Custom Search

dimanche 26 décembre 2010

Hili's question: Special Event from EDGE: "WHO GETS TO KEEP SECRETS?", the beauty of having Kanhemann,NNT, John, Gelertner, Markoff and+ on the same place..

Waltz Lannes

Hilis's Question: An Edge Special Event!
The question of secrecy in the information age is clearly a deep social (and mathematical) problem, and well worth paying attention to.
When does my right to privacy trump your need for security? Should a democratic government be allowed to practice secret diplomacy? Would we rather live in a world with guaranteed privacy or a world in which there are no secrets? If the answer is somewhere in between, how do we draw the line?
I am interested in hearing what the Edge community has to say in this regard that's new and original, and goes beyond the political. Here's my question:

I hope to hear from you.
— Danny Hillis
W. DANIEL (Danny) HILLIS is an inventor, scientist, engineer, author, and visionary. Hillis pioneered the concept of parallel computers that is now the basis for most supercomputers, as well as the RAID disk array technology used to store large databases. He holds over 150 U.S. patents, covering parallel computers, disk arrays, forgery prevention methods, and various electronic and mechanical devices.He is also the designer of a 10,000-year mechanical clock.
Presently, he is Chairman and Chief Technology Officer of Applied Minds, Inc., a research and development company in Los Angeles, creating a range of new products and services in software, entertainment, electronics, biotechnology security, and mechanical design. The company also provides advanced technology, creative design, and security and cryptography consulting services to a variety of clients.

Hillis on Edge — Further Reading:


December 21st +

Former Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Combating Terrorism (2005 to 2009); Currently Senior Adviser, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS); Senior National Security Analyst, CBS News.
Just like it's impossible to think of human interaction without secrets or intimate communications, it's quite naïve to think that there will not be secrets within and between governments — at a minimum during war or in the context of sensitive diplomacy.
Secrets are not just useful for governments to operate with others around the world and to defend their respective citizens but morally necessary in certain instances, as in the case of secret negotiations to end a genocide or civil war or tracking a suicide bomber with the intent of saving the lives of innocent civilians.
Normatively, secrets can certainly be destructive and be used to hide the indefensible, but they can also enable good and moral events and developments.
If we accept there are scenarios in which secrets can be morally necessary and important, then there is no absolute, apriori rule of openness and transparency for information — unless one is purposely amoral or destructively relativistic. If so, we then need to create structures and systems as societies that allow for appropriate secrets, oversight, and revelation — all of which we've debated within American culture and politics since the founding of the republic.
A more relevant question in this context then — and for a democracy — is what that system looks like, who gets to divulge secrets, and how this works in a way to ensure there isn't abuse. We have answered that as a society — perhaps not well enough and perhaps in need of more consistent review — but we've answered it. Assange may not feel a part of that debate or understand it, but he isn't American and has no right to make these judgments for the American people.
Shouldn't Americans be offended then that a non-American is determining what it means to be a transparent democracy and what should be divulged globally — to all actors (friends and foes alike)?
Have Assange or his supporters addressed the validity of the balance struck within the United States between necessary secrecy and transparency — existing declassification procedures, the Freedom of Information Act, the role of internal Inspector Generals in all th key departments and agencies, the oversight of all of the government's activities by the peoples' representatives in Congress, and the ability of the media to act consistently as a check on the government in the American context?
This system may not be perfect, but it allows for a balance between the need for secrets and the need for transparency and accountability in a democracy. There is a deafening silence in this current debate regarding this balance and how it works in the American context. The fact that no grand revelation or policy bombshell has emerged in anything Wikileaks has produced may in fact be a reflection of this system working — one which tends to reveal over time alleged government abuses and missteps along with the rich contours of American policies consistent with what the media and public already know and expect.
All of this is revelatory of Wikileaks' real purpose. Wikileaks' wanton dumping of diplomatic cables (dribbled out to create headaches and headlines) demonstrates nothing other than a contempt for American influence and an attempt to undercut the ability of the U.S. government to operate effectively around the world. (Ironically, most of these documents revealed in this latest tranche are merely sensitive and not classified.) Assange and his supporters may argue that they are defending a broad principle of transparency, but this is less about principles and more a normative judgment about the nature of American power.
His focus on American "secrets," vice those of the most reclusive, repressive, and purposely opaque regimes in the world, demonstrates a failed moral compass and a flawed, fulsome principle unveiled now as simple anti-Americanism.

NEW DANNY HILLISPhysicist, Computer Scientist; Chairman, Applied Minds, Inc.; Author, The Pattern on the Stone

