Markkula Center of Applied Ethics

Traces of Ourselves: The Ethics & Politics of Databases

Listen: Audio clips from the event

The following is a transcript of a panel discussion held at Santa Clara University May 16, 2006, and sponsored by the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics and the Center for Science, Technology and Society.

Participants were:

  • Mitch Kapor, founder of Lotus Development Corp. and president and chair of Open Source Applications Foundation
  • John Arquilla, professor of Defense Analysis at the Naval Postgraduate School
  • S. Leigh Star, senior scholar at SCU's Center for Science, Technology, and Societ
  • Kirk Hanson, executive director of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, panel moderator

KIRK HANSON: Welcome to this evening's panel discussion: Traces of Ourselves: The Ethics and Politics of Databases. Let me just make one or two comments to set up the panel discussion tonight. The news last week that the NSA was compiling a database of all the phone calls made inside the U.S. and then using data mining techniques to search these records makes it clear why this discussion is important. Many profound ethical and political issues have been raised by this development and others regarding databases.

How do we balance privacy and national security? Will these new tools of electronic record keeping and data mining be used to preserve American freedom or diminish it?
One of the scholars working in this field cited eight trends in databases that set the backdrop for this:

  • Number one, the increasing size, they're getting bigger, as we see particularly with the NSA database.
  • Number two, they're compiling and putting together increasing amounts of personal information about each of us.
  • Number three, they're increasingly invisible, collecting their data by absorption and somehow in hidden ways.
  • Fourth, there is the increasing circulation and sharing of those databases.
  • Five, there is increasing coordination, matching and applying databases to one another.
  • Six, there's the increasing commercialization, i.e. selling of information from these databases.
  • Seven, increasing sophistication of access mechanisms which move away from merely enquiring of the data, but instead finding ways of identifying patterns in the data.
  • And the last trend is, there's a focus on improving security for the database owners, but not necessarily for consumers and those whose data is in the databases.

That's just a sense of the trends that set the backdrop for this discussion. What do we make of the new, phenomenon of databases that will play such a major role in our lives in the years ahead?

We have an extraordinary panel to talk about this and to raise for us the questions that have to be matters for our public agendas in the years ahead.

Mitch Kapor is the president and chair of the Open Source Applications Foundation, a non profit organization he founded in 2001 to promote the development and acceptance of high quality application software, developed and distributed using open source methods and licenses.

He's widely known as the founder of the Lotus Development Corporation and the designer of Lotus 1 2 3, perhaps the first killer app which made the personal computer ubiquitous in its usefulness for business during the 1980's. He's been at the forefront of the IT revolution for a generation as an entrepreneur, an investor, a social activist and a philanthropist.

In 1990 he co founded the Electronic Frontier foundation and served as its Chairman until 1994. EFF is a non profit civil liberties organization working in the public interest to protect privacy, free expression and access to public information online as well as to promote responsibility in the new media. EFF is presently involved in a lawsuit against the federal government over the data gathering activities of the NSA.

John Arquilla is professor of Defense Analysis at the Graduate School of Operational and Information Sciences at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey in California and is one of the leading experts on the use of IT by the U.S. military. He is appearing here today not as a representative of the Navy. His views are his alone and not those of the U.S. Navy or the military.
He's been a consultant to the Pentagon on the Total Information Awareness data gathering project. He's a senior consultant for the Rand Corporation and frequently appears as a commentator on TV news and the pages of such papers as the San Francisco Chronicle. Professor Arquilla is the author of many books and works including Networks and Net Wars: The Future of Terror, Crime and Militancy and In Athena's Camp: Preparing for Conflict in the Information Age.
Our third panelist, S. Leigh Star, is senior scholar at the Center for Science, Technology at Santa Clara, where she's also a visiting professor of computer engineering. She's been professor in the Department of Communication, U.C. San Diego and a professor of Information Science at the graduate school of Library and Information Sciences at University of Illinois, Urbana, Champagne.
She is president of the Society for the Social Studies of Science, the four S organization, an international group that coordinates research on science, technology and society. For many years she's worked with computer and information scientists and has also studied work practice organizations, scientific communities and their decisions and the way that they use information infrastructure.

She's written extensively on these topics, including such works as Boundary Objects and the Poetics of Infrastructure, and with Geoff Bowker, Sorting Things Out: Classification and it's Consequences, which particularly applies to databases.
Our first speaker will be Mitch Kapor.

MITCH KAPOR: Thank you so much for inviting me to participate in the panel. The Markkula Center, I assume that's Mike Markkula?

MALE VOICE: It is.

KAPOR: I want to frame my remarks by talking for one moment about the origins of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and why we started it because they bear on this issue of warrantless wiretapping that we're facing right now. EFF was founded by me and by John Perry Barlow to protect the rights of citizens in the digital realm, to protect civil liberties, freedom of speech and privacy, freedom from unreasonable search and seizure on the Internet and on computer networks.

Barlow, who was much more the poetic of the two of us, used to say we brought the Bill of Rights into cyberspace, suggesting maybe that that was some special physical realm distinct from the world that we actually lived in. I would always come on after John and explain to people, "Well what John really meant to say," and I would try to calm people down and talk about the imbalance that exists when the government overreaches in the face of issues and problems. In 1990, that overreaching was in the prosecutions of computer hackers who were breaking into computer networks and causing problems.

