Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

News Privacy vs Security

  1. Apr 26, 2003 #1


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    I recently stumbled across this:


    As one might expect, this prompted harsh criticism!


    This is a recent example of the pecular American belief that the government is supposed to go looking for criminals, crooks, and terrorists... but it can't look at me!

    Why do Americans think this way? Do other nations' populaces act similarly?

    Interestingly, the TIA would not decrease privacy; it would merely organize vast quantities of information. Still fears arise, such as in the report from the USACM:

    "Because of serious security, privacy, economic, and personal risks associated with the development of a vast database surveillance system..."

    But the only thing the TIA would do is provide the organization required for data-mining. If a person targetting you is competent enough to hack into a compartmented Department of Defense databse, surely they would be competent enough to gather the information directly. It's difficult for me to see any substantiation for privacy concerns.

    Another fear raised by the USACM:

    "A single individual who has a personal or political vendetta, or who has been compromised by blackmail or greed, could do great harm. Yet, tens of thousands of systems administrators, domestic law enforcement staff, and intelligence personnel will be able to access the data; the security of the data will depend on the trustworthiness of every one of them. "

    and similarly:

    "Because TIA would combine some types of automated data-mining with statistical analysis, there would be a significant personal cost for many Americans. Any type of statistical analysis inevitably results in some number of false positives - in this case incorrectly labeling someone as a potential terrorist. As the entire population would be subjected to TIA surveillance, even a small percentage of false positives would result in a large number of law-abiding Americans being mistakenly labeled."

    Is there any factual backing for such cynicism of the U.S. government (in this respect, I mean, not in general )? Intelligence agencies are favorite sources of villany in Hollywood, but when's the last time you've actually heard from a reputable news outlet that an intelligence agency was acting irresponsibly in real life?

    When you really think about it, it isn't realistic to think that people are going to get erased from a bad database entry.

    And just how small do people think these agencies are? There are tens of thousands of people now with access to more damaging secrets than your credit card number, but somehow pubilc security is maintained.

    And realistically, just how much do we care that we're being watched? Be honest, how many of you use your local supermarket's bonus savings card, or a gas station's credit card? How many of you have your phone number listed in the white pages and have all cookies enabled in your web browser?

    We're "supposed" to care greatly about privacy, but is it really appropriate to be so pedantic about it?

    What are your thoughts!
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 20, 2017
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 27, 2003 #2
    Evidence? Didn't the earlier attempts to monitor Americans get shut down because of rampant abuses? And, as we've seen with the clumsy attempts to filter Internet access for school libraries, it is too easy to screw things up, or else not be efficient enough to matter.
  4. Apr 27, 2003 #3


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    People need to get over the idea of privacy. It simply does not exist for people who choose to live anywhere except in caves. What TIA does is no different from what marketing companies do.
  5. Apr 27, 2003 #4
    Just for teh record, I'm against that too...but the difference is, the government has the power to ACT on this information. And, from personal experience, I can tell you that the government WILL screw it up; that's what big bureaucracies do, isn't it? This should be an issue that everyone should be together on. Civil rights groups, small-government proponents, anyone who values freedom.
  6. Apr 27, 2003 #5


    User Avatar

    if the government doesn't already have the power to hold people indefinitely without due process based on results of spying, i bet they soon will.

    what happens if data gets mixed up? lets say their computers say i'm a terrorist, even though i'm not (i don't think so anyway). they could throw me in jail forever for something untrue.

    and who's keeping g-dubs from using this to silence his opponents? there's ways of making senate democrats black market arms dealers overnight.
  7. Apr 27, 2003 #6


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    But can either of you actually substantiate your claims?

    Ignoring Tinseltown, we here stories of the FBI spending years painstakingly gathering information to form a solid case allowing them to make a conviction stick on some nasty bad guy. I never hear a story of the FBI rushing in with weak evidence and getting an American citizen locked away indefinitely without a trial.