I understand your point about attempts to silence Wikileaks, but I am not sure I understand what your position is on WIkileaks itself. Should a democratic society be able to empower its diplomats to conduct confidential discussions? If so, and if those diplomats do the job they were asked to, would you consider breaking the confidentially of those discussions a short-circuit of the process?
NEW CLAY SHIRKYSocial & Technology Network Topology Researcher; Adjunct Professor, NYU Graduate School of Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP); Author, Cognitive Surplus
Well, I think two things: diplomats need secrets, and government secrets are a threat to democracy. What I don't know is how those two conflicting observations should be balanced.
If the last couple of centuries of democracy have taught us anything, its that designing political process is more important than designing outcomes, so I also don't think that diplomats 'doing the job they were asked to' as being much of a Get Out of Jail Free card, since the job is in part to represent our interests, while working in our name (and, of course, being paid with our taxes.) All that suggests to me that diplomats (and foreign policy generally) can't be governed by any simple test of them 'doing their jobs' — unlike, say, postal employees or park rangers, the job of diplomat requires a lot of on-the-job judgment, and so should be part of democratic checks and balances.
I'm enough of a liberal (in the 19th century sense of the word) to believe that when fundamental principles clash (in this case, "international actors need private discourse" vs. "citizens should be able to observe the State's actions"), no one point of view is adequate to resolving them. My not having an answer isn't just "Better minds than mine..." begging off either. It's not that I don't don't think I can resolve the tension between those contradictory goods. I don't believe any single mind can resolve the tension.
(A funny illustration of the cognitive dissonance caused by one person advocating contradictory views is the famous "If by whiskey" speech by a Mississippi lawmaker on the possibility of legalizing whiskey, who gave an impassioned speech simultaneously for and against the proposition; the overall argument ran roughly "If by whiskey, you mean it's bad effects, I'm against legalization, and if by whiskey, you mean it's good effects, I'm in favor.")
Unlike people, though, systems can contain contradictory views. Democracies, when they work, are designed to prevent intellectually or ideologically coherent groups from governing. As a result, we have a bunch of processes where the composite position do not resolve the issues so much as hold them in iso. (Processes like trial by jury or the hashing out of spending bills, leading to results like the Fair Use doctrine or the current rules on abortion.)
These processes are not based on processing a set of facts through a clear theory. They are bargains, balancing fundamental incompatibilities in a way pleasing to no individual or group, but representing something that won't derail the system as a whole.
Consider our immigration policy. It is a farrago of differing rationales around letting people in legally, and around pursuing those here illegally, but the fact of the matter is that all of those arguments were as valid in 2004, and there was little such debate. The key question for immigration is not rational, but cultural and economic — when first-generation immigrants account for 1 in 10 citizens or more, or when there is a recession, the mood of the country turns anti-immigrant. There simply isn't a principled argument about immigration that accounts for these 'stocks and flows' thresholds around the US's cultural and economic carrying capacity.
Similarly, Richard Posner once pointed out that not only is it generally impossible to say whether the Supreme Court has correctly decided any given case, it should be impossible, since the design of the system should keep the Court from spending time on cases where current legal principles provide a clear answer.
So it is with Wikileaks and diplomatic secrets — principled argument isn't adequate to resolving the issue. Diplomats and world leaders have to be able to talk in private, to explore possibilities outside the range of acceptable public discourse. (The Israeli/Palestinian situation would be impossible to even approach diplomatically without this.) Yet the ability of diplomats to operate in secret not only violates principles of democratic oversight, it provides a huge loophole allowing for overproduction of secrets. And Wikileaks changes the balance of power in that situation.
Consider the nested questions involved in figuring out how Wikileaks does and should change that balance:
  • Has Wikileaks, the organization, committed a crime? Is that crime bad enough to convince our allies to shut it down?
  • Has Julian Assange committed a crime? Is it a crime bad enough to convince our allies to extradite him?
The answer to the first question seems likely to be No, per the Supreme Court's reasoning in the Pentagon Papers case. (IANAL.) The answer to the second question is less likely to be No, because of the wording of the Espionage Act; if Julian aided or persuaded Manning in any significant way, the Act seems to indicate that's a crime, but we don't know how much protection he gets as a publisher. There is also not much case law around the Espionage Act, so it's less clear what the precedents even say. And Julian, an Australian citizen, may be un-extraditable. And so on.
However, all previous reasoning about the legal liabilities of publishers and journalists — all of it — has taken place against a set of background assumptions about publishing: It is expensive. It requires a big, formal organization. The bigger its reach, the more expensive it is to be that kind of organization. Only a tiny group of people can be publishers with global reach. Every media outlet is deeply rooted in some country. And so on.
Like tree roots growing around a big rock, the law has grown up around these facts. Now the landscape has changed; the facts the law grew up around have changed shape, but the law has not yet been reshaped to fit the new facts.
We can't just assume that the old interpretations apply to the new situation, because a law that carves out a special place for a minority class of citizens — publishers and journalists — can't just be extended to the general populace without breaking things. If everyone who has the capacity to broadcast public speech is a journalist, and journalists are immune from testifying about people they've gotten secrets from, no one could ever be compelled to testify.
While I like the status quo ante (it's illegal to leak secrets but not illegal to publish leaks), I also recognize that that situation balanced a bunch of competing interests in an environment that no longer exists. So I don't think my opinion is adequate to capture whatever new balance is required, because the systems we have for setting the balance haven't done their work yet.
Julian's publication of the State Dept cables may be a crime, and if it is, the US may be able to make a case to our allies that it is one so serious he should be extradited. Wikileaks may also have committed a crime, and it may be so serious that the punishment merits shutting them down.
I am skeptical of these propositions to varying degrees, but I also know that the act of deciding them will create global precedents and important new information about the publishing law in the age of the internet. And that new information is almost certain to be contained in an If-by-whiskey-ish bargain, where incompatible principles are both affirmed. And we don't know what that bargain will look like yet.
Wolfram made this point in New Kind of Science: sometimes the energy required to calculate the answer to a problem is so significant that there is no way to model that outcome with heuristics and short-cuts. Sometimes the system just has to run flat-out for the full time it takes to arrive at the answer.
So this is a long-winded way of saying that the situation gives me ontological blindness. It's not that I think there is an answer to your question but I don't happen to know it. I don't think there is an answer to your question, period, and the novelty of the circumstance means there won't be an answer until the system has run flat-out for the time it takes to have a trial, and to see what new laws the world's governments are able to get passed.
And this is why I focused on the terrible risk of an extra-legal shutdown of Wikileaks; it's not just that if Julian doesn't get a fair trial, justice won't be served. It's that if Julian doesn't get a fair trial, we won't know what justice is in a world where something like Wikileaks is possible.
— Clay
So it seems to me that you are saying that my question is un-computatble, in the mathematical sense of the word. I want to know where the lines "should" be drawn, but you are pointing out the the very concept of "should" assumes understanding of cause and effect that is impossible in this situation. Is that fair summary of what you are saying?