The big issue was that there was no understanding and no proportionality about what the appropriate response was to that because virtually all of that was the equivalent of vandalism-not 100 percent of it, but most of it. Yet it was being treated like it was some sort of crime of violence, and they would go after the perpetrators-this is the Secret Service and other government agencies-in an attempt to lock them up and throw away the key.

We felt a moral urgency about intervening, in fact creating an organization, raising this discourse and saying, look, civil liberties are at stake here; we can't just pretend they don't exist. Ignorance of the new technology is not an excuse.

We did a lot of good because it changed the dialogue; it legitimized the kinds of questions that we're asking ourselves today. On the one hand we could put the current controversy about warrantless wiretapping and the data mining of telephone records into very much the same frame as some of the high rhetoric of the early 1990s were about hackers.

It is actually pretty outrageous that unbeknownst to any of us, the phone companies-perhaps not all of them, but presumably AT&T, Verizon and others-were, in secret, without telling us, violating our agreements with them as customers, turning over, without any legal process whatsoever the record of all of the calls each and every one of us have made for some unspecified time.

There was an AT&T employee who came forward-this is all allegedly. This may or may actually all come out, but this is the way the story is coming out. EFF got involved, there are multiple lawsuits and we could easily feel really violated to think that a record, not the calls themselves, but who we called and when and for how long, and the entire pattern of that is sitting in some set of computers.

You don't have to be paranoid to imagine that various very bad things could happen besides the stated purpose of "catching Al Qaeda", because if you understand the history of what has happened with that kind of surveillance and analysis without accountability, there's a long pattern of abuse in all the areas in which this has happened. I won't go into it, but it reinforces the notion that we can't and shouldn't trust government and there's a sort of flagrant flouting and abuse of the laws that were put in place, and we have to stop this. It's important for everybody to get on top of it because this is so utterly disproportionate and beyond the bounds of what is legal and what is appropriate.

You might stop and say, that's all there is to it. After several years of EFF, I came to the conclusion that all this was certainly the case, and I'm a supporter of the lawsuit that EFF is bringing. I'm not an officer on the board of it right now. I also think there are aspects to this which are extremely important to bring out, and that's what I want to spend the last four or five minutes on.

I don't think that the kind of framing that I gave you is all there is to say about this, and the problem is, in the current, highly partisan atmosphere, it is impossible to get to a set of questions that I think are very, very important. You have spin now on all sides. Government makes their case: "We're going after the bad guys. You have to trust us. Believe me, we're not doing anything we shouldn't be doing here."

Then the civil liberties people say: "This is the law, you broke the law, you can't do this, this is black and white, open and shut." What don't get asked are a set of questions like the following: Are the current laws suitable for an era in which technology has changed very, very rapidly? If you understand and I think we all do, that the technology has changed dramatically, maybe the best way to put it is: It is now possible to do various types of wholesale activities including data mining and monitoring of lots and lots of things at once. The laws covering wiretapping were written in the era when there was the FBI guy up in the attic with a set of headphones on. It is an interesting question to ask whether we need to be looking at the laws and are they still suitable for the purposes for which they were intended or not.

Another question which never gets asked is what our legitimate security interests are, and what does security reside in? I'm very unhappy to have national security defined by George Bush and Dick Cheney. It forces me to support organizations that take them to court for breaking the law and maybe impeaching them. It wouldn't be a bad thing, but it does not leave any room for a discussion about where is security? What is the meaning of it in this day and age? How do we go about getting that? What have we done? What do we need to do differently?

It's not even on the table and it's not in Congress either. Something is really lost when the atmosphere is partisan, which it is, when the laws are broken, when the technology changes rapidly. What we've really lost is the democratic discourse about this, the ability to talk with as much openness as possible. I would agree, not everything in these matters can be completely open, but I think it could be much, much more open than it is to talk about what the laws should be, what our interests are, and in a way that people on both sides who have interests are not attempting to club the other side into submission or appeal to popular emotions, but are really trying to get at a deeper understanding of how we're going to live together as a society and how we secure ends which are very important to us, which is a measure of security and a measure of privacy.

My quest in this is not to be a partisan for one side or the other (although, because I have an opinion and I've told you what it is, it would be incredibly insincere to say that I didn't have a view on this) but to ask how can we as a society move beyond this very stuck state we're in right now and get a little bit deeper in terms of our understanding of what the issues really are.

JOHN ARQUILLA: Thank you all for being here tonight. My personal philosophy aside from staying hydrated is: a well informed public is the basis of sound policy, and I want to second Mitch Kapor's comments on that point. This is an issue that lies well beyond red and blue. It is political but I think must be approached in a non partisan way if we're going to get any purchase on arriving at good solutions.

I'm also grateful to be speaking in the setting of an ethics center. Why is it good to be speaking in an ethics center? Because ethics for me is about living in the gray zone. It's not easily defined as black or white. Ethics is the light that pokes a little bit of hole in the darkness, as Robert Luis Stephenson once said about the lamp lighters in foggy London. It gives us a handhold for thinking about where to find that equilibrium between security and privacy. That's not a firm, clear line, particularly not in the time that we live in. We're now in the fifth year of the first great war between nations and networks-nations on one side, a variety of networks on the other.

Networks don't have a particular homeland; they're distributed in many different countries, including this one. The nations are following the old traditions of many centuries and obviously continuing to do so in the years since this war began. We've basically kept trying to solve the problem of terror networks by attacking other nations, and I'm here to suggest to you that that's simply a case of taking a hammer to a ball of quicksilver.

