Friday, August 2, 2013

Privacy, Transparency, Espionage, and Secrecy: Assange, Manning, and Snowden Incidents / Part I / Framing the Problem


We live in an unprecedented time. This is the first and, arguably, most important thing to remember when we begin discussing the the politics of privacy, transparency, classification, human movement, and censorship-for-security.  We, as a nation, as a civilization, and as a species have never been where we are today.


Anatomically modern humans first show up in East Africa around 200,000 BCE.  

Egyptian Agriculture / Courtesy ClipArt ETC
The Neolithic Revolution, which saw the adoption of semi-sedentary and sedentary agriculture, as well as the first fully artificial, defensible, permanent towns, and systems of long-term storage began somewhere around 12,000 BCE. 

Around 10,000 BCE the first bovines were domesticated for virtually all of the same purposes they are used for as today, including draft work. At about the same time the first known temple complex (though given its complexity I am hesitant to say the first) was built at Göbekli Tepe in modern Turkey, near the Syrian border. 

The earliest cities, properly, such as Jericho, Byblos, and Damascus, emerged around 9,000 BCE which is also about the same time that the first oar-driven boats were probably used. 

Around 8,000 BCE in Mesopotamia early civilizations began using tokens to keep records of property and transactions; these tokens were inscribed with symbols that ultimately became the basis of early numbers and scripts. 

While the origins of the wheel, that simple tool which allows human beings to move large objects, or large collections of small objects far faster, further, and safer than without, remain clouded in prehistory evidence exists that wheels were in use in eastern Europe by 4,200 BCE.

The earliest domestication of horses, allowing much longer and faster communication that previously, probably didn't occur till around 3,700 years ago (give or take), though at first probably only as food and pack animals.  Horses became far more useful for rapid transportation and communication upon the development of the chariot, though this probably only occurred around 2000 BCE

The earliest true writing, probably used for keeping records of property and taxes, emerged around 3,300 BCE, probably simultaneously in multiple places and forms (e.g. hieroglyphic scripts in Egypt and proto-alphabetic scripts in Iran). Among the uses of these recording scripts were the first censuses, allowing careful notations of populations under state control, their value to the polity, and their location.  

The earliest known sailing ships, that is to say ships driven by the wind, probably were Egyptian around 3,200 BCE.

The earliest known domestication of camels, allowing for trans-desert trade on a large-scale for the first time, occurred somewhere between 4,000 and 3,000 BCE on the Arabian peninsula.  At approximately the same time dogs (which had probably been domesticated for food, hunting, and security as far back as 35,000 BCE) were probably first used to pull sleds and sledges in northeastern Asia. 

While humans, like most large animals, have used worn paths for transportation since time immemorial the first paved, improved roads we know about emerged around 2,600 BCE, again in Egypt. 

Gutenberg's Press / Courtesy ClipArt, ETC.
In 11th CE century the first movable type printing presses were invented in Song China, improved about two centuries later in Goryeo Korea by making the type metal, and then reaching the West about 1450 with Gutenberg's invention of the screw press. This was critical because, eventually, it allowed for the first true mass communication in human history, encouraging mass literacy at a scale inconceivable beforehand, particularly once the wars of religion and the protestant reformation led to the linkage nationalism, mass literacy, and faith. In the early Enlightenment this technology would begin to achieve its full potential with the emergence of mass-produced newspapers and mass education, a mechanism not only for creating more competitive, effective work forces but also populations that share similar historical perspectives and political-economic values, emerged - particularly once that mass education was made public and achieved the status of political right.

Approximately 1200 CE the first rockets were developed in Song China, originally used for spectacles but soon adapted for military purposes.

Montgolfier's Ballooon / Courtesy ClipArt ETC
In 1784 the first untethered hot air balloons capable of carrying human beings were constructed and used in Annonay, France.