Pioneer in the development of weblogs, syndication (RSS), podcasting, outlining, and web content management software
I don't know who gets to keep secrets, but it's good that these secrets are coming out.
We're not really learning anything we didn't already know (but couldn't prove).
Now maybe some of our leaders will go to jail, and maybe some will be driven from office, and maybe some in the future will be a little less bold with the lies and trumped up reasons to go to war. (And maybe some reporters will dig in a little more and press harder for the truth.)
Maybe cynicism won't rule the day so much. Maybe we have a chance at getting reality-based in the future. Seems we could use a bit of that to deal with the exploding population.
We've gone way overboard with the secrecy thing. Now it's time for the pendulum to swing back from that extreme. It's good. Stop worrying.

Author, Us and Them
The Czech dissident Jan Prochazka was spied upon for years by the Communist government in Prague, but he didn't let this inhibit his conversation. He spoke to his friends as anyone would, expecting that his talk would go no further than his social circle. Then one day the police did a shocking thing: They broadcast Prochazka's private chatter on the radio. He was devastated. Milan Kundera, who has written about this assault several times, explained it in terms of the contrast between public and private life: "that we act different in private than in public is everyone's most conspicuous experience, it is the very ground of the life of the individual," as he writes in Testaments Betrayed.
I'd like to propose that the issue isn't that simple — that we don't have a private self and a public self, but rather many different selves. One for work. One for the home we've made as adults, another for the family in which we were once children. One for old friends and one for new acquaintances. This variability is well-documented by social psychologists, behavioral economists and other researchers.
Now, imagine you say something cruel and funny, but unfair, about one friend to another friend. If the listener repeats what you said, you will feel (a) betrayed and (b) that you didn't "really mean it." You feel betrayed because you expected that Listener Friend would respect the unspoken assumption of a conversation, which is that you were presenting a version of yourself appropriate to that time and place, a version which is almost always not for export to the wider world.
Why, though, do you feel that you didn't "really mean it"? Why is the self in the bar at 2 a.m. a less legitimate, less real version of you than another self--for example, the self who knows he will be on a radio program talking about his friend tomorrow? I think it's because when you know you're going to be broadcast, you can prepare a version of your self to fit the occasion. It's probably axiomatic that we always mean what we say, when we say it. The important thing is to have control over your own self-presentation--to say what you want to mean at the funeral, and not have to hear what you said in bar.
Privacy is version control. It's not a set of protections around a single True Self. It's the right to decide which of many versions of your self will be known to others, in a particular context or situation. It's the expectation that, if your voice is broadcast on the radio, it will be your "radio self" that the world hears, not the last-round-of- drinks self. People who can't control their self-presentation — children, prisoners, celebrities who have lost control of their own stories — feel the pain of missing autonomy, missing adulthood. Someone else is deciding what they really meant; someone else decides which version is true and which others don't count. So the opposite of privacy, as Kundera noted, isn't serene secretless glass-house transparency. It's totalitarianism.
Hence I was appalled by Wikileaks' violation of privacy in its cables release. Sure, I was titillated and amused to read what American diplomats think of Vladimir Putin or Nicolas Sarkozy. But Wikileaks did to them what the Communist apparatchiks did to Prochazka. It robbed them of that control over self-presentation that's essential to human dignity and autonomy.
Yes, but what about the other issue — state secrecy, rather than personal privacy? Surely some "secrets" are just the nation-state equivalent of personal privacy: The State Department can't do any business if it's limited to one version of itself (the one that issues bland communiqués about cooperation with Russia, or the one that calls Putin and Medvedev Robin and Batman, take your pick. Both are necessary).
Other kinds of state secrets have political and material consequences. They are the kinds of information that people in governments have decided to withhold from their own people. You could take the view that this is always a bad thing, but that's hard to defend. Should we really let Osama bin-Laden know we've found his cave, in the name of perfect transparency?
I accept that states should keep consequential secrets, then, but it puts me in a bind: I must trust people in government to do what is right. But given the sacredness of privacy, I cannot know know more about those people than they choose to let me know. So can I really trust them? It seems to me that democratic societies don't have a stable place to stand between the imperative of individual privacy and the imperative of trust-in-others. Yet I feel sure that if we let our justified mistrust lead us to deny the importance of privacy, we'll end up with a worse State, not a better one.

Computer Scientist, Yale University; Chief Scientist, Mirror Worlds Technologies; Author,Mirror Worlds
In the matter of Wikileaks, certain observers know they're right a priori. On keeping secrets, isn't it too bad that some Superior Moral Father didn't spill the beans about Bletchley Park & the breaking of Enigma in (say) 1943? Then Britain could have starved and the Allies could still have lost the war. Of course, maybe today's state secrets are OK to reveal, and things were different back then. It's a tough moral problem. Who is to decide? A democratically elected government, obviously; not a hacker.

Distinguished Professor of Risk Engineering, New York University; Author, The Bed of Prostuces

David Gelentner has a great point. All these discussions miss something central: in this romantic utopianism for free information few of the advocates realize that the wiki concept may not be that much a bottom up process. Rather it is one that can be easily hijacked by a few techies and bully hackers creating cliques and their own mafias. It gives a disproportionate power to people we did not elect. And it seems to want to escape the legal system, which we spent to much of our history fighting to refine in order to protect individuals.

Psychologist, Princeton; Recipient, 2002 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences
There is a reason for all the instances of secret negotiations among adversaries. Concessions are often impossible because of the fired-up constituencies on both sides. Giving that up is giving up a lot — too much in my opinion. It will cause conflicts to go on much longer than they should.

The underlying problem is the ease with which the press is co-opted or coerced — and in some cases so partisan that it is not interested in exposing truths that could be inconvenient to power. What happened at the New York Times in the run-up to the Iraq war, and what is happening daily on Fox News are strong arguments for supporting leakers. How do we achieve an independent, adversarial but still responsible press?

