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On Freedom of Information: How Much is Too Much?

Arnox

Veteran
Staff member
Founder
Messages
4,255
I can't believe I haven't addressed this problem in the past before. Well, it's time to rectify that I guess.

We all make a big deal out of freedom of speech, and for good reason, but one thing that isn't talked about much, if at all, is freedom of information. TOTSE used to have this as one of their key tenets, and Sanctuary by extension used to as well, but I later backed off from that somewhat when I actually thought about it and where such thinking inevitably led. Yes, freedom of information is quite nice, but is it as nice when people have full access to your location details? How about your banking details? It doesn't take long at all to see the issue here.

OK, fine. So maybe not all information, but if we're only going to consider some information as acceptable to reveal, then the natural and inevitable question immediately comes up. What information should be publicly available, and linking to that, who should have control of information that we deem to be restricted? And what messy questions these are. First, to sort through all this information, we're going to need a hardened method. A good rule of thumb. And the quickest method that comes to my mind is a simple common sense method of evaluating the potential problems of releasing the information versus the benefits. When the problems outweigh the benefits, we can consider that information to be unsafe to release. The method is very simple, but perhaps it's too simple. Is there some information out there that has many and/or great potential problems but should still be released? I've been sitting here for about 15 minutes, trying to think of something, but my mind's drawing a blank, so there may be an update to this if I read something particularly ingenious by someone on the subject. So, for now, we'll just settle for our current rule of thumb.

Now that we've settled the method on which information we should restrict and release, we now need to ask ourselves who gets to decide who knows that restricted information? I was originally going to say 'control', but then, if you tell someone something, they automatically have full control of that information now too, so even just knowing something automatically grants full control of it. You can't ask for or wrestle it out of someone's mind. The best you can do to get any kind of guarantee that that information can't be released to others is to kill the person that knows it.

So if we're gonna restrict information, then the knee jerk answer as to who should decide who knows what should be the government. But the government shouldn't be trusted with everything as it creates too much of a concentration of power. Of course, it is inevitable that in order to fulfill certain key functions, the government must have authority over some information, but we must take the approach of limiting the control the government has as much as we can (but no more). OK, so the government isn't going to be the magical cure-all as to who will get what information. But if not the government, then who? Thankfully, this question is much easier to answer. Who should know what should be decided by the original people of whom that information first originated from because that's literally the only way it can be decided.

-

One should note that this article doesn't address any issue specifically such as whether knowledge of how to make explosives should be made public. Such issues deserve articles and/or threads of their own.
 
Last edited:

Paco Smithereens

Outlander
Messages
11
Occupation
Mechanic
This is actually something people were thinking about a lot in the gold rush days of the early Internet. Bulletin Board Systems of the 80s often had this call-back verification procedure where you'd have to provide a valid (land line) phone number for validation and the system would call you back to complete the application, or, alternately (sometimes), a SysOp would call you voice, to verify you. Boards which didn't verify in this manner would often delete your account if they somehow learned the number you provided wasn't valid.

Rationalization for this was the "living room" metaphor: the idea that a BBS is a person's living room, and they're inviting you into it, and therefore should know who you are. As it has become trivially easy to vacuum up information on people far beyond their POTS phone number, this dusty metaphor has become suspect. It may well be your choice to require I surrender to you all manner of personal details to show up in your living room, but if you did that explicitly, probably, no one would want to hang out with you, you creepy fuck.

Is there some information out there that has many and/or great potential problems but should still be released?
Reality Winner dumped what she did because she saw evidence the Russian government was directly interfering in US elections. This was more than an unsubstantiated claim by an ideologically-biased news source.

Snowden, likewise. In both cases, I can understand how the release of this information could expose assets and potentially endanger lives, even indirectly. To really think clearly about this requires an honest inquiry like this: "If we expose information which could potentially kill a lot of people -- perhaps millions, should we do it?" An example might be the location of a darkweb forum to buy yellowcake.

Ideological considerations stop too early: we say, freedom is the most important thing. Or financial security and egalitarianism is the most important thing. But why? What makes freedom, in particular, important? It is treated axiomatically, like by merely questioning it you must be some sort of fascist.