The first railways emerged long before steam, some as early as the 6th Century BCE, becoming increasingly used in Europe throughout the late Medieval and early Modern periods, but they became particularly useful with the emergence of steam engines in the 18th Century and the patenting of the first affordable and durable locomotives in 1811 in the United Kingdom. Not coincidentally the first practical steam ships emerged at about the same time, making river and oceanic travel infinitely more reliable and, ultimately, faster.  

Semaphore telegraphy emerged in Western Europe in the late 18th Century but was quickly replaced by the first modern form of telecommunications - electric telegraphy - beginning the mid-19th Century.  The importance of the telegraph should never be underestimated - suddenly near instantaneous communication was possible over vast distances, assuming the infrastructure was in place - consider that the first trans-oceanic lines were already in place by the late 1860s, though in the 1890s wireless telegraphy had emerged, by and large removing the need for transmission lines.

In 1849 the first successful heavier-than-air fixed wing craft was launched, soon to be followed, in 1852, by the first true airship was launched after a hot air balloon was equipped with a steam engine, allowing for movement against the wind.  These, and all early types of powered flight, including all non-jet or non-rocket-powered flight today, depended upon propeller-drives, essentially an adaptation of naval screws to move through the fluid of atmosphere.    

The earliest telephony systems emerged in the mid to late 19th century with the first awarded patent going to Alexander Graham Bell in 1876. This technology becomes critical as it rapidly expands because it allows non-technicians to communicate rapidly and easily over long distances at comparatively low prices - the telegram was imperiled almost immediately, though the comparative costs of infrastructure and the development of wireless telegraph technology delayed its demise.  In the mid-20th Century telephony became largely digital, removing much of the cost (associated with switchboards and their personnel). 

The first modern automobiles, critical because they were locomotive but did not require tracks, emerged in the 1880s, but they became practical for mass consumption only in the early 20th Century.  

The Wright Biplane / Courtesy ClipArt ETC
In 1903 the Wright Brothers achieved the first powered, fixed-wing aircraft flight in the United States using a wing-warping method of steering.  The first and second world wars of the first half of the twentieth century led to rapid advances in the capabilities of fixed-wing craft, most notably in terms of both steering systems and propulsion.  The most important of these was the development of turbojet, generally shortened to jet, propulsion which allowed for radical increases in maneuverability, acceleration, velocity, and altitude.

While rotorcraft, such as helicopters, had been employed as toys for centuries, particularly in Japan, the first practical application of the principle was not until 1906 in France, though the first sustained flights weren't developed until the 1920s.

Rockets had been used for military purposes for centuries, but in 1926 the first liquid-fueled rocket was launched in the United States.  This, coupled with the emergence of the Second World War, led to enormous interstate investment in rockets, again, generally for military applications, leading in 1943 to deployment by Germany of the first practical rockets, the V-2.  Notably these were guided rockets fundamentally transforming the nature of politics.  During and following the war rocketry was applied to a variety of different delivery ends (surface to air; surface to surface; air to air; air to surface; surface to space; and air to space), allowing for the first supersonic flights to occur. The second half of the 20th century would see the achievement of an enormous range of landmarks - the first artificial satellites, the first animals and humans in space, the first unmanned and manned trips around and to the Moon, and the first unmanned probes to other worlds - notably Venus and Mars, as well as non-landing probes to the outer planets.  The most important of these is the emergence of satellites which allowed for global and instantaneous communications, telemetry, meteorology, and photographic intelligence gathering.

In the mid-1960s, in response to both emergent technologies and the fear that weapons of mass destruction might lead to the collapse of traditional command geographies the United States began research into networked digital computers. This built on earlier, packet-based research done in the civilian world, but radically improved it (demand followed by dollars, one supposes!). Educators and scientists rapidly retasked the networked computer system notion, and following steady standardization the networked communication system generically called the "internet" emerged, radically expanding in terms of quality, quantity, and applications through the 1990s and early 21st Century.


