Tag Archives: Queens of the Stone Age

“A Song for the Deaf” (and the Blind)

Songs for the Deaf, released on August 27 2002, was the third studio album by Queens of the Stone Age. There is a track on there called “A Song for the Deaf” with a line in the lyrics:

No talk will cure what’s lost, or save what’s left

That line does just fine at summing up my attitude to the long term prospects for the privacy of our data and our privacy rights as individuals. The multiplicity of additional data points that will become available with the mainstream adoption of wearables, AR, and VR squares the circle by adding kinematic fingerprinting and emotion detection to the digital surveillance arsenal.

The concerted effort by “authority” to normalise the invasion of our privacy as citizens of democracies will succeed. It is worth noting at this point that the historic permission to look at our (non-US citizens) data is for the most part secretively mandated or just plain illegal.

In the interim I simply see it as my hobby to be a contrarian and frankly I do not give one iota what that looks like to prospective employers, clients, or colleagues. Too many people look at you sideways these days when you seek to insist that we are throwing away our rights in favour of some US manufactured bogey-man fear figure.

But despite the ever increasing powers granted there are far too many people gainfully employed in law enforcement, the intelligence community, and the cottage industries and corporates that serve them to hope that one day their combined efforts might actually result in an improvement in the threat landscape.

Narrowing the Debate

One of the methods often used to divert attention from the overall issues that present themselves with respect to mass surveillance is to seek to narrow the debate. Some people will say that debating each element in isolation is enough. It is not.

The police-intelcom barrier or rather the lack of a barrier between police organizations and intelligence organizations or the illegal overriding of such barriers is one of the reasons why. Too many blurred lines exist. Mass surveillance data acquired for national security purposes now routinely ends up in the hands of local law enforcement investigating matters unrelated to national security.

The opacity of US laws and SIGINT collection methods is potentially an abuse of the rights of every defendant that comes in front of their Courts. Increasingly, that is just about anybody that they can lay their hands on, from anywhere. The US position on most of these matters is ephemeral. [Max Schrems maintains the main protections provided by the US for data privacy rights of EU citizens have no statutory basis and “could be altered tomorrow”]

To suggest that one can compartmentalise each different element of the mass surveillance equation and debate each piece of legislation on its own merits, to the exclusion of the others, is a fallacy.

They all add up to the same thing in the hands of the governments or organisations that possess the resources, access, and “authority” (normally self granted) to mine the data.

This post was prompted by Chris Gebhardt‍ and the article he penned on Peerlyst‍ titled “The US Government Should Have Access to All Encrypted Devices of US Citizens“.

I commented “I utterly disagree with your thesis on every level. I disagree with you on the basis that I do not accept your segmentation of rights and protections in statute that govern legacy personal freedoms, due process, habeas corpus, et al. and the stratagem that you have employed to roll them up into an argument for weakened privacy (encryption). I believe that your reliance on these legacy instruments makes the flawed assumption that they were correct. In my view, they were not.

Chris was keen to keep the debate focussed on the US. So I asked:

Maybe we can circumvent the specifics of either geography and focus the discussion on a universal question which is capable of also addressing the specifics of your argument. The US does not respect digital borders and engages in frequent – and as policyillegal searches and seizures in a clandestine manner for non natsec matters and “ordinary” criminal matters. Now the US having weathered the outrage storm is legislating vigourously for the normalisation of these abnormalities which were in fact illegal under traditional law also.

The debate between us therefore could be something like – to date have existing laws and the application and oversight of the powers granted by those laws served us well and if so are they also suited for export to the digital domain. If not, then why should those who currently enjoy freedoms in the digital domain subject themselves to laws that they disagreed with in the real world context or were shown to have been widely abused, and more specifically how can a body of agencies who gladly engaged in widespread illegal activities expect people to surrender to their request?

Chris replied:

That is fine but I believe it is a separate post. Perhaps you should start one. I started this one to specifically target the US privacy issue under Constitutional authority. International expectations are a completely different matter.

So here it is.

Image: Screen grab from the QOTSA video “Go With The Flow

ENDS