NEW JOHN MARKOFFJournalist; Covers Cybersecurity for The New York Times; Author, What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry
David Gelernter picked a hypothetical exposure of a state secret. I wonder what he thinks about an actual one with historical consequences, say the Pentagon Papers?

CEO, Intellectual Ventures; Former Chief Technology Officer, Microsoft Corporation; Physicist, Paleontologist; Photographer; Chef; Coauthor (with Bill Gates), The Road Ahead
Who gets to keep secrets?

I think that the answer is that we all want to keep secrets, at some level.

That's why we have clothing, and doors to our bedrooms and bathrooms. Logically speaking, we don't need those things but we find them very desirable. A post by one of us argued that privacy is a recent concept — which I find quite unpersuasive in this context. Lots of desirably things are relatively recent, like proper nutrition, healthcare and lots of other things. The fact is that as society has gained the ability for people to have privacy and keep secrets, there is a clear preference for doing so. Along those lines, Douglas Adams, in one of his Hitchhiker books, argued that mental telepathy was considered a great punishment to species that had it because they couldn't have any private thoughts.

Secrecy is one of the reasons we play cards. Is some idealistic killjoy going to argue that a real time Wikileaks ought to tweet what cards are being dealt in poker or bridge games? Secrecy in that context is part of the fun. Secrecy in games works in part because they are a model for real world situations in which we have strong vested interests in keeping secrets. Much of the Wikileaks fallout is to ensure that US ambassadors can't send frank assessments to the Secretary of State. They are daily engaged in a poker game, of sorts, with their counterparts. That is the game of diplomacy. So why should that be exempt from secrets?

It is very difficult to imagine having negotiations without having some secrets. The reality is that secrecy and privacy are deemed to be highly desirable in a lot of human contexts.

Everybody on this email has secrets. One set is proprietary information. Anybody doing something nontrivial has some information which they consider proprietary. Usually the word "proprietary" has a business connotation to it, but a scientist's research results are often guarded even more tightly than commercial secrets. I know a physicist who used to throw himself onto his desk to cover up the papers he was working on if a colleague walked into his office — and that was AFTER he had won the Nobel Prize. Right now, the LHC results at CERN are proprietary — they need to be checked and verified, and the people involved want to get credit. The draft of the next book that John Brockman is about to sell — that is proprietary. The research result that isn't published yet. Everybody has proprietary interests.

Wanting to keep secrets does not, by itself mean that it is always desirable. People committing crimes have an obvious desire to keep their activities secret. Finding the balance between personal and societal rights is difficult. The way we run that in our society, as Nassim and David Gelernter point out is a system of laws and elected officials. However, imperfect they are, that is our system. Stepping outside that is something that is hard to condone as a general rule. Who elected Julian Assange to be in charge of this for the planet?

But what is the difference between what Wikileaks is doing and the Chinese hackers who were penetrating Google and other web sites trying (in part) to find evidence of dissidents that could then be punished and imprisoned? Does Google get to keep account info secret? Is it really OK that Chinese hackers can penetrate Google and read everybody's email?

Much of the response to Danny's question, and the response to Wikileaks more generally has a liberal / populist "lets stick it to The Man" quality to it. Dave Winer's response captures much of that. Wikileaks has so far attacked the US government, so people who don't like our government (which at one point or another is most of us!) can treat that as a special case and make special pleadings (as he did) that basically say it is OK to break laws and violate privacy so long as it is somebody I don't like you're doing it. That isn't an intellectual argument — it is an emotional and political argument.

I am sure that somebody will argue that the Chinese hacking of Google is different because it is the Chinese Government that is sponsoring it. If you follow this line of logic you wind up with an answer to Danny's question which is just "the people I don't like shouldn't keep secrets", which is hardly a principled position. 

Philosopher; University Professor, Co-Director, Center for Cognitive Studies, Tufts University; Breaking the Spell
I think the issue of "where we draw the line" is difficult — as such issues almost always are — but not insoluble, and in fact I think we already know pretty well where to draw the line, and have done so in the past. The Pentagon Papers is a pretty good example — but nothing is a perfect exemplar.

States, like individual agents, need secrecy if they are to avoid being exploited in all their dealings. This is simply undeniable. You can't play 'rock paper scissors' if you write your list of moves on a piece of paper visible to your opponent. In a world in which agents (of all sizes and shapes) are constantly looking for an edge, keeping one's plans and one's knowledge of the world (and ignorance about the world) secret is a Good Trick with no alternative. So unless you are a radical anarchist/nihilist who prefers life in Hobbes' state of nature to the security of living in a law-governed society, you should endorse the need for state secrecy (And corporate secrecy—think of the law of trade secrets—and individual secrecy, and ACLU Governing Board secrecy, and . . . . )

But of course state secrecy is often abused, and then we have to hope that enterprising and tenacious journalists and conscience-stricken insiders, will spill the beans, selectively, for a purpose, minimizing collateral damage. Newspaper editors have huddled in secret over whether or not to print various secrets they have uncovered, and have a track record of making pretty good decisions. That going public with state secrets will be law-breaking in most instances is undeniable, but the state that chooses to prosecute the exemplary citizen who exposes major corruption/treason or other crime does so at the risk of its own perceived legitimacy. In a basically free society, judicious leakers earn our respect, even if they get harassed for a time or even jailed by those they expose.

NEW ESTHER DYSONCatalyst, Information Technology Startups, EDventure Holdings; Former Chariman,Electronic Frontier Foundation and ICANN; Author: Release 2.1
Re: Nassim Taleb's comments, WikiLeaks is not a wiki. For better or worse, it's tightly controlled. And it does not have power over anything: it gives the power of information to anyone who wants it.
I'm actually a big fan (with limits) of the free flow of information, but I see one point/coming problem that has been so far neglected: One strength of WikiLeaks, for all its flaws, is its practice of vetting the information for authenticity — usually with original sources, but also with common sense, knowledge of the sources, etc. So far as I know, nothing WikiLeaks has posted has proved to be inauthentic (as opposed to biased, scurrilous, embarrassing, dangerous, etc.).
Indeed, in an odd way, WL is an example of centralization and earning a brand: the central, acknowledged source for quality leaks. Now, there are likely to be imitations, fake mirrors, knock-offs and the like that are less responsible — as you say, hijacked by who knows what. In a truly distributed world, misinformation runs rampant.

Pioneer in the development of weblogs, syndication (RSS), podcasting, outlining, and web content management software

As Esther Dyson writes, WikiLeaks is not a wiki. It was when they started, but they gave up on that idea and decided to work with professional reporters instead, people at The Guardian, Le Monde, New York Times, Der Spiegel and El Pais.
There really isn't all that much difference betw this and previous leaks, except that this time, the Internet was used to transmit them. Not that big a distinction.

CEO, Intellectual Ventures; Former Chief Technology Officer, Microsoft Corporation; Physicist, Paleontologist; Photographer; Chef; Coauthor (with Bill Gates), The Road Ahead
Concerning John Markoff's comments on the Pentagon Papers, this seems very much like pandering to a special case. When there is an unpopular war then it is OK to reveal secrets, but not otherwise?

Who gets to decide that?

Also, I have to ask. Does anybody have a really good analysis of the counterfactual — what would have happened if the Pentagon Papers had not been released? Was it a good thing?

Within journalism the idea that publishing the Pentagon Paper was a major event is holy writ, but that does not mean it is so.

The popular mythology is that the Pentagon Papers release was a good thing — but I have to wonder. Nobody (me included) is going to stand up in favor of the Vietnam war, but it is very far from clear that the publication of the Pentagon Papers was actually significant. Perhaps it is, but that would require real scholarship and analysis to make a coherent argument.

The papers themselves were largely an academic exercise — a study of the history of the Vietnam war from 1945 to 1967 commissioned by Robert McNamara. Although the final date covered in the papers was 1967, they weren't released until 1971. The Vietnam war didn't end until 1975, so its not like the papers brought a quick end to the war. They were secret even within the Johnson administration and it is unclear why McNamara even had them written. Supposedly it was done for future historians. Many assessments of the Pentagon Papers say that they never should have been classified in the first place — there was no actual national security information involved. That point of view is often taken to justify Daniel Ellsberg's actions, but by the same token, one could use this to say what was the actual importance of publishing them? 

NEW DANNY HILLISPhysicist, Computer Scientist; Chairman, Applied Minds, Inc.; Author, The Pattern on the Stone
In considering the Pentagon Paper's it may be helpful to make a distinction between secrets and lies. A lie often requires keeping the truth a secret, but a secret does not necessarily require a lie. My understanding of the Pentagon Paper's is that they were revealed to expose the creation of a false narrative. Should this make a difference?

Computer Scientist, Yale University; Chief Scientist, Mirror Worlds Technologies; Author,Mirror Worlds

I agree that John Markoff raised an important point in mentioning the Pentagon Papers. No one can condemn all principled breaking of the law a priori, even of the democratically-enacted law of a legitimate democratic govt. But it seems to me that you have moral standing to break the law on principle to the extent that (at a minimum) you're willing to stand trial & face the consequences. Ellsberg did.

NEW ESTHER DYSONCatalyst, Information Technology Startups, EDventure Holdings; Former Chariman,Electronic Frontier Foundation and ICANN; Author: Release 2.1
recisely ... We need heroes willing to sin for us if necessary. (Yes, who decides it's necessary?)

Commentator on Internet and politics "Net Effect" blog; Contributing editor, Foreign Policy
While I don't have a comprehensive theory as to who gets to keep their secrets, I'dlike to correct several misperceptions about WikiLeaks that have arisen on this list:
1) Most of the redactions that WikiLeaks applied to the cables were suggested by the journalists working for its media partners — The Guardian, Le Monde, El Pais, Der Spiegel, and The New York Times. WikiLeaks publicly acknowledged that they do not have the expertise to do the redactions and relied on the journalists' expertise.
Furthermore, WikiLeaks did contact the US State Department prior to the publication of the cables and asked them to suggest any further redactions in case the release of the cables might endanger lives or national security. The State Department refused to weigh in on this matter out of principle, making Assange conclude that there was no such information contained in the cables.
I am not aware of any cables that were released by WikiLeaks but were not released by their media partners—- i.e. all of the cables released so far seem to have been vetted by establishment media (and contrary to numerous reports to the contrary, WikiLeaks has only released 2,000 cables so far, out of 250,000 total). It's certainly not a "dump" as is commonly assumed.
2) To portray Assange as a hacker may help us in understanding where he comes from ideologically, but there is no evidence whatsoever that the cables were obtained via hacking. WikiLeaks claims to have obtained them through their electronic dropbox technology, which provides anonimity to the leaker; thus, even WikiLeaks doesn't know who leaked the cables to it.
I think it is counterproductive to bring too many assumptions about hackers and techies in general into this discussion — at least as long as we want to understand the ethics of leaking. For all we know, these cables may have been leaked to Human Rights Watch; I'm not sure that their response to receiving such a package would be much different to Assange's, despite them not having many hackers on staff.
Furthermore, it's not clear if WikiLeaks has violated any laws, as is evident by the tremendous difficulty that the US government is having in building a case against Assange. The question of "who elected Assange?" is a fairly common question in global governance — but, once again, it is also asked of Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Doctors Without Borders and plenty of other transnational players (and, if you want to think really globally, the Internet fits the bill too — technically, no one "elected" it and governments, both democratic and authoritarian ones, have quite a bit of trouble controlling it).
3) It may be useful to look at some of Assange's published writings to understanding the philosophy behind WikiLeaks. Two of Assange's most telling essays are analyzed here. As you would notice, they contain very little discussion about secrecy in the abstract; Assange's focus is almost entirely on what he calls "government conspiracies".
While I don't endorse Assange's philosophy, I think he's quite clear in that he is not seeking to violate the privacy of individuals; governments (and increasingly corporations) are his only focus. I'd also like to add that Assange was one of the masterminds behind Rubberhose, an encryption technology — to be used by human rights workers in authoritarian states — that would help them secure their data even if they were being tortured. Thus, as long as we want to zoom in on WikiLeaks, it's quite clear that they are not set out to eliminate secrecy per se. In fact, WikiLeaks has a history of sharing personnel with Tor, the leading tool for online anonymity (google "Jake Appelbaum").
Hope this clarifies a few common misconceptions.

