Syria - The hidden assumption

No society on this planet was more fiercely protective of neighborhood privacy that the American frontier rancher. It remains the consummate instance of Cowboy culture. In a place where distance and isolation bred wildly eccentric personalities, live and let-live was the dominant social mantra.

Yet amidst this fierce independence, if one rancher lost his barn to desiccated prairie fire, every man's uncle from a hundred miles around showed up, unbidden, tools and materials in hand, to rebuild that barn within days. It was an extremely rare uninvited crossing of borders, but deemed an essential element of preemptive survival.

There was one other exception. Just as fierce and even more rare.

If word got round among young cowboys that one of their number was routinely abusing a mother, or sister, or defenseless animal, those young men tried a little diplomacy in the form of a group sanction or two, or even three, after church some Sunday morning. But if the abuser persisted in his bullying, then quietly and rather mercilessly, without further warning, perhaps during a festive community gathering, the abuser would suddenly be discovered behind an isolated building having been administered the beating of a lifetime.

This wasn't vigilantism. It was brothers and husbands protecting sisters and wives.

So Barack, next time you have a hankering to travel to Cairo, Stockholm, Beijing, or Bogota, tone down the jesuitical apologetics and ramp up a little brotherly love. Let the world know that unconditional sovereignty was an extremely useful step while the community of nations learned to deal with strangers.  However, since that time, the neighborhood has gone global. 

The neighborhood is Humanity. Earth, air, water and morality flow and blow everywhere.

So try this speech next time Putin plays holier than thou with al Assad.

“No territorial ambition involved Bashir. No more wussing about property lines. Just a quiet little message from one bully to another. You are still beating on your sisters.  So, I'm about to bust every tooth in your face and there ain't a fucking thing you can do about it.”


George Orwell 3.0

The Architecture of Consent

In his iconic novel, '1984', George Orwell warned that powerful special interests would one day use ubiquitous surveillance to manipulate and exploit human behaviour.

He was off by a few years.

Then came George Orwell 2.0.

When the US secret service tried to deprive Barrack Obama of his private citizen's cell phone, they retreated, not because the President overruled them, but because they were themselves astonished to discover that, properly configured, a Blackberry was indeed immune to eavesdropping.

At this stage, long before Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden, politically and technically savvy people began putting their private records into encrypted envelopes before entrusting them to any electronic or digital communication service.  

The first counter tremors to this trend appeared when the government of India threatened to expel Blackberry from all of South East Asia precisely because their voice and messenger services were too secure. Blackberry Messenger was a private fortress that even state-sponsored crackers couldn't hack. Ironically, that's when telecommunications managers the world over began insisting that only Blackberries would be allowed inside corporate firewalls. Inexpensive eye candy from Nokia and Samsung were to be left at home.

Then, during the night of May 9, 2011, Microsoft Corporation bought Skype for $8.5 Billion. Cash. The world wondered why. When China subsequently threatened to expel Google and Twitter unless they provided back doors to their customer accounts, we had our answer.

George Orwell 2.03 had arrived and the majority of ordinary citizens suddenly understood that the 'smart' in smart phones referred to what these devices could now reveal about us, not what they could do for us.

In a single historical nanosecond, the veil was rent.

The forces of Orwellianism had blown their cover. They couldn't keep their activities secret much longer. They began to prepare a coup de grace the audacity and subtlety of which would amaze even the most dire adventists of George Orwell 3.0.

The Sanhedrin itself encouraged a wave of crypto-mathematical baptists crying in the righteous wilderness, whom they briefly condemned as Manningian and Snowdenean heretics, all the while secretly welcoming this diversion to camouflage their final thrust.

During the otherwise quiet Autumn of the year 2016 ME, with the world attending to the bread and circus distractions of outgoing President Obama's last minute pardon of Manning and Snowden, a signal advertisement slipped into view, hiding in plain sight.

It was the last mile in the long Orwellian journey.

The immense satellite and sub-oceanic fibre optic networks that link continents and countries were already in place;  national grids linked metropolitan areas; even the few remaining meters linking each house within neighbourhoods had all been upgraded.

All that remained was to start monitoring each individual room within those houses.

