Geert Lovink on Sat, 7 Jan 2006 21:37:25 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Frank Rieger: We lost the War--Welcome to the World of Tomorrow

(Between Xmas and New Year, Rop Grongrijp (NL) and Frank Riegel (DE) 
held two impressive but surpringly depressive speeches at the 22nd 
Chaos Computer Club conference in Berlin. Below you'll find Frank 
contribution. Forwarded to nettime with the permission of the author. 


A forum to debate this text can be found at the authors weblog at
Conference program:

We lost the war. Welcome to the world of tomorrow.
By: Frank Rieger

Losing a war is never a pretty situation. So it is no wonder that most 
people do not like to acknowledge that we have lost. We had a 
reasonable chance to tame the wild beast of universal surveillance 
technology, approximately until september 10th, 2001. One day later, we 
had lost. All the hopes we had, to keep the big corporations and 
"security forces" at bay and develop interesting alternative concepts 
in the virtual world, evaporated with the smoke clouds of the World 
Trade Center.

Just right before, everything looked not too bad. We had survived Y2K 
with barely a scratch. The world's outlook was mildly optimistic after 
all. The "New Economy" bubble gave most of us fun things to do and the 
fleeting hope of plenty of cash not so far down the road. We had won 
the Clipper-Chip battle, and crypto-regulation as we knew it was a 
thing of the past. The waves of technology development seemed to work 
in favor of freedom, most of the time. The future looked like a yellow 
brick road to a nirvana of endless bandwith, the rule of ideas over 
matter and dissolving nation states. The big corporations were at our 
mercy because we knew what the future would look like and we had the 
technology to built it. Those were the days. Remember them for your 
grandchildren's bedtime stories. They will never come back again.

We are now deep inside the other kind of future, the future that we 
speculated about as a worst case scenario, back then. This is the ugly 
future, the one we never wanted, the one that we fought to prevent. We 
failed. Probably it was not even our fault. But we are forced to live 
in it now.

Democracy is already over

By its very nature the western democracies have become a playground for 
lobbyists, industry interests and conspiracies that have absolutely no 
interest in real democracy. The "democracy show" must go on 
nonetheless. Conveniently, the show consumes the energy of those that 
might otherwise become dangerous to the status quo. The show provides 
the necessary excuse when things go wrong and keeps up the illusion of 
participation. Also, the system provides organized and regulated 
battleground rules to find out which interest groups and conspiracies 
have the upper hand for a while. Most of the time it prevents open and 
violent power struggles that could destabilize everything. So it is in 
the best interest of most players to keep at least certain elements of 
the current "democracy show" alive. Even for the more evil conspiracies 
around, the system is useful as it is. Certainly, the features that 
could provide unpleasant surprises like direct popular votes on key 
issues are the least likely to survive in the long run.

Of course, those in power want to minimize the influence of random 
chaotic outbursts of popular will as much as possible. The real 
decisions in government are not made by ministers or the parliament. 
The real power of government rests with the undersecretaries and other 
high-level, non-elected civil servants who stay while the politicians 
come and go. Especially in the bureaucracies of the intelligence 
agencies, the ministry of interior, the military, and other key nodes 
of power the long-term planning and decision-making is not left to the 
incompetent mediocre political actors that get elected more or less at 
random. Long term stability is a highly valued thing in power 
relations. So even if the politicians of states suddenly start to be 
hostile to each other, their intelligence agencies will often continue 
to cooperate and trade telecommunication interception results as if 
nothing has happened.

Let's try for a minute to look at the world from the perspective of 
such an 60-year-old bureaucrat that has access to the key data, the 
privilege to be paid to think ahead, and the task to prepare the policy 
for the next decades. What he would see, could look like this:

First, paid manual labor will be eaten away further by technology, even 
more rapidly than today. Robotics will evolve far enough to kill a 
sizeable chunk of the remaining low-end manual jobs. Of course, there 
will be new jobs, servicing the robots, biotech, designing stuff, 
working on the nanotech developments etc. But these will be few, 
compared with today, and require higher education. Globalization 
continues its merciless course and will also export a lot of jobs of 
the brain-labor type to India and China, as soon as education levels 
there permit it.

