Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Posts Tagged ‘law enforcement

Disturbing German news

with 2 comments

Today, I stumbled upon two German news stories that were both highly disturbing, overlapping with some of my writings, and showing how easy it is for the any of us to fall victim to forces that we might naively believe ourselves protected from*.

*E.g. because “the innocent have nothing to fear”, “things like that only happen to others”, …

Firstly, some poor sod has been assaulted in his own apartment, because of a TV program on pedophilia*, through which some people misidentified him as a pedophile** from the program, and took it upon themselves to beat him up so badly that he almost died***…

*According to the article and/or the TV program: There is a fair chance that the label is, for the umpteenth time, abused to include interest in post-pubescent “children” younger than 18, which is in a different realm than pedophilia—sexual attraction to pre-pubescent children.

**From the sparse information given, it is not clear whether he was identified as someone who actually had abused children (or “children”), or as someone who merely felt a sexual attraction towards them. Both are conceivable, considering how many appear to consider it impossible for a pedophile to not control himself; but the latter would make his attackers the more monstrous.

***Whether the attackers deliberate tried to kill him, whether his death was not intended, but at least considered acceptable, or whether an intended lesser attack “just” got out of hand, is not stated. However, if, as it appears, seven to ten people physically assault someone, it is almost a given that “lethal force” applies, irrespective of intent.

There are at least three important points to consider:

  1. That self-proclaimed “good” people who commit evil deeds are worse than the “evil” people who do not—these “good guys” are the true evil, the true monsters. I note that even if the victim had been a child-abuser, chances are that his crimes had not warranted his death; and unless the abuses had been unusually bad, his attackers proved themselves to be worse monsters. Here the victim was innocent…
  2. That it is extremely important to get the facts straight before taking drastic actions. Indeed, one of the reasons why the justice systems in “civilized” countries put emphasis on “due process”, “reasonable doubt”, etc., while strongly limiting self-justice, is exactly to try to prevent such scenarios. Regrettably, innocent people are still regularly convicted—and if a professional justice system can fail, how can a mob of TV viewers presume to take action?
  3. That there is tremendous danger in an attitude of “he is evil; he must not live”, “he has the wrong opinion; he must not speak”, “he does not support our cause; he must not vote”, …

Depending on unknown-to-me details of the case, other points might need making. For instance, if a “passive” pedophile has been grouped with child-abusers, this exemplifies both the danger of seeing opinion/being/character/whatnot and assuming action, or treating them as equal to action, and of believing that what applies to the group applies to each individual member of the group*.

*Interestingly, the politically correct are among the groups most likely to commit this error—despite being among those who complain the loudest of it in others…

Secondly, various apartments have been searched and computers confiscated based on suspicion of “hate postings”. Unfortunately, I have not been able to find examples or quotes of these alleged hate postings, implying that I cannot judge whether these specific instances could have been considered illegal* (as might be the case with “kill all X”), offensive-to-a-reasonable-reader-but-legal, or just everything-not-pc-is-hate-speech**. Irrespective of this, this situation is troubling on several counts, including that confiscating computers is an extreme and improductive measure*** and that going to such lengths based on, as it appears, mere suspicion of guilt jeopardizes the Rechtsstaat. (And is a dubious prioritization of police resources…)

*Note that the German law is unusually strict, especially when anything even hints at support of the old Nazi-regime or its ideas. (This sometimes to a point that the ethical justifiability of the laws seems dubious, and including absurdities like computer games being censored for using Swastikas in depictions of Nazi enemies…)

**During the years that I actually bothered debating on blogs, I saw a great many examples of this. Other examples regularly reach me through the current news, as with [1]. The situation is so bad, that I am not willing to attribute this to sheer incompetence or the inability to see the flawed perspective and the hypocrisy, nor to forgive this by applying Hanlon’s Razor—no, problems on this scale can hardly occur without malice and intellectual dishonesty, by a deliberate use of unfair accusations as a means to an end.

***I note e.g. disproportionately negative effects on the victims of the confiscation; the uselessness of any found evidence through the ease with which digital evidence can be planted; and the uselessness of a search on the computer of a “big fish”, who will have the means to protect himself through use of encryption and similar technologies. See also e.g. [2].

