Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Our Rights Online: Bruce Schneier

Bruce Schneier is an internationally renowned security technologist and blogger. This is a partial transcript of his remarks. If you have any amendments or correction, let me know.

I have approximately five points to make. Before, I want to talk about something that was said during the introduction, that the Internet was founded on trust. People are good and not bad. Practically everything about our species is founded on the fact that people are good and not bad. All of society requires that all of us are good most of the time. There has been a dishonest minority. There has been a minority of bad actors. It's not on the Internet that we're surprised that they existed. It's that we didn't realize they existed before. The Internet is just people communicating.

What the Internet does is different. When I read Clay Shirky's writings, I do it from the security guy perspective. How does culture and community foster security? Because they do. The ability of this group to form as a community is a form of societal security. It allows good ideas to propagate. It allows change to happen. It serves as a back stop to bad, repressive politics. The Internet fostering communication and community fights against oppressive politics.

We are building the Internet. It's still very new. We don't know how it will shake out. We're still understanding the social ramifications of this new way of communicating. This is a very disruptive technology. You see that in the political battles.

Connection fosters community, and that is a security device. It protects us. It's something valuable. That's the first poiint.

The second point is that there's social value in privacy, in anonymity. This is not a nice to have. Privacy is fundamental to human dignity. Privacy is not about having something to hide. It's not ill intent. It's not criminal activity. Privacy is necessary for democracy – the secret ballot. Anonymity is required. All speech cannot be named in a democracy. As a regime becomes more oppressive, anonymity becomes more important.

Too much we're caught up in the battle of security vs. privacy. That's a false dichotomy. That's my two and a half point. When someone says security and privacy say door lock, tall fence. Most of the ID card checks are complete nonsense. The real dichotomy is liberty vs. control. That’s the dichotomy.

That leads to my third point. What's key here is the power imbalance, the power balance between the disparate bodies. If there is an oppressive government, these technologies can help them be more oppressive. If there is a free people, they can use them to be more free. This is where I think a lot of people who say everything will be public and it'll be OK are missing a very important point. Power imbalance matters. When a police man stops you on the street and asks to see your ID, your being able to see their ID doesn't do a lot. They have a lot more power. The power imbalance is magnified through forced openness.

What privacy does is it increases the power of the citizens with respect to the police. We live in a world where all interrogation rooms have cameras and are recorded. That increases the power of the citizens. This is true of lots of technologies. That's why you see the media companies using the technologie sthat will eventually make their businesses obsolete. They can use the tech to increase their power.

Point four: All technologies can be used for good and evil. Yes, the bad guys can use the Internet to communicate, to plan, to organize. That's been true about the telephone. That's been true about the automobile. Bad guys go to restaurants and eat lunch. There are more good guys than bad guys. Having restaurants is a good idea even though they feed criminals because they feed even more non-criminals. It is not the technology.

Sometimes the imbalance is there, and we try to ban a technology. The good uses of landmines don't seem to outweigh the bad uses of landmines, so we ban them. The quintessential argument here is guns. We're not going to do the argument, but do the beneficial uses of guns outweigh the negative uses? When you ban a technology, yeah, you take it away from the bad guys sort of, but you definitely take it away from the good guys. Let's say you put a speed governor in ordinary automobiles so people can't drive faster than 55 and use them as getaway cars. The bad guys may or may not be able to circumvent that technology, but we definitely can't drive faster than 55.

Sometimes that's worth it. Take landmines. You might argue about it. Take handguns. That's fundamentally what you're debating. You're trying to decide the right social policy.

The fifth point, and my last one, is that technologies make change. Those changes are resisted by those who have a vested interest in maintaining the old ways of doing things. Every time there's a disruptive technology, it changes the nature of business.

What's sort of new is that these are happening relatively quickly when before they used to happen every couple of decades. There are some very powerful interests that don't like that. Their business model is built on the old way of doing things. There are lots of places where the Internet makes it different.

When you have a long-run bet, you might want to bet on the natural flow of the technology. Trying to make the Internet behave as a system of scarce resources is kind of like making water not wet. There's a lot of interests in making water not wet – the entire copy protection industry. They're trying to make the natural ease of copying and make it not true. That could be a long and difficult run. That's where we are now.

That's the battle we're in. Whether it's the freedom to connect, upload, download, make copies, save copies, view copies, in the natural world of information these are properties like water is wet. That's not going to work long term. You can't remove what the bad guys do by removing the technology. Cheap copies of a movie will appear on the streets of Taiwan regardless of what happens. But our abilities will be limited very easily.

Whose rights win out in the end? Us, or Sony? They have rights, too. The rights that win in the end are the rights that foster community, democracy, and liberty. They're the rights that flow naturally from people using technology to do what they do. You can tell a law makes sense when there are millions of law breakers. But when your grandmother is a lawbreaker because she makes a copy of a movie for her grandson without really thinking about it, you've got a problem.

We've got to make it intuitive. Take drunk driving laws. What do you mean, I can't drive my own car? Smoking laws are a more recent example. The rights that win are the rights that foster community. We're going to live in a world with free information exchange. We're living in the decades where we have the turbulence. Big business doesn't abandon their business models easily, and they shouldn't.

1 comment:

Russ Nelson said...

You can tell a law makes NO sense when there are millions of law breakers.