Public policy and privacy
Public policy issues such as privacy, technology industry economic development, education to support technology workers, and so on. Privacy in particular, whether or not strictly tied to public policy.
Donald Trump, to put it mildly, is unusual. No analogy or comparison or him is close to being perfectly accurate. Despite, or indeed because, of that, he’s wound up being compared to quite a few other figures, from history, fiction or current events. Perhaps a quick survey would be helpful as background to other discussions.
Three of the most popular Trump comparisons are:
- Andrew Jackson, who was President of the United States from 1829-1837. This is Trump and Bannon’s preferred analogy.
- Classical fascist leaders, such as Mussolini and Hitler.
- Modern populist/authoritarian leaders, such as Putin, Erdogan, Chavez, Duterte or even Milosevic.
I’ll discuss the first two below. The third will have to wait until future posts.
Further Trump analogies that I think are worth brief mentions include:
- Silvio Berlusconi, erstwhile prime minister of Italy.
- Berlusconi/Trump analogies start with Berlusconi being a corrupt media mogul, a real estate developer, a minor performing artist, and a major sexual sleazebag.
- Berlusconi flouted conflict-of-interest concerns, bragged fancifully about his cabinet, and accused the media of being his corrupt enemy.
- Berlusconi was friendly to authoritarian leaders (Putin, Gaddafi et al.), and to the Mafia.
- To my knowledge, however, Berlusconi didn’t go nearly as far as Trump in adopting alt-right/Bannon kinds of ideologies.
- Berlusconi actually led Italy for quite a while. But few people say he led it well.
- Orwell’s fictional tyrants.
- Doublethink and the other dishonesty from 1984 are obvious matches to Trump/Bannon.
- Governments’ tendencies to rapidly turn friends to foes and vice-versa have multiple echoes in Trumpworld.
- So does the fake populism of Animal Farm.
- But Orwell’s Stalinist purges were a lot deadlier than anything Trump has so far pursued.
- Machiavelli’s hypothetical princes. I think this one fits well.
- Trump has a lot of Medici-like traits. (They were businesspeople who went into politics, and who liked to build gaudy things.)
- Renaissance princes governed city-states, in a simpler era, when people had much less knowledge or education. I can actually envision Trump as being intellectually capable of handling their jobs.
Donald Trump compared to Andrew Jackson
Let’s return to Trump’s own favorite analogy. President Andrew Jackson is probably most famous for: Read more
The purpose of legal intellectual property protections, simply put, is to help make it a good decision to create something. The specific phrasing in the United States Constitution is
To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;
but that’s just a longer way of saying the same thing.
Why does “securing … exclusive Right[s]” to the creators of things that are patented, copyrighted, or trademarked help make it a good decision for them to create stuff? Because it averts competition from copiers, thus making the creator a monopolist in what s/he has created, allowing her to at least somewhat value-price her creation.
I.e., the core point of intellectual property rights is to prevent copying-based competition. By way of contrast, any other kind of intellectual property “right” should be viewed with great suspicion.
Examples of my views include:
- In a recent comment I pooh-poohed an expansive interpretation of the GPL, even as I supported the GPL in core cases.
- I believe that most kinds of software patents are or should be invalid, but I’m willing to make an exception for innovative user experiences.
- I believe in copyright, even though I agree with consensus that in many cases copyright-holders’ business models will evolve away from the licensing of intellectual property. For example, I’m mightily annoyed when somebody claims my words as their own. But I give mine away for free. I just want to get the reputational benefit of what I write, and also to aggregate comments on my original blog posts rather than having them go to some other site.
According to CNet, Anthony Stancl ran an interesting scheme:
Stancle had been accused of creating a Facebook profile belonging to a nonexistent teenage girl and then, between approximately the spring of 2007 and November of 2008, using it to convince more than 30 of his male classmates to send in nude photos or videos of themselves.
Stancl then reportedly threatened to post the photos or videos on the Internet if they didn’t engage in some sort of sexual activity with him. At least seven of them have said they were coerced into sex acts, which Stancl documented with a cell phone camera.
Stancl’s victims were teenage boys focused on sex — not exactly the world’s clearest thinkers. Even so, I find it remarkable that multiple people would:
- Send nude photographs of themselves to a stranger.
- Be so concerned about those photographs getting published online that they would submit to sexual blackmail.
- Allow the results of their sexual blackmail to be photographed.
Literally — WTF??
I was interviewed by Federal News Radio again, and will edit in a link to an audio file if/when they give me one. (Here it is.) The subject was the completion of the Aneesh Chopra/Vivek Kundra team for United States CTO and CIO, something I find alarming due to their lack of focus on the tough project management/data integration and privacy issues at the heart of government IT.
Overall, the interview went a lot better than my last one with the same station.