The problem with databases is very much like that as well in terms of the approach that has been taken, which is to gather up every last bit of information you possibly can and then begin to try to find something useful in it. While I'm very sympathetic to Mitch's point about the civil liberties issues, I would add to it the practical issue, which is that submerging yourself in an ocean of data is hardly the way to do good pattern analysis or traffic analysis of what the bad guys are up to. In fact by getting the calling records of all of you and me and others, what are we doing? We're going to create a situation where we will generate more of what are called false positives than Carter has liver pills. I think this is going to be a setback for the intelligence gathering process.
Let me urge you all and all of us to listen in the coming days for some discussion of people in officialdom saying, "Well we're not just randomly going through all of this data. We wait until we have some kind of clue and then try to focus on that clue and then access the data." In previous decades this was commonly done on the basis of getting a warrant first to do it. Here, as Mitch rightly points out, we have an ambiguous legal situation and a fairly rapacious attitude on the part of many in the intelligence community about grabbing whatever they can.

They have approached the problem and cyberspace in a very traditional way, but the electronic frontier is a little bit different from what came before and submerging yourself in this data is, in my view, going to be highly counter productive.

How could we do things a little better? I think the first step indeed is to try to open a dialogue that goes beyond red and blue. I go all over this country talking to audiences and I'm struck by how many people already know what they think, and I wonder why I go talk to audiences if they already know what they think?

I believe my job is to raise questions. You already raised the important question about this equilibrium between security and privacy. I think another important question is what is the most efficient way to go after our adversaries? In this regard I'll suggest to you that I believe data mining has enormous potential. Our opponents are distributed over 60 countries. They move their money all over the world. They move information about cover, safe houses, training, recruitment etc. They live on that electronic frontier. In some respects I think of it as an electronic wilderness. When I walk on the beach in Monterey, I always have this sense that I'm on the edge of the largest wilderness in the world, the ocean, right? There is a virtual wilderness too and it's out there in this infosphere, lots of which is comprised of cyberspace. How does one navigate this? What are the most effective means? Data mining can be very, very good if it is coupled with excellent field investigation and other tools that are used in the intelligence business. As I suggested before, used by itself it will be very counterproductive, but used in conjunction with careful intelligence and police work, the potential is enormous.

I'm sorry to say to you that I can't give you examples of things that have worked. I can give you a little bit, Khalid Shaikh Mohammad is one of those people we were watching and doing the traffic analysis on. He was very senior in the Al Qaeda organization and after a point there's always an intelligence decision to be made, to keep watching or to capture somebody. After a certain amount of time he was captured and even more information was gathered. There are a handful of those. I can't really give you more of those that are not in the public record, lest you all be detained an I wouldn't want anyone else to be guests at Guantanamo.

There is a place for data mining, the bête noir of all of this is Admiral John Poindexter who graduated first in his class almost a half century ago from the naval academy, was a computer scientist when computers were as big as this room and thought about these issues and continues to think about them. He has a built in ethical meter (which, if you remember his past from Iran Contra I guess sometimes gets switched off) but that built in meter is his wife, who is an Episcopal priest and he's a lively, intelligent man. I've done a little bit of work for this TIA program, which started out as total information awareness and became later on, terrorism informational awareness.

TIA is sort of the dark side of the coin from EFF. In any event I don't think I successfully encouraged TIA in the right directions and was sacked from the project shortly before it was totally shut down. You may recall the final nail in the coffin was creating an electronic marketplace where people could bet on nasty events, like the assassination of particular leaders, and this was a mayhem future, as I called it. There were ridiculous, tone deaf ideas.

At the heart of TIA is the notion of being able to move in that electronic wilderness in wise ways, because that's really the only way we're going to get at our opponents. We spend nearly $1 billion every single week on intelligence in this country, most of it for satellites, big … ears that can listen to things and cameras that can take pictures of ships and planes and tanks.

In other words, most of it is spent for things that are of absolutely no use to us anymore. Part of this nonpartisan debate I'd like to see emerge, would be some discussion of how to reformulate American intelligence. Now unfortunately our big organizational change was to create yet another huge hierarchy, the NID, which simply reinforces the old ways of thinking, and frankly just a few pennies on each dollar of the intelligence budget goes to help us explore that electronic wilderness. That is criminal negligence in my view.

You mentioned hackers earlier, Mitch, and I think it is a shame in this country that a hacker can do more time than an armed robber, in many cases. In fact the relations between civil authority and hackers are terrible, and they're almost as bad as those between labor and management in hockey. It's a terrible, terrible situation. Why is this a tragedy? Who are the rangers of that virtual wilderness? Who knows where the information is better than anyone else in the whole world? The hacker does.

Thankfully, my masters have given me permission to get to know some of the people in that community; the number of true master hackers who move through virtual space the way you and I walk through this room is actually very small. They're remarkable people who are drawn to the beauty and complexity of cyberspace, and they're people who'd like to help, for the most part. However we have this terrible relationship, and I've suggested, including on the record, both written and spoken, that we need to recruit hackers and treat them today like we did the German rocket scientists after WW2.

