The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Category: Surveillance Society Page 1 of 4

The Terror Of Electronic Money

Electronic money is inherently authoritarian. (Bitcoin is authoritarian and deflationary, and deflation rewards first movers and the rich far more than normal people.)

A few weeks ago John Michael Greer noted that part of what happened during Covid is that people left the formal economy and joined in the informal one.

The strength of a government can, most simply, be measured by how much it can tax. The early absolutist monarchs spent much of their time figuring out how to tax people, something which was very difficult: they built bureaucracies largely to increase their income, so they could wage war better.

Cash money is always a problem to governments, because people can exchange it without registering the exchange. Granted, governments became very good at tracking money, but there were always ways to avoid the system, especially if you were smart and spent cash carefully. I’ve had multiple friends who worked for some period for cash under the table, especially the in the (old) gig economy and in restaurants.

Electronic money, whether done on a blockchain or not (though blockchains are terrible for privacy), with the removal of cash money, makes it almost impossible to escape the state’s taxation and makes many small exchanges not worth doing, since the fuss and expense of tax accounting is usually an immense pain.

So e-money is something governments really want more of, and it’s something that people who are concerned with real freedom, not theoretical freedom such as “rights” the government may or may not actually bother respecting, should be concerned every time they see a movement to restrict cash and move to e-money. Even partial moves, like India’ getting rid of larger bills, can be devastating, and if the informal economy is large enough, can be disastrous economically even if the government winds up with more taxes. (India’s experiment was bad for the Indian economy, as I expected.)

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Bitcoin is not “anonymous money”. Blockchains record every transaction. Cash is anonymous money, and anyone who tells you otherwise is a scam artist.

Computers and the telecom revolution, overall, have been bad for the freedom of most people, in very concrete ways; sometimes minute to minute ways, since they also allow for bosses to automatically monitor what workers are doing. Hell is micro-management, and this is moving out from warehouses, into white collar jobs. No one who isn’t powerful at work will have any real ability to dodge it.

I first noticed this at my last big corporate job, where every “automation” of clerical workers was really about control: every one reduced productivity but made workers jump thru automated hoops and made it easier for management to see exactly what each worker was doing.

None of this should be surprising. Advanced in communication technology always allow more control because they allow more knowledge to be centralized. This was true of writing and it’s true of computers. It used to be that if the boss wasn’t there and couldn’t justify a supervisor to stand over your shoulder, you had a fair bit of freedom to do the job your way, but now an algorithm watches you and managers can see real time dashboards.

My entire experience at work was that “Hell is micromanagement”, one of my best bad jobs was being a bike courier because back in the early 90s they couldn’t track where you were or what you were doing. They told you to pick up and deliver; as long as you did that on time, it was up to you how you did it, and when work was slow, no one was telling you to do make-work.

More and more this is going away; bosses are even putting tracking software on home computers for remote workers, and sometimes insisting on having cameras watching the workers.

Freedom isn’t just about the right to free speech and assembly or a speedy trial (rights we are losing anyway, in many countries) it is about the moment to moment experience of life, and the majority spend half their waking hours working. If work sucks, life sucks. And with e-money, you won’t even be able to opt out of the formal economy.

Welcome to Hell.

Why Non-surveillance States Will Out-compete Surveillance States

So, we have this proposal for cameras and mics in classrooms:

Johnson’s not a particularly important person and one can pick apart his logic (teachers don’t have guns), but the logic of unchecked surveillance — of cameras and microphones everywhere — leads to this place and far worse.

Right now, governments and corporations track your every move through your phone. They can force your microphone on and listen to you, and we know that they have. Infrared, gait recognition, and facial recognition, combined with drones, satellites, and ubiquitous cameras mean that it will soon be possible to track citizens’ movements 24/7 and listen in much of the time. Add in the cameras and microphones most people voluntarily put into their houses, which are in no way secure and which EULAs often allow access to anyway, and there is little to none of your life that will be unknown.

We are heading to this place. It is not in question — there is a VAST appetite for information in corporations so they can train their AIs and model and manipulate you, and from governments driven by the idea that “well, if we don’t surveil everyone and anything bad happens, we can be blamed,” from police and intelligence agencies.