Consider this as well - human beings have had political systems since well into prehistory - we are, as Aristotle quipped, political animals.  As time as progressed those systems have become both more well-defined and jealous.  By well-defined I mean that increasingly, over time, states have ever more clearly delineated their rights, boundaries, members, laws, and institutions.  By jealous I mean they have ever more clearly asserted their right to be the exclusive arbiters of dispute, the holders of what political philosophers and scientists refer to as "monopoly of violence" (violence being, of course, any sort of coercion in terms of life, liberty, and/or property).  These developments have only been possible due to the development of the technologies of mass communication and transportation, the so-called conquest of space and time, that are detailed above.

Yet at the same time the self-same technologies have empowered human individuals to an unequivocal degree.  The average human being has access to vastly more information and behavioral opportunity over time, particularly since the end of the Second World War.  This means the ability of individuals not overtly associated with a polity, particularly if they are gifted researchers, thinkers, artists, strategists, and so forth, to affect other human beings (and the polities they are members of) has increased at exactly the same time that state power has increased.  The old battle of orthodoxy versus counter-orthodoxy, which is so healthy, honestly, has reached a new tenor and scale and, with the emergence of social media and sometimes nuanced, sometimes radically distinct, philosophies of knowledge, ethics, and power amplified things even further.

Humanity is, in other words, at a crux.  Our species, in its current form, has been around for 200,000 years.  We have lived in polities recognizably similar to our own for around 12,000 years - about 5% of that.  We have lived in polities that were modern, meaning they began to have well-defined notions of nationalism, border rigidity, sovereignty, and the monopoly of power, around 500 years ago, if one is being liberal with those terms (counting from the Italian renaissance) or 400 years ago if one is being somewhat parsimonious (beginning with the Peace of Westphalia) - about 1/4 of a percent of our modern species' existence.  Practical motorized transportation and electronic communication only emerged between 200 and 150 years ago - about 1/10th of a percent of our total existence, and what we might call rapid, global, instantaneous communication and (relatively) near instantaneous transportation (any location on earth by rocket in 30 minutes, by military craft in a few hours, by civilian craft in less than a day, in theory) only about 70 to 50 years - about 1/20th of a percent of our total existence.

And, to be very frank, we are still figuring out how to deal with it all.

The flow of information and persons and property and the ability to manage and record that information and those persons and their property has increased at an exponentially increasing rate.  And we are presented with conundrums.  Notably, at minimum, we have tasked our governments with the roles of dispute resolution and protection of, again, our lives, our liberties, and our property.  Yet we have also decided, at least in the free world, that it must do so, insofar as possible, while minimally impacting those things.  This is a (comparatively) simple thing if the ability of society's enemies threaten is limited by space and time rather strictly. However as space and time are conquered and the ability to limit movement of people, property, and information has become increasingly complicated this primary obligation of the state has become increasingly complex.

The question I thus seek to answer is this - how should polity protect society and economy without generating costs and risks that outweigh potential benefits.  This of course may be exploded into a more useful form: can we, and if so how, preserve life and property without eliminating liberty and privacy in a world of high specification of rights, property, and boundaries in which are increasingly porous due to the emergence of space- and time-conquering philosophies and technologies?

I will not produce a valid answer.

That said, I plan to explore the subject systematically in a series of articles.  I intend to describe the emergence and rationale of rights to privacy and liberty, particularly within the American context.  I also intend to describe the emergence of regimes of intelligence, naturalization, and classification within that context (let us call it security of knowledge and movement), contrasting them of course with the need for transparency and the problems of balancing the two. I plan to develop a map of the key "players" in the games of mass communication and transportation, detailing their capabilities, rationales, and so forth, and then critiquing their behaviors and philosophies.  I also plan to look at three key cases which are on contemporary minds and lips - the Assange, Manning, and Snowden Incidents, contrasting both what they did, the philosophical basis of lauding and condemning them, and the implications for future policy and behavioral outcomes.

I might think of more to talk about eventually on the same subject, but we'll see.

The key to this question is this: complexity.  This is a morally and practically complex subject.  That means it is going to be complicated to discuss - fascinating, difficult, sometimes emotional, and always critical.

It should be fun.

To be continued in Part II / Defining Privacy and Conceptualizing Associated Problems