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RE: there's a lot of nodding


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RE: there's a lot of nodding
Topic: Miscellaneous 6:52 pm EST, Jan  9, 2015

James Comey:

In the wake of Mr. Snowden’s so-called revelations, there’s a wind blowing that I worry has blown what is a healthy skepticism of government power—I think everybody should be skeptical of government—to a cynicism so that people don’t want to be with us anymore. Meet us out behind the 7-Eleven late at night and I’ll talk to you as long as nobody sees me. Or wear a bag over my head to a meeting with the government. Because there is this wind blowing that there’s something bad if you’re touching the United States Government. We have to build even though there’s that wind. We’ve got to do our best to speak into that wind to try to explain how we’re using our authorities in the government.

How does healthy skepticism turn into cynicism?

Our public policy is an agreement, between the government, and the people, regarding what the government may and may not do. Those of us who are concerned about civil liberties, we often don't like where that agreement ends up.

Its important to appreciate that a lot of the people who the government wants to work with - a lot of the people in the private sector who protect the Internet - they care about civil liberties. They care about civil liberties because they are engineers, and to engineers, civil liberties seem logical.

Why should we care especially about civil liberties? Why programmers, more than dentists or salesmen or landscapers?

Let me put the case in terms a government official would appreciate. Civil liberties are not just an ornament, or a quaint American tradition. Civil liberties make countries rich. If you made a graph of GNP per capita vs. civil liberties, you'd notice a definite trend. Could civil liberties really be a cause, rather than just an effect? I think so. I think a society in which people can do and say what they want will also tend to be one in which the most efficient solutions win, rather than those sponsored by the most influential people. Authoritarian countries become corrupt; corrupt countries become poor; and poor countries are weak. It seems to me there is a Laffer curve for government power, just as for tax revenues. At least, it seems likely enough that it would be stupid to try the experiment and find out. Unlike high tax rates, you can't repeal totalitarianism if it turns out to be a mistake.

This is why hackers worry. The government spying on people doesn't literally make programmers write worse code. It just leads eventually to a world in which bad ideas win. And because this is so important to hackers, they're especially sensitive to it.

So the people that you need to work with, James Comey, the people who run this cyber world that is changing everything, many of those people are people who care about civil liberties. And people who care about civil liberties often don't like where the agreement ends up - they don't think the policies that we have protect civil liberties sufficiently. And thats where you get a skepticism. Hopefully its healthy, but you are dealing with people who disagree with you fundamentally about how things should work, for a lot of really good reasons, and those people are not seeing a government that works the way that we think it should work.

But what Edward Snowden revealed is something entirely different - a deeper sort of problem. Edward Snowden revealed that the government was not even honoring the agreement that we thought we had. So, where before, as an engineer, you could say that you understood the agreement, and while you didn't like it, you at least knew what the terms were, now, you can't say that anymore. You can look at the public policy of the United States anymore and say that you know whats going on - where the lines are drawn. If you don't know where the lines are drawn - then you have to assume very bad things, and that is how a healthy skepticism becomes cynicism.

Is yelling into the wind going to be an effective strategy for dealing with this situation? So far, in the wake of these "so called" revelations, the government has doubled down on its position - arguing that there is nothing unlawful at all about the programs in question - no reason to question them whatsoever. That position has the effect of solidifying the cynicism. We can't trust the social contract, and there is no future in which that trust will be restored.

The only thing to do at that point, is withdraw.

I honestly regret that outcome. I personally wouldn't hesitate to involve the FBI in a cyber incident which warranted your involvement. I get that failing to cooperate is not going to solve this problem. What I do not understand is the fact that you are, more than most people in this country, personally in a position to take affirmative steps to solve it - to restore confidence in the social contract - and you can clearly see the consequences of failing to take those steps, and yet you are not taking them. The challenges you face are of your own making.

RE: there's a lot of nodding

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