An argument along the lines of, "Because it increases human happiness and decreases human suffering" is necessary, here. One of the great weaknesses when it comes to individual rights is the dead-end of unquestioned axioms. Ayn Rand in particular grounds her philosophy in reason; individualism, the libertarian politics (she hated actual Libertarians), selfishness, and capitalism, proceed from reason as its core irreducible principle -- a position her many critics find risible. I mention it here because at least an attempt was made. So many things rest on the idea that we don't reason back far enough or, when we do, we run into a claim about reality which cannot be proven or disproven.

Most people who promote liberty do not even have this much; they scream that freedom is the most important value, and then simply turn on anyone who doesn't find this sufficient to, say, legalize hard drugs, or prostitution, or any of the common things people argue about. People don't like to talk about it too much but the left played footsie with the pro-pedophilia movement in the late 70s when there were people in the gay rights cause trying to include NAMBLA in their big tent.

I make no case here and am not even looking to have this argument, because I will literally die of boredom if I have to have it again. The larger point I am trying to make is there is no consensus on this issue, nor has there been for all of human history, nor is there likely to be, ever. For this reason, the idea that one side - the pro-surveillance or pro-privacy side will eventually "win," is probably not reasonable.

For those predisposed to privacy (that is, controlling their own information), or freedom of expression, the most appropriate response isn't a political scheme or argument: it is the employment of technology to make attacks on these things impossible. The most obvious example is tor, and there are many encryption products available to protect privacy (Truecrypt/Veracrypt's hidden volumes to prevent so-called "rubber hose cryptanalysis" made me audibly snort when I first encountered it.) In this way, privacy is asserted, rather than argued for, or demanded.

In the same way agorists believe that unregulated "black market" activity is the best way to sink the state, the corresponding cypherpunk argument is by utilizing good algorithms and code, and encouraging their wide usage, you might statism difficult-to-impossible, similarly. The government freaked out and continues to freak out about clean (non-backdoored) cryptography, and that's a good indication that anti-state types are probably on the right track when they use these tools.

As to your point, the only option available is to use technological mitigations to prevent data from being siphoned from you. One of these technological mitigations is using your brain to avoid typing "facebook.com" into your browser using your /<-r4d IBM Model M keyboard with the PS2 <-> USB connector.

Far more of a threat is the passive collection of information and tracking by commercial entities (e.g., cookies), or Internet stalkers who do not typically possess the means to even uncloak a person's true IP from even the leakiest VPN service.

For those unconvinced about VPNs as a basic prophylactic, there is tor, vulnerable to timing attacks (I've not studied them in detail, but they seem to have to do with monitoring the ingress and egress from the tor network, and noticing what spurts of data correspond on one side to the other), but it is questionable how many current users of tor are at risk of an undertaking of this size. I seriously doubt government budgets could support using such methods against some dude buying some cocaine on a darknet market.

The larger problem here, is most people seem unwilling to take even ten minutes to consider their own Internet habits. I often wonder how many people who are very flamboyantly upset about Facebook's policies use it anyway.

The other point is the technology exists to make most of us reasonably secure, and reasonably safe from "freedom of information -- release it all" types, making the philosophical argument beside the point. I'm not too concerned with my privacy right on Sanctuary, for example. I know your web server logs information, and probably your forum software does as well. First thing to do, if I was concerned, is to use a nickname I've not used anywhere else (not true of this one). Second thing is to mask my IP address. Well, you can buy a VPN plan, use tor, or set up Wireguard on a VPS you host outside of the five eyes or seven eyes countries.

Oddly, e-mail is one of the more difficult things, because people get the wrong idea about privacy-based e-mail providers. It is actually not very simple to sign up for a mail account such that your IP address isn't logged. Although technically possible on Tutanota (by using tor), in practice Tutanota just bans VPN and tor exit node IP addresses because of abuse if you try to sign up with one (I've tried). You could run your own mail server, but then you have to navigate the black lists. In a whole lot of cases, massive IP ranges owned by VPS providers (like DigitalOcean) are marked as abusive because, well, people have set up mail servers there in the past and abused them. Some people have even alleged that Protonmail is a honeypot. There have been further statements that the very use of PGP flags you for attention in the Utah data-vacuuming boogie train they have out there.