I don't want to betray my age, when I was a young lad, about 50 years ago, my great hero was Werner Von Braun, the great German rocket scientist who gave us the space program. What was going on? Until the end of WW2 he was bombing the allies with ballistic missiles and cruise missiles, the first ones, and yet he became a great American hero. I remember reading his biography, I Aim For The Stars and the subtitle should have been: But Sometimes I Hit London. That didn't stop Von Braun from becoming a great American hero. The hackers don't have to become great American heroes, but they should be cultivated the way the rocket scientists were. We weren't the only ones hiring rocket scientists after WW2; so were the Soviets and that was of course fuelling a great arms race. Right now there are others who are racing, who are recruiting master hackers and we're not. We're not in that race at all yet, and it seems to me one of those terrible missed opportunities especially because we could both end the pariah status of people who, again, are drawn out of intellectual curiosity to this realm that is so very, very important to us.

I'm going to try to follow Mitch's example and not go too much longer, so let me just share a couple of thoughts here and I'll give way to Leigh. The war we're in now has a dynamic different from any other war. Warfare used to be about the clash of massed forces who would grapple with each other and try to find some advantage: turning a flank, attacking by surprise, etc.

The dynamic of this war is not about the clash of masses, of "ignorant armies on a darkling plane," as Matthew Arnold said. This is a war where the fundamental dynamic is hiders/finders. If you have any sense of a lack of urgency about this, let me just ask you this: We're in the fifth year of this war. We know that all kinds of Hoover vacuum data collection has been done on the bad guys. So, how are we doing, as Mayor Koch used to say?

If this indiscriminate data vacuuming approach actually worked, we'd already have won the war. Let me go back to the WW2 example: From very early on both the Japanese and German codes were broken. There was a huge information advantage. It wasn't just the triumph of mass against the Axis Powers. It was a triumph of information and knowledge, driven by early forms of high performance computing.

Our performance today is shameful in that realm. We know a thimbleful. Yes, we have a few triumphs here and there, but in the main we could have had a V8 these past several years; we could have done much, much better.

There is, I think, some time to do better, but don't be lulled by the notion that "this is a long war," as Secretary Rumsfeld called it. I don't think we have the luxury of decades here. Why is that? How long will it take before a terror network has true WMDs? How many nuclear weapons would Al Qaeda have to possess in order to coerce us into whatever they wanted? One? Or zero if we believed they had one or two? It doesn't matter that the Russians have 7,000 strategic warheads today because if they hit us, we hit them. What's that insurance company, Mafia Mutual? You hit us, we hit you.

That doesn't obtain when your opponent is a network. You've got nothing to retaliate against. Indeed if there's ever going to be a nuclear Napoleon, he's going to be in a network. I also want to suggest to you the urgency to figure out this equilibrium between security and privacy and to get serious about doing the data mining that will help us track financial flows, the movement of operatives, and give us a chance to win this hiders/finders war that we're in the middle of, that we're so bad at so far.

Maybe it will encourage us to stop trying to beat a network by attacking other nations; that doesn't seem to have worked very well either. It's not so much a war on terror as terror's war on us.

One closing thought: We're going to hear a lot about Big Brother in the days ahead and it is Orwellian and it's inefficient and it's behavior that has to stop. I think there is a model already out there and that is Little Brother. Little Brother in the commercial sector already data mines in innovative, often brilliant ways.

That's a model worth exploring. It's one of those areas where we can find that equilibrium point, learn from the best practices that are out there and by all means and above else, clean up our own act first. Thank you for your patience with me.

S. LEIGH STAR: I'm going to deviate a little from what has gone before, but I think in the same spirit. Both Mitch and John have looked to the past and to whether the present technology that we have is up to what we're doing. I've spent some time in the past asking those questions about big old forms of IT that often are not very high tech, or by working with people who are making this stuff or using this stuff and trying to find out if they're talking to each other, which they aren't. It's also an old question in terms of social sciences. I'm a sociologist, and there are lots of aspects of the debate that's happening now that relate to the oldest question of all: What makes us free and what makes us caged?

Max Weber, a sociologist, talked about the iron cage of bureaucracy at the end of the 19th century, beginning of the 20th century, and by that he meant, can we ever be free now that we've built all these incredible bureaucracies and reporting systems and lists and ways that constrain us from or natural selves? That became a phrase that is, to this day, very common in sociology.

We also have in the 20th Century a lot of hype, and hype, as I've often said, is one of the conditions that we work in. But there's also a lot of truth to new worlds of free information and knowledge through connectivity. I Google, you Google.... It makes a difference to daily practice. We're also at a moment, as both the previous panelists have talked about, where there's a loss of privacy, a new kind of iron cage of data mining and surveillance, new infrastructures, not just new systems coming together that are newly convergent….[Speaker plays an on-line video from the ACLU about ordering a pizza and privacy erosion.]

One of the things I've been doing over the past few years is asking a question: What is infrastructure anyway? What does it mean when these different kinds of small and large infrastructures begin to converge? I have a lot to say about it, but the most important thing for this talk is that infrastructure is a very complicated thing. It's not just like the plumbing to the water that you turn on; it's not just the roads that you drive the car on or the railroad that you drive the car on.

