Friday, August 2, 2013

Precautionary security policy

Whenever someone mentions yet another horror story about internet identity theft, or the bad consequences that have come of some kid posting stupid or mean things on facebook, or google's tracking our every move and trying to sell it right back at us, my reaction (to myself) is usually something like, "Yes, bad, bad, but the technology is still brand new, and we are still finding our way, in terms of social norms, the law, technological fixes, and common sense. It will be a little chaotic until we figure it out."

Eventually, this unsettled period will shake out into a system of more stable institutions and rules. Once that happens, patterns of behavior will become self-reinforcing and rigid; change will become a lot more difficult. In my field (economic history), we call this lock-in, or path dependence. You really don't want to lock in bad rules. But during a period of flux systems are sensitive to "small perturbations." In our era, it's an unfortunate coincidence that one of those perturbations was 9/11, which has afforded political advantage on security and communications policy-making to those with authoritarian inclinations, or those who find it expedient to feign them. What's happening right now is a struggle over the set of rules that may be locked in.

All the more reason to err in the direction of skepticism, libertarianism, and resistance when it comes to government surveillance and the security state. It seems that many Americans, and even many Congresspeople, agree. So, Mr. Putin, even though you are a tyrant, and your motive is as childish as thumbing your nose at Uncle Sam, thanks for keeping our whistle-blower (yes) Mr. Snowden safe and sound for a few more months, while we try to figure it all out and protect the freedoms that you disdain.

1 comment:

  1. How long before skepticism becomes cynicism???