Similar criticism have been leveled against Signal, in that it requires a phone number.

Still, my assumption is and continues to be: "I don't believe in anyone's commitment to privacy, and I will choose how I arm up to use an online service." (and what a pain; since privacy is largely a pain in the ass. Fortunately I am a complete bore, and little I do online has specific dangers if my identity were to be exposed, so this is largely a matter of principle rather than practicality to me.)

The Libertarian Party platform has a controversial phrase in its preamble:

We, the members of the Libertarian Party, challenge the cult of the omnipotent state and defend the rights of the individual.
Where the "cult of the omnipotent state" cannot extend its tentacles, corporations and business interests will. In this way, both the right (I include pro-business libertarians here just in this singular context) and the left, are blind-sided by what it is that really threatens their privacy, and the way "freedom of information" will be used for nefarious purposes. The left hates corporate power, but seems to love mobs and doxing people, and have a history of Maoist "struggle sessions" in which the zeal of revolutionary praxis is employed against counterrevolutionaries and comrades who aren't doing what the hive thinks they ought to be.

Meanwhile the right apologizes for anything corporations do, including data mining, because you chose to use their service (except where you didn't, like trackers on affiliate pages, but that's a digression).

This tendency is probably immutable. The dreams of anarchists notwithstanding, there's always some shithead in the group who craves power and/or money, and he'll get it via financial pressure or military/police muscle. Everyone shat all over The Postman (the movie). But I think there was something really interesting in that movie: the strongman is an ex-copier salesman. You may even notice how people seek to dominate workplaces, romantic relationships, and coffee klatsches as well. Church bake sale committees. I can ride a bike with no handlebars, no handlebars, no handlebars...

In this way, the discussion needs to proceed to a post-ideological context in which technological mitigation guards against all of these diseases.

By the way, an army of millions couldn't keep me away from make-bombs-in-yr-basement g-files. When I was 13 I had about 50 floppy disks filled with this information. We used to laugh at people who thought the Anarchist Cookbook was some shit. It was like saying, "I'm really into sci-fi. I've seen Star Wars ten times!"

We made the napalm. We stayed away from explosives. We did figure out how to get The Playboy Channel for free.

Because we had priorities in those days.

Much fire was enjoyed in a suburban backyard in New Jersey.

Incidentally, one of the "forbidden texts" I collect, or try to, are mass murder manifestos. Dweeb shoots up a church or school, has some predictably idiotic reason for doing so, publishes a manifesto or YouTube video explaining why. People rush like all hell to suppress this lest someone draw inspiration from them, but I am interested in these because I am interested primarily in ideological psychosis as a phenomenon (I couldn't care less about schizophrenics who go on sprees). I am interested in cults, extremist political movements (essentially cults themselves), and all of the twisted ways people choose what they want to believe, vs. what there is actual evidence for. This is our modern age: find what you like to believe first, find a community which circles the wagons for the belief, then share propaganda to achieve group consensus. This is not concentrated on any part of the political spectrum. I've noticed most people can observe this phenomenon when their opposition does it, but are wildly, almost comically unaware when they, themselves, are doing it. It's never been about a red or blue pill. It's about taking whatever your side, your dumb little online tribe, says the red pill is. The pills have no color. They're placebos. That euphoric, stupefying sensation (or hallucination) of seeing the way things really are, is the actual draw. Ask a person what big truth they discovered on LSD and amuse yourself as they try to articulate it. The sensation of enlightenment is not the same thing as enlightenment.

Anyway...

Whenever some miserable atrocity happens and everyone tries to suppress the manifesto, I go chasing it before it can disappear. I remember having an argument with my roommate when the Unabomber Manifesto ("Industrial Society and its Future") was published, whereby he argued that simply reading it, is enabling the terrorist in some sense. I get his point and respect his desire not to, but I rejected that then, and I reject that now.

So if I have a prejudice, it is this: proof that censoring information helps anything, is weak. It is equally questionable whether someone who uses Facebook and then has their data sold, would have kept their privacy intact, had they not. TMI types are gonna TMI.