Rogers Advertisement:  "Knowing with certainty that your kids are safe when you're not there is what Smart Home Monitoring is all about. Unlike traditional security systems, you know instantly what's happening at home using your smart phone. You can actually see your kids come in the door! Thanks to our dual cable and wireless networks, this is a security system whose reliability you never have to worry about. Get peace of mind knowing your kids are safe."

(Embedded assumption:  Home Monitoring is all about surveillance. Using your smart phone to access your home. Through NSA and PRISM-susceptible networks, you and your kids will now be monitored in house, with your consent, and, talk about audacity, at your expense!)

The brilliance of Homeland Orwellian Preemptive Excision 3.0 is that it assumes Main Street will  'choose' the final implementation of uber-surveillance believing it protects their latchkey-offspring. 

That's George Orwell 3.0.  Universal penetration.  Acquiescence, access and acquisition.  

"And on the seventh day the NSA rested.  And its PRISM control rooms saw to it that we were good."

The audacity of H.O.P.E. indeed!

-  -  -  -  -  -  - 

PS:  If you doubt the intent,  I suggest you review the associated budget numbers.


The Architecture of Consent - PRISM 2

Sitting at supper one evening many years ago in Metz, France, I asked a Canadian military acquaintance how he planned to vote in the upcoming Canadian federal election.

"Same way as last time", he replied rather curtly.

"Yes but how was that?" I ventured.

"For the retention of the secret ballot!" he growled.

I looked up sharply from my supper plate expecting some sign of humour, but found myself peering into the cold, almost belligerent stare of a man who had killed other men and survived attempts on his own.

He had nearly been killed flying Spitfires in Malta in 1942. He had faced the Viet Cong and been shot at again while a member of the Truce Commission in Viet Nam in 1956. Now (1962), he was the senior intelligence officer for the RCAF in Europe as the Berlin wall went up, the Cuban missile crisis was in full swing, and DeGaulle was being threatened with assassination by elements of his own military for pulling out of Algeria.

There were two legitimate monopolies in democratic society at that time: the armory, and the mint. They controlled the use of military weapons and the right to print money. Yet here was a soldier telling me he was willing to lay down his life, willing to die, to keep the keys to the gun locker in civilian hands!

The ultimate difference between democratic and totalitarian regimes.

Today, there is a third battle underway that is every bit as pitched and critical to human freedom as were the arsenal and the mint sixty years ago:  control over citizen identity.

In the first part of this essay on human consent I mentioned a new development currently sweeping through the Identity and Authentication industry, known as 'claims-based-authentication'.

During the early days of the Internet, data engineers assumed that citizen information would have to reside in unimaginably huge, centralized databases. Since then, the very thought of such repositories containing all personal identifiers makes both citizens and enlightened politicians squirm uncomfortably.

We all now realize that government systems are no more qualified or trustworthy than commercial interests to hold all this data.

Happily, visionaries among information technology professionals have taken up this task of re-locating citizen identity and human consent. Rather than assigning the keys to vested-interests in the private or public sectors, they are returning them smack dab back into the hands of each and every individual citizen! 
How can this be possible?

Through a kind of massively distributed, blockchain-based, cryptographic and peer-to-peer process called 'claims-based-authentication', a kind of third pillar of democratic governance inextricably rooted in the presumption of foundational anonymity.

The most disturbing aspect of the warrantless powers of surveillance that Dick Cheney and Barack Obama have given Homeland Security (DHS) and the National Security Agency (NSA) is the accompanying fallacy that privacy is only about avoiding embarrassment and hiding sins.

Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, just making that assertion, in itself, violates natural Law and betrays the United States Constitution.

Do you want a payment receipt at Disneyland in Florida to reveal to a ring of thieves that you are temporarily away from home in Dayton?

Do you want details in your municipal civic registration to hint to political hacks or partisan employers how you voted in the last election?

Should an advertiser be able to bribe a computer clerk at the local hospital to sell them your medical history when you prefer to wait another year before worrying your family about prostate or cervical tests?

These situations have nothing to do with feeling ashamed or hiding personal wrongdoing.  Love others though you might as a good friends, this kind of information is nobody else's business if you prefer to keep it to yourself.  Anyone who advocates risking its disclosure under a 'nothing-to-hide-if-you-have-a-clear-conscience' argument, is advocating twenty-first century civil war!

