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Chilling Effect

The principal behind Groklaw
threw in the towel and said that she can no longer do her job in this
climate of surveillance. Besides, as she explained, the premise behind
Groklaw that we live under a rule of law that we can all understand has
been proven flawed. I cried.

Groklaw didn't typically cover privacy law. However, I think in the
years ahead we really could benefit from public exposure and exploration
of the privacy related cases. There are some interesting ones as people
have explored what they can do to push back against the government.
Even if the news is all bad, information, commentary and analysis is
power. At an emotional level it reminds us we have the right to know
how our government functions; we have the right to petition our
government for the redress of grievances. We know others think like
us. We can share, heal, be human. At a practical level, knowledge and
information is necessary to effect change and persuade.

PJ is not as far as I can tell afraid of persecution; writing about
patent cases, the GPL and similar is unlikely to bring down the special
attention of our government. However she claims that the forced
intimacy of the common surveillance everyone attracts is sufficient that
she cannot do her job. Her explanation is chilling and makes a lot of

A number of people I've talked to have similar reactions. They are
stepping away from the Internet, stepping away from people they know who
might attract attention. They are changing their lives simply because
they are being I respect that choice, but I am sad every time I hear
someone has made that choice. Each time someone is chilled, we are all
diminished. There are fewer voices speaking out and being themselves.
It's harder to choose to be yourself when you know that others are
leaving especially when you realize people will turn from you to avoid

Also, I'd like to come back to the idea of the rule of law. I have
noticed that I've recently given up on my belief in the rule of law. I
notice it most in how I react to historical texts and fiction. I was
reading fiction over the weekend in which someone wanted to report a
crime to the police without being traced. Looking at the precautions
they took I laughed realizing that today, that would be entirely
inadequate. I also realized that there's no way I'd anonymously report
something to the government today, and I'd be much more willing to let a
crime stand than to report it myself. I've also found my reactions to
assumptions about whether government is just have changed significantly.

All this is really bad. As in "four legs good, two legs better,"
levels of bad. I understand the historical significance of these sorts
of changes on a population. I hope you take the time to ponder them. I
will be turning to some constructive thoughts over the next month, but
for now I'm still processing my reactions over the last 13 years.



here's a link to someone else's tuppence:

Interesting. I think that post manages to capture the aspects of privilege-based argument I find most-frustrating and least value/am in agreement with. Yes, people are selfish. Yes, we respond more to things that we notice. However, I think we all get to advocate for the changes we'd like to see in the world; we all get to live with intent to put it in a more spiritual context. The fact that something is not my issue at some point doesn't make it less real to the people whose issue it is. The fact that something becomes my issue at some point certainly shouldn't make it less real because others are somehow disadvantaged.
Are the PoC speaking up on this saying "white people shouldn't complain, we've had to deal with this forever," or are they saying "look, we agree this is really bad, but it's hard for us to get up in arms about this when we've been dealing with it and trying to speak up about it for generations"?

The latter is totally valid. The former seems like a very strange response to me. Posts like the one you link to almost sound like they're trying to shut down the conversation, which I don't think would be a good outcome for anybody.

I hope (and suspect) that the real intention is to educate those of us who benefit from white privilege. Privilege should be reduced by spreading the benefits around, not by stamping everybody down to the same level...
Ah, thanks for a more constructive reply than I came up with. You've captured the core of what bothered me about that post.
let's pretend that some of the burden of communication lies with the recipient, and not all with the originator. which of these are you, as the reader, going to choose as the interpretation you run with?
That's a really interesting point, about how broken trust in leadership leads to people becoming unwilling to report crimes, which further feeds systemic breakdown. Thanks for the thoughtful post.
You're welcome. This was a new point to me as well. I think the more general problem where people are afraid to be outspoken, afraid to be themselves is far more dangerous, but I do agree that this is an issue.
They are stepping away from ... people they know who might attract attention.

Oh, man, that's the last thing we need. Keep those connections strong: normalize nonconformity, signal to the government that we aren't afraid to have friends with unusual politics, and be on the lookout for peaceful activists being "disappeared" and ready to complain about it if it happens.

