Tagged: NSA

The rule of “suspicion algorithms”

The decision-making criteria of computer expert systems are often so complex that they are beyond the comprehension of their individual users and creators. For example, computer systems equipped with artificial intelligence can be used for estimating the degree to which somebody is likely to default on her credit. These days, computer programs can also be used for the large-scale monitoring of populations and for attempts at predicting who is more or less likely to become a criminal or a political dissident.

When computers start to decide who is likely to be a threat and who isn’t and neither secret services, law enforcement nor the subjects of surveillance understand how a threat assessment comes about, the shared understanding of what constitutes suspicious behaviour gets lost. Writing in the Intercept Dan Froomkin cites Phillip Rogaway, a professor of computer science at the University of California, Davis:

If the algorithms NSA computers use to identify threats are too complex for humans to understand, Rogaway wrote, “it will be impossible to understand the contours of the surveillance apparatus by which one is judged.  All that people will be able to do is to try your best to behave just like everyone else.

If people don’t understand the criteria by which they are judged anymore, one can still find it reasonable to use such computer systems. Yet, their “suspicion algorithms” themselves don’t express human reasoning anymore. People become subject to a governance by statistical probabilities instead of human value choices . The computers may not rule as they don’t possess true agency yet. Still, humans delegate their assessment of who is an insider and who an outsider, of who is a friend and a potential foe to systems whose calculations are beyond their comprehension. Reasoning about an essentially political decision is transferred to machines .

The data is there, the algorithms set in place. An ethics of the data age has yet to emerge.

Enlightened public policy for the internet age

If you wanted to have journalism for the whole population, for the entire citizenry, it would require massive postal subsidies, to make it possible for the abolitionist press, for example, to come into existence, or the suffragist press. All that took enlightened public policy making, and we need another strong dose of that today.
Interview with Professor Robert McChesney

NSA’s growing distrust of own staff: Advice yes, but please only from a distance!

The National Security Agency (NSA) boss Keith Alexander announced on Thursday, 9th August 2013, that the NSA intends to reduce the number of system administrators by 90% in order to lower the risk of further leaks like those released by Edward Snowden. Apparently, the NSA does not only not trust the American population, it also doesn’t trust its own staff.

Those administrators who remain may be more carefully vetted. That vetting may also include more careful and constant “background screening”, which means that someone needs to monitor those who monitor the population at large. Then, someone also needs to (secretly?) monitor those (secretly?) monitoring the population. Why do I put a question mark behind “secretly”? Because thanks to Snowden it’s not secret anymore that large-scale surveillance is installed and its also quite obvious that the NSA itself feels a need to increase its staff surveillance. So it is out in the open that “secret” surveillance is being conducted.
What we are left with is a situation that is dripping with paranoia of a dual sort: The NSA doesn’t trust anybody and nobody can trust to be left alone by the NSA and their corporate allies.

“Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you”

Joseph Heller, Catch-22

Distrust may, hopefully, not always be the most solid of foundations. For all I can imagine about the role of system administrators in defending IT systems, I doubt that large-scale redundancies are a sustainable way of fortification. There are hordes of smart hackers out there. The NSA will certainly continue enlisting them. But they may only ask for advice from a distance — like consulting an online doctor instead of going to a hospital.