I’ve been arguing passionately for years that technologists and policy-makers need to work together on ensuring information systems meet life-and-death needs without compromising essential liberties.* This is obviously a tall order, and last night something struck me — the case of electronic health records should be handled first, basically because it is free of the national-security rigmarole infesting other kinds of privacy issues.
Please take a look. (And please overlook the UI at those links. It’s been embarrasingly bad, especially in the matter of bullet points, ever since I started blogging there, and this month it got a lot worse. I’m sorry.)
Then please help, by advancing your take on these ideas by any means at your disposal. It’s going to take years to get all this right. Freedom hangs in the balance. We need to start NOW.
Discussion is also underway on Slashdot.
I’m pretty passionate about electronic freedom these days.
Issues of privacy and liberty take at least five forms:
- Admissible evidence in court
- Admissible evidence in investigations (not exactly the same thing)
- The consequences of damaging information leaks from the government to the private sector
- Potential chill on useful technologies (e.g., electronic health records) caused by any of the other four kinds of issue
Taken together, that amounts to much of the Bill of Rights – or other countries’ equivalents – plus a whole lot of life-saving technology on the side. I.e., it’s more than huge.
That’s from a detailed recent post that ends with a call to action:
Please join me in raising awareness. Blog yourself. Send email to those who might have influence. Or – and this one’s really easy – just go to the suggestion page at www.change.gov and help draw the incoming Administration’s attention toward these crucial issues.
Please, please do at least one of those things. There’s still enough time for freedom to be preserved, since the worst practical threats are still some years off. But if it doesn’t happen during an Obama Administration, when will it happen, in the United States or the rest of the world? The time to make a difference is now.
I am to be interviewed at 7:28 am Monday 11/17 on Federal News Radio, AM 1500 in the DC area. That’s also an internet radio station. The producer writes:
We’ll zap this interview to the entire Maryland/VA/DC tri-state area. We’ll also stream it live at federalnewsradio.com. And afterwards, we’ll archive it online in its entirety (MP3 format).
Hopefully I’ll get a more precise link to the archive once it’s up, in which case I plan to edit it into this post.
The subject is what Obama should look for in a CTO, and what the Obama Administration’s technology priorities should be. This interview was surely triggered by my post arguing the new United States CTO needs to be more of a CIO, and the Slashdotting of same.
- MP3 of the interview
- My rant rebutting the attitudes represented by the interviewers
- Freedom even without data privacy
During the campaign, Barack Obama promised to appoint a national Chief Technology Officer. Naturally, vigorous discussion has ensued as to who that should be. I’ve been right in the thick of it:
- Arguing that the CTO should really be a CIO, in line with Obama’s own description of the job. (That got Slashdotted.)
- Discussing which direct responsibilities the United States CTO/CIO actually should have.
- Recommending former IRS Commissoner and American Management Systems CEO Charles Rossotti for the job, both because of his accomplishments and his honesty. (Rossotti emailed me implying that he wasn’t interested. I shot back that this was the first time in our quarter-century acquaintance I didn’t precisely believe what he said.)
- Outlining my recommended list of Obama Administration IT priorities.
Much of the blogosphere and trade press discussion started out silly, speculating on Eric Schmidt for the job and so on. Richard Koman was one of the first to analyze the subject more sensibly. But now Dan Farber has weighed in with a great post, looking at the practicalities of the position in detail, which was quickly echoed by his old partner Larry Dignan.
Getting Federal IT straight is a VERY difficult job. It’s also utterly crucial. I hope the Obama Administration gets it right.
I’ve been writing quite a bit over on A World of Bytes about the technology used in the 2008 Presidential campaign. Subjects included:
- A brilliant viral get-out-the-vote video (from MoveOn.org, actually, not the Obama campaign as I first thought). What was so innovative about it was the personalization inside the video. This is one to learn from in your own business.
- Obama campaign successes and failures at local targeting (that one also has links to a number of other posts on technology-in-the-campaign).
- Two appallingly dishonest site-specific search boxes.
I’m also writing over there about what I think the Obama Administration should do with respect to technology policy. First up is a ringing recommendation of Charles Rossotti for CIO/CTO. More to follow.
McAfee has announced a takeover of Secure Computing, ending that company’s independent existence. To this I can only say: It’s about time! Early this century, I was asked to revive my old investment research career and find stocks to short. A promising candidate turned out to be Secure Computing, whose main product lines included:
- A high-end “proxy”-style firewall, which was widely used in the US intelligence and defense communities
- A two-factor authentication division
- A censorware division that, for example, had run Saudi Arabia’s web censorship since the late 1990s
- A firewall-on-a-board OEM deal with 3COM
The short idea was in large part that the firewall-on-a-board idea had caused great overoptimism, stoked by the company. On further digging, I found that CEO John McNulty’s resume, as stated for example in Secure Computing’s SEC filings, seemed inconsistent with his resume as stated in SEC filings of his prior employer. Nobody seemed to care much about correcting that, however. Read more