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[liberationtech] FW: The security and ethics

David Rizk drizk at stanford.edu
Wed Feb 9 10:15:03 PST 2011


> Additionally, just as literary illiteracy and innumeracy are serious
> education problems, so is technological illiteracy. So while I agree we
> should be accessible, I reject the notion that the ideal is to not
> understand the way that the world works. We reject it for other
> important topics and we should reject it here too. We should embrace
> understanding for this very important topic; most people actually get
> the big picture and most of the little details when they stop
> discouraging themselves.

Paul -- agreed. I think the points you've made are often lost on this list.

@Jacob, Jim: I understand that your points are directed mostly at users who place themselves in harm's way, but I believe they lose validity as universal tenets. Most people express their curiosity and find happiness by learning about, and doing things, other than implementing advanced privacy and security protocols. Expecting users to want to learn more about our particular field misses the greater point. 

Consider the alternative: ideally, users should need to know less, rather than more, about the way networks and security protocols work. Ideally, users should be able to spend cycles on the things they care about -- pursuing happiness, fomenting revolutions -- without worrying about technical details. You may think hacking is happiness, but plainly, most do not. If network and software engineers (and governments and lawyers) were really successful at their jobs, ordinary users wouldn't be threatened by any of this. We strive to realize this vision in the law, and I would submit that the same should be true of code. For example, Yale's Robert Ellickson points out that the law is irrelevant for most people most of the time -- and this is regarded as a great thing! 

Relatedly, I would also reject your analogy to basic literacy. Of course, *some* basic level of computer literacy is going to be essential for generations to come. But implementing advancing privacy and security protocols is not really analogous to the basic ability to read. To say that you can write, is not to say that you can write a competent and persuasive brief to a judge. You (wisely) hire a lawyer. Are you contending that, ideally, you would mount your own defense? Or would you prefer to get professional help?

On the margins, I think we can agree, expertise is always going to be necessary. And just as lawyers help their clients comply with the law, and fend off attempts at enforcement, technologists should strive to make life as uncomplicated as possible for users -- while upholding their expectations and social norms (e.g., protecting their privacy, etc.).

best, David

----------------------------
David Wade Rizk
Stanford Law School
drizk at stanford.edu

On Feb 9, 2011, at 9:26 AM, <P.A.Bernal at lse.ac.uk> wrote:

> Jacob, I'm certainly not advocating that we don't aim for understanding the world 'as it is' - but sometimes you need to teach someone to drive rather than how to design and build their own car, let alone the physics behind the internal combustion engine. There's a balance to be found - and as you say, creating a space in which we can find that balance is the key.
> 
> What I was really looking for was a solution for the situation as it often is on the ground, as described by a few posters on here, where people have little time and lots of demands upon that little time, and who would like to find good solutions to their problems but who don't have the expertise to find their way through the technical language and literature.
> 
> Paul Bernal
> 
> 
> -----Original Message-----
> From: liberationtech-bounces at lists.stanford.edu on behalf of Jacob Appelbaum
> Sent: Wed 2/9/2011 4:23 PM
> To: liberationtech at lists.stanford.edu
> Subject: Re: [liberationtech] FW: The security and ethics
> 
> On 02/09/2011 06:54 AM, P.A.Bernal at lse.ac.uk wrote:
>> Agreed - though privacy by design doesn't really go nearly far enough
>> both in theory and in practice.... and in practice, of course, it's
>> much more often 'surveillance by design' than privacy by design.
>> That's what needs to be opposed, together with the laws that seem to
>> support or even demand it.
>> 
> 
> I agree. Surveillance by design is the normal behavior - it's both
> easier and well tested as far as most implementors are concerned.
> 
> I think privacy by design is a great buzz-phrase. Ultimately for a
> discussion that critiques either advice or tools, it's probably not
> possible to just toss around buzz-words or buzz-phrases
> 
>> For the purposes of this mailing list, though, there is a point I'd
>> like to make from a lay-person's perspective: the technical language
>> (not just the acronyms) that surrounds privacy is often highly
>> confusing even to people with quite a lot of technical knowledge.
>> What that means in practice is that people often just give up on it,
>> particularly if they're short on time and have other highly pressing
>> issues to deal with, as they generally do. Is there a way that this
>> can be avoided? Often, of course, the level of technicality is
>> unavoidable, but it would be great to try to cut through it at least
>> to a degree.
> 
> I find this interesting on a few levels.
> 
> If we asked this of people about basic literacy or mathematics, we'd be
> pretty embarrassed. Rather than asking people to read to us or for us,
> we learn to read. Rather than asking someone to balance our checkbook,
> we learn to do it ourselves. This is a sub-goal of most educational
> programs. Obviously the main goal is an understanding of actual
> mathematics and literary challenges; learning about these topics is not
> just about functionally balancing a checkbook.
> 
> To that end, computers and networks are an important part of our lives.
> Indeed, I think this is such a difficult topic precisely because a lack
> of knowledge or a lack of technical knowledge may be physically
> dangerous to people in the field. I don't want to exclude people from
> the discussion, rather I think we should seek to normalize the knowledge
> and embrace it when possible.
> 
> To that end, I think that while we should try to make the language
> accessible but we must not forget that the details do really matter.
> 
> Additionally, just as literary illiteracy and innumeracy are serious
> education problems, so is technological illiteracy. So while I agree we
> should be accessible, I reject the notion that the ideal is to not
> understand the way that the world works. We reject it for other
> important topics and we should reject it here too. We should embrace
> understanding for this very important topic; most people actually get
> the big picture and most of the little details when they stop
> discouraging themselves.
> 
> If that means that people are going to give up on a discussion, I
> suppose that we should simply hope they're not calling the shots for
> other people who are less hopeless. There is little to do for people who
> simply and silently give up.
> 
> However, as a practical manner - I would prefer to encourage people to
> help create a safe space. As my friend Ingy would say: "Hands need
> holding; if you only live in the future, it's a future nobody will ever
> see" and I tend to agree. There absolutely needs to be a desire on both
> sides to make this happen. It would be great to know when to define the
> technical language and when to break down the barriers; creating a safe
> space is key to greater understanding all around.
> 
> All the best,
> Jacob
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