With luck, the ten year betrayal of civil liberties in both government and finance since 9/11 will be reversed during the next decade through the ever increasing choice of ordinary citizens to use cryptographic and peer-to-peer data management software.

We are on the verge of Identity being re-rooted in human consent and its attendant presumption of initial anonymity.  Both will be embedded at the very core of modern communications technology.

PRISM might soon mean Privacy Restoring Identity Systems and Monitoring.

... part 3 continues next month.


The Architecture of Consent - PRISM 1

I've watched the tweetsters, blabsters and blogsters debate privacy for the last several months.

The invective against government-sponsored intelligence gathering is colourful, but not very helpful. Meanwhile, their opponents see every wish for anonymity as a sign of tax evasion, money laundering, terrorism or pornography.

Both sides cite real or imagined constitutional constraints, wallowing in the kind of law that relies on 'Thou Shalt Not'. Tell someone “Don't think of blue!”, and they must think of blue in order to understand your command.  That's why legislated prohibition often produces the opposite result.

Odd thing though, neither side seems particularly competent in the other kind of law.  You don't go to jail for gaining altitude too quickly. The airplane simply stalls, crashes and you die. The laws of nature and mathematics.

That's why thousands of software engineers and data architects are quietly building new systems that will soon succeed where enforcement has failed, because "that's just the way it works"? They're called 'disruptive technologies', not because they upset the rest of us, but because they might make spies, regulators and most banks seem a little silly and beside the point eventually.

These disruptive technologies all have one fascinating thing in common. They store identity separately from service information. Ta-dah!

Wait a minute. Is that all there is to it?

Yep.   That's it.  Anonymous data.

The database with your name, birth date, address, finger prints and retinal scan won't include your eyeglasses prescription, your bank balance, your blood pressure readings, your parking tickets, your ethnicity, your religion or your shopping preferences. All that stuff will be kept in separate data tables that aren't linked to your identity, except when you authorize it. Or when a qualified judge orders it. Not because it's not allowed, but because that's just the way these databases will be built.

Spies, regulators, banks and business hackers will be thrilled. They won't have to break in to profile service data anymore.  The NSA and Homeland Security will have a ball.  They will be allowed to monitor traffic patterns to their heart's content.

They can track how many Muslims with high blood pressure, a university education and more than two pairs of bi-focals are boarding a flight from Amsterdam to Madrid after requesting a vegetarian meal.

But they won't be able to link that information to individual identities on their own any more.

Not because it won't be allowed, but because that's just the way these systems will be built. That's how they'll work.

Anonymized data bases will free national defenders to engage in much more powerful terrorist profiling than current legislation allows, all without inappropriately invading innocent individual identity. Those data tables just won't contain identity information.

When the profilers detect a threatening pattern in the service stream, they will request corresponding identity information,  only on reasonable grounds, in a process similar to getting a traditional search warrant.

These 'disruptive technologies' will have preemptive anonymity embedded at the very core of their architecture.  They will restore a bunch of democratic and civil protections that earlier information architectures could not.

Curious political operatives won't bother to hack Watergate offices or voter registration systems hoping to find out how you vote.  Neither will a terrorist or thief disguised as a pharmacist, nor a Walmart cashier, nor a bank teller be able to hack payment systems to learn where you live, or how much credit you have, or whether your home is unoccupied while you travel.

Disruptive technologies will embody a whole new architecture of individual privacy and consent at their very core, not because the Walmart clerk isn't allowed to pry into your affairs, but because they simply can't. They won't have access. It won't work that way any more.

Engineers call this astonishing, elegant, even beautiful structure, 'claims-based authentication'. It is almost ready. Several pioneering health care and health records systems are already using it, testing it in the most sensitive data area of all.

Epidemiologists will love the enhanced profiling ability and patients will relish their absolute control over who peeks at their personal records.
The only difficulty I foresee is that when claims-based authentication systems come to the world of finance, they might neutralize some of the distorted processes that have unfairly fattened Wall Street at the expense of Main Street. That might indeed upset certain people.