It's learned as part of membership, and you learn it as a member of a community of practice, whether that be as a child, as we usually do, or later on if you move to a new country, you know that you have to learn every little piece of new infrastructure. I remember completely losing it after moving to England when a key to the Fiat that I just bought didn't work like any key I'd ever seen in America. I just went hysterical and walked two miles home up a hill because I couldn't take one more thing that wasn't the same as the infrastructure I was used to.
Nobody is really in charge of all infrastructure. There's no centralized processing bureau to deal with infrastructure and partly for that reason and partly because it wasn't built that way, it can't be fixed globally; it's fixed in modules. All the things that we're talking about here have these qualities, which are important when we're thinking about new laws, new ways of doing infrastructure; making it something that's alive or at least something that we can be negotiating about.
I've learned most of that originally from the Americans With Disabilities Act and from the disabled community: One person's infrastructure is another's barrier. We know, therefore (and this is speaking metaphorically but not that metaphorically), people in other infrastructures create new workarounds, new infrastructures. This is a wonderful thing. I just actually found today on Google a 3D imaging program that identifies enough body heat from someone sitting in a chair waiting in an elevator, so they don't have to press buttons, which is often problematic for people in chairs. This [referring to a slide] is somewhere in West Africa just going along or against the traffic, or as the case may be, using a wheelchair in a way we don't often see here, or a standing wheelchair. People who live in different relationships to different infrastructures create different understandings.

I want to step back and look even further at some even more basic processes related to these kinds of questions, not specifically wheelchairs and not specifically pizza, but about infrastructures and in this case specially about information infrastructures. Geoff Bowker and I have spent many years studying large scale infrastructures, as I mentioned, old and slow infrastructures. One of the things that we studied was the formation of a global system of data collection for diseases: the International Classification of Diseases.

I'm going to talk about four F's [in this regard]. The first one is forming. This is a moment in time where there are a lot of alternatives about how to speak about [illness, for example] the process of getting old and a lot of different adjectives, a lot of different modes and feelings that subsequently have gone away. This is from the 1930's: a tabular list of conditions related to old age and senility. I really feel a loss because you no longer can die of being worn out, and I think we should bring that back, especially those of us that work in universities. You can't even die of old age; you have to have some kind of specific cause: a germ, a gene, a condition, an accident.
The second kind of F is for processes of fossilizing. Now this doesn't always happen but it happens frequently enough and I think this is the moment that this begins to happen that the surveillance coupled with fossilizing becomes urgent to us. By fossilizing I mean different information systems begin to delete alternatives, like you can't die of old age anymore.

This is a picture of a passbook carried by a black African man under Apartheid, and under that regime there were four and only four racial categories: white, black African, Asian or colored, which was some mixture, and there were privileges given to people according to race. I could go on about that, but data was filed by those four rigid areas, collected by those areas and in addition, speaking of fieldwork and getting out there, people were slotted into living areas, types of jobs, access to education. It was a life and death condition for people that lived under Apartheid-sometimes for white people, mostly not.

The third F is fermenting. The consolidation of different points of view, different worlds leads sometimes to two fossilized worldviews coming together or something like the loss of a category such as senility. Sometimes social movements can overturn aspects of fossilized systems. In 1973 the American Psychiatric Association de medicalized homosexuality. It was no longer automatically an illness to be gay or lesbian.

…AIDS is another example of the kind of things that ferment around different fossilized forms, particularly of medicine, which is what I know best. There are always local workarounds for data entry and retrieval, most of which never make it into the formal record and which you can only know if you work in a place or if you're a sociologist that has an eye to such things.

This is such a perfect example of a workaround I couldn't resist it: These are high heels. Often women are forced to wear them, or at least in the past were; I don't wear them anymore. But what's interesting is yesterday in my mail came Nordstrom's latest catalogue which has in it six different devices that are workarounds for helping you wear these things, which are not made to be worn by any human feet. These little pads and things you can put between your toes and things that stop the pain of the strap, you get the idea. I mean shoes are funny, but in this case also it's a metaphor for large scale information systems where standards that don't work for most people's feet, most people's whatever box you want to tick off, are met with concrete workarounds and I'll finish this very quickly with an anecdote.

A friend of mine who's an academic in Massachusetts undertook to be psychoanalyzed, which is very expensive. When she first started it, Massachusetts would pay for about 10 sessions a year, a considerable amount of money still. Every year she and her therapist would get together and decide on the category that they could put down [in her medical record] so that if in the future-and they were thinking of this kind of subpoenaing of records or data mining or something-if she were targeted for any reason, what could they put down that wouldn't be too bad to find on her record? You don't want schizophrenia etc. They finally found the perfect category, which is obsessive compulsive. Now those of you that are professors will know exactly what I mean, those of you that have ever been to college or had to work with us also know that you will never get fired for being obsessive compulsive in your job as a professor.

The last F: fissioning, where many different kinds of category systems, and I don't mean this in the Maoist thousand, million flowers blooming, but many different kinds of data collection systems travel side by side and are used side by side.

Skipping over this quickly, I'll just speak to one which is the question of ethnic data collection and whether it's a good thing or a bad thing. This year, of our incoming class, 23 percent of students declined to state their race which is a double-edged sward. For those of us who believe one should never be identified by race in the best of all possible worlds, that's good. From the point of view of identity politics and people trying to figure out what kind of school they're going to be coming to and all kinds of other things, including humanitarian ones, which are pretty big on this campus, it's a terrible thing. So how do you balance those two things? This tradeoff is working everywhere, not just at SCU but NIH and the Census Bureau, lots of different kinds of places. It's a really serious tradeoff.