Author, The Shallows: Mind, Memory and Media in an Age of Instant Information
This discussion is fascinating, but largely beside the point. The answer to the question "Who gets to keep secrets?" will not be based on ideology or morality. It will be based, as always, on power, perspicacity, and technical skill. The technologies of secret-keeping and the technologies of secret-leaking advance hand in hand. The WikiLeaks case shows that, thanks to the remarkable ease and inexpensiveness of mass data storage and transmission, secret-leaking can now occur on a scale unimaginable before. But that's also true of secret-keeping. Tapping into the Internet and other communication networks allows governments, corporations, and others to collect and store private information on an unprecedented scale.

The U.S. government may in the end come to admit — secretly, of course — that it owes a debt of gratitude to WikiLea ks. Cablegate revealed, after all, that there are huge security holes at the State Department. One wonders how many other CD-Rs, thumb drives, SDHC cards, and other diminutive storage devices filled with confidential data have passed unnoticed through the doors of government agencies—and into whose hands they've fallen. At least with WikiLeaks the government knows what's been purloined; the undetected security breach tends to be the more dangerous one. And at least with WikiLeaks there seems to have been, so far, a careful vetting of the information made public. It's worth remembering that whoever who gave the data to WikiLeaks could just as easily have turned it into a torrent and blasted it, in raw form, across the Net. Julian Assange may be a hero or he may be a creep, but he's far from a worst-case scenario.

If the government wants to keep its secrets secret, it needs to modernize its computing systems, with a particular emphasis on reducing the proliferation of copies of sensitive documents and messages. Wherever possible, for example, the computing devices used by functionaries with security clearances should act as dumb network terminals, with as little onboard storage as possible and without USB and other ports. Such safeguards are not foolproof, of course. Computer security is and always will be a cat-and-mouse game. We can hope that the cats and the mice who gain the upper hand will always be the good ones, but that has never been the case in the past and is unlikely to be the case in the future. We don't get to choose who keeps the secrets.

NEW DANNY HILLISPhysicist, Computer Scientist; Chairman, Applied Minds, Inc.; Author, The Pattern on the Stone
Nicholas Carr is right, but the intent of my question was who should get to keep secrets. As he points out, the relative strengths of sercet-keeping and secret-exposign technologies makes a difference.
As in inventor of technology, which way should I try to tilt the balance?

Author, The Shallows: Mind, Memory and Media in an Age of Instant Information
I think I'd tilt the technological balance slightly toward secret-keeping when it comes to individuals and slightly toward secret-exposing when it comes to institutions. Is that possible?

NEW DANNY HILLISPhysicist, Computer Scientist; Chairman, Applied Minds, Inc.; Author, The Pattern on the Stone

Hmm. What about private information about individuals that is held by institutions?

Author, The Shallows: Mind, Memory and Media in an Age of Instant Information

NEW DANNY HILLISPhysicist, Computer Scientist; Chairman, Applied Minds, Inc.; Author, The Pattern on the Stone

I don't mean to be dense but on rereading Nicholas Carr's original post, I am not sure what his opinion is on this. He seems to be asking for both a tilt in favor secret-exposing when it comes to institutions and an increase in the governments ability to project secrets.

CEO, Intellectual Ventures; Former Chief Technology Officer, Microsoft Corporation; Physicist, Paleontologist; Photographer; Chef; Coauthor (with Bill Gates), The Road Ahead

The fact is that institutions have multiple people and devices, so in general their security problem is much harder. A single person who keeps a secret thought to him or herself is pretty invulnerable. The more people, devices and networks you interconnect to, the harder your security problem as a general rule. The bias against institutions is built into the problem.

But as Danny points out, the distinction is silly when you consider institutions that hold personal information. I note a lot of G-mail accounts in the people on the message — they all depend on Google being secure. Those of you at depend on Apple and so forth . Which case is that?

Pioneer in the development of weblogs,

I have a different problem, I want to be sure my information can be found.

NEW JOHN MARKOFFJournalist; Covers Cybersecurity for The New York Times; Author, What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry
What baffles me most in all of this is the design of SIPRnet that made Cablegate possible. Bill Joy once proposed that the first Sun workstation DES encrypt all data that entered and exited the machine. That never happened. I can name at least six companies that could have sold the Government software that would have secured the workstation used to exfiltrate the cables that went to Wikileaks. I assume that over the next half decade secret data will be both encrypted and watermarked, which will at least raise the bar a bit above the technical ability to do file transfers.

NEW DANNY HILLISPhysicist, Computer Scientist; Chairman, Applied Minds, Inc.; Author, The Pattern on the Stone
All true, but it only would have made the exfiltration of the information less convenient, not impossible. Fundamentally, an organization's ability to keep secrets is dependent on the individuals who have access to the information. Thus, as Nathan pointed out, organizations are at a fundamental disadvantage relative to individuals in their ability to conceal.

