known as rent-seeking. The size of organizations is proportional to the power they possess, with power comes the ability to defect. The goal of societal pressure is that we want high level of trust in the society , but it is too complex for the intimate form of trust , hence we settle for cooperation and compliance. The perfect balance needed in any society is , the need of security with side effects , unintended consequences and other considerations. One of the most important concept related to societal pressure is Scale , when that increases , people are forced to shift from trust to predictability and compliance.

Schneier feels that talking about trust in humans is more important first , as that influences how humans trust the technology. He doesn’t talk about technology until the last few chapters. With the increase of development in technology , the amount of damage by the defector groes . Even thought security technologies were invented , we were now needed to trust not only an institution but also the system. With time , humans tolerance towards risk decreased. New innovations and new ideas increase the scope of defectors in several dimensions. to an extent that defectors start innovating and finding easier , reliable ways to attack , resulting in a security gap , which has constantly being increased with new innovations as technology is an element available to all.  The solution to this is ,to design a societal pressure keeping in minds about certain features as follows

1.To understand the social dilemma

2.Consider all four pressures

3.Pay attention to scale

Foster empathy and community , increasing the moral and reputational pressures

5.Use of security systems to scale them

6.Finally harmonize institutional pressure across technologies and reduce the concentration of power by increasing transparency.

He concludes with saying that defectors will always exist and inevitably ruin everything for everyone , but we need to manage societal pressures to ensure they dont. Security is a process ,a never ending process not just a product. Trust is the key component of social capital society.

Dont you think we all defect in some point of our life , being selfish or just choosing self interest over everything , or our morality doesn’t always cooperate with the group norm . At the end of the day , the society needs defectors because we benefit from them .They are the outliers who resist popular opinions for morals or other reasons , who invent new technology counteracting others . Scheneir ends on a good of optimism that Defections represents an engine for innovation , an immunological challenge to ensure the health of the majority , a defense against the risk of monoculture and a catalyst for social change.Defectors are the reason of improving technology , we just need to control their possession of power .Ending

Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust that Society Needs to Thrive by  Bruce Schneierit with a quote rightly said by Martin Luther kIng. Jr ” The arc of history is long , but it bends towards justice. “

Schneier loves to emphasize on the basics , he wants to completely understand how humans work in different situations and then he connects it with technology. He mainly talks about secuirty , trust and cooperation from not only the human angle but also how animals in the historic period went about it.  The soul and heart of this book were all the examples which were written by Schneier and how he analyses each one of them using historical theories. The book was solely based on the four types of pressures . He wrote about how they are created , modified and affect the society. This book proves that it is written by someone highly intellectual and is not a easy read. The two things I gained from this book was that , trust depends on how the society works and defectors shouldn’t always be considered negative ,  we need defectors to co-exist and grow in today’s world. It is a good book , if you love to research about how everything eventually connects to each other resulting on how we function in our day to day lives.


ITGS Online (weekly)

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Chapter 6: Edward Snowden and the Chamber of Secrets

Edward Snowden was a former NSA agent that ended up deciding one day that the government had to go. As an NSA agent, Edward had ultimate access to many files and in (date), he let them all out. He exposed that the government was hidden behind every major tech giant, funding them and drawing data from them through PRISM. After the leaks went out, Snowden was seen as a thorn in the side of the government and a hero by cypherpunks that wanted to get rid of the government. With all that was leaked of the major tech companies like Google and Facebook and their connections to government intelligence, recovery should’ve been impossible. After all, they were the ones supplying the CIA, NSA and other agencies information so surely they should’ve been murdered by Snowden’s leaks. Unsurprisingly, Google and Facebook played the blame game, stating and lying that the government had taken the information against their knowledge.

It worked.

