Saturday, November 2, 2013

Tech tsunami changing foreign and domestic policy, without adequate oversight

Writing in in the current edition of Foreign Affairs, Henry Farrell and Martha Finnemore,  both teachers at George Washington University, boldly declare, "The End of Hypocrisy" resulting from the exposure of NSA activity by people like Snowden and Manning and Assange.
Formerly, they  write, the U.S. emphasized its "defensive" posture on intelligence gathering, and omitted its "offensive" activities in that field. Now that both have been exposed, along with the exposure of other nations' parallel snooping, spying, and even hacking into the affairs of even friendly, as well as "not-so-friendly" countries, like China and Russia, Farrell and Finnemore posit that the U.S. will have to bring their rhetoric more in line with their actions, by adjusting one or the other...and since adjusting their actions is less likely than adjusting their rhetoric, we are likely to witness less hypocrisy.
Saying one thing, or emphasizing how bad other countries behave, in one area, while neglecting to inform the citizens that "we" are doing the same or even perhaps worse things, renders a government exposed to deception, something an electorate does not take kindly, when it discovers the chicanery.
So, where to draw the line?
Not all government activity, especially in the dark shadows of intelligence gathering, can be disclosed. So what information should be classified, and what information should be released?
And who decides?
And who monitors the application of the parameters of the decision?
The FISA court monitors the government's intelligence gathering on individuals and groups, at least so their purpose declares.
What similar agency, linked to the same kind of agency in other countries, should and could perform a similar role in international intelligence gathering? Or, would any countries even sign on to an agreement creating such an agency, and what sanctions would apply in the case of over-reach?
Here, the U.S. is clearly in a quandary. It has not even become a signatory to the ICC, The International Criminal Court, believing, as some on the right would argue, that it has to protect its personnel who might be involved in criminal activity, as part of their duties on  behalf of the United States, from charges and court proceedings originating in the Hague.
How many situations are we currently hearing about, in which "policing agencies" are "investigating" their own personnel, for some alleged infraction, while at the same time evoking considerable yawns and rolling eyes, from ordinary people who claim, "What agency is capable of policing itself?"
Clearly, the technological capacity of many countries far exceeds any legislative or executive or legal capacity to restrain that capacity given the human element that operates on the notion, "If we can, we will do whatever we are able to do" without regard to the balancing principle, "Is it right that we should be conducting these activities?"
Local police administrations, for example, require provincial monitoring agencies, to assure the public that those agencies are complying with the provincial guidelines. And when those guidelines are breached, the 'outside' provincial legal system can and must prosecute.
Similarly, provincial authorities require an objective, external and quasi-judicial monitoring, to which it surrenders monitoring of its activities, and the boundaries between the oversight group and the agencies over which it has oversight have to be both clear and clearly maintained.
Similarly, with respect to nations' intelligence gathering, a field whose technical capacity is growing exponentially and at a pace that only the visionaries can even speculate on the kind of monitoring that will be needed, government spying, in all countries requires a restraining/monitoring component, that in our eyes points to the United Nations, at least for its initial discussion and the solicitation of design models.
The world's policeman, as the United States is and as been considered for some time, cannot be counted on to monitor and sanction its own degree of invasion of state secrets nor of individual rights to privacy. And this is not merely an intelligence gathering issue; it is also, according to a recent edition of Time magazine, a matter of profound concern with respect to something they have labelled the "deep internet," designed by the U.S. military with so many layers of encryption that even those who designed are no longer capable of unravelling its mysteries, and now being used by anyone with the capacity to "hack" into its treasures which include a black market on weapons, drugs and all manner of both illicit and illegal transactions, covered over again anonymously by payment in "bitcoins" a new form of currency so far untraceable and therefore unaccountable by national revenue agencies, and so free from taxation, as well as from tracking.
And who is going to monitor that kind of "deep-internet" activity, the existence of which is known only to a few of the most "trained and creative" of the geek/nerd mercenaries and servicemen, and now readers of the piece in Time when even those who originated the technology cannot plumb its depths.
Do we have the potential of a new and ungoverned and ungovernable 'economy' and 'society' operating underneath what we might call the governed and governable one in which most of us live?
And how long will that new layer of operations be available only to the most "insidious and nefarious" when it was created by the U.S. military in the first place? And do countries like Russia and China have their own version of a "deep internet" with which they can invade the enemies' deep secrets, without even their governments knowing how such invasions were accomplished or by whom?
The mind literally spins uncontrollably when attempting to wrap its small 'arms' around the possibilities of cyber-invasions, which some are saying will not likely lead to a cyberwar, for the simple reason, (perhaps somewhat naïve) that until now such a war, while possible, has not happened. On the other hand, we do have some safeguards with respect to nuclear weapons, which, following Hiroshima and Nagasaki, have not been breached except in the testing and development stages. Yet, where are a similar set of safeguards with respect to cyber-capacity, both for intelligence purposes and also for transactional purposes, through which crimes, including terrorism, might occur without fear even of detection, and certainly of prosecution if not detectable?
We are definitely living in a world that some would call "brave" while others might term it "frightful" especially only a day following the faux-frights of Hallowe'en.
And we are not publicly, through our media outlets, or governmentally, through the preparation and passage of legislation, keeping pace with the details and the implications of our technological capabilities...and their tidal wave is already washing over both domestic and foreign policy in all countries, without a corresponding process to identify and to monitor and perhaps even to restrain that other tsunami.

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