The “chilling effect” of such actions is also disturbing: How do we know that what we say will not be deemed hate speech or illegal speech by someone in a position to cause trouble? What if the police overreacts as mindlessly as in [3]? What if our own words are judged by such absurd criteria as in [1]? How do we know that factual statements, reasonable opinion, attempts at serious debate will not cause the police to knock on our own doors? The simple truth is that we can only hope, and if this trend is carried on, the borders of even de facto illegal “hate speech” will continually be pushed into a more and more unreasonable territory*.

*Based on the comparatively small size of the police action, there is a fair chance that it was directed at outrageous cases—this time around. If no protests follow, this is likely to change… Obviously, what is called “hate speech” (or “racism”, “sexism”, whatnot) in PC circles are very often far from being so, even now.

More generally, I would seriously question whether even the vilest* expression of opinion (per se; without e.g. a call for action) should ever be treated thus. It would be better to restrict measures to expression that also imply an action or a call for action (e.g. “Go kill an X today!”**, but not “All X deserve to die!”***).

*When it comes to anything but the vilest expression, measures like police intervention are unacceptable, anti-democratic, and a violation of the Rechtsstaat. Consider e.g. the relative triviality of the case discussed in [1] and the disproportionate reaction (admittedly by non-police).

**Again, this type of statement is sometimes heard from extremists within the Leftist or PC spheres. Cf. e.g. my discussion of the Charlottesville events.

***Statements that are not uncommon among Leftist and PC extremists.

As an aside, I found the claim disturbing that hate speech would come predominantly from the “extreme Right”*: Not only have I so far seen far more hate from Leftist and PC extremists (especially feminists) than from the “extreme Right”, which makes me doubt the neutrality of this action and suspect a double standard**, but I also suspect the common tendency to consider anyone with e.g. nationalist, anti-immigration, or whatnot opinions to be “extreme Right”, even when other opinions would point to Left, thereby skewing the estimations of the (non-extreme) Left and “Right” among the broad masses.

*Starting with the renewed observation that this is a misnomer, unlike “extreme Left”: The extreme Left consists of people with extreme versions of Leftist opinions or who are willing to use extreme methods to reach Leftist goals; the “extreme Right” does not have the same role relative the “Right” in general. (To which must be added that the “Right” is far more heterogeneous than the Left, and that while the label “Left” can make sense, the label “Right” hardly ever does, except as an opposition to “Left”.)

**I note both that a double standard concerning opinions and behaviors is extremely common among e.g. PC, and Leftist groups, with the most intolerant people often being the ones that complain the most of intolerance in others, the most sexist those who complain the most of sexism in others, etc.; and that there is a considerable skew in German law between the extreme Left and the “extreme Right”. For instance, a few years ago I read a news-paper article on crimes committed by these groups. The main claim was that crimes were more common on the “extreme Right”; however, it was clear from the presented statistics that this was only true due to a legal asymmetry, e.g. in that German law forbids carrying swastikas but is silent on the hammer-and-sickle. When we looked only at non-asymmetrical crimes (e.g. assault, break-ins, …), the numbers were approximately the same.


Written by michaeleriksson

June 16, 2018 at 7:42 am

A few more thoughts on lies under oath

with 2 comments

A recent post ([1]) of mine contained a brief discussion of lies under oath and similar circumstances*, especially with the claim that the accused** should be given some leeway to lie, not just to refuse a statement. Having run this through my head a few times since then, especially while writing [2], a few additional points:

*There are plenty of cases in various jurisdictions where telling a lie is punishable even with no oath present. For the sake of simplicity, I will speak just of “oath” below; however, most of what is said will apply with no, or very little, change to such other situations. Similarly, I will focus on criminal trials below, but at least some of the contents will generalize to other contexts. Notably, if someone is sued for civil damages over a killing (as e.g. OJ Simpson), he must have sufficiently similar rights, lest the civil case forces an incrimination that makes his rights during a criminal trial moot. (However, a more general right to lie during a civil suit should not be inferred: The clear majority of civil suits will give no defensible reason for a lie.)