There is an argument, put first, so far as I know, by David Brin, that mass surveilance is inevitable. The technology will exist (he wrote in 1998) and it will be used, and the only question is whether it ends up that everyone is surveilled and everyone can watch it, or if only criminals, government, and big corps get to watch and listen, and the rest of us are just passive victims.

I will suggest that there is a third path.

We live in a time when we have repeatedly refused to actually control technology if a profit can be made from it. Obviously, evil technologies have been allowed to run rampant to the point where we may render our entire planet unliveable.

So we assume we can’t control technology: “If it exists, it will be used.”

There is a counter-example. The Japanese Tokugawa Shogunate didn’t like firearms. They limited them and, over time, got rid of most of them except for a few old ones.

That ended badly for them: The American White Ships came, forced Japan open, and the Shogunate fell to a an internal rebellion, whose motto might as well have been “More guns! Lots more Guns! And Gunships! And EMPIRE!”

But only the first part applies to rejecting most surveillance technology because surveillance tech is not a competitive advantage between states (one can argue it makes training modern “AIs” easier, but that is minor).

Surveillance states, where people know that everything they do or say is recorded, create stultifying conformity. Almost everyone acts the same way and the easiest way to act the same way is to think and feel the same way.

Since the age of helicopter parenting and insecurity (which requires kids to go to school and get good grades and do everything right), measures of American creativity have crashed.

But this is a general rule: States where you can’t be different without being punished, where you can’t say or think what others disagree with, are obviously less creative.

Less creative states are less competitive states in eras where technology and culture matter.

If any state is brave enough to outlaw surveillance tech (except in limited circumstances), and do the work to make it stick (ie. re-engineer modern telecom tech, which is designed to be insecure from the ground up, plus be pro-active and criminally punitive to those who violate the law) they will have a massive advantage over surveillance states, technologically and culturally. I’m willing to predict, with near 100 percent certainty, that if most countries go to full-surveillance state mode, whichever ones don’t are the places which will have technological and artistic golden ages — especially if they are also smart enough to welcome refugees from surveillance states.

Freedom; real freedom, is a competitive advantage in eras where technology or culture (really, the two are intertwined) determine who wins. States which embrace surveillance technology will be ones where elites are more concerned with maintaining their internal position, i.e., staying in charge of their society and keeping the peons down, rather than those who look outwards to competition against other societies and who want the most vibrant and interesting culture internally.

The choice to embrace surveillance states is the choice to stagnate.

Many think it is otherwise, “we must embrace all technologies without choosing how they are used or we will fall behind.”

This is an immature stance; a foolish one. The mature, intelligent stance is to look at technologies and see what their results are likely to be, and then use them intelligently, to control technology and not be controlled by it.

Certainly there are technologies that are so bad overall that, as long as we have individual states, we will have to use them or fall behind in a world where those who fall behind are treated abominably; but surveillance isn’t one of those technologies. Rather, embracing it will make societies less competitive and reduce their inhabitants’ quality of life. Its only advantage is for those seeking a steady-state police state or cyberpunk dystopia.

All others should steer well clear, and all individuals who aren’t themselves very powerful should understand that surveillance is intended to dis-empower them — to get the most out of them possible, while giving the least in return, and turning them into automata for the benefit of the overlords (think Amazon warehouses and delivery drivers).

You cannot be more free than if you are unknown to your masters. The more they know, the more they will control. If you let the powerful turn you into a surveillance object, they will wring you dry, and you will have to hope that some society, somewhere, is still free and defeats your dystopia.

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Your Phone Is a Sucking Security Wound and Basic Anti-surveillance Hygiene

Might as well send anyone who cares for an itinerary:


While this is for smart-phones, old-style cell phones can also be compromised.

If you have a phone on you, even off, it can be used to track all your movements and listen to what you are saying. Even putting it in a Faraday bag will not stop it from storing tracking movements; the moment you remove it, it will broadcast again, and not all Faraday cages are strong enough to block a phone in any case.

You should not carry a phone, at all, if you are doing anything the State or other large actors dislike. So that it is not obvious when they need to be concerned, you should occasionally not take your phone with you on other trips.