Oh, and by the way?  Bitcoin already appears to be 'claims-based-compliant'.

Next time I'll examine the role anonymity plays in consent and a third essay is in the works to explain how claims-based systems work between you, your doctor, your pharmacy and your bank account.

   continue to part 2 :


Reuters on Bitcoin

Felix Salmon's mainstream article for Reuters on Bitcoin pretends to be more thoughtful than most.

The rhetorical deception is subtle. He doesn't try to fool us with lies. He just leaves out the truth.

He doesn't mention that due to its already indispensable advantages when moving funds internationally, BTC can no longer disappear overnight. Even if an equally independent but improved digital currency emerged and seemed the more likely candidate for a new global standard, the transition would be orderly. People would have ample time to exit one and enter the other, likely with acquiescence and cooperation of both systems. There would be no more cost, probably significantly less, in making that transition than Forex currently charges for any routine currency exchange.

The article is rife with other sins of omission, deliberately under-representing bitcoin's most important elements.

To wit:

It makes no mention of the well pre-planned divisibility of BTC into Satoshi(s), the established term for 0.00000001 BTC that exchanges and retail payment engines will eventually use, not BTC itself. In fact, the term Bitcoin will likely recede lexically or semantically to refer more to its underlying technical architecture, not the unit of currency.

Further, the length of time during which BTC will continue as the vehicle for large inter-currency exchanges and as an inflation-proof form of commodity-as-capital storage will be substantial, even after it cedes primacy to the Satoshi for smaller retail payments. Bitcoin itself will increasingly shoulder the longer term responsibilities of Gold and Silver, but with the added advantages of effortless divisibility and portability.

I do agree the history of commodity and stock bubbles suggests that BTC is likely to ease up, back up, and consolidate at various stages, but the monetarily savvy will patiently continue to participate until and unless an alternative not only appears, but matures.

Until then, the shrill voices of people like Mr. Salmon will try to distract us with their vested interests and frantic need to delay their own vulnerability.

Bitcoin users who started out around $11/BTC, dropped as low as $3-4, then climbed to where things are today, did so by thinking of the dollar as fluctuating, not BTC. That thinking will continue to allow a remarkable degree of calm amid the cries of purported 'bubble' and extremes.


On Bitcoin Bubbles

Why don't otherwise competent financial analysts chart Bitcoin compared to earlier vanguard infrastructure technologies like silicone chips, microcomputers, operating systems, email, mobile telephones, and social media?

Instead, they persist in describing it as a single stock or commodity caught in a speculative bubble.

While bursting bubbles certainly appear in the price charts of individual companies providing services using various components of global infrastructure, do such bursting bubbles really appear in the growth of infrastructure itself?

Doesn't quantum-leap evolutionary significance occasionally produce sustainable parabolic exceptions? Might not the 'nothing goes up forever' mantra have its own exceptions?

I honestly don't know the answer; I only mean to decry the lack of inquiry into this possibility by professional commentators who seem not to ask whether 'bitcoin', (judicious use of lower-case 'b'), might be less a brand name and more an underlying standard that is soon to embed into a number of fundamental human transaction types.

I suspect bubbles are more likely to burst in specific 'speculative' applications of bitcoin (sic) infrastructure, not in the underlying technology itself.

For that reason, while ordinary investors should certainly treat individual 'Bitcoin' ventures with the same caution they would any other start-up or penny-stock investment, they should take a stake in the legitimate underlying 'bitcoin' infrastructure.


Fancy that!

For about a year now, as a mental exercise, I have tried to think and, more importantly to feel in my gut, differently about my meager pension and bank savings.

I have never paid much attention to daily news reports about the fluctuating prices of stocks, or bonds, or mutual funds, or real estate, or commodities. I've never owned much of any of them except for a share in our house.

My miserably few savings are sitting at the bank, in simple cash, as an ordinary expense account.

What I began doing, however, in June 2011, is to 'virtually' track the value of that bit of cash as if I had cleverly converted it into gold and bitcoin back then, in June 2011.

As the months creep by, I've been intrigued to notice that my wee bit of capital, had I allowed it to simply stagnate as inert gold and electronic bitcoin, would now be worth quite a few more dollars.