**I stress that this is not extended to the accuser, be he a claimed victim or a prosecutor, who is in a very different position. Further, that an extension, if any, to witnesses would be restricted to the protection of the accused and others (including the witness, himself) who might be quasi-accused through a truthful statement, with very considerable other restrictions applying. For instance, a mere “he is my friend and I want him to go free” would not be enough motivation to justify a lie; in contrast, the “Jewish friend” example from [1] would. An example like “I did not do it; Y did” shows why I do not give even the accused free reign, just “some leeway”. (But I have not thought this area through sufficiently to give a suggestion for an explicit set of rules. A particular complication is that such rules would likely involve the “justness” of laws involved; with the secondary complications that this area is somewhat subjective and that the justice system will typically consider all laws just or to-be-obeyed-irrespective-of-justness in a blanket manner—even when it comes to e.g. violations of international norms or commonly accepted human rights.)

It is tempting to take the view that if lying is not allowed, trials become that much easier: Confront the defendant with a point-blank question and he will now either confess and we are three-quarters done, or he will reject the accusation and, should he have lied, face harder punishment than if he had told the truth. With sufficiently harder punishment, the guilty will have a strong incentive to tell the truth. There are several problems with this, however, including:

  1. That a confession is not necessarily truthful. For one thing, we have situations like Sture Bergwall (cf. [2]); for another, we replicate the problems around U.S. plea bargains*, if the additional punishment for lying under oath is severe enough (and if it is not, the system will not work anyway): Some, possibly many, innocents will proclaim themselves guilty in order to reduce the potential punishment, especially when they know that the risk of conviction is large**.

    *These come quite close to the above situation, the main difference being that a “rebate” is offered to those who confess, rather than a punishment extended to those who do not.

    **Note that this can be the case even for the innocent, be it through misleading evidence, a prejudiced jury, or some other circumstance.

  2. That a question could be (deliberately or accidentally) constructed to remove the possibility of expressing mitigating circumstances, be misunderstood by the accused through an imperfect understanding of legal terminology or the laws involved, or otherwise be causing a misleading answer. Consider e.g. the question “Did you in cold blood put the gun against the victim’s head and press the trigger? Yes or no!”: If that is what happened, the answer must be “yes”; however, central points of the longer answer “yes—but he told me that the gun was not loaded” are lost. Even if someone deliberately tried to construct a fair question, or even set of questions, chances are that he would fail.*

    *I am beginning to suspect that similar complications have contributed to the plea system: We start with an abstract plea of “innocent”/“guilty”/whatnot and use the trial to elaborate on the defense’s view (as well as the prosecution’s, etc.), because it is not normally realistic to present this view as the response to a single question. (In my first draft, I listed an “almost invalidation of the plea system” as one of the items speaking against the type of “point-blank question” discussed here, the two being similar in general principle but potentially very different in details and implications. However, by now I suspect that if the “point-blank question” was tried, it would actually, over time, evolve into some variation of a claim of “innocent”/“guilty” with an ensuing interactive elaboration, which basically brings us back to a plea system or something very similar.)

  3. This would severely reduce the possibility for citizens to cope with unjust laws and unjustly large punishments, say regarding a ban of certain political opinions.
  4. The question of who determines the truth grows even larger than it is today, with ample room for abuse, be it through incompetence or malice. View the courtroom scenes from “Pleasantville” for a good example of the potential problems.
  5. Not every faulty claim is actually a lie, and a rule like this could lead to punishment for accidental errors: If the matter seemed too unimportant at the time (e.g. because it did not occur to the perpetrator that his actions could be illegal), if too much time has passed, if the original situation was too stressful, or similar, it is quite possible that someone would be honestly unaware of, or have honestly misunderstood the implications of, an act that he actually committed.

On the other hand, we could have a possible credibility* issue: The point of taking an oath to tell the truth is the implied greater credibility, ideally to the point that whatever is said can be taken to be truth. Allowing lies would obviously reduce this credibility, doing more harm than good to the actually innocent. However, outside of times where people honestly feared divine punishment for violating oaths*, the actual gain in credibility is likely quite low as it is. To boot, it is well-known that memory imperfections and influenceability make most people poor witnesses—even when they do try to tell the truth: No oath can make up for a flawed memory. As a juror, I would almost certainly give less weight to oaths than to the consistency and plausibility of the claims themselves. Possibly, also to perceived credibility, impartiality, whatnot of the witness. (My reservations arising from the knowledge that it is very easy to misjudge people, especially when having no individual base-line for comparison, and the relatively weak correlation between apparent confidence and e.g. being truthful or being factually right, between apparent and actual friendliness, etc.)