    What justification do you have for your belief that having a database for pooling existing information will suddenly cause the government to start locking people up on a weak collection of circumstantial evidence? Just how many courts do you think will uphold a conviction based entirely "AI model #391 said that this person resembled a terrorist"?

    And how would it enable something like "making senate democrats black market arms dealers overnight"? The redundancy inherent in the system would make it more difficult, because you have to change the TIA and the databases from which it gathers information, not to mention the fact that they are researching technology to more accurately log access and usage of the data, which would make it even harder to accomplish such a feat than it is now.
    Last edited: Apr 27, 2003
  8. Apr 27, 2003 #7
    I'm willing to bet that TIA would include information on what books we read, and monitoring what books everyone reads is a bunch of bull. I don't want 1984 in America. It's one more step towards that kind of society, and somewhere, we need to put our feet down and say "That's enough."

    People always abuse information and power. That's why we have things such as the Fourth Amendment. The "Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003" would take away certain limits on the police's ability to gather information that were put in place because of illegal spying.
    Last edited: Apr 27, 2003
  9. Apr 27, 2003 #8
    Something ironic, at least to me, is the same administration that doesn't trust teh government to handle health care, education, or any other social program, on the other hand wants us to hand over our civil rights, on teh assumption that they won't misuse their power.

    The reason that restrictions exist is because of past abuses...there is nothing to guarantee that future offenses won't occur if restrictions are lifted.
  10. Apr 27, 2003 #9


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    But do you have anything to substantiate your claims? If I wanted to hear people chant "government is bad" over and over I'd just do a google search.

    There's a knee-jerk opposition to anything that would give the government more knowledge and power. I would coin the term 1984 syndrome, but people have beaten me to it! :frown:

    Is it not self-evident that the very definition of a government requires such an entity to have the knowledge of what needs to be done and the power to do it? Since a government needs knowledge and power to govern effectively, arguments that amount to "Knowledge and power is bad so the government shouldn't have any more" can hardly be called enlightened.

    The threats we expect our government to protect us from have grown more frequent, more subtle, and far more dangerous, yet privacy advocates would be happy if law enforcement hadn't matured a day in the past two hundred years.

    Police video surveillance is a hot issue. Show of hands, how many of you would really like to see a police officer nearby as you're walking the streets New York at night? Yet for some reason, it's not okay for a video camera to capture the same thing. This resentment of allowing law enforcement to use public surveillance would totally dumbfound me if it weren't for the fact that most people take advantage of the underfunded police departments in their driving habits.

    For a more interesting example, how about some examples from

    Is it really reasonable to expect the government to protect us from these things, yet have to rely on lucky coincidences to even have a clue that such things might be occuring? I would be entirely unsurprised if other companies are pulling the same kind of schemes or worse, but how could we possibly expect the FBI to detect it without a database that can detect this sort of thing?

    Another example comes from the USACM letter:

    You get one guess as to why the existing database systems were insufficient. :wink:

    For once, I'd like to see a privacy advocate to actually address these sort of issues rather than simply pointing at a 55 year old work of fiction.
  11. Apr 27, 2003 #10
    The real difference, of course, is whether you expect the government to protect you or not. I don't. I certainly know beter than to think that more government power will equal anything besides more corruption. Remember, the blocks against government snooping are there specifically because the government agencies abused the power teh last time they DID have it.

    I prefer to be free. You may prefer to be safe. You really can't have both.
  12. Apr 27, 2003 #11


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    No, thats why baseless claims, absurd hypotheticals and conspiracy theories are so popular these days. All you have to do is SUGGEST a negative outcome and its reality to a lot of people.
    Have you heard of the microphones placed around LA to pinpoint gunshots? It works VERY well.
    Do you know how the FBI sends pictures from one place to another? FedEX!! Seriously. Any high school kid in the country knows how to use email and a scanner, but the FBI takes DAYS to send information from one place to another.

    And people are AGAINST our law enforcement getting into the 21st century [?]