Conversely, my little pool of hard earned cash, even including accumulated interest, could not possibly buy the amount of gold or bitcoin it could have in June 2011.

Fancy that.

Philosophy of Bitcoin

I seldom reprint the writings of others in this space, preferring to merely link to the original source. But this is the clearest take on bitcoin I've come across so far and I want to save you the effort of even that one link. From Oleg Andreev, here are his words unaltered:

"There is no philosophy in Bitcoin. It is not anarchic, libertarian, Austrian or anonymous. It is just an internet protocol and a bunch of people that use it to transact between each other.

The protocol has purely technical and monetary measures to prevent spam, DoS, double spending and reversal of transactions. Transactions themselves do not advertise their purpose or identities of people involved.

It is not “against Bitcoin spirit” to have non-anonymous service built on top of Bitcoin. It is not a “hack” to use Bitcoin addresses generated not from random numbers, but from document hashes to implement secure document timestamping.

You can do whatever you want with Bitcoin as long as your transactions are compliant with the protocol and you pay the fees when needed. You can use it as a currency. Or as a payment system. Or as an investment. Or not use any of its monetary properties whatsoever, but use it to register predictions about the future. You can use it in clear to accept donations for a good cause, or you can use it through Tor network to buy illegal stuff. You may require others to identify themselves before accepting payments, or you may allow your customers to hide their identities from you. After all, you can avoid the whole thing completely and live a happy life.

If there is a single philosophical thing about Bitcoin, it is this one: voluntarism. On the internet, across oceans and thousands of walls, you cannot force another person to do what you want. And neither can he or she. Therefore, to make a deal with another person, you have to negotiate and find consensus. And if you envision risks and potential problems, you are free to creatively find voluntary solutions to them, which will also be part of negotiation. No amount of unilateral declarations, laws or appeals to objectivist philosophy will make another person send you bitcoins. Only negotiation and reasoning give you a chance to get what you want."

Oleg Andreev


Bitcoin matters, folks. A lot!

Greetings everyone.

It's been a while since I've posted here. Six months ago I suddenly tired of what Facebook had become and decided to re-evaluate Twitter. In the process, I'm sorry to say, I abandoned this blog ... and you too for a while.

Well, recent encounters with the worlds of finance, parcel post, banking and service industries in general have drawn me back to you. I'm furious, frustrated, and looking forward to your comments.

Two weeks ago, for the first time in decades, I needed to receive and send some money to two distant acquaintances. My bank insisted their 'wire transfer' service would meet my needs. For fees between $25.00 and $47.50 they could deliver the money within three days. They said.

Now, understand, I'm not talking about shipping actual physical currency here. No dollar bills, no metal coins, no gold bullion or anything like that. Just electrons. Bits and bytes traveling as electronic pulses at the speed of light over satellites and fiber optic cables.

Three days!

Now get this. The incoming wire to me, originally sent on December 28th, 2012 for $500, ended up as only $429.75. That was due to $70.25 in intermediary correspondent banking fees. But in addition to that, the process gobbled up two and a half working days of my time chasing the transaction after my bank 'lost it' in a manual sorting queue, following which it took a total of 46 days to arrive!

The outgoing transfer did get to its destination within 48 hours as promised, but it also cost an outrageous $47.75 in fees and I wasted an hour and sixteen minutes standing at a teller window in my local bank before bank staff figured out how to complete the task using their slow-as-mollasses-in-February computer systems.

Now get this.

Yesterday, without leaving my home even for a moment, without even getting dressed, I sent $ 273.87 to a business colleague in San Diego California. The transfer took me 47 seconds. My colleague acknowledged receipt in two minutes and fourteen seconds. And the total cost was ZERO! Nada! Zip. Nothing. I didn't even have to convert from CAD to USD.

How did I do it? One word: *Bitcoin* !

Now if you can give me one good reason why banks, credit cards, PayPal and Western Union shouldn't be scared shitless of this stuff, I'll give you an ear full of reasons why Amazon, eBay, Craigslist and Ottawa's Metro Glebe grocery store should start accepting Bitcoin as one of their favourite payment methods.