In the same way I don't think people drink and drive because of "lack of education," or start a methamphetamine habit because of "lack of education," or need more "gun education" because they were wasted and accidentally shot someone ("the gun went off.") I think people choose to do stupid things even knowing they're stupid, and I've seen little in my lifetime to suggest otherwise.

I am not talking about people who sign up with services and have their TOS changed on them in which a company changes course and sells their data, or companies that just lie. I am talking about people who use these services in spite of understanding what is involved. We are late in the story of Facebook and Twitter. You have to be actively and willingly oblivious not to know what you're getting yourself into.

I don't believe at this point anyone who uses Facebook doesn't know what the cost to them is. They make the choice to keep on doing so. They create the market, and Facebook serves it. People want endless free shit, and that's gonna be monetized. People have no self-restraint.

But I do.

And at any point people can choose to.

To sum all of this up, I really think the direction Progressive Rock took in the 1980s toward synthesizers and pop aesthetics was really poor, and you see this in particular in Yes's offerings.
 

Arnox

Veteran
Staff member
Founder
Messages
4,255
This is actually something people were thinking about a lot in the gold rush days of the early Internet. Bulletin Board Systems of the 80s often had this call-back verification procedure where you'd have to provide a valid (land line) phone number for validation and the system would call you back to complete the application, or, alternately (sometimes), a SysOp would call you voice, to verify you. Boards which didn't verify in this manner would often delete your account if they somehow learned the number you provided wasn't valid.

Rationalization for this was the "living room" metaphor: the idea that a BBS is a person's living room, and they're inviting you into it, and therefore should know who you are. As it has become trivially easy to vacuum up information on people far beyond their POTS phone number, this dusty metaphor has become suspect. It may well be your choice to require I surrender to you all manner of personal details to show up in your living room, but if you did that explicitly, probably, no one would want to hang out with you, you creepy fuck.



Reality Winner dumped what she did because she saw evidence the Russian government was directly interfering in US elections. This was more than an unsubstantiated claim by an ideologically-biased news source.

Snowden, likewise. In both cases, I can understand how the release of this information could expose assets and potentially endanger lives, even indirectly. To really think clearly about this requires an honest inquiry like this: "If we expose information which could potentially kill a lot of people -- perhaps millions, should we do it?" An example might be the location of a darkweb forum to buy yellowcake.

Ideological considerations stop too early: we say, freedom is the most important thing. Or financial security and egalitarianism is the most important thing. But why? What makes freedom, in particular, important? It is treated axiomatically, like by merely questioning it you must be some sort of fascist.

An argument along the lines of, "Because it increases human happiness and decreases human suffering" is necessary, here. One of the great weaknesses when it comes to individual rights is the dead-end of unquestioned axioms. Ayn Rand in particular grounds her philosophy in reason; individualism, the libertarian politics (she hated actual Libertarians), selfishness, and capitalism, proceed from reason as its core irreducible principle -- a position her many critics find risible. I mention it here because at least an attempt was made. So many things rest on the idea that we don't reason back far enough or, when we do, we run into a claim about reality which cannot be proven or disproven.

Most people who promote liberty do not even have this much; they scream that freedom is the most important value, and then simply turn on anyone who doesn't find this sufficient to, say, legalize hard drugs, or prostitution, or any of the common things people argue about. People don't like to talk about it too much but the left played footsie with the pro-pedophilia movement in the late 70s when there were people in the gay rights cause trying to include NAMBLA in their big tent.

I make no case here and am not even looking to have this argument, because I will literally die of boredom if I have to have it again. The larger point I am trying to make is there is no consensus on this issue, nor has there been for all of human history, nor is there likely to be, ever. For this reason, the idea that one side - the pro-surveillance or pro-privacy side will eventually "win," is probably not reasonable.

For those predisposed to privacy (that is, controlling their own information), or freedom of expression, the most appropriate response isn't a political scheme or argument: it is the employment of technology to make attacks on these things impossible. The most obvious example is tor, and there are many encryption products available to protect privacy (Truecrypt/Veracrypt's hidden volumes to prevent so-called "rubber hose cryptanalysis" made me audibly snort when I first encountered it.) In this way, privacy is asserted, rather than argued for, or demanded.

