Friday, June 14, 2013

The Crescendo of Scandalous Crises Mode: Part 3, Anonymity as a Disease

I have given a lot of thought to this installment (well a good half hour anyway) and I have decided that it is time to roll out the argument of the constancy, because it is important to be constant, of my position on the subject of security. Keep in mind I was appalled by how my patriotism after 9/11 was twisted to become a war with Iraq. I rapidly threw any feelings of patriotism I held out the door. And my view of my country and my place in it was clouded beyond hope. Yes, I am definately a liberal.

Nevertheless, I decided, in the weeks that followed, that anonymity was the problem here. Being in a field closely associated with computers, I had run across the bad aspects of anonymity too many times for me to really enjoy it. Anonymity was in the spam that crammed my email box, it was in the scams from anonymous people sending emails, or even in the people in chat rooms becoming rude and just bewildering as they felt the power in taking a cheap shot at someone from their hidey-hidey place. Anonymity was really the big problem in pretty much any crime, I guessed, because if we knew who did the crime, well, we would arrest them.

Yes, I realized that bank robbers wear masks to their jobs.

In coming up with analogies for the anonymity of the Internet I would think of people walking down the street with masks on so that their identity was not known. That was what the Internet felt like in the early days and still smacked of around 9/11. It was like everyone were driving cars around with heavily tinted windows and no license plates.  There just might be more hit and runs with automobiles when there was little risk of being caught. People walking down the street with masks on would surely not act near as friendly when there was no reason to act that way. And most importantly, at least in the society I was familiar with, crime statistics would surely jump astronomically.

Modern society had created a world that was foreign to the world I grew up with. Anonymity was not as profound when I was young. To illustrate the freedom in not being anonymous: kids played outside with parents barely watching.  I roamed around unattended, miles from home, on my bike. No one thought my parents to be inadequate. Nothing ever really happened to me, at least not in the sense of a worst parent's fears. I guess I got a dog bite, here and there. But "evildoers" did not feel as free to grab a kid anonymously. I had freedom because people were more aware of their place in society. Or to put it another way, they were afraid they would get caught. Without today's perceived advantages of anonimity,  my wanderings were more like learning experiences, rather than truly dangerous situations. People seemed to know other people. One's identity in society was just more important.

One can trace the breakdown of trust in our society to other factors besides anonymity, but I still have this feeling etched in my being that focus on the individual, and anonymity were basically the factors of substance. No longer were people concerned about the welfare of society but upon their own selves.  And further, only if done in secret, with privacy, can bad acts have the desired effects in favor of the individual, instead of incurring the possibly undesirable societal effects on the individual, like say, incarceration.

Trust of the government is different thing entirely for me. I certainly want to trust my government with information about me. I want to elect people who will provide me with the protector when I need him/her as I am being attacked, and I want my elected representatives to stop the protector from nosing into my business for no reason. I want the best of both worlds. In my neighborhood from the 60's analogy, there were parents all up in other parents' business and there were parents who looked after other parents' children as if they were their own.

There is an interesting interplay of anonymity when it comes to police officers. The police, since forever, have had that anonymous feel to them. Certainly there is a reason for that badge number. It is to knock down the anonymity of a police officer who commits bad acts. But police have ways around that, and one method is the notorious "Blue Code of Silence."  Yet, still courts tend to defer to the police officer in decisions. It gives a lot of leeway for bad behavior.

We may be upset about constant surveillance when it comes to our individual desires up until the point when that surveillance does something in our favor (never mind society's favor.) For instance, if a police officer begins beating on an individual, there is not a great deal that the person can do. The officer has the gun, the officer has the backup, the officer is usually in better shape, but the officer cannot control someone with a cellphone recording the incident. There have been interesting moments that should make everyone aware of the need to film the police in secret, every chance they get, and to secure one's footage personally before the police officer can "secure" it for  "evidence."  But, in general, surveillance would be a big bonus in stopping the policeman from ever wanting to do a bad act in public.

To show you just how illiberal I can be on this subject, I had a discussion with my wife after Obama was elected. I said something completely naive and utopian but it serves to illustrate my feelings. I said, in my post election elation: "What would really be great at this exact juncture, would be to begin the process of redefining anonymity. For instance, it would be awesome to have security cameras on every street corner, watched by no one, to be watched only when someone has a really important reason (and warrant) to access the information like tracking a bank robber, or monitoring a terrorist. What this would take would be a grand leap in trust for our government." And I certainly trusted Obama this much. And yes, my wife doesn't listen to such crap. But that was my perfect world scenario. A perfect government that would use surveillance to protect us WITHOUT getting into our business. Honestly, this is why I am totally against using cameras at intersections for petty things like someone running a stoplight. Sure, it is something that is highly dangerous and can kill people BUT the technology has far more use if we trust it as our friend than hate it as our enemy. It has far more power when used with the greatest degree of restraint that is within us. Petty crimes out the window, focus on the important. Focus on the time someone IS killed and everyone agrees on looking at the tape.

I feel the same utopian thoughts about surveillance of telephones and computer communications. Record everything there is to record, but don't use the information for anything except those crimes that deserve the highest level of attention. Yes it is naive. But I DO want to be protected against nuclear terrorism.

And there is the rub. I must trust my government yet I haven't a vote that means a spit on the pavement (see other parts of this series.)

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