If you need comms, find another way other than cell phones. Even a burner isn’t that great -— the second you contact any other phone, you can be compromised. Old fashioned walkie-talkies with pre-agreed one use codes are better. If you need to record or take pictures, use a device which has no internet connectivity without a cable. Nothing wi-fi or cellular-enabled.

There are NO secure online comms, also. None. Things like Tor and a good (non-Western based) VPN make it a bit harder, but if anyone cares enough, they can find you — plus you don’t know what services has been compromised. Tor is heavily subsidized by the security state, a smart person doesn’t assume it’s reliable for anything the US cares about.

If anything matters, use offline comms. If you must send a message, go yourself, make sure neither you nor the recipient have a phone, and leave out any place you habitually frequent, at the very least. If you’re a messenger, same rules: Write it down, then have it burned (not shredded) after receipt.

If you do not personally control the communications network, you do not know if it has been compromised. In the last Hezbollah-Israel war, Hezbollah won the e-lint war: They had built their own private fiber-optic network underground AND Israeli soldiers carried and used cellphones. Hezbollah knew where Israeli troops were, and Israel only found out where Hezbollah troops were when a bunker opened up on them.

In the early 2000s, the Pentagon ran a war game against Iran. The General running the Iranian side, among other things, used motorcycle messengers. The US expected to have e-lint, didn’t, and that lack was one reason they lost the game.

There’s a vast array of very good surveillance tech now, of course. If someone really wants to track you and listen in on your comms, they can. But they assume e-lint will work and they have less human-intelligence than they did.

Finally, if you are doing something the State REALLY doesn’t approve of (not, of course the wonderful American and Canadian states, who are always good, mind you, but only bad states), remember the first rule of getting away with it.


Set a date when you’ll stop and become an ordinary, boring citizen. When the date happens, just stop. Wipe everything and walk away.

Likewise, if you ever think something is OFF, stop immediately.

If you have comrades, once you stop, you never contact them again.

The longer you do whatever it is, the more likely some .01 percent audit or some-such will catch you, no matter how brilliant and careful you’ve been.

Also, don’t keep records, eh?

We’re moving into a very dystopian, surveillance state world. Gait recognition, infrared tracking, mics that can hear through walls, drones, and satellites mean the long game will have pretty much everyone under surveillance all the time, even if you aren’t being watched in particular.

For now, however, don’t make it easy for them, and to start, leave the damn phone at home. (Oh, and don’t assume cryptocurrency is anonymous. Even criminals who really know what they’re doing don’t always get away with that. Cash is still anonymous, given proper safeguards.)

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Policing the Police

GUEST POST by Webstir

In this time of police brutality, who can we depend upon to police the police? Who can we depend upon to police the prosecutors? The judges? Our lawmakers? You. That’s who. It’s your job. More than that, it’s your duty to your fellow man. And it’s not really even very difficult. All it takes is a little creative thinking.

Know this: If you’re protesting, you’re being surveilled. But to protest effectively, you must come to the protest organized. To do so requires that you surveil. To surveil effectively you must preserve your anonymity. If you don’t, anticipate a retaliatory response that will attempt to destroy your life. Or, even take it.

A smart first step is to hire a lawyer. The lawyer is your public face. They are ethically bound to preserve your anonymity so long as you aren’t using their services to commit a crime. But lawyers aren’t cheap. The way around this is to gather as many people you trust as you can and pool your resources. Send one of your pool to hire the lawyer and have them issue a Freedom of Information Act request to your local law enforcement agencies. Have them seek names, ranks, and badge numbers of every officer in the agency’s employ. Hell, if you’re enterprising, you can have the lawyer seek disciplinary records as well.

And remember, that same lawyer will also help save your bacon should you find yourself locked up – which you very well may.

Next, enrich the information you’ve gathered. Start plugging the names into public information web sites like Intellius, TruthFinder, Spokeo, or BeenVerified. These sites are a wealth of information. They will likely tell you email addresses, phone numbers, addresses, criminal histories, debts, relatives, and close associates. Other resources are county property record web sites and the Secretary of State web sites. If these require personal identification to access, use your lawyer. Take the data you found and then track down their social media profiles. Download the pictures of them from the social media sites in their civilian capacities and record any posts that appear useful.