If Occupy activits are only friends with other Occupy activists, Big Brother can pick them up in one fell swoop. If Occupy activists are a small piece of a larger network consists of a blending of many political views and levels of interest in direct action or in subverting the status quo, then it's harder for Big Brother to flag the "real" "troublemakers".
O, I hear you... People stepping away from those they know is one of the worst things that can happen. For myself though, I respect people who have reached their limit and must withdraw. I could always respect Donkey in Animal farm, although I'll note it didn't help him in the end. I ask people to take what they can, but respect when they cannot take more.

I think you may have missed the real chilling effect here though. It's not that occupy activists are harder to find. There may be a bit of that. However I have enough confidence in the techniques being used that I think you can set the bar whereever you want for your sweep and pull in the people who are over that bar with reasonably high confidence. Which is to say that occupy activists are easy enough to find that it matters little whether it gets harder. In my mind, the huge problem is that it's harder to start speaking out. It raises the bar to get involved when you know you'll be singled out not only by the government, but by your friends. It creates a negative pressure against public thinking and speaking. I cannot begin to describe my negative reaction to that.

Also, while I do think finding occupy activists is easy, I think efforts to make that harder are an important thing to do. When I'm talking about aspects of this that can be addressed technically, I do think increasing the effort required to collect information and decreasing the information that can be collected is important. Hopefully legal and social measures can eventually force a policy change here in the US. However it is naive to assume that the US is alone in its data collection or to assume that everyone can be convinced to play nice. So, technical measures will need to be part of a solution. However, technical measures have their limits.
Caveat - I haven't actually read _Animal Farm_.

For myself though, I respect people who have reached their limit and must withdraw.

I can respect the people (we've all got enough to deal with as is, and some of us have more to deal with than others), but I don't think I can respect the decision. I think my preference is to think of this in terms of compassion. I definitely have compassion for people who need to back away, either because they are ignorant of the societal impact or because their personal negative impacts of taking on this stuff vastly outweighs their assessment of the societal impact. The decision itself is still an evil (I won't venture to say whether it's a "great" evil, but I think it's pretty bad), whether there is evil intention or not.

It's not that occupy activists are harder to find.

I'm not actually sure whether this is a rebuttal to what I'm saying or not. What I'm trying to say is that if we keep the social links strong, the powers that be will be forced to accept more and more false positives. To an extent they'll still do what they're doing now, perhaps even changing the definition of "guilt" to include somebody who (e.g.) occasionally "shares" Occupy links on Facebook (For the record, I don't think this is quite what the U.S. government is doing right now, thank gods. It is definitely something they're paving the way for, though).

I think there's a position for the bar where too many people are being carted off, and at that point there *has* to be a significant impact, whether it's a direct impact on the robustness of the economy as companies need to deal with random portions of their workforce being removed, or an indirect impact through "good soldiers" getting fed up with too many people they care about being locked up. Both of these impacts will be reduced if companies stop hiring anyone with the slightest hint of subversive tendencies and families start ostracizing the deviants.

In my mind, the huge problem is that it's harder to start speaking out.

No argument there.
There's still adequate anonymity available via USPS, provided you create an untrackable document.

Which is not to say this isn't a big problem. But face-to-face interaction still works, and many things will probably improve overall if we pay more attention to the physical communities we live in, and less to virtual communities.

Edited at 2013-08-26 11:34 am (UTC)
I mostly disagree. I think that there are fairly good systems in place for collecting metadata on face-to-face interactions, and I actually have more confidence (which is to say very little) in my confidence to plan for an untrackable document through the USPS than I do to generate a hard-to-track virtual signal. Keep in mind that all the devices you have plus the devices that people in your community have can be used to collect metadata as well as generally to collect audio and or video if they are compromised. Yes, you probably have reasonably high privacy at your home if you turn off the power and turn off any devices you carry. You probably have a lot less privacy about who is at your home; that is probably tracked through imaging/recognition as well as information from electronics. Also, having spent my life working to build virtual communities in significant part so that people could get beyond their physical community, I don't want to see that go away.
Also, having spent my life working to build virtual communities in significant part so that people could get beyond their physical community, I don't want to see that go away.

I think the evidence is also pretty clear that the ability to form virtual communities have injected a breath of life into the various activist communities.

September 2019

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