So the western societies will end up with a large percentage of 
population, at least a third, but possibly half of those in working 
age, having no real paid work. There are those whose talents are 
cheaper to be had elsewhere, those who are more inclined to manual 
labor. Not only the undereducated but all those who simply cannot find 
a decent job anymore. This part of the population needs to be pacified, 
either by Disney or by Dictatorship, most probably by both. The 
unemployment problem severely affects the ability of states to pay for 
social benefits. At some point it becomes cheaper to put money into 
repressive police forces and rule by fear than put the money into 
pay-outs to the unemployed population and buy the social peace. 
Criminal activities look more interesting when there is no decent job 
to be had. Violence is the unavoidable consequence of degrading social 
standards. Universal surveillance might dampen the consequences for 
those who remain with some wealth to defend.

Second, climate change increases the frequency and devastation of 
natural disasters, creating large scale emergency situations. Depending 
on geography, large parts of land may become uninhabitable due to 
draught, flood, fires or plagues. This creates a multitude of 
unpleasant effects. A large number of people need to move, crop and 
animal production shrinks, industrial centers and cities may be damaged 
to the point where abandoning them is the only sensible choice left. 
The loss of property like non-usable (or non-insurable) real estate 
will be frightening. The resulting internal migratory pressures towards 
"safe areas" become a significant problem. Properly trained personal, 
equipment, and supplies to respond to environmental emergencies are 
needed standby all the time, eating up scarce government resources. The 
conscript parts of national armed forces may be formed into disaster 
relief units as they hang around anyway with no real job to do except 
securing fossil energy sources abroad and helping out the border 

Third, immigration pressure from neighboring regions will raise in all 
western countries. It looks like the climate disaster will strike worst 
at first in areas like Africa and Latin America and the economy there 
is unlikely to cope any better than the western countries with 
globalization and other problems ahead. So the number of people who 
want to leave from there to somewhere inhabitable at all costs will 
rise substantially. The western countries need a certain amount of 
immigration to fill up their demographic holes but the number of people 
who want to come will be far higher. Managing a controlled immigration 
process according to the demographic needs is a nasty task where things 
can only go wrong most of the time. The nearly unavoidable reaction 
will be a Fortress Europe: serious border controls and fortifications, 
frequent and omnipresent internal identity checks, fast and merciless 
deportation of illegal immigrants, biometrics on every possible corner. 
Technology for border control can be made quite efficient once ethical 
hurdles have fallen.

Fourth, at some point in the next decades the energy crisis will strike 
with full force. Oil will cost a fortune as production capacities can 
no longer be extended economically to meet the rising demand. Natural 
gas and coal will last a bit longer, a nuclear renaissance may dampen 
the worst of the pains. But the core fact remains: a massive change in 
energy infrastructure is unavoidable. Whether the transition will be 
harsh, painful and society-wrecking, or just annoying and expensive 
depends on how soon before peak oil the investments into new energy 
systems start on a massive scale as oil becomes to expensive to burn. 
Procrastination is a sure recipe for disaster. The geo-strategic and 
military race for the remaining large reserves of oil has already begun 
and will cost vast resources.

Fifth, we are on the verge of technology developments that may require 
draconic restrictions and controls to prevent the total disruption of 
society. Genetic engineering and other biotechnology as well as 
nanotechnology (and potentially free energy technologies if they exist) 
will put immense powers into the hands of skilled and knowledgeable 
individuals. Given the general raise in paranoia, most people (and for 
sure those in power) will not continue to trust that common sense will 
prevent the worst. There will be a tendency of controls that keep this 
kind of technology in the hands of "trustworthy" corporations or state 
entities. These controls, of course, need to be enforced, surveillance 
of the usual suspects must be put in place to get advanced knowledge of 
potential dangers. Science may no longer be a harmless, self-regulating 
thing but something that needs to be tightly controlled and regulated, 
at least in the critical areas. The measures needed to contain a 
potential global pandemic from the Strange Virus of the Year are just a 
subset of those needed to contain a nanotech or biotech disaster.

Now what follows from this view of the world? What changes to society 
are required to cope with these trends from the viewpoint of our 
60-year-old power brokering bureaucrat?

Strategically it all points to massive investments into internal 

Presenting the problem to the population as a mutually exclusive choice 
between an uncertain dangerous freedom and an assured survival under 
the securing umbrella of the trustworthy state becomes more easy the 
further the various crises develop. The more wealthy parts of the 
population will certainly require protection from illegal immigrants, 
criminals, terrorists and implicitly also from the anger of less 
affluent citizens. And since the current system values rich people more 
then poor ones, the rich must get their protection. The security 
industry will certainly be of happy helpful assistance, especially 
where the state can no longer provide enough protection for the taste 
of the lucky ones.