Let me finish. I'm not a Catholic, I'm not even a Christian, but here I am and I work here and I've learned some things from the people around me. I should attribute most of this to John Staudenmaier, S.J., who spent a year last year at our center. I've learned a way of thinking that might be a little bit more on the gray side, a little bit more on the ethics side, that I do feel awards this particular group the status of community. What John taught me is that Jesuits believe that the world is good before it is evil, that knowing knowledge, I guess you could also say information and initiation are lifelong. Darkness and uncertainty may be holy or obscuring or both and that discernment with trust keeps knowledge alive as it has in this community for more than 400 years, so thank you very much.

Questions and Answers

Audience members presented written questions to the moderator, Kirk Hanson, who fielded them to the panelists

HANSON: Let me ask one of these questions which is a very broad one at first, which I think will set up the others and that is, should we no longer expect to have privacy in the Internet age and the database age? Or will technology provide us a way, eventually, of indeed achieving both the benefits of databases and our own personal privacy? How do you all see the future at this point? Is there an inevitable trade off between the two?

KAPOR: It's always mystified me that there are a minority of people who think that we should just get over the idea of having any privacy. Included in that group would be science fiction author David Brin and the former CEO of Sun Microsystems Scott McNeely. I mean it seems to me that privacy is something worth struggling for because people have a right to be let alone. It feels like a fundamental freedom not to have to conduct one's entire life in the sight of goodness knows who.

I guess people differ about what they feel is important, and people also differ about whether they think there's some technological determinism here, that, whether we like it or not, would make privacy impossible. I no longer believe that technology determines anything. It's what we invent and what we chose to do with it.

I think we want to keep our privacy, even though the boundary of what is private and not is certainly going to change. I'm not a historian or a scholar, but I understand in the Middle Ages, everybody lived in one room and the boundaries between work and family life are not what they are today. If you owned some sort of, not a business, but a craft or you had apprentices, everybody lived together. We have boundaries that are different today. No doubt boundaries will change again, but those people who feel it's important to be able to have insides and outsides and give people choices about them, have to do something to be prepared to see that the technology and the policy don't run in a direction that makes it impossible.

ARQUILLA: Let me just second that and go to Mitch's earlier point about laws needing to catch up. We can have privacy if we chose to protect it, and I think that's the key. This point about technological determinism has to be avoided. You can't simply accept; we do retain choice. I would also say, in terms of the state of technology today, those who would encrypt their data have a huge advantage over those who would intrude upon it, and that means all of you, too, thanks to other people at Sun Microsystems like Whit Diffie and some others who gave strong encryption to the people. Even at a technological level, I don't think the game is over either, but we have to begin, I think, with the choice that privacy is a value and it's one that we will protect.

STAR: I think like other values it's unbound in the abstract. It always exists in relationship to something, some action, some community. We need to think about that. I also think we don't need to be killed with the death of 1,000 blows. Just this week I got my 11 millionth thing from Capital One giving me a line of credit, and I finally said, all right I'm going to do the opt out thing. The opt out thing took well over an hour of my time, will cost me two stamps, figuring out where an envelope the right size is, etc., and that's just one opt out. There's no global delete as we might say in databases for a lot of these things.

HANSON: The second question has to do with the positive aspects of data mining. John referred to Little Brother as perhaps a model. What do you all see, each of you, as positive trends or positive uses of data mining that point us to a better future?

KAPOR: Many of the most interesting new consumer Internet services use a form of data mining in aggregating together lots and lots and lots of individual preferences in ways that are more globally useful. I mean [things like] the book recommendation function at Amazon, people who bought this book also bought…, and it lists some titles. I think a lot of people actually find that to be highly useful and that the trade off that my Amazon purchases go into that database, although they're not known to be by me because the data is all taken together in the aggregate, is useful. We're really just at the beginning of that. This whole idea of the wisdom of crowds or the appropriate aggregation of large amounts of many individual preferences has incredibly valuable information is really at the heart of all the music recommendation services and a new generation of services that are helpful in doing content discovery on the Internet.

So, I think there's a good future in that with appropriate safeguards as in, you can opt out of the system entirely and a safeguard that the individually identifying information is guarded and protected. It's a win win as one example.

ARQUILLA: I try to find good examples of data mining from other fields and among those I am most impressed with are how a number of medical organizations are mining data. You probably know this better than I, Leigh, but they are just doing remarkable work in terms of early pattern recognition of threats to health but also in terms of the spread of effective practices for dealing with pernicious diseases in many parts of the world.

I think another area a little closer to the world I live in has to do with police, and this is not just American police, but international police, who are becoming outstanding data miners. They provide a much better model for how to gather intelligence about networks because they've been dealing with criminal networks for quite some time. We all hear about how China tries to control the Internet in their country, but the constabulary in China is among the best in the world at data mining because they've had to deal with these criminal networks, the Asian triads who've been around for centuries and know all about hiding and lateral connection and small distributed cells.
So there is a great deal to share with each other, and if we learn that the war on terror had a word at the beginning, called global, if we reached out, we'd find there are many examples of how to do things quite effectively.

STAR: I agree with all of that very much. There's another kind of case, which is that if you are, for any reason, in a rare situation and you know that there are others around the world, but you don't know how to find them and they're not to be found in your locality, using types of data mining with everybody's permission and correct precautions I think can be really good. My mother passed on some years ago from a cancer and there were only 400 cases in the U.S, and she found enormous comfort in finding people from around the world who could speak to the minutia of what that condition was.