In the same way agorists believe that unregulated "black market" activity is the best way to sink the state, the corresponding cypherpunk argument is by utilizing good algorithms and code, and encouraging their wide usage, you might statism difficult-to-impossible, similarly. The government freaked out and continues to freak out about clean (non-backdoored) cryptography, and that's a good indication that anti-state types are probably on the right track when they use these tools.

As to your point, the only option available is to use technological mitigations to prevent data from being siphoned from you. One of these technological mitigations is using your brain to avoid typing "facebook.com" into your browser using your /<-r4d IBM Model M keyboard with the PS2 <-> USB connector.

Far more of a threat is the passive collection of information and tracking by commercial entities (e.g., cookies), or Internet stalkers who do not typically possess the means to even uncloak a person's true IP from even the leakiest VPN service.

For those unconvinced about VPNs as a basic prophylactic, there is tor, vulnerable to timing attacks (I've not studied them in detail, but they seem to have to do with monitoring the ingress and egress from the tor network, and noticing what spurts of data correspond on one side to the other), but it is questionable how many current users of tor are at risk of an undertaking of this size. I seriously doubt government budgets could support using such methods against some dude buying some cocaine on a darknet market.

The larger problem here, is most people seem unwilling to take even ten minutes to consider their own Internet habits. I often wonder how many people who are very flamboyantly upset about Facebook's policies use it anyway.

The other point is the technology exists to make most of us reasonably secure, and reasonably safe from "freedom of information -- release it all" types, making the philosophical argument beside the point. I'm not too concerned with my privacy right on Sanctuary, for example. I know your web server logs information, and probably your forum software does as well. First thing to do, if I was concerned, is to use a nickname I've not used anywhere else (not true of this one). Second thing is to mask my IP address. Well, you can buy a VPN plan, use tor, or set up Wireguard on a VPS you host outside of the five eyes or seven eyes countries.

Oddly, e-mail is one of the more difficult things, because people get the wrong idea about privacy-based e-mail providers. It is actually not very simple to sign up for a mail account such that your IP address isn't logged. Although technically possible on Tutanota (by using tor), in practice Tutanota just bans VPN and tor exit node IP addresses because of abuse if you try to sign up with one (I've tried). You could run your own mail server, but then you have to navigate the black lists. In a whole lot of cases, massive IP ranges owned by VPS providers (like DigitalOcean) are marked as abusive because, well, people have set up mail servers there in the past and abused them. Some people have even alleged that Protonmail is a honeypot. There have been further statements that the very use of PGP flags you for attention in the Utah data-vacuuming boogie train they have out there.

Similar criticism have been leveled against Signal, in that it requires a phone number.

Still, my assumption is and continues to be: "I don't believe in anyone's commitment to privacy, and I will choose how I arm up to use an online service." (and what a pain; since privacy is largely a pain in the ass. Fortunately I am a complete bore, and little I do online has specific dangers if my identity were to be exposed, so this is largely a matter of principle rather than practicality to me.)

The Libertarian Party platform has a controversial phrase in its preamble:



Where the "cult of the omnipotent state" cannot extend its tentacles, corporations and business interests will. In this way, both the right (I include pro-business libertarians here just in this singular context) and the left, are blind-sided by what it is that really threatens their privacy, and the way "freedom of information" will be used for nefarious purposes. The left hates corporate power, but seems to love mobs and doxing people, and have a history of Maoist "struggle sessions" in which the zeal of revolutionary praxis is employed against counterrevolutionaries and comrades who aren't doing what the hive thinks they ought to be.

Meanwhile the right apologizes for anything corporations do, including data mining, because you chose to use their service (except where you didn't, like trackers on affiliate pages, but that's a digression).

This tendency is probably immutable. The dreams of anarchists notwithstanding, there's always some shithead in the group who craves power and/or money, and he'll get it via financial pressure or military/police muscle. Everyone shat all over The Postman (the movie). But I think there was something really interesting in that movie: the strongman is an ex-copier salesman. You may even notice how people seek to dominate workplaces, romantic relationships, and coffee klatsches as well. Church bake sale committees. I can ride a bike with no handlebars, no handlebars, no handlebars...