Traditional democratic values have been eroded to the point where most 
people don't care anymore. So the loss of rights our ancestors fought 
for not so long ago is at first happily accepted by a majority that can 
easily be scared into submission. "Terrorism" is the theme of the day, 
others will follow. And these "themes" can and will be used to mold the 
western societies into something that has never been seen before: a 
democratically legitimated police state, ruled by an unaccountable 
elite with total surveillance, made efficient and largely unobtrusive 
by modern technology. With the enemy (immigrants, terrorists, climate 
catastrophe refugees, criminals, the poor, mad scientists, strange 
diseases) at the gates, the price that needs to be paid for "security" 
will look acceptable.

Cooking up the "terrorist threat" by apparently stupid foreign policy 
and senseless intelligence operations provides a convenient method to 
get through with the establishment of a democratically legitimized 
police state. No one cares that car accidents alone kill many more 
people than terrorists do. The fear of terrorism accelerates the 
changes in society and provides the means to get the suppression tools 
required for the coming waves of trouble.

What we call today "anti-terrorism measures" is the long-term planned 
and conscious preparation of those in power for the kind of world 
described above.

The Technologies of Oppression
We can imagine most of the surveillance and oppression technology 
rather well. Blanket CCTV coverage is reality in some cities already. 
Communication pattern analysis (who talks to whom at what times) is 
frighteningly effective. Movement pattern recording from cellphones, 
traffic monitoring systems, and GPS tracking is the next wave that is 
just beginning. Shopping records (online, credit and rebate cards) are 
another source of juicy data. The integration of all these data sources 
into automated behavior pattern analysis currently happens mostly on 
the dark side.

The key question for establishing an effective surveillance based 
police state is to keep it low-profile enough that "the ordinary 
citizen" feels rather protected than threatened, at least until all the 
pieces are in place to make it permanent. First principle of 21st 
century police state: All those who "have nothing to hide" should not 
be bothered unnecessarily. This goal becomes even more complicated as 
with the increased availability of information on even minor everyday 
infringements the "moral" pressure to prosecute will rise. Intelligence 
agencies have always understood that effective work with interception 
results requires a thorough selection between cases where it is 
necessary to do something and those (the majority) where it is best to 
just be silent and enjoy.

Police forces in general (with a few exceptions) on the other hand have 
the duty to act upon every crime or minor infringement they get 
knowledge of. Of course, they have a certain amount of discretion 
already. With access to all the information outlined above, we will end 
up with a system of selective enforcement. It is impossible to live in 
a complex society without violating a rule here and there from time to 
time, often even without noticing it. If all these violations are 
documented and available for prosecution, the whole fabric of society 
changes dramatically. The old sign for totalitarian societies - 
arbitrary prosecution of political enemies - becomes a reality within 
the framework of democratic rule-of-law states. As long as the people 
affected can be made looking like the enemy-"theme" of the day, the 
system can be used to silence opposition effectively. And at some point 
the switch to open automated prosecution and policing can be made as 
any resistance to the system is by definition "terrorism". Development 
of society comes to a standstill, the rules of the law and order 
paradise can no longer be violated.

Now disentangling ourselves from the reality tunnel of said 60-year-old 
bureaucrat, where is hope for freedom, creativity and fun? To be 
honest, we need to assume that it will take a couple of decades before 
the pendulum will swing back into the freedom direction, barring a 
total breakdown of civilization as we know it. Only when the oppression 
becomes to burdensome and open, there might be a chance to get back to 
overall progress of mankind earlier. If the powers that be are able to 
manage the system smoothly and skillfully, we cannot make any 
prediction as to when the new dark ages will be over.

So what now?

Move to the mountains, become a gardener or carpenter, search for 
happiness in communities of like minded people, in isolation from the 
rest of the world?

The idea has lost its charm for most who ever honestly tried. It may 
work if you can find eternal happiness in milking cows at five o'clock 
in the morning. But for the rest of us, the only realistic option is to 
try to live in, with, and from the world as bad it has become. We need 
to built our own communities nonetheless, virtual or real ones.

The politics & lobby game
So where to put your energy then? Trying to play the political game, 
fighting against software patents, surveillance laws, and privacy 
invasions in parliament and the courts can be the job of a lifetime. It 
has the advantage that you will win a battle from time to time and can 
probably slow things down. You may even be able to prevent a gross 
atrocity here and there. But in the end, the development of technology 
and the panic level of the general population will chew a lot of your 
victories for breakfast.