*Indeed, in my impression, the taking of oaths is a legacy from a time where trials needed to be settled mostly through the credibility of the involved parties and their witnesses, due to factors like a complete absence of forensic science, the need to wait for months until a traveling court came by, whatnot. (As an aside, with the growing means of manipulating evidence and the near uselessness of digital evidence, we might eventually move back in this direction.)

A way to partially resolve these issues, without allowing lying, is to strictly forbid a certain type of question (e.g. “Did you shoot him?”), and, going by TV, this might actually partially be the case in the U.S. However, I am skeptical as to whether this would allow the same degree of protection.

As an aside, some of the above discussions and [2] also point to why I strongly believe in statutes of limitation*, even for e.g. murder, and that the common trend to increase or abolish them is a sign of barbarism, not civilization: To, say, put someone in court for a murder that took place fifty years earlier more-or-less guarantees that memories will have been distorted or lost—for instance, what accused can say what he did at a certain day fifty years earlier, let alone at what time. Outside of the main topic, it also severely increases the risk of physical proof being destroyed or contaminated, alibis and other witnesses dying, etc.—usually in a manner that one-sidedly favors the prosecution, which could document evidence and testimony shortly after the murder, while the innocently** accused might not even have heard of the event until said fifty years later and might now have to drum up a defense out of nothing. For sufficiently young perpetrators (who are guilty) relative the time passed, we might also have to consider factors like changes as a person over the intervening time—is it really right that a ninety-something is dragged into court because he served in a Nazi extermination camp when he was twenty? At such extremes, it seems less like justice to me and more like vengeance—or even abuse of the justice system for political gains.

*Exactly what limits for what crimes is a too big question for this post, with the need to carefully judge the severity of the crime, the options for the investigation, chance of new evidence, whatnot, vs. fairness towards the suspect. For murder, I could imagine that we land somewhere between five and twenty years, but where in that wide interval would be pure guesswork. (A deeper analysis would also need to consider the possibility of waiting periods and extensions, and possibly other exceptions to a plain limit.)

**Obviously, laws around statutes of limitations must accommodate the presumption of innocence. The common blanket reasoning that there should be no statutes of limitations, to ensure that no guilty party will go unpunished, is not compatible with this principle. Generally, many of the problems with debates around law enforcement and the justice system, including e.g. surveillance, go back to a too great focus on “getting the bad guy” and too little regard for the danger of getting the innocent instead. (As is likely clear from my recent posts, I am very aware of that danger.)

Written by michaeleriksson

May 11, 2018 at 11:45 am

Follow-up: The danger of neglecting civil rights / absurd events in Canada

with one comment

In a positive development of the events discussed in a previous post, it appears that the charges have been dropped. (Cf. e.g. [1], [2].)

On the negative side, it seems that 11 other downloaders might have been similarly harassed (and similarly without justification).

Ditto that the confiscated computers absurdly have not been returned—and might not be so for quite some time. Confiscating computers is an extremely dubious practice in almost all cases; not immediately returning them after charges have been dropped is simply inexcusable. (That I use “inexcusable” again and again with regard to this case is not a sign of lacking vocabulary—but of how gross the mishandling of this case has been.) This mainly because of the added, now entirely unjustifiable, disadvantage for the victims of the confiscation, but also because it opens opportunities for abuse. Consider e.g. a scenario where someone is suspected of some real and serious crime where there is too little evidence to get a warrant: Create or distort a scenario* which pseudo-justifies a temporary confiscation, quickly back-pedal with something along the lines of “honest mistake”, “we were given false information”, “seemed like a crime; turned out not to be”, whatnot, but keep the computers for another two weeks to unofficially search for evidence concerning the original crime**, to plant spyware or back doors, or even to plant evidence outright.***

*Such scenarios are obviously possible, seeing the immense reaction to the absolute non-crime discussed in my original post. Generally, there seems to be a strong law-enforcement opinion that a bad enough crime warrants a drop of due process and citizen’s rights—I have myself been the victim of a late night, warrantless, police search of an old apartment, based on lies by a third-party, and my several written complaints were basically ignored. See also an excursion on due process at the end.