HANSON: This goes back John to your comment just now about how other police forces maybe doing a better job. There were several questions focused on how we defend ourselves from a network. Do we need to collect data on the behavior of all citizens? Or can we draw the line at something less than that? Those, who are in some sense suspect or potentially involved in networks, or is it inevitable that we have to collect data on all citizens?

ARQUILLA: No we don't need data on all citizens and in fact gathering data on all citizens makes the job of finding terrorists harder. That's my biggest problem with what's going on with this list of everybody's phone calls. The real trick to beating a network is to build your own.

We're trying to defeat a network by using the national model. The President made it very clear, April 13th, 2004, at a press conference when he said, "We are going to win this war by turning other countries into democracies by any means necessary." Of course in Iraq we have knocked over a regime and created a hothouse environment that breeds terror. Again, whether you're red or blue on this, it's pretty clear that changing nations is not the way to fight a network, or it is at least an extremely fraught, very costly, and problematic approach.

Far better if you're going to gather this data, make sure you share it around. Right now when I go back to Washington and talk with some senior folks, well these are my own remarks, I'll say it includes General Hayden among others, and I say you've got to build your own network. The answer is: I'm already networked; I talked to all the heads. Now anybody who knows anything about networks knows that it's not about talking to the heads of the organizations; it's about people within the organizations talking with each other. I won't belabor the point; we have to build our own networks. Unfortunately since 9/11 the only two organizational changes we've made have been to create huge, bulky hierarchies: the Department of Homeland Security, which already before Katrina, everyone knew didn't work. After Katrina it was with an exclamation point and the world looked at DHS aghast. I think people already realize that the NID is equally bulky and is not going to work either. It takes a network to fight a network.

HANSON: Do you want to make any comments, Mitch or Leigh about whether we need to collect data on all citizens? Are there some types of data that you believe are legitimately collected on all citizens?

KAPOR: People who know about IT and large scale systems can tell you that one thing that would help is not collecting data on everybody, but is getting the basic IT in government working properly, which it doesn't, and the kind of ossified, hierarchical and bureaucratic environments make that a virtual impossibility.

You see somehow there's a sleight of hand when the question on the table is: Do we have to listen into everybody? It fails to ask this question that I realized, which is: What does security reside in? Some of it resides in alternative types of structures-less bureaucratic, less hierarchical, more networked, more distributed for gathering collecting and sharing intelligence, different ways of doing things that don't even cross the boundary necessarily of this: we all have to give up our privacy.

We're suckers of a con game if we find ourselves defending privacy against the claim that this is what's necessary to fight the war on terror. I would love to get to a point where really that is the question because we've picked the low hanging fruit, we've done all of the important reforms that we should be doing and we're being as effective as possible in a realistic way. But until we get to that point, please, I say to people, don't give me false dichotomies; that's political spin.

HANSON: There are a couple of questions about the realities of engaging in war against terrorists and the potential for obviating law or skirting the law based upon the war making powers of the President. John, maybe you're more familiar with this. No matter what laws we pass, will we always be subject to the exercise of the prerogative of the presidency or of the war making authority to put those laws aside?

ARQUILLA: I think this comes and goes in history. Woodrow Wilson made his academic reputation on a book called Congressional Government that said Congress was too strong and the president was too weak. Then along came Teddy Roosevelt, who was a very strong president. We've had a century of quite strong presidents in the main. I think it's time for the wheel to be moving back, the pendulum to swing back a little bit. It's pretty clear, I think, that the presidency exercises too much authority. I would say this in a qualified way though, and again beyond red and blue, a lot of democrats supported the invasion of Iraq. Many of them still do, just saying, well, we've got to do it better. They want to get that bigger hammer to go after the ball of quicksilver. I think this is a bipartisan problem, and this is one where civil society is going to have to speak up and call for this change, this redress, first elevating the debate and secondly redressing the business.
I think the War Powers Act needs to be revisited. Congress has always asserted more authority than it has been able to exercise. The president has never accepted the authority of War Powers. If you look at that act, you'll find that it allows the president to deploy force for only very short periods of time. That's never been followed. I would say also as an Italian American, it offends me that the last country the United States ever declared war on was Italy, and that was nearly 65 years ago Why are we not declaring war on people if we're going to war against them?

The larger question of course is, can you follow the rules in a war where the enemy breaks all the rules, targets civilians, and hides in the vast sea of the global population. The answer is that sometimes, (I think this is somewhere in Thomas Aquinas) you can make a decision that [breaks the rules] as long as it does more good than harm; you can take that action, even if it is on the edge of that gray area in ethics.

For me, I'm not a Jesuit by proclivity; I'm much more drawn to Augustine, who led a life of great debauchery before finding the light. I find that this war is very much an Augustinian one and everyday at some point I say his great, great prayer: "Save me Lord, but not yet."

STAR: It's actually, "Make me chaste, but not yet."

Just to pick up on the topic of whether data needs need to be collected on all individuals. First of all, what makes us think that that's possible? The Census Bureau hasn't been able to do it.
Second of all, all information collecting is relevant to purpose. I think Mitch was saying about spin that it's just a false dichotomy, and what happens is that you're erasing purposes when you think you can collect data on all people, and that's just morally wrong.

HANSON: There are a couple of questions about the mindset that has created this crisis at the moment. I'd be interested in your assumptions about what motivates people in Washington or in the national security environment to say we have to scoop up everything? Or, to add another question here, what motivates those who abuse databases, commercial databases or other non intelligence databases, and use data in abusive ways? What are the mindsets behind the abuse in a national security environment and in a commercial environment?