NEW EMANUEL DERMANProfessor, Financial Engineering, Columbia University; Principal, Prisma Capital Partners; Former Head, Quantitative Strategies Group, Equities Division, Goldman Sachs & Co.; Author, My Life as a Quant
Governments and corporations sometimes use secrets and lies to harm the people that make their existence possible.
When they err, and they do, they err on the side of excess.
One cannot expect the world's (in this case, Wikileaks') antithetic response to be finely tuned and error-free either. Where power is the issue, human affairs advance by overshooting the equilibrium on either side, and the equilibrium keeps changing too.
Meanwhile, perhaps Wikileaks has decreased the asymmetry between the power of bureaucracies and the power of individuals.

NEW DANNY HILLISPhysicist, Computer Scientist; Chairman, Applied Minds, Inc.; Author, The Pattern on the Stone
There is an interesting paradox in talking about the asymmetry between the power of bureaucracies and the power of individuals when those bureaucracies were empowered by individuals to do a job. In a democracy, creating institutions is one of the ways that individuals exercise their collective power. As individuals, we would like to strengthen our institutions' power to do what we want them to do, but weaken their ability to do what we don't.
From your comment, I am guessing that you have an underlying model that assumes that our bureaucracies are behaving as if they have goals of there own, at odds with the goals of the individuals who created them, and that they need to be weakened. Is that your assumption, or am I reading too much into your comment?

NEW FRANCESCO DE PRETISAssistant Professor, Link Campus University (Rome, Italy)
In replying to Danny Hillis' question, I would like to put the focus on the bias between the social and scientific aspects of secrecy, a theme I deem interesting forEdge and the Third Culture's community.
Assuming that secrecy is still the main way to carry on human social relationships (diplomacy, politics and overall love!), we could take a look at modern science and infer that here the game and the rules are completely different.
In modern science, the main way to make progress — a process that happens for many while trying to enter history — is to reach and spread information in the most free and unlimited way.
It is worth to note that Charles Darwin was pushed to publish its milestone books mainly to achieve consensus among the scientific community or Albert Einstein made the same thing communicating his so far unknown results on special relativity through the "Annalen der Physik".
According to this perspective, Internet and more usual scientific journals (both peer or not peer-reviewed) are the furthest things from secrecy we could ever think of and science should be advocated as a model of human uncovered cooperation towards a free knowledge.
Well.. I think this view is quite far from the reality that many people believe or would like to believe!
Science — as product of human activity — has no fewer constraints respect to other activities that openly use secrecy to pursue their final goals. First of all, the naïf picture I gave about modern science is just about modern science.
We must not forget that for many centuries until the age of enlightenment, science was just a matter of secrecy.
Till the end of the eighteenth century, even outstanding scientists such as Isaac Newton or Pierre De Fermat were making science in a completely different way: basically, they were searching answers in a framework where secrecy and access to knowledge were not absolutely free but regulated by byzantine processes more similar to alchemy than today's science.
Secondly, even after enlightenments, science has been regulated more or less softly by internal or external authorities. For a long time, the Holy See has played an important role in doing this and war too! The Manhattan Project — maybe the most remarkable advance of science in the previous century — was strictly managed under secret in a facility in New Mexico administered by the Army.
Eventually, are we sure that nowadays science research is carried on in an unlimited way?
Here, I do not want to refer to the laws prohibiting particular types of research in biology or genetics.
Here, I would like to stress the fact that maybe there could be something too big to discover!
Here's an example.
Today, modern cryptography and almost all the systems used to assure secrecy rely on an hypothetical conviction belonging to mathematics: the idea that the so-called "prime numbers" are distributed in an unknown and very highly difficult way to track.
So far, no specific mathematical law exists to explain how these numbers behave. It is deemed a such difficult problem — even more complicated that any kind of Millennium Prize puzzles — that almost everyone who wants to share information in a secret manner (from the banks to CIA) uses prime numbers.
Imagine what would happen if someone stood up and said: "I've got it! I have discovered the prime numbers law!".
Julian Assange and WikiLeaks would then become trivial puppets with respect to this mathematician.
So, can we be sure that science and secrecy aren't still together as has happened for so many years in the past?