    Wrong, Zero. The two are inexorably linked. You can't be free unless you are safe. You're buying into the fallacy of anarchy. Is it freedom to not be able to leave your house without fear of being shot? No, it isn't.
    Last edited: Apr 27, 2003
  13. Apr 27, 2003 #12
    New technology is fine by me...information mining is not. Like I said, the government has a lousy record as it is, do we want them to have more power to screw up?
  14. Apr 27, 2003 #13
    Actually, I WAS wrong...there is no such thing as safety either way.
  15. Apr 27, 2003 #14
    maybe you should do a google seach on the McCarthy commision.
  16. Apr 27, 2003 #15


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    I hadn't heard of that before. I did some searching and found the site to the shotspotter system which is the same kind of thing, though not the exact thing used in LA, and it's an impressive bit of technology!

    "Knowing better" is fine and dandy for convincing yourself of something, but somewhat more explicit reasoning is needed in discussion.

    And I figured you'd've learned by now that I'm gonna call you on junk like this. :wink: You're apparently implying some sort of association between McCarthyism and my points. Would you care to get this thread going somewhere by providing some rationale for why you would imply such a thing?
  17. Apr 27, 2003 #16
    Well, Hurkyl, you obviously know teh criticisms, you posted links to them, didn't you?

    Lets' look at the last try at Internet monitoring the feds tried: filtering porn out of school libraries. Sure, you couldn't look at smut. You also couldn't find out about safe sex, breast cancer, and, depending on which filter was used, you couldn't look up the president's last name.

    Look at the list of people who were suspicious flyers right after 9-11...it included people who had been arrested 30 years ago at peace rallies, including one of the top people in the Green Party.

    In Florida and Texas, during the last presidential election, the 'filter' used to isentify people who were not allowed to vote (because of felony convictions) included people who had legally regained the right to vote, and people who had never lost that right to begin with.

    Of course, what we need is an even more comprehensive computer program. I'm so very sure the government has learned from its mistakes...not to mention all the offenses before teh computer age, when selective spying against 'subversive' groups was abused to the point of having laws enacted against it.
  18. Apr 28, 2003 #17
    Zero pointed out that the government has a tendency to abuse its power under the guise of security and you asked for evidence so i presented the most blatant example; what do you not understand? are you claiming McCarthy was in the right?
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 28, 2003
  19. Apr 28, 2003 #18


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    The USACM did give one or two good reasons against TIA in particular (the difficulties it would incur for US corporations to do business in the EU), but nothing I've linked really addressed the issue of privacy vs security (my main point) beyond standard 1984 paranoia.

    Anyways, your arguments, IMHO, are actually good reasons to give TIA a try. The whole point is to have an exploratory period where the Government actually has time to research the technology rather than trying to hastily implement something for which there is a public outcry.

    In terms of your second and third, actually having mature database technology would lead to fewer false positives than the crude searches employed in these examples. Of course every effort should be made to ensure that the technology is not misused, but that does not mean the technology shouldn't be allowed to even exist.

    And I will recall one of my previous points; how is the government supposed to provide the level of security we demand if we refuse it the power to research the technologies needed to provide that security?

    I'm claiming that it's nonobvious that TIA and other "big brother" technologies (such as electronic police surveillance) will lead to abuses of power and public panic of the McCarthyism variety.

  20. Apr 28, 2003 #19
    And I say again that the level of security that some people want is simply impossible while maintaining any sort of freedom. Is it worth turning into a Soviet country, in order to feel more safe? Because we certainly won't be much more safe..you can't stop crime by suppressing society.
  21. Apr 28, 2003 #20


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    I didn't know that the line between the modern US and a Soviet state was so fine that even the tinyest enhancement to law enforcement would instantly doom the country to perpetual repression.

    Silly me for not realizing this blatantly obvious fact.

    It's a good thing you just kept restating your thesis rather than cluttering the thread up with useless justifications, otherwise it might not have been clear how utterly right you are!
    Last edited: Apr 28, 2003
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook