Surveillance Culture: A Double-Edged Sword

Woke Capitalism in bed with the Big State spells the end of freedom:

The surveillance state is alive and well. China leads the way here, as do all totalitarian societies. But the so-called free West is not far behind. Obviously, surveillance can be used for good or ill. The problem is, when the State becomes less good and more evil, we are all in big trouble with such technologies.

Surveillance technology in the hands of the state are a mixed blessing. We all may feel safer, for example, knowing that security cameras are in place, presumably to keep an eye on bad guys. Criminals can often be detected and caught when the authorities go over security camera footage and the like. So that is a good thing.

But as always, very real privacy issues arise here. Just how much are we willing to give up on various rights – including the right to privacy – in order to be kept safe, or at least to feel safe? Life in a fallen world is always about trade-offs, and we all put up with some infringement of our rights.

Most folks are willing to put up with lengthy security checks at airports for example if it means the likelihood of terrorism or plane-hijackings are greatly lessened as a result. So we will often compromise on certain goods (privacy and convenience, eg.) for other goods (safety and security, eg.)

But knowing where to draw the line and how far all this should go is always the tricky part. As I mentioned yesterday, in the name of keeping us safe from a virus, we are giving up more and more freedoms and basic liberties each passing month: billmuehlenberg.com/2021/08/06/the-rise-of-the-surveillance-state/

Our every move is already being monitored by QR tracking devices. You cannot go into a supermarket, a store, a restaurant, or some sporting event without your QR code. Claims that this information will never be shared and used for other purposes has already been shown to be false.

How much further will all this go? Mandatory vaccines and vaccine passports are already upon us in various quarters and are getting to be the norm more and more every passing day. The two-tiered society is already here. Health apartheid is now here, as I have documented: billmuehlenberg.com/2021/08/05/medical-apartheid-is-now-upon-us/

So let me look at another recent example of the double-edged sword of surveillance technology: Apple will now monitor all its phones for child abuse. As one report puts it:

Apple announced Thursday it is planning to scan all iPhones in the United States for child abuse imagery, raising alarm among security experts who said the plan could allow the firm to surveil tens of millions of personal devices for unrelated reasons.

 

In a blog post, the company confirmed reports saying that new scanning technology is part of a suite of child protection programs that would “evolve and expand.” It will be rolled out as part of iOS 15, which is scheduled for release sometime in August. www.theepochtimes.com/mkt_morningbrief/apple-will-scan-all-iphones-for-illegal-child-abuse-images-sparking-privacy-debate_3935633.html

Let me stop right there. Is child abuse – and child porn – a horrific and demonic thing? Absolutely. Should we do all we can to see it stopped? Well, mostly – but we must not make things worse in other regards in the process. Plenty of eyebrows have been raised at the collateral damage of something like this. The article continues:

But some security experts and researchers, who stressed they support efforts to combat child abuse, said the program could present significant privacy concerns. Ross Anderson, professor of security engineering at the University of Cambridge, described Apple’s proposed system as “an absolutely appalling idea,” according to the Financial Times. “It is going to lead to distributed bulk surveillance of … our phones and laptops,” he remarked.

 

When news of the proposal broke on Wednesday evening, John Hopkins University professor and cryptographer Matthew Green echoed those concerns. “This sort of tool can be a boon for finding child pornography in people’s phones,” Green wrote on Twitter. “But imagine what it could do in the hands of an authoritarian government?”

 

Green said that “if you believe Apple won’t allow these tools to be misused [crossed fingers emoji] there’s still a lot to be concerned about,” noting that such “systems rely on a database of ‘problematic media hashes’ that you, as a consumer, can’t review.” The expert told The Associated Press that he’s concerned Apple could be pressured by other, more authoritarian governments to scan for other types of information. www.theepochtimes.com/mkt_morningbrief/apple-will-scan-all-iphones-for-illegal-child-abuse-images-sparking-privacy-debate_3935633.html

Another article also raises obvious concerns, and helps to put things in perspective:

By law, American companies have to report child abuse and exploitation imagery on their servers to NCMEC, which then works with law enforcement on an investigation. Other tech giants do the same when emails or messages are sent over their platforms. That includes Google, Microsoft and Facebook. So why are so many privacy advocates up in arms about Apple’s announcement?

 

It’s because Apple is checking photos on your iPhone, not just on its own servers in the iCloud. It’s going one step beyond what its rivals have done, checking every photo on a device rather than just on a company server. (It’s also scanning images to check whether they’re of nude children, using a different technology, but that’s all done on the device and doesn’t go to Apple. A simple warning comes up, suggesting iPhone users may not want to send or view nude images.)

 

Alec Muffett, a noted encryption expert and former Facebook security staffer, explained on Twitter that when someone buys a phone, they expect to have control over what’s happening on their property. But Apple is denying that right and “although it ostensibly exists to prevent upload of CSAM to their iCloud platform, they are using the user’s device to do it and making the tectonic-shift statement that ‘it’s ok by us to do this sort of thing to user devices.’”

 

Muffett and other encryption experts like Johns Hopkins professor Matt Green and NSA leaker Edward Snowden have also raised the alarm that Apple could now be pressured into looking for other material on people’s devices, if a government demands it.

 

“How such a feature might be repurposed in an illiberal state is fairly easy to visualize. Apple is performing proactive surveillance on client-purchased devices in order to defend its own interests, but in the name of child protection,” Muffett added. “What will China want them to block?” www.forbes.com/sites/thomasbrewster/2021/08/06/apple-is-trying-to-stop-child-abuse-on-iphones-so-why-do-so-many-privacy-experts-hate-it/?sh=66dedc6a2fab

Exactly. And when Big Business or Big Government decide today that certain things are evil and must be stopped regardless of the collateral damage, there is no way it will stop with legitimate evils like child porn. Many in the Big State, Big Tech, and Big Business also firmly believe that all sorts of other ideas and groups are evil and must be harshly dealt with.

Conservatives and Christians have long been on the receiving end here. Those who question the climate alarmism, or Covid alarmism, the radical sexual agendas, or any other secular left narratives are increasingly being viewed as enemies who must be targeted.

‘But, but, but,’ the critics will say, ‘any move like this is justified if it ends child pornography.’ They think any negatives can simply be dismissed: ‘Anything that reduces child sexual abuse is well worth it.’ But if that is the case, then what will be the next step? Should we allow the authorities the right to enter any and every home, confiscate computers, and check everything we have ever done online – no questions asked?

This is the same mentality. To prevent an evil – in this case, child abuse or child porn – we need to take drastic steps, even if it means greatly infringing on basic human rights and liberties. It is ‘the end justifies the means’ mindset, and it sets a very dangerous precedent.

But some will glibly and foolishly say things like this: ‘Well, if you did nothing wrong, you have nothing to worry about.’ Um no, I am not buying that for a moment. I have no child porn on my computer, but that does not mean I will be peachy keen with allowing the State to come into my home, take away my computers, and look for anything they want.

When we get to that place, we are no longer free and democratic nations, but we are in deep and dark tyranny. Still, others will argue that Apple is a private company. These clueless wonders again miss the point. As Apple has said: “This innovative new technology allows Apple to provide valuable and actionable information to [the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children] and law enforcement regarding the proliferation of known CSAM.”

Obviously Big Business and Big State will have to be in full collusion here. What do you think Apple would do otherwise? Just tell the offending Apple user they have been a bad boy? Of course this info will be turned over to the police and other authorities.

Again, if real privacy concerns could be ensured, and ONLY genuine child pornographers and the like were targeted and prosecuted, that would be one thing. But this will NOT stop here. These same Tech Giants also see as evil a whole range of other ‘problematic’ folks, as I just mentioned.

Maybe those who question the climate cult narrative will be targeted next. Their phone calls and messages will be monitored, and the ‘guilty’ will be turned over to the relevant authorities for their punishment. This is exactly what is happening now in places like Communist China, and in a more limited form it is now happening in the West.

Joe Biden is already speaking of going after COVID recalcitrants, and the push for mandatory vaccinations and the like is all the rage in most Western nations. Those who dare to differ, to ask hard questions, and to challenge the narrative, are already being gone after. Monitoring their every phone call and message will be just one part of this.

Woke capitalism coupled with the Total State is the stuff of dystopian novels, and we are seeing all this being played out right now. There is no end to where all this is going. I repeat: Is going after child abuse a good thing? Yes. But as always, we must weigh up the benefits with the costs.

If ‘keeping us safe’ – be it from child porn or the Rona or pesky Christians and their ‘outdated morality’ – means the end of our liberties and the suppression of our civil rights, then we must slow down and think things through a bit more carefully.

If not, the West really has signed its own death warrant.

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11 Replies to “Surveillance Culture: A Double-Edged Sword”

  1. On the child porn area it is very problematic for a couple extra reasons 1) there is the LEGAL definition of child porn, child exploitative material, child erotica (which seems to have a very subjective definition) and there is the SOCIETAL definition of them. They are NOT the same. Famous photographers have take NON-pornographic pics of children, Jock Strurges, Sally Mann etc, and while not legally KP they meet society’s definition which is an nude of a child. (Society’s obsession with sex and sexualization of everything including children plays a big part of that view). So which definition will apple use? Or will all nudes even known artistic ones be reported??? What about clothed children?? Child porn can include clothed children in the right instances. If you have ANY pics of children on your phone like your kids nephews and nieces or grandkids would you be reported by Apple?

    Just the accusation, even when you are cleared because it was unfounded, is enough to destroy a person’s reputation and career and life. AND let’s not forget they can download to your phone like with updates so who’s to say they wouldn’t PUT the KP on your phone because you are on some list of dissidents or subversives?

    People may think if it catches one pervert but what about the ones for whom the “evidence” was downloaded to their phone by Apple? How many innocents will they be comfortable with getting caught up in this for the sake of ONE pervert? Isn’t also amazing how their tune changes when THEY are the innocent caught up. These same people wouldn’t speak up in Nazi Germany because it wasn’t there group being oppressed but were shocked NO-ONE spoke up when they were finally the ones being oppressed. (I won’t stand for your rights but you MUST stand for mine!)

    They are trying to push smart houses on people complete with cameras everywhere. Will those companies start watching you and reporting you or even communicating with you in real time??? Can Google and Apple turn on their home devices , air or pod etc, and just listen to you?? Maybe report an antivax conversation? Could they record your voice and synthesize it to make you say things you never said? Remember deep fakes are getting harder and harder to distinguish from real. They could record you saying something or doing something and send it to authorities they are working with.

    It’s one thing to have your own private security cameras and offer it to police to help it is and to be REQUIRED to give it to them and quite another to have the state own and operate it’s own massive surveillance system you the tax payer have no say on or control over.

    They have phone tracking apps but for tracking a person it is only useful IF they keep their phone with them. I can see them want a permanent solution that has your health and financial info on it and can track you (in case you get lost and need to be rescued) and everything else LITERALLY in the palm of you hand. Gee what could we call such a device?

  2. I’d be interested in Bill’s views on the biblical basis of the right to privacy. I do have a bias in favor of Law Enforcement in the Western World tracking Child Exploitation Material, though not supporting the ends justifies the means.

  3. Thanks Bruce. As I said in my piece, there is a place for surveillance in some areas, including going after those into child porn and abuse, etc. As to the biblical basis for privacy rights, that requires a longer discussion. So stay tuned, and an article on this will be up shortly. When it is, I will notify you of it.

  4. Hello Bill / all,
    It’s not yet a case of “You cannot go into a supermarket, a store, a restaurant, or some sporting event without your QR code”, thankfully (even here in Victoria).
    My personal mobile is not a smartphone (I’ve never had a reason to buy one yet, and am now looking to avoid this as long as I can), and so when I go into the Post Office, supermarket, and some retail shops and cafes, there is still the manual check-in option. Just make sure you ask for the manual check-in option.
    Interestingly, when I use the manual check-in form, I note some people have put down a mobile number as their contact number, so I wonder if / how many smartphone users are using the manual option?

    Unfortunately, it’s different for community groups to commercial. They are required to use the QR code, or Kiosk (although I have emailed the Vic Department of Health and got a reply that the manual check-in form is permitted as an absolute last resort).
    That being said, at the church I’m at (which is normally conservative), they have shown no interest in using the manual check-in form but readily comply with the QR code request.

    A copy of the manual check-in form can be downloaded from: https://www.coronavirus.vic.gov.au/sites/default/files/2021-06/Manual-check-in-register-%2808Jun21%29.pdf for those who want to make use of it.

    Regards,
    John

  5. Thanks John. My point of course was you cannot get into most places without signing in one way or another. Right now you may be allowed to sign in manually, but for how long? The issue is, all our movements are being tracked. That is how tyrannies operate, not free societies.

  6. Bill, most shopping centres and stores do not provide staff to check you’ve scanned in a QR code or manually signed in. Thus the requirement is mandatory in theory, less so in practice. The public is not, as I understand the legislation, required to hunt around and track down whoever or wherever the alternative to Big Brother QR code tracking exists. Rather the imperative is on businesses to ensure that customers are tracked. If they neglect their government mandated duty that is their problem, not ours.

    Privacy still exists, unofficially.

  7. Thanks Andrew. Yes I know, but I have nonetheless been in plenty of shops that DO have staff checking on these very things! As with John, you may be missing the real point here. Right now there are not armed guards standing at every shop, demanding your papers. The key phrase here is “not yet”. Today we have almost all shoppers being asked to provide their identity to get into most shops and stores and businesses (at least here in Victoria). And in many cases people are being denied entry if they fail to do so. But that is today. What of tomorrow? That is the whole point. The incremental loss of freedoms is always how these things develop. How long before the heavy hand of the law is found everywhere in this regard, with even more shoppers being turned away?

  8. Will they soon be barging in to ensure you are MASKED and SOCIAL DISTANCING in you own home????

    You’re sitting 2 inches too close to grandma so you have to be arrested. You left that mask down 3 seconds too long after taking a bite – a swat team is on it’s way!

  9. Bruce van der Graaf I’m very much with the police too BUT anyone given too much power will abuse it – it is human nature. I generally dislike the terms “child exploitative material” and “child erotica” as in practice they can be used for innocent and abhorrent pictures. The terms, unless strictly defined, leave room for interpretation which leave room for abuse of the terms.

    If I have a son say who is 10 severely autistic and thus still diapered and I have pictures of him on my phone some could easy call them exploitative or erotica since there are some adults that get off on being diapered. Even though nothing is wrong just the accusation would ruin me much less some overzealous judge and prosecutor. Or say I work with youth swim teams and take photos for their page and for the athletes would some zealot cop and prosecutor try to say it is exploitative or the only reason I would have it is sexual??

    It is not Apple’s job to look at your phone and report what IT think is suspicious to authorities and HOPE they do their job and don’t jump to a conclusion based on the supposed victim being a child and then make the evidence fit. (we all love kids and sometimes that makes us pronounce guilt on someone accused of harming a child that we would wait and see if they were accused of harming an adult. We can’t put the noose before the gavel we must be certain lest we ruin many people’s lives.)

    Let Apple report everything and let the police sort it out is a attitude akin to shoot them all and let God sort it out. You will get some bad guy but way too many innocents get caught up in it too. Don’t forget the satanic daycare scandals of the 80’s and 90’s. And the false accusations brought as a result of interview techniques used on children. Police are just as susceptible to moral panic and moral outrage as the average man is.

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