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Monthly Archives: December 2015


What of your digital communication should law enforcement be able to find?

Bud Levin

Privacy is a rapidly changing concept.  In many respects, it has faded markedly over recent decades.  Transparency seems an almost overwhelming zeitgeist.  Secrets have become very hard to keep, despite vigorous attempts.  See, e.g., .  This new work, in itself, is not a paradigm shift as much as it is a modernizing of a model long in use — e.g., two users sharing a username and password who leave messages in “draft” form on an email server which, itself, was a technologized update of the “dead drop” methodology spies have used as long as there have been spies.

Hope springs eternal, e.g., . However, for the nonce, privacy and transparency remain locked in a continuing battle, much like bazookas (and their successors) versus armor.  When the power of attackers increases the defenders develop stronger protections.  Thus it has been, both in physical and digital worlds, for a long time.

What changes that dynamic usually is a paradigm shift, often from outside the attacker/defender box. The paradigm shift may reflect changes in technology and/or changes in mindset but, either way, the old attacker/defender paradigm becomes either less useful or irrelevant.

What possible paradigm shifts do we see?  For example,
1. could the general public become more comfortable with increasing transparency, including to police and other intelligence agencies?
2. could invasive technologies stably overcome any probable defenses?
3. could an electromagnetic pulse (or a conceptual equivalent) stably make this game irrelevant?



What do we count as “terrorism”?

Bud Levin

Most people seem to agree that the primary purpose of terrorism is to create terror. At least we agree in theory. When it gets down to brass tacks, agreement is a little harder to come by.

We label events as “terrorism” (or not) depending in part on:
a. association with others we label terrorists
b. damage done, injuries and deaths caused, especially if at a socially valued target (gang fights in the slums rarely are labeled terrorism).
c. whether we are surprised at the event, e.g., we don’t label as terrorism the “usual” friday night bar fight, anything that’s “normal” for the neighborhood (even if people are made afraid).
d. political proclivities and the sociological other

What seems odd is that, other than the folks who are “hysterical for a living,”  few seem interested in measuring fearfulness. Media denizens don’t generally use objective measures, so they’re not helpful for our purpose.

We’re left with a definition way out of sync with how we actually apply the label.  So, where are we likely to be going, e.g.,
a. abandon the concept of terrorism, merging it instead with “violent crime” or something similar? This would implicitly recognize that victims of violent — and even nonviolent — crimes often become fearful.
b. consistently restrict it to events where the avowed purpose was to create fear. If this choice is adopted, the label would have to be an outcome of subsequent investigation. That delay probably would not sit well with the political classes.
c. abandon the term as rife with surplus meaning, misleading, and, errrr, fear-mongering.