Social & Technology Network Topology Researcher; Adjunct Professor, NYU Graduate School of Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP); Author, Cognitive Surplus
Late to the conversation, but just checked in on Christmas night to find this present of a conversation gift-wrapped and sitting in my mail box.
Late though I am, I'll chime in with a few things.
1. To Danny's original question, one obvious answer to "Who gets to keep secrets?" is "Anyone capable of keeping them." As noted, that list is increasingly hard for organizations to get on, because the tension between access for insiders and lack of access for outsiders is no longer aided by a media environment characterized by a cartel of nationally-based actors who own substantially all modes of global distribution, and who would decline to publish such material.
2. It is astonishing that Pfc. Manning (or the person who copied the cables from SIPRnet) has gotten almost zero attention, even though, in both law and practice, he is clearly the person most culpable. Like the music industry, the government is now desperate to add new forms of control at intermediary points, as they have witnessed the million-fold expansion of edge points capable of acting on their own, without needing to ask anyone for help or permission.
3. It's unlikely we'll ever again see as massive and indiscriminate a collection of secret documents leaked from a single governmental source by a single person. As Markoff said, the poor design of SIPRnet access controls, as well as the insanity of a demoted specialist being allowed to keep his clearance, are not the kind of mistakes governments are likely to make twice. We will still see leaks, but they will be narrower in scope, and the leakers will be more centrally placed.
(3a. It is, however, the sort of mistakes hospitals will make. They have exactly the same "Multiplication of insiders/resistance to internal segmentation" that .mil had. Electronic records are proliferating, while the health care system continues to resist requirements to take on the expense and inconvenience of protecting its data (including resisting requirements to encrypt all data at rest). As a result, we will see at least one #cablegate-scale leak of healthcare data.)
4. As a consequence of the government's reaction, the Age of Intellipedia is over (9/12/01-11/28/10, RIP). After the shock of the 9/11 attacks, the intelligence community had been re-thinking its approach to silo'ed data, moving, fitfully, from a culture of "Need to know" to one of "Need to share." That giant sucking sound you hear is a billion putatively shared documents being slurped back into their silos, and even now, somewhere in the bowels of the Pentagon, there is doubtless a Powerpoint deck being crafted whose title is "Need to Know 2.0".
5. Julian claims that the history of these matters will be divided into "pre-Wikileaks" and "post-Wikileaks" periods. This claim is grandiose and premature. However, it is not, on present evidence, visibly wrong.
6. There are several ways in which Wikileaks marks a break with previous examples of such leaks, but for my money, the most dramatic is its global nature. Even the NY Times vs. the United States (1971), universally referenced as the apposite legal judgment, was a local affair.
Though, as Nathan noted, the leaking of the Pentagon Papers leading to that case didn't much change the prosecution of that war, it did affect the principal target of the protests of the 1960s, which was ending the draft. The Papers made it harder to ask middle-class parents to sacrifice their children to that kind of action. (It also helped feed into the collapse of trust in the government and of authority figures generally.) All this, however, was in the US context, as was every actor involved: Ellsberg, McNamara, Sulzberger, the NY Times, the Supreme Court, and so on. No one was out of the reach of the Federal Government.
Wikileaks, as both an institution and as a capability, has been global from the beginning, and the additional complexity of both jurisdiction and extradition make this particular problem much much more complex than any issues, legal or practical, triggered by the Pentagon Papers. Wikileaks has been operating since 2006, and the AG still has huge difficulty bringing charges.
7. Because of the massive increase in the number of actors who can make things public and the globalization of the stage on which those actors can act, I don't think there is yet a practical answer to Danny's question in the context of Wikileaks.
For many of our most important social systems, we resolve clashing principles by providing an escape valve, in the form of a set of actors who are less rule-bound than the rest of the system. The most famous and ancient is the jury, a collection of amateurs who can, in the face of clear laws and evidence, simply not return the verdict a judge would have returned.
So while I share Nathan's belief that the publication of the Pentagon Papers wasn't itself such a momentous event, I am nevertheless willing to defend the subsequent court decision not to punish the NY Times as "Holy Writ", on different principles. The Supreme Court's ruling seems to say (IANAL) that there is no law-like way to balance the State's need for secrets with the threats secrets pose to democracies, so it simply said that the 1st Amendment provides immunity to publishers; it is illegal to leak secrets, but it is not illegal to publish leaks.
8. This immunity sets up publishers as self-regulating checks to government power, albeit in a system that can never be made intellectually coherent — neither total success nor total failure of the state to keep secrets would protect the Republic as well as a regime of mostly success with periodic failures.
In this, it is analogous to other such legal systems, like Fair Use, which says "It's fair to use some bits of copyrighted work without permission, except when you use too much, or in the wrong way, and we're not going to define 'too much' or 'wrong way' too predictably." The effect of this is that claiming fair use is an assertion of a sufficiently low probability of being successfully sued; put another way, fair use is simply the concatenation of behaviors that won't get you fined for violating fair use.
9. However, a system like the one we got in 1971, a system that lets publishers operate as self-regulating checks to government power, was constructed in an environment of significant extra-legal constraints. A publisher, circa the Pentagon Papers, was a commercial, nationally-rooted media firm subject to significant tradeoffs between scale and partisanship — large publishers had to be deeply embedded in the culture they operated in, and they had to reflect mainstream views on most matters most of the time, to find and retain both revenue and audience.
Wikileaks operates with none of those extra-legal constraints. As a result, the legal bargain from 1971 (which was in turn public codification of US practice; no publisher has ever been successfully prosecuted under the Espionage Act) simply does not and cannot produce the outcome it used to, even though no aspects of the law itself have changed.
Society is made up of good things that can't be resolved in any perfect way — freedom vs. liberty, state secrets vs. citizen oversight — but the solutions to those tensions always take place in a particular context. Sometimes a bargain is so robust it lasts for centuries, as with trial by jury, but sometimes it is so much a product of its time that it does not survive the passing of that time.
I think that this latter fate has befallen our old balance between secrets and leaks. This does not mean that the Pentagon Papers precedent shouldn't free Wikileaks from prosecution, but I think it does mean that we can't assume that the old rules should be applied without amendment to the new situation.
I hope for all of our sakes that Holder brings a case under the Espionage Act, because that outcome would be better than either the extra-legal attacks on a media outlet the US Government doesn't like, or than finding ways to hold Julian on charges that don't revisit the basic balance the Court struck 40 years ago. This is new ground, and needs to be hashed out as an exemplar of the clash of basic principles that it is.
And with that, from snowy Geneva, a Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a good night.

NEW EMANUEL DERMANProfessor, Financial Engineering, Columbia University; Principal, Prisma Capital Partners; Former Head, Quantitative Strategies Group, Equities Division, Goldman Sachs & Co.; Author, My Life as a Quant
What bothers me most about the Wikileaks affair is the entry of supposedly disinterested third parties into the fray, the taking of what are effectively moral positions by corporations. Paypal, Bank of America, Swiss banks, Visa, Mastercard, web hosting services — service providers all, society's utilities — stepped up and cut off Wikileaks from their networks. Some of these banks have only recently paid large fines for their drug money laundering, have likely taken deposits from dictators all over the world, and now suddenly they are getting on their high horses about Wikileaks before they're proven guilty of anything.
Corporations can get away with things that people cannot. Verizon, to take a small example, set up their cellphones a few years ago so that they tempted you to hit a button to get more info that automatically gave you web access even if you hadn't asked for it, and then charged you for it. If they billed you you had no recourse. Now finally, Verizon signed a consent decree and have to pay back $25 million to customers. But there is no name of any person associated with this corporate misbehavior.
So yes, I think it's not bad if they're weakened a little. Better to err on the side of the individual.

Aucun commentaire:

Disqus for bookoflannes

Intense Debate Comments