Now it’s time to put the information you’ve gathered to use. Assemble a packet of each and every officer with a plain clothes face picture. Use your pooled resources to print hundreds of these packets and distribute them among your pool and among protestors. Make an electronic copy and distribute it to your associates online. Remember, you’re being surveilled. There are black hat cops among you and you’re going to want to be able to identify them. If someone is advocating violence and you don’t know him or her, check the list.

At the protest, use your information. Buy a bullhorn. When the cops get close, start calling them out by name. Tell them what you know about them. Tell them you know where they live. Tell them you know who their family members are. Tell them you know how much they’re in debt. Tell them about their latest post on Facebook.

The police rely on fear to control you. Being just a badge number instead of a human allows them to do that. Destroy their illusion of anonymity. Make them scared. Think about it. What would you do if a crowd of angry protestors were telling you they know everything about you down to your latest social media post? Me? I’d begin worrying about my family. I might also begin to think about a career change. Think too, about the likely response of the law enforcement agencies once they know all their information is out there. A likely response is to assign some of their resources to protect their dwellings and families. These are resources that aren’t hitting you upside the head with a baton or spraying mace in your eyes. That’s a win.

Also, take pictures of badge numbers when you find yourself in the thick of it. Once home, track them down on your database and distribute widely on social media. Tell the story of what you saw the officer do and post pictures and video of them if you have it. Tag them in the post. Let them know you’re watching their every move.

Finally, this tactic doesn’t have to be restricted to the police forces alone. Prosecutors and elected officials are often every bit as complicit as the cops themselves. Remember who is giving them the green light. Use the same tactics on them. Know your enemy. And remember, “[t]hose who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” Stay peaceful, but be prepared to fight power with power. Knowledge, is power. Exercising it is your duty. Go forth, and sow fear among your oppressors.

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Protect Yourself from Retaliation After the Riots

In the years since the Ferguson riots, prominent protesters have been systematically killed. Nobody knows who is killing them, and police somehow can’t catch anyone.

The most likely explanation is that they are being killed by cops.

In New York, the man who filmed the choking death of Eric Garner was repeatedly hassled by cops, and is now in jail.

After the Minneapolis riots, the police will take revenge. If they know who you are, they will come for you. If they can find a way to get you legally, they will. If they can’t, they’ll take care of you anyway.

Fortunately, we are in the age of Covid-19.

WEAR A MASK. During the day, wear shades as well. Do not carry your phone, it is a tracking device which the police can use, retroactively, to see exactly where you were at all times. If you must have a phone, use a burner. If you are going to take pictures and video and upload later, make sure you don’t have people’s identifiable faces in them. Do your research into how to upload data safely, in a way you can’t be identified. To begin with, do NOT use a US-based VPN. I suggest a VPN from an unfriendly country: Vietnam, Russia, whatever.

Also, if you are willing to destroy property, make sure to destroy all surveillance cameras first. Every camera you destroy may save multiple people from jail or death.

Insurrections such as this one come to an end. The cops will want revenge, and they will take it.

Protect yourself.

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The End of Public Anonymity Is Close

So, you may have heard of Clearview:

The app, says the Times, works by comparing a photo to a database of more than three billion pictures that Clearview says it’s scraped off Facebook, Venmo, YouTube, and other sites. It then serves up matches, along with links to the sites where those database photos originally appeared.

Clearview is only for law enforcement for now, but this is the future. Facial recognition, combined with other metrics like gait analysis, means the end of public anonymity.

There’s a strand of thinking which claims that no one has an expectation of anonymity in public, but the loss of it will be catastrophic. If someone knows who you are, and where you are, they can easily stalk you or rob you when they know you aren’t at home. This sort of technology in the wild (and even in the hands of cops) will lead to rapes and assaults. “I like how she looks. I wonder who she is? Cool, now that I know it’s easy enough to find out where she works and lives.”

It will wind up in the wild. It’s not too far from a reverse image search to this, and the images required for the training are in the wild, as Clearview notes.