Like a terribly written script to a movie like Suicide Squad, Edward Snowden happened to be a firm believer in technology and therefore didn’t believe that the tech giants had done something wrong but rather were being played by the ultimate puppet master, the US government. Somehow, someway, the man that was about to kill every single tech giant with a business model of user profiling had just given mercy by directing attention away from them. By focusing the attention wholly on the US Government, the government who was almost one and the same with Google and Facebook, just took the blows, absorbed the damage and let the tech companies recover. It was like trying to kill a hydra with a sword. When one head dies, two more take its place. Eventually,  Snowden had to move to Moscow because the figurehead of the US government was allegedly hunting him. Snowden managed to hide there in Moscow, untraceable, all thanks to Tor

Chapter 7: The rise and fall of the Onion shield.

I’m going to split this summary into two sections because there are two stories at play here: The history of Tor’s success and how they fell.


Around (date), an illegal online businesses site named Silk Road, which sold drugs, child porn and other horrific things, run by a person named Dread Pirate Roberts, grew in popularity and found massive success. How did such an illegal site become so successful when the internet is so heavily surveilled? It used a separate web browser, private URL, Bitcoin to make transactions untraceable and most notably, Tor.

Tor was a VPN and more. The way it worked, a user would connect to Tor, have the address be sent to thousands of location and then end up at its destination. As Levine described it ‘From the outside, the Tor connection just appeared and if you tried to trace it back, Tor would act as a dead-end’. Because of this, Edward Snowden often promoted the usage of Tor as a tool against government surveillance. Google and Facebook both promoted Tor as well, despite having business models reliant on surveillance. Why? Because Tor was useless against them. If you used Silk Road’s measures, Tor would in fact make it impossible for your data to be taken but in the hands of the average person, many were likely to continue Googling their searches and using Facebook to contact friends or browse Twitter on the way to work etc. Simply put, if the average user just used Tor and did nothing different, Tor was useless against company surveillance. However, what was weirder still was the fact much of Tor’s funding came from the government it was supposedly hiding from. Levine made sense of this once he looked at Tor’s Origins

In the wake of the internet, it was decided almost immediately that the government should use it for spying. However, if spies couldn’t have privacy then it would be like seeing your assassin coming for you through sliding glass double doors. You can’t be an undercover agent if there isn’t any cover. Tor was the solution. Spawned by DARPA, a familiar name among the surveillance valley narrative, Tor would provide privacy to spies using the same technique it used today. However, there was a problem: if the only people that used Tor were spies then any connection that traced to Tor could be identified as a spy. This meant that in order for Tor to keep spies anonymous, it would need to branch into the public and of course, that’s exactly what happened. The Tor Project was finally made it to the form of a non-profit project while keeping its DARPA funding. Eventually, Tor managed to get funding from someone that wasn’t a military contractor: The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). With the EFF’s funding, Tor now had a window to branch into the public. Despite being a privacy advocacy group, the EFF had actually helped the FBIA ‘pass the Communications Assistance Law Enforcement Act, which required all telecommunications companies to build their equipment so it could be wiretapped by the FBI’. Finally, in 2006, Dingledine had received the green-light for advancing Tor, backing by the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which had initially formed to broadcast anti-communist propaganda everywhere possible in the Cold War. With the BBG now behind their backs, all Tor needed was a way to convince the public to relax about Tor, to forget the government funding and start using Tor, and what better way to convince people you aren’t with the government than make them believe you’re literally their greatest enemy. I’d imagine those were the thoughts of Dingledine as he saw the opportunity manifest in front of him

In 2008, Dingledine hired a man named Jacob Appelbaum to help improve Tor. However, it quickly became apparent that Appelbaum would be much better at marketing themselves as something that wasn’t just another string in the US Government’s web of power. Unlike most other Tor workers, Appelbaum ‘had flair, a taste for drama and hyperbole’. It would be Appelbaum who would be the first to promote Tor as a weapon against government oppression and evidence of Tor’s success would come with Silk Road. If an entire criminal business can be built on Tor, why wouldn’t it work for the average user? To many, Silk Road only confirmed that Tor worked on a massive scale.