KAPOR: One assumption is that sometimes people with a responsibility to go and solve a problem, whether it's in government services or in business, take the attitude of, "I know what tools I need to get the job done, so let me make those decisions. What you want me to do is get the job done, and I will get the job done for you."

I just think in a democratic society that does not wash. I mean, what are we fighting for and what are we fighting to save? Sometimes it's a disagreement about the conditions under which the work is performed, and I think citizens have a right to have confidence and understanding in the main about what tools are being used and where the lines are. Sometimes they do need to be crossed into a gray zone, but there needs to be a kind of accountability.

What I found and continue to find distressing is that sense of importance of accountability is not there. It seems to have vanished completely in the current administration. People say, "But we're security professionals. This isn't new to the Bush administration. Let us do our job and we'll make you safe." I think that is just completely a terrible bargain we should not have taken up.

ARQUILLA: I think a lot of these people are actually high-minded. They're trying to do the right thing, they haven't a clue how to do it, and the intelligence professionals of long experience like General Hayden come out of a world of traffic analyses where more data is better. In that previous world, that's right, but in the world and the infosphere as it exists today, more data can actually obscure rather than clarify. That's the biggest conceptual problem they have. I'm less inclined to impute evil motives I think, and competence is right up there too.

KAPOR: It's very important that the intelligence community be clued in. They are very smart people and they work very hard, but if the mindset is rule based and bureaucratic and has the wrong kind of model of just needing to talk to the other heads and compartmentalize everything and everything has to flow up to the top to be vetted, then it is just going to produce bad results; it's going to miss things and it's not going to serve whatever good purposes it might serve.

HANSON: There are a series of questions I'd like to pursue about how we can get some leverage on this problem of dealing with the abuse of databases, and there are at least six questions here which deal with different parties that might play a role. One of the questions is: What really is preventing us from using the hackers? Is it simply distrust? Does Mitch think hackers might be used to help us with terrorism and used in the database world in a positive way?

KAPOR: Not casually, but potentially. Let me just say, it would be interesting to think seriously about how you might do that. The best hackers I know, they run their own show and don't answer to anybody. If you have a specific purpose or project in mind, I guess the question is: Would a commercial company or an open source project hire an incredibly brilliant hacker to work on this before we figure out if the CIA or NSA should? I'd say, well, it's interesting but you'd have to have the right kind of deal and think about it and really believe that the understanding was going to hold up. Under some circumstances, yes, but I'd proceed cautiously. I'd do some experiments. I'd try to have some learning about it before I had a big reliance on it.

ARQUILLA: I think the key word is to approach it in a serious and a deliberate manner. Again I can't say a whole lot because I don't want those of you who are left to be detained, but the fact of the matter is we have reached out a little bit. We need to do so far, far more.

Here's my little story. As I say, part of my job is to try to understand the world of the master hackers. One we had took years to coax like a shy woodland animal to even have any kind of contact because to these people I'm the Prince of Darkness. They're very cautious. We got to a point, it's all based on trust. It's social; it's not a technology story. I asked him some questions based on information that I already knew the answers to or felt that I did, based on highly classified information; again I can't give you details. He came back to me with answers to these questions in a very, very short period of time measured in days, not weeks, with all the right answers, at least what I believed to be the right answers, and then some additional information.
I handled it as a kind of control experiment, and that's not the only time that was done. My belief is that there's great value here. It is something that is being considered seriously and very, very cautiously because it goes against all the habits of mind and institutional interests of the intelligence community. Frankly the law enforcement community is the hardest opposed to this because they simply see hackers as criminals. I think they need to be redefined in a larger sense before we're going to be able to proceed in a more systematic way.

STAR: I just want to say I've tamed a couple of hackers. I worked at the MIT AI lab for eight years and I did it by telling them respectfully about a world outside their own world. I worked there as an ethnographer, and I would suggest that hiring a hacker and an ethnographer would be the really radical thing to do.

KAPOR: I think there are things that we could do besides hiring hackers. My office is south of market in San Francisco, and within six blocks there are 50 companies with young people doing amazingly interesting things and they don't have as many socialization problems as the hackers. None of them, virtually, have ever given a thought to government service and probably for good reason because of the condition of what they would find. Why do we live in a world where we take that as a given? Is it possible to live in a world where the best and the brightest, not necessarily the hackers, have more interest, where they feel it's the right thing to do to go and help on the big problems of the day, where they would be welcome?

That's the bigger challenge in all seriousness. Somehow we've gotten to a state where the majority of the really smart, ambitious, creative, IT people would no more give thought to helping with some of the kinds of issues we've been talking about, than they would go into a seminary, which is a topic for another day. I'd like to live in a world where [working on these issues] is seen much more as an interesting honorable alternative, not something for a very small minority of people to do.

ARQUILLA: We do a little bit of this. The school where I teach at is home to the Cyber Corps. Some of you may remember that President Clinton put this legislation into effect, and we do have some people who end up working full time in this area. They get their tuition paid and a little stipend. We're trying to expand it to include part timers.

I think one of the more interesting efforts underway today is to try to broaden our approach to the reserves. You all know the reserves are very, very overstretched in Iraq, and now for some crazy reason they're going to be driving trucks down on the Mