Friday, August 30, 2013

Playing Keep Away With The NSA

A long time ago I linked to Ed Felten's post about the ability to fingerprint blank paper using commodity scanners. This, plus other ideas, like bitcoin, currency creation, and even production as activism led to a variety of ideas based on similar themes.
The basic premise is this- real world items can be scanned and provide data. In many cases we'd want a program so that anyone can scan- currency and a variety of non-approved products could be scanned, and as such, be verified as coming from a particular source. This would function as reputation management, but in a way that doesn't necessarily require any centralization. Centralization is easier, but the server/client relationship is precisely what the NSA is exploiting, just like the rest the various government departments try to exploit any other transaction.

For the sort of data that needs to be encrypted, well, the crackers do innovate over time, and if you put it in the cloud, it is very likely to be copied. The government has made the sneakernet valuable again, and 3d printing could well revolutionize it. Sneakernet is a term that refers to what folks used to do- we'd copy something over to a floppy disk or portable drive and physically walk it over to some other person, place, and ultimately, computer. This was inconvenient, but I suspect, if the government begins to be intrusive enough, the sneakernet will rise again. Most folks have a usb lying around, and encrypted files on a usb might be good enough, since, if they never get on the network, they probably won't get copied into the NSA database.

But, what if you have reason to believe you have extra special levels of attention thrust upon you? What if you are in business, and you've been noticing the government manipulates your market? Well, consider this, if you can fingerprint blank paper, why couldn't you encode data into a three dimensional object? Or use three dimensional objects, a passphrase, and encryption software to shuttle your info back and forth. As the cost of allowing them to see or hold your data rises higher, these ideas become more interesting to explore. Personally, the cost of them spying on me is low. I merely find it highly unconstitutional, evil, etc... There is eventual, potential danger, but it is doubtful anything of mine ends up with more than an entry in a database, and it is still, statistically, very unlikely it will ever be disturbed. But things can change dramatically, and I am sure there are already people out there- and not just friends of Ben Greenfield, or the unfortunate subjects of love-int, who feel the need to be able to communicate away from prying eyes.

And this is where the government's love affair with big computing can give us a big sigh of relief. They are, essentially, constantly repeating the same error that Mises pointed out in the 1920s with socialism. The central planner cannot do better than the free market, not even if the central planner is a big computer. What I am trying to say is that they, ultimately, are just choking themselves on data, and they make such a big deal about big data that it is relatively easy to avoid them. Human resources or intel (both, incidentally, words I dislike, since HR and intelligence agencies routinely seem to produce the antithesis to what their names suggest) are being devalued for computer analysis, yet the weaknesses of this approach is already apparent in many other fields, climatology being perhaps the most obvious. Humans are fallible, but the computers are even more so, and humans decide what goes into them, and interpret what comes out, so they are just compounding errors. I do wish they'd just stop, and feel rather embarrassed about it.

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