This is not to discount the work and dedication of those of us who 
fight on this front. But you need to have a lawyers mindset and a very 
strong frustration tolerance to gain satisfaction from it, and that is 
not given to everyone. We need the lawyers nonetheless.

Talent and Ethics
Some of us sold their soul, maybe to pay the rent when the bubble 
bursted and the cool and morally easy jobs became scarce. They sold 
their head to corporations or the government to built the kind of 
things we knew perfectly well how to built, that we sometimes discussed 
as a intellectual game, never intending to make them a reality. Like 
surveillance infrastructure. Like software to analyze camera images in 
realtime for movement patterns, faces, license plates. Like data mining 
to combine vast amounts of information into graphs of relations and 
behavior. Like interception systems to record and analyze every single 
phone call, e-mail, click in the web. Means to track every single move 
of people and things.

Thinking about what can be done with the results of one's work is one 
thing. Refusing to do the job because it could be to the worse of 
mankind is something completely different. Especially when there is no 
other good option to earn a living in a mentally stimulating way 
around. Most projects by itself were justifiable, of course. It was 
"not that bad" or "no real risk". Often the excuse was "it is not 
technical feasible today anyway, it's too much data to store or make 
sense from". Ten years later it is feasible. For sure.

While it certainly would be better when the surveillance industry would 
die from lack of talent, the more realistic approach is to keep talking 
to those of us who sold their head. We need to generate a culture that 
might be compared with the sale of indulgences in the last dark ages: 
you may be working on the wrong side of the barricade but we would be 
willing to trade you private moral absolution in exchange for 
knowledge. Tell us what is happening there, what the capabilities are, 
what the plans are, which gross scandals have been hidden. To be 
honest, there is very little what we know about the capabilities of 
todays dark-side interception systems after the meanwhile slightly 
antiquated Echelon system had been discovered. All the new stuff that 
monitors the internet, the current and future use of database 
profiling, automated CCTV analysis, behavior pattern discovery and so 
on is only known in very few cases and vague outlines.

We also need to know how the intelligence agencies work today. It is of 
highest priority to learn how the "we rather use backdoors than waste 
time cracking your keys"-methods work in practice on a large scale and 
what backdoors have been intentionally built into or left inside our 
systems. Building clean systems will be rather difficult, given the 
multitude of options to produce a backdoor - ranging from operating 
system and application software to hardware and CPUs that are to 
complex to fully audit. Open Source does only help in theory, who has 
the time to really audit all the source anyway...

Of course, the risk of publishing this kind of knowledge is high, 
especially for those on the dark side. So we need to build structures 
that can lessen the risk. We need anonymous submission systems for 
documents, methods to clean out eventual document fingerprinting (both 
on paper and electronic). And, of course, we need to develop means to 
identify the inevitable disinformation that will also be fed through 
these channels to confuse us.

Building technology to preserve the options for change
We are facing a unprecedented onslaught of surveillance technology. The 
debate whether this may or may not reduce crime or terrorism is not 
relevant anymore. The de-facto impact on society can already be felt 
with the content mafia (aka. RIAA) demanding access to all data to 
preserve their dead business model. We will need to build technology to 
preserve the freedom of speech, the freedom of thought, the freedom of 
communication, there is no other long-term solution. Political barriers 
to total surveillance have a very limited half-life period.

The universal acceptance of electronic communication systems has been a 
tremendous help for political movements. It has become a bit more 
difficult and costly to maintain secrets for those in power. 
Unfortunately, the same problem applies to everybody else. So one thing 
that we can do to help societies progress along is to provide tools, 
knowledge and training for secure communications to every political and 
social movement that shares at least some of our ideals. We should not 
be too narrow here in choosing our friends, everyone who opposes 
centralistic power structures and is not geared towards totalitarism 
should be welcome. Maintaining the political breathing spaces becomes 
more important than what this space is used for.

Anonymity will become the most precious thing. Encrypting 
communications is nice and necessary but helps little as long as the 
communication partners are known. Traffic analysis is the most valuable 
intelligence tool around. Only by automatically looking at 
communications and movement patterns, the interesting individuals can 
be filtered out, those who justify the cost of detailed surveillance. 
Widespread implementation of anonymity technologies becomes seriously 
urgent, given the data retention laws that have been passed in the EU. 
We need opportunistic anonymity the same way we needed opportunistic 
encryption. Currently, every anonymization technology that has been 
deployed is instantly overwhelmed with file sharing content. We need 
solutions for that, preferably with systems that can stand the load, as 
anonymity loves company and more traffic means less probability of 
de-anonymization by all kinds of attack.