**Many jurisdictions have rules that forbid the use of illegally obtained evidence. However, not only is it not a given that these would apply here (especially, should the investigators later claim to have discovered the evidence when the charge was still present), but even illegally obtained knowledge can be used to further investigations in other regards. To boot, such laws, when at all present, will do precious little to protect against the other problems mentioned.

***In fact, if this ever happened to me, I would likely do a full system re-install after I got the computers back, trying to manually inspect and secure relevant changes since my last backup. I might even go as far as sending the computers to recycling, depending on the risk of hardware manipulation and other circumstances. Obviously, none of the involved effort and cost would be remunerated; obviously, this relies on backups being available. (And, no, I would not see this as paranoid: Firstly, someone in this position knows that the police has been gunning for him, only leaving the question of whether it still is—this is a very different situation from the stereotypical homeless wearer of a tin-foil hat. Secondly, in Germany, law enforcement is very keen on the grossly unethical “Bundestrojaner”-malware, and an attempt to smuggle it on board a suspect’s computer is not the least far fetched. (In both cases, bear in mind that someones officially becoming a non-suspect does not necessarily mean that he is of no interest to the investigation or that he will never become an official suspect of the investigation again.)

Excursion on due process and size of the crime:
Due process, etc., must not be made contingent on the crime being sufficiently small*. Consider e.g. that

*Measured by e.g. the maximal punishment or the degree of typical societal condemnation. Words like “worse” are used in the same manner, and do not necessarily reflect my personal opinion of any specific crime.

  1. The worse the crime is, the more negative the consequences of being convicted, often even accused—implying that due process is more important when the crime is worse.

    Note that the negative effects of an accusation are not limited to the scope of the investigation, having to pay a higher bail, whatnot—it also includes a greater mental anguish, a greater risk of social stigmatization, etc. Men wrongfully accused of rape and child molestation have seen their entire lives ruined, being fired from their jobs, their wives/girl-friends leaving, having to move to avoid aggression, … Being declared innocent months after the damage does precious little to undo that damage.

  2. One of the largest reasons for due process is to protect the citizens from (deliberately) false accusations by others (potentially including a hostile government), and when these others merely have to replace the lesser accusation with a greater one, this protection is severely reduced in value.
  3. Police incompetence, juror prejudice, whatnot does not magically grow immensely smaller because the crime is greater. A truly absurd example is Sture Bergwall, who was convicted of eight (!) individual murders in individual trials, only to later be declared innocent. (It is true that this was only possibly through his own false confessions; however, the case has been reviewed extensively in Sweden and it appears that any reasonable investigation would have found too many flaws in his stories and/or the overall evidence for a single conviction to take place. Notably, neither his extensive history of mental problems, nor his thin and partially far-fetched* stories appear to have diminished his credibility.

    *He confessed to more than thirty murders in total, starting at age fourteen, several that he could not geographically have committed, and at least one in which the “victims” were still alive. In a partial defense of the justice system, some problems only grew obvious over time.

  4. In some cases, notably with the U.S. system of elected DAs, the risk of wrong-doing against someone accused of a greater crime can be greater than for a smaller. Sending someone, even be it someone innocent, to jail for a murder that made the front pages can make a career; sending someone to community service for stealing a candy bar will not. Again, the need for due process is larger with the worse crime.

Written by michaeleriksson

May 10, 2018 at 11:42 am

The danger of neglecting civil rights / absurd events in Canada

with 5 comments

I have seen a recent slew of news articles in Germany dealing with various restrictions of citizens’ rights and/or removal of protective restrictions on police (and whatnot) work, notably in Bavaria; and recently heard of a very similar negative development in Austria. I had planned to write a post on these (see also a few older discussions, e.g. [1], [2]), but yesterday I encountered a Canadian case so grotesque and Kafkaesque that I will refocus on it.

It appears* that a government server made a few thousand documents accessible to the public. In most cases, these documents were actually intended for public consumption; in a few hundred, due to gross negligence, they contained data that should have been kept secret**. A teenage boy went to this public server, having no idea (and no even semi-reasonable reason to assume) that there was sensitive information present, and automatically downloaded the complete set of documents, using the observation that their names were based on a trivial numbering scheme.*** The subsequent events included e.g. a 15-officer raid on his home, the seizure of several computers (only one of which belonged to him), and unacceptable actions towards his younger siblings by the police.

*I draw on a CBC article and several links in that article.

**Specifically, personal information relating to individual citizens.

***This type of automatic download is something that I have done repeatedly myself, be it either to allow my self off-line access or to circumvent a poor user interface. There is nothing remarkable about someone with the right knowledge doing something like that, it is a perfectly legitimate technique, and (unlike the apparent characterizations by the police in this case) it does not constitute any type of security breach/circumvention.

There are several troubling aspects involved, including:

  1. A massive overreaction, even had something illegal taken place, with a complete disregard of the interests of the “criminal” and his family. I note in particular that the act of seizing computers is almost never acceptable (although often legal and commonly used), cf. [1]. The size of the operation and the treatment of the individuals, including several teenagers, the lack of access to lawyers, etc., speak for themselves.

    A particular issue is the (lack of) illegality of the downloads per se: There is nothing here that could have been deemed illegal by any reasonable third-party (barring the possibility of utterly absurd Canadian laws)—and this must have been obvious even at the beginning of the investigation.

    Another issue is the “mens rea”: There are no even semi-reasonable grounds to assume its presence and no reasonable possibility to prove it*—and this, too, must have been obvious even at the beginning of the investigation, meaning that even if the act had been criminal, this was the wrong way to retaliate.

    *There are cases when a “mens rea” is an almost given; there are cases where it might or might not have been present; and there are cases where it more-or-less can be ruled out in advance. This is one of the latter. A reasonable analogy would be if someone went to a public information stand, picked up one of each of the present brochures, and one of the brochures turned out to contain classified information that should never have been put there in the first place.

    At best, the events are proof of truly massive incompetence and lack of judgment on behalf of the police and other involved government agencies; at worst, it is a deliberate abuse of power. Someone or some group needs to be fired, possibly even prosecuted, over these events.

  2. Even the fact that it was possible to track the events back to the individual are potentially troubling (depending on circumstances that are not described in the accounts I have seen). Most likely they involve a storage of IP addresses that would have been illegal in Germany, as well as a back-tracking of IP addresses in a manner that should be reserved for bigger crimes.

    Of course, if this “crime” had been perpetrated by a competent malicious entity, such back-tracking would not have been possible, or only possible with considerably more effort, seeing that such an entity would have used some type of anonymization, e.g. through multiple VPNs or Tor. Often, this entity would not even have been in a jurisdiction where it could have been touched. Regular local teenagers can be caught this manner; professional crackers working for the Russian government or a criminal organization can not. This is one of many examples of rules, regulation, technical counter-measures, …, that affect the innocent, the naive, the small-time criminal, whatnot, heavily—while leaving the big-timers merely inconvenienced. (Cf. e.g. a post on DRM.)

  3. The original download of secret data was only possible due to gross negligence and/or incompetence on behalf of the government—again, the type where a firing, possibly even a criminal prosecution, is the correct measure: Personal, secret information was put on a public server without any type of protection, no password, no encryption, …

    Either the decision makers and/or developers* realized that this type of download was possible, were grossly negligent in not improving the setup, and need to be fired; or they failed to reach this absolutely obvious realization, implying such a lack of competence and judgment that they need to be fired. Take your pick: Either way, they need to be fired.

    *I am too far away from the issue to be more specific. For instance, if the decision maker(s) were told of the problem by a junior developer, and instructed the junior to ignore it, the junior might be forgiven. For instance, if a senior developer saw the problem and failed both to correct the matter and to discuss it with the decision maker(s), the decision maker(s) might be free from blame.

    In fact, the situation is so embarrassingly bad, that I am surprised that whoever is in charge did not prefer to hush it up… Then again, the understanding of how embarrassingly bad it was might have also been missing, considering the demonstrated incompetence…

    (The articles that I have read have been weak on technical details, but from context I would speculate that there was a scheme in place, where inquiries by the public were answered by uploading a file, giving the inquirer the URL to the file, and then relying on no-one else knowing the relevant URL for secrecy. This would be an inexcusably incompetent application of “security through obscurity”: Security through obscurity is not acceptable as more than an additional measure on top of the real security to begin with. Here, however, it was doomed to complete failure from the start because of the naming scheme used—there was no real “obscurity” present either, meaning that even the pseudo-security it could have given was absent.)

A highly disturbing part of these developments in general is that countries normally considered “highly civilized” (“progressive”, “democratic”, “modern”, whatnot; often ranking highly on e.g. the Human Development Index and the Where-to-be-born-Index) are surprisingly great offenders: The problems are not limited to dictatorships or countries lacking a “democratic tradition”. In at least some areas, the likes of Canada, Australia, and my native Sweden, are actually among the worst offenders, especially when it comes to issues of morality, orthodox thought, sexual behaviors, … (Possibly, due to a larger influence of PC groups. Canada, e.g., has repeatedly caused controversy in areas like human rights and free speech.)

I suspect that this is due to a mixture of two factors: Firstly, many of these countries have grown used to strong governments and massive government interference in daily life. Secondly, these countries are often far away from a period of massive “evil”* government and have forgotten that laws and regulation concerning the government and its agencies, especially law enforcement, must be written under the assumption of an “evil” government, in order to protect the rights of the citizens and to protect the core democratic values**. (I considered adding a factor of “politicians are convinced that they know best” or similar, cf. several older posts; however, I very much doubt that this is specific to this type of country.) My adopted Germany, sadly, provides a partial counter-example to this: Yes, I can see how people would be short-sighted and historically ignorant enough to overlook the relevance of the events in Nazi-Germany, with only a small fraction of the current population having a part of their adult lives in that period; however, the collapse of the GDR is only three decades back.

*There are many cases, including most dictatorships, where the government has been more-or-less an evil throughout. However, even in the absence of such “great evil”, there are countless “small evils” in basically any state, be it through self-serving and vote-fishing politicians, incompetent or lazy civil servants, corrupt judges, laws that are not sufficiently well thought-through or violate the constitution, … The core of civil rights is and must be protection against the government, not only to make it harder for a “great evil” to arise, but also to protect us against the daily “small evils”. Unfortunately, depressingly large parts of the population (let alone government…) seem to believe that the government is good through-out and will remains so ad eternam.

**I note that I consider such values to be more important that democracy it self, with democracy being merely a “least evil”. Cf. e.g. Democracy Lost.

Written by michaeleriksson

May 1, 2018 at 5:29 pm

A modest proposal

with 4 comments

Earlier today, I received a most disturbing communication from my good friend Jonatan Schnell. He has got his hands on a number of secret documents from various government agencies, and has asked me to publish the following excerpt:

This noble organization has been entrusted with two central tasks:

  1. Ensuring sufficient surveillance that unwanted transgressions of any kind are detected in a timely manner, ideally including the expression and formation of unsound opinions.
  2. Ensuring swift, accurate, and unavoidable corrective measures for such transgressions.

The last decades have seen many technological advancements and developments that raised our hopes of finally reaching success. Unfortunately, despite many partial successes, they have all eventually proved insufficient. I hardly need reminding you of how physical inspection of hard-drives has proved to be very fruitful, yet has far too often failed in the more important cases, through the use of high-grade encryption, often in conjuncture with the transgressor’s claim of “having forgotten” the passwords. Encryption in general, of course, has been a major obstacle, including not only hard-drives but also email communications and alternate networks like i2p and tor. Even HTTPS, although easy to circumvent, has caused considerable over-head, delays, and missed opportunities. Or take the unfortunate case of the aforementioned alternate networks: Left alone they risk nullifying our communication surveillance and de-anonymizing of Internet communication. (I stress again how important it is to continue our infiltration campaigns.)

The reason for failure is almost always that we are too far away from the immediate interaction, either in time or geographically. The best, but invariably most and often impracticability expensive, results are reached when we can apply direct surveillance, e.g. through camera and microphone monitoring or the installation of software directly on the computer of the transgressor. It is to be feared that even the most promising in-roads available, including the intended use of service providers such as Google, Facebook, and CloudFlare, will never suffice to meat our requirements, especially with the more surveillance-hostile elements.

The logical conclusion is to take this one step further, in a manner that ensures that all potential transgressors can be surveilled at a moments notice at no additional cost (after, admittedly, a high initial investment):

The enhancement of our citizens through physical implants to monitor their audio-visual input, including, indirectly, what they do, say, write, etc. In addition a GPS module might be added, allowing us to pin-point the location of any and all citizens at any given moment, as well as allowing us to track their movements and physical meetings over time. (Of course, some of the same benefits can be reached through tracking cell-phones. These have the weakness that they can be left at home, run out of batteries, or be temporarily shielded.) Long term additional surveillance of brain patterns, heart beat, and other biological signs can prove a valuable addition. For instance, if someone reacts negatively to a government message, we would immediately know that there is need for more dedicated surveillance; if someone reacts with arousal to another party of the wrong gender or below the age of eighteen, this can be registered and the corresponding warnings be issued to neighboring residents; and so on. The addition of the possibility to produce auditory or visual stimuli is particularly interesting. For instance, when a transgression is detected in flagrante the transgressor can be given immediate notification and instructions from law officers to stand down and await arrest.

To avoid removal or more temporary manipulations, these enhancements would regularly and automatically be in communication with a central controller (e.g. by radio or the cell-phone network). Any time an enhancement misses a check-in, this if filed as a violation and an APB is put out. After the transgressor has been apprehended, the enhancements are checked and/or replaced (at the transgressors cost) and corrective action is taken when appropriate. It would of course be made illegal to provide or use any structure or equipment that blocks the needed signals.

In the long term, the enhancements can be provided with the ability to directly incite an algesic response when the check-ins fail, as well as during any detected attempt at removal. This can be extended to a greater range of transgressions, like trying to enter or leave the country without using the official border crossings. Additional possibilities for aversion therapy are open: The wrong reactions to certain stimuli, the expression of unsound opinions, and other correctable transgressions of a similar nature can be swiftly and automatically handled by the enhancements themselves, causing the transgressors to associate such deviations with the algesic response.

Following this trail to its end (but here I fear that the political climate is not yet sufficiently matured) enhancements can be used for more conclusive corrective actions. Consider replacing the lengthy and costly procedures around e.g. a lethal injection by reaching the same result with a minor trauma in a suitable brain region. Or permanently incapacitating a hostage taker remotely, with the push of a button, through the same mechanism. Or removing a threat from a greater group (e.g. the Irish) of potential transgressors in one single action, including cases where large-scale incarceration or deportation would be the alternative.

A few practical details: Normally the enhancements would be added shortly after birth, ensuring that everyone is included from an early age (and as a positive side-effect reaps the benefits from the appropriate feedback to reactions and behavior even during childhood). Unfortunately, it would take several decades to reach a reasonable coverage in the adult population in this manner; while a single mass-enhancement in the entire adult population would be entirely impractical. A reasonable middle road is a two-pronged approach where high risk groups, notably convicts and those potentially engaged in subversive activities (including critics of our operations), are targeted with a mass-enhancement and the remainder of the population is enhanced at certain occasions where the necessary equipment can always be reliably made available, e.g. a driver’s license renewal or when first entering the country. This has the added advantage that enforcement can be kept high and voluntary through making the enhancement a mandatory condition for the government granting a driver’s license, letting someone into the country, and so on. Ideally, we will even be able to pass on the cost of the enhancement to the respective citizen.

While the costs of this might seem prohibitive in a first impression, there are considerable reason to believe that we can leverage these enhancements to not only cover the costs of the project but to allow additional financing of related projects, once a sufficient critical mass has been built. Our preliminary research indicates a great industry interest in access to selective gathered data for purposes such as targeted advertising and market research. Or consider allowing advertisers to send information directly to the ears and eyes of the subject, without having to use conventional devices that can be turned off or the advertising otherwise circumvented. The possibilities are endless.

Postscript: For those who have missed the allusions, the above is entirely fictional, specifically making a play on Jonathan Swift’s work by the same name, in which he suggests using Irish children as a food source. However, apart from the most extreme parts, the above is well in line with current developments with regards to e.g. governments cracking computers or smart-phones, engaging in unethical and often unlawful surveillance, etc. If the suggestions were viable today, at least some of them would be on the table with at least some politicians, law enforcers, and the like. This just looking at the modern West—in North Korea they would conceivably go all out.

Written by michaeleriksson

November 21, 2016 at 12:04 am