However, there was another important aspect, Tor now could be used to ‘liberate’ people from government censorship. Sites like Facebook and Google, which were blocked in certain countries such as China, could now be accessed and users would be able to be influenced and in some cases, start revolutions on social media. Social media was now a handheld weapon for propaganda and nobody even noticed because it was so intertwined with our culture.


No strings on Me

In 2014, a group of researchers at Carnegie Mellon University managed to crack the code and get by Tor’s layers of defences. This caused Dingledine, the founder of Tor, to post an update to the ethics behind analysing Tor, effectively acknowledging that a group of students had just made it past Tor’s promise of ultimate privacy. Around the same time, a man named Ross Ulbricht was arrested for being Dread Pirate Roberts and of course, everything that he had done in his time with Silk Road including ‘money laundering, narcotics trafficking, hacking and murder’. If Tor was so secure, why would it need to update the policies behind accessing and researching people that use Tor and how could it be possible for Dread Pirate Roberts to be identified? Short answer: it wasn’t.

From the beginning, Tor had been kept in check by the government. When Silk Road grew in popularity, a DHS agent had already taken over the account of a Silk Road admin, therefore granting federal agencies an all-access pass into Silk Road. Similarly, Tor itself had always been subordinate to government surveillance because Google and Apple-owned the popular phone operating systems that Tor would run on, therefore all the data could be fed through PRISM to the CIA before any of it ever got encrypted by Tor. This meant that Tor’s security was a lie, a facade since all it really did was paint a target on your back. In class, I’ve often argued that having something to hide doesn’t always mean having something bad to hide. However, if you had something extremely wrong to hide then you’d take extreme measures to hide it. That was what the US government realised with Tor. Only if you had something bad to hide would you ever consider using Tor to hide? Through this simple psychological trick, the US government had just outplayed the guilty by creating a common hiding spot that it could keep tabs on at all times. Once Robert Ulbricht and Silk Road had been busted, many other clone sites got busted with it, allowing for 76 individuals to be prosecuted and ‘nearly three hundred child victims from around the world rescued from their abusers’. The Illusion of Tor’s security ended up being exactly what caused its downfall and due to the outreach of Google, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft, Tor would always be susceptible to surveillance from the exact companies and government it was supposed to protect users from.

In the end, Tor’s story ended up being a huge success for the US government, allowing for spies to get on with spying, letting foreign governments be challenged by their own citizens and identifying criminals from civilians through instinctive behaviour. Tor sets the bar for the most politically influential app and ultimately came just a few tiers too low in the hierarchy of power.


Epilogue: Disconnecting

Levine concludes with his visit to Mauthausen, Austria, a former Nazi-occupied city and the heart of Nazi Germany’s automated computer system that connected many concentration and labour camps throughout Nazi-occupied Europe. As Levine puts best ‘The IBM machines themselves did not kill people, but they made the Nazi death machine run faster and more efficiently.’


Concluding my time reading this book, I’d say I would never have started down this route if it hadn’t been for being suggested ‘The Great Hack’ –  a Netflix documentary on Cambridge Analytica who manipulated the votes of both the 2016 US Presidential election and Brexit through social media and data analysis. ‘The Great Hack’ was the first to open my eyes to the reality that we’d all let ourselves get absorbed into the world of technology without ever taking a step back to look at it all. My friends often find I’m the hardest to contact, due in large part to me being one of few that can even stop the resist of social media. Yet, that still hasn’t stopped me from being absorbed into a world of technology and I often find if I pick up my phone, I often waste up to hours of time staring at my screen, completely oblivious to where my data goes. Surveillance Valley has really brought light to such a quiet topic, which has been seemingly forgotten with time. Hopefully, by reading this blog and my reviews of the main narratives of the book, you’ve come to at least consider the reality that you’re being surveilled constantly for data even when the lights are off and where the data goes.

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