I love this prohibition stuff.
First recreational drugs, then guns, then cryptography, then tobbacco, and now, the grandaddy of all prohibitions, alcohol sales, on the net in Florida, with good old vino being retreaded as a brand new thin edge of the tired old wedge of government behavioral control.
Once again, a whole generation of libertines now becomes moralistic in their old age. Same as it ever was. Remember that the Romantics (Beethoven, Chopin, the waltzing Strausses, etc.) grew up to become the Victorians (the temperance, missionary, conservation, and "indian school" movements).
So, maybe it is time to move to a country where the average age is under 30. Fortunately, there are a lot of them, thanks to exploding life expectancy caused by advancing technological progress and Peale's "demographic transition". Maybe soon they'll have enough wealth (and technological creativity) of their own to ignore the increasing constrictions of what Tim May likes to call the "Terror State". I'd gladly exchange a moribund environment of backward-looking luddism for a cheerful attack on the problem of making the future happen, anytime. Unfortunately, that doesn't look like an option, not just yet, anyway.
The other thing which comes to mind with all this is, of course, financial cryptography, which, contrary to the opinion of more than a few on the e-mail lists I'm on, I see as the thin edge of another kind of wedge. It is financial cryptography which will kill cryptographic prohibition, and, someday, prohibition of other technologies as well.
Currently, the relaxation of export controls on cryptography is now merely a cudgel to make us submit to ubiquitous wiretapping, and not for national security, the original purpose of such controls.
Former National Security Agency Chief Counsel Stewart Baker said at the Digital Commerce Society of Boston luncheon this Tuesday that the management of the NSA gave up on succeeding with cryptographic export controls in 1993, and that their only hope was to enlist Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Louis Freeh in their efforts by showing him threat of cryptography to his wiretap apparatus. It's now quite clear that the NSA is fighting a retreat on strong cryptography, and that they're using Louis Freeh and the FBI to do it for them. So, at this point, any residual attempts by the national security apparatus per se to control exports, beyond assisting Freeh in slowing down technological progress, is just regulatory inertia. Still real and very dangerous to anyone who believes in freedom and privacy, but lacking any further accelleration to move it forward, once the momentum it already has finally goes away.
In my conversation last year with senior people there, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), responsible for catching money launderers and other financial criminals and another would-be cryptographic hoplaphobe, certainly seemed to understand that if blind-signature digital bearer certificates are proven to be as economically efficient as a few of us on the net think they will be, FinCEN's ability to monitor transactions on the net will just disappear. Not only because they can't see those transaction behind the Chaumian blind-signature algorithm, but because the sheer volume of transactions (the micromoney mitochondria, digital-cash-as-microprocessor-food idea I like to throw around, as an extreme example) will physically choke any monitoring effort they attempt to build. In yet another paraphrase of John Gilmore's law of internet censorship, the net sees surveillance as damage, and routes around it. Again, inertia is a problem here, and the powers-that-be at FinCEN haven't given up quite yet on ultimately controlling the impending explosion of internet financial cryptography, as NSA's management seems to have with crypto in general. Mostly because all the starry-eyed claims people like me make on behalf of digital bearer certificates are just that, claims, with no empirical evidence so far to back them up. Yet. :-).<
Finally, that leaves wiretaps, and the FBI's Louis Freeh, a man who got his law-enforcement bones because of bugs and wiretaps, and who has never seen a wiretap he didn't like. First of all, Freeh faces the same problem FinCEN faces. Even if it were economically possible for the FBI to get the monsterous wiretap capability that the freshly legislated CALEA now crams down the collective financial throat of every telecoms manufacturer and provider on earth. Even if he did get access to all cryptographic keys, which he can't physically do, because economics will require that most of those session keys be disposed of as fast as they're used. Even if, in spite of both of those flights of economic fantasy, he were able to do so, Freeh still can't physically monitor all that communication, in the same sense that FinCEN can't follow all those transactions on the internet. Gilmore's Law strikes again.
But, the joke here, of course, is that surveillence technology in meatspace itself is going to continue to increase. The eventual prospect of ubiquitous videobugging both by government and private sources means that a lot of David Brin's surveillance society will probably come to pass, and physical crime will continue to diminish as a result. The law-enforcement need for tapped or "excrowed" communictions will probably disappear, because even when Freeh & Co. couldn't just subpoena some stored private video somewhere, planting a physical bug, Gotti-style, will be much easier than listening in to an "excrowed" communication with disposable session keys.
Much in the same way, I might add, as if the NSA bunch had never mentioned the idea of key escrow at all to Louis Freeh. That's because the inherent need of corporations to secure their own data from the hostile or accidental behavior of their own people would have already created a market for encrypted data recovery anyway. All the law enforcement community would need to do to get access to that information is the same thing they use for anything else: a subpoena. Again, the "rational control" of government destroyed what would have been a much more efficient market driven technology. Like the filtering of offensive internet content was before the Communications Decency Act threatened to "require" it, some very creative people were thinking very hard about private key and cryptography data recovery schemes and now won't touch them because the government wants to mandate key escrow, er, "recovery", into existence.
However, the last laugh in the upcoming surveillance society will eventually be had by privacy advocates on would-be totalitarians like Mr. Freeh, and, it seems, on Al Gore, who seems to be Freeh's chief cheerleader in the Clinton administration. Remember that Stalin, too, came to totalitarianism from the absolutism of the extreme left, and leftist absolutism is something Mr. Gore's book "Earth in the Balance" is chock full of. Somewhere, Freddy Hayek is laughing.
Anyway, in the ultimate twist of fate, all those ubiquitous surveillance devices will be predominantly in private hands, and, as the cleptocracy of the modern nation state continues to implode from it's own greed and power-lust, those surveillance devices will, eventually, be linked to privately held security firms, and, maybe someday to autonomous munitions. See the "Mesh and the Net", <http://www.shipwright.com/meshnet.html>, for some hints to this kind of defensive military technology. I claim that as we will be able to allocate network resources with some kind of cash settled economy, so too will we someday be be able to directly "purchase" the services of these kinds of technologies, without the centralized economic distortion of a nation-state. In other words, we'll be much more physically secure without people like Mr. Freeh, than with them.
While that's a long way off, it's probably not so far as freedom and privacy advocates fear. For instance, if, say, 10 years from now, as some people have predicted, your home security system had complete visual coverage of your property with a swarm of very cheap CCD videocameras, all streaming that encrypted video over the net to some secure (possibly anonymous) storage place, then not only do criminals have a tougher time comitting crimes against your person and property, but so too does government. In addition, with such a system, there's nothing to keep a private cop or detective from appearing at the scene of the crime, probably at much less cost than that of a government one. Heck, the purchase of the cop's or detective's time could occur on a cash-settled auction market, for that matter. Paid by private crime insurance, of course. :-). Once again, information technology reduces government to the functional equivalent of ceremony, following monarchy down the road to mere decoration and, lately, occassional entertainment.
Now, I agree that just waiting around for all this to mysteriously appear won't make it happen any faster. The faster the technology is built, deployed, and most important, made profitable, the better. And, these days, all this statist encroachment on our freedom feels, very debatably, like being a Jew on Krystallnacht waiting for the Americans to win the war already. But, this technology is going to happen, and, while nation-states aren't going to go down without fighting for their institutional lives, they have lost. Hopefully, the sooner they know they've lost, the sooner they'll give up, join the human race, and get on with building the future.
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