In this way, the discussion needs to proceed to a post-ideological context in which technological mitigation guards against all of these diseases.

By the way, an army of millions couldn't keep me away from make-bombs-in-yr-basement g-files. When I was 13 I had about 50 floppy disks filled with this information. We used to laugh at people who thought the Anarchist Cookbook was some shit. It was like saying, "I'm really into sci-fi. I've seen Star Wars ten times!"

We made the napalm. We stayed away from explosives. We did figure out how to get The Playboy Channel for free.

Because we had priorities in those days.

Much fire was enjoyed in a suburban backyard in New Jersey.

Incidentally, one of the "forbidden texts" I collect, or try to, are mass murder manifestos. Dweeb shoots up a church or school, has some predictably idiotic reason for doing so, publishes a manifesto or YouTube video explaining why. People rush like all hell to suppress this lest someone draw inspiration from them, but I am interested in these because I am interested primarily in ideological psychosis as a phenomenon (I couldn't care less about schizophrenics who go on sprees). I am interested in cults, extremist political movements (essentially cults themselves), and all of the twisted ways people choose what they want to believe, vs. what there is actual evidence for. This is our modern age: find what you like to believe first, find a community which circles the wagons for the belief, then share propaganda to achieve group consensus. This is not concentrated on any part of the political spectrum. I've noticed most people can observe this phenomenon when their opposition does it, but are wildly, almost comically unaware when they, themselves, are doing it. It's never been about a red or blue pill. It's about taking whatever your side, your dumb little online tribe, says the red pill is. The pills have no color. They're placebos. That euphoric, stupefying sensation (or hallucination) of seeing the way things really are, is the actual draw. Ask a person what big truth they discovered on LSD and amuse yourself as they try to articulate it. The sensation of enlightenment is not the same thing as enlightenment.

Anyway...

Whenever some miserable atrocity happens and everyone tries to suppress the manifesto, I go chasing it before it can disappear. I remember having an argument with my roommate when the Unabomber Manifesto ("Industrial Society and its Future") was published, whereby he argued that simply reading it, is enabling the terrorist in some sense. I get his point and respect his desire not to, but I rejected that then, and I reject that now.

So if I have a prejudice, it is this: proof that censoring information helps anything, is weak. It is equally questionable whether someone who uses Facebook and then has their data sold, would have kept their privacy intact, had they not. TMI types are gonna TMI.

In the same way I don't think people drink and drive because of "lack of education," or start a methamphetamine habit because of "lack of education," or need more "gun education" because they were wasted and accidentally shot someone ("the gun went off.") I think people choose to do stupid things even knowing they're stupid, and I've seen little in my lifetime to suggest otherwise.

I am not talking about people who sign up with services and have their TOS changed on them in which a company changes course and sells their data, or companies that just lie. I am talking about people who use these services in spite of understanding what is involved. We are late in the story of Facebook and Twitter. You have to be actively and willingly oblivious not to know what you're getting yourself into.

I don't believe at this point anyone who uses Facebook doesn't know what the cost to them is. They make the choice to keep on doing so. They create the market, and Facebook serves it. People want endless free shit, and that's gonna be monetized. People have no self-restraint.

But I do.

And at any point people can choose to.

To sum all of this up, I really think the direction Progressive Rock took in the 1980s toward synthesizers and pop aesthetics was really poor, and you see this in particular in Yes's offerings.
I like you. Kinda rambly though. Work on making your points more succinct.

Or don't. I'm not your momma. Welcome to Sanctuary! <3
 

Arnox

Veteran
Staff member
Founder
Messages
4,255
I thought of being a complete wise-ass and responding in 140 characters, but I was feeling sentimental.
I'll reply to all your posts tomorrow in-depth, but right now, I gotta go to bed. So far though, they look damn promising for good discussion. I am particularly excited to talk to you about gun control (and why it won't work in any capacity, even if just small measures are put in place). Until then, you'll have to wait until tomorrow's episode.
 
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