Closed user groups have already gained momentum in communities that 
have a heightened awareness and demand for privacy. The darker parts of 
the hacker community and a lot of the warez trading circles have gone 
?black? already. Others will follow. The technology to build real-world 
working closed user groups is not yet there. We have only improvised 
setups that work under very specific circumstances. Generic, easy to 
use technology to create fully encrypted closed user groups for all 
kinds of content with comfortable degrees of anonymity is desperately 

Decentralized infrastructure is the needed. The peer-to-peer networks 
are a good example to see what works and what not. As long as there are 
centralized elements they can be taken down under one pretext or 
another. Only true peer-to-peer systems that need as little centralized 
elements as possible can survive. Interestingly, tactical military 
networks have the same requirements. We need to borrow from them, the 
same way they borrow from commercial and open source technology.

Design stuff with surveillance abuse in mind is the next logical step. 
A lot of us are involved into designing and implementing systems that 
can be abused for surveillance purposes. Be it webshop systems, 
databases, RFID systems, communication systems, or ordinary Blog 
servers, we need to design things as safe as possible against later 
abuse of collected data or interception. Often there is considerable 
freedom to design within the limits of our day jobs. We need to use 
this freedom to build systems in a way that they collect as little data 
as possible, use encryption and provide anonymity as much as possible. 
We need to create a culture around that. A system design needs to be 
viewed by our peers only as ?good? if it adheres to these criteria. Of 
course, it may be hard to sacrifice the personal power that comes with 
access to juicy data. But keep in mind, you will not have this job 
forever and whoever takes over the system is most likely not as 
privacy-minded as you are. Limiting the amount of data gathered on 
people doing everyday transactions and communication is an absolute 
must if you are a serious hacker. There are many good things that can 
be done with RFID. For instance making recycling of goods easier and 
more effective by storing the material composition and hints about the 
manufacturing process in tags attached to electronic gadgets. But to be 
able to harness the good potential of technologies like this, the 
system needs to limit or prevent the downside as much as possible, by 
design, not as an afterthought.

Do not compromise your friends with stupidity or ignorance will be even 
more essential. We are all used to the minor fuckups of encrypted mail 
being forwarded unencrypted, being careless about other peoples data 
traces or bragging with knowledge obtained in confidence. This is no 
longer possible. We are facing an enemy that is euphemistically called 
?Global Observer? in research papers. This is meant literally. You can 
no longer rely on information or communication being ?overlooked? or 
?hidden in the noise?. Everything is on file. Forever. And it can and 
will be used against you. And your ?innocent? slip-up five years back 
might compromise someone you like.

Keep silent and enjoy or publish immediately may become the new mantra 
for security researchers. Submitting security problems to the 
manufacturers provides the intelligence agencies with a long period in 
which they can and will use the problem to attack systems and implant 
backdoors. It is well known that backdoors are the way around 
encryption and that all big manufacturers have an agreement with the 
respective intelligence agencies of their countries to hand over 
valuable ?0 day? exploit data as soon as they get them. During the 
months or even years it takes them to issue a fix, the agencies can use 
the 0 day and do not risk exposure. If an intrusion gets detected by 
accident, no one will suspect foul play, as the problem will be fixed 
later by the manufacturer. So if you discover problems, publish at 
least enough information to enable people to detect an intrusion before 
submitting to the manufacturer.

Most important: have fun! The eavesdropping people must be laughed 
about as their job is silly, boring, and ethically the worst thing to 
earn money with, sort of blackmail and robbing grandmas on the street. 
We need to develop a ?lets have fun confusing their systems?-culture 
that plays with the inherent imperfections, loopholes, systematic 
problems, and interpretation errors that are inevitable with large 
scale surveillance. Artists are the right company for this kind of 
approach. We need a subculture of ?In your face, peeping tom?. Exposing 
surveillance in the most humiliating and degrading manner, giving 
people something to laugh about must be the goal. Also, this prevents 
us from becoming frustrated and tired. If there is no fun in beating 
the system, we will get tired of it and they will win. So let's be 
flexible, creative and funny, not angry, ideologic and stiff-necked.


This text was first printed in Die Datenschleuder #89, 
in december 2005. It is published under the Creative Commons 
Attribution-NoDerivs 2.5 License 
( Die Datenschleuder, 
the Scientific Journal for Data Travelers, is published quarterly by 
the Chaos Computer Club, Germany since 1984.

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