Add this to corporate and government databases, with real-time scraping of public phone data and heat maps of public travel become possible. Add it to financial information (every time you use your credit, debit, and charge cards) and even finer grade surveillance is possible. Add in GPS data and/or security cameras and where you are at all times of day will be known.

The potential for abuse by corporations is massive: They already attention farm us, using conditioning techniques to make us click and buy and spend hours a day on social media. (Yes, this is very effective conditioning.) The abuse by your boss, well, just hope you never do–or have never done–anything your boss doesn’t approve of. You ain’t seen cancel culture yet.

The potential political abuses are, I trust, obvious.

And then there is the potential for abuse by parents, who already obnoxiously track their kids in ways that would look ludicrous to previous generations of children and which have, among other things, shown up as a generational decline in creativity.

The larger issue is this: People who are constantly under surveillance become super-conformers out of defense. Without true private time, the public persona and the private personality tend to collapse together. You need a backstage — by yourself and with a small group of friends to become yourself. You need anonymity.

When everything you do is open to criticism by everyone, you will become timid and conforming.

When governments, corporations, schools, and parents know everything, they will try to control everything. This won’t often be for your benefit.

Solutions for this are simple. Make it illegal. Make public images and data private by default and do not allow consumers to opt out of it without real payment per image or data piece. (This will gut training AI, which is good, because most current AI is bad (a topic for another time).)

People should have a reasonable expectation of anonymity. Software like this should be illegal.

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Thank God I Was Born Before Cellphones

Parents, your child’s specific location and current activity should be none of your goddamn business. (Yeah, I know this one will get love.)

When I was young, I walked the streets of downtown Vancouver at age 6. I took the bus on my own to the YMCA. After class there, I wandered around downtown before going home. As a teenager, I walked through Calcutta’s slums alone.

My parents knew where I was in very general terms, and I was expected to show up for meals and bedtime. Other than that, I did what I wanted outside of school.

Modern parents seem to have this idea that children are incapable of taking care of themselves. This may be true, if they are never given any freedom or the right to make their own decisions, but it’s not true otherwise.

So what I see is that modern adults get to 18 and suddenly the supervision stops and guess what? A lot of them are incapable.

The conversation around adulting is absurd. “Adulting” is simply the removal of close support and supervision. More of life is now up to you. (Minus, of course, your boss, who also has far more control over you than a boss did 40 years ago.)

This isn’t to say that taking care of oneself is necessarily easy. It’s harder now, in many countries (and especially in the US) than it was two generations back, because jobs are shittier, inequality is up and the social safety net has been reduced. No question, it’s harder. But it’s not harder than it was, say, in the 30s.

We are what we do. We become what we do. Children who are subject to constant monitoring, who cannot make their own decisions about what to do, who cannot be free, never learn to be free. When they are suddenly given the partial freedom we grant after high school, is it a surprise they don’t know how to “adult?”

Nor are children possessions. They are people. They deserve a reasonable amount of freedom, an amount that is far more than we currently grant in the US and Canada. The idea that they are incapable is ridiculous, for most of history, children (and certainly teenagers) had many of the same responsibilities as adults far younger than we now allow.

Yeah, it’s good we don’t have actual child (pre-pubescent) labor. It’s not good that we keep them firmly under thumb.

(And yeah, it’s not about danger. The danger is miniscule, and such danger as exists is almost all from family and other known adults, not from strangers.)

Children treated like they can’t make choices and can’t handle freedom will not learn how to make good choices or handle freedom.

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Who Bans or Encourages Crypto?

Iran, apparently, intends to legalize crypto.

India intends to ban it.

Iran needs a way to get money and resources in and out of the country, because it is under sanctions.

India has had a huge war on cash, ostensibly to crack down on corruption. (Well, partially that, but partially to give corporations a cut of every transaction.)

It’s fairly clear who is doing what, why.

Also, anyone who cracks down against cash is anti-freedom. This includes our otherwise decent Nordic brothers. Crypto isn’t actually a freedom technology, by the very nature of the ledger (tracking every transaction). It’s more naturally a totalitarian technology, we just haven’t caught up to the fact (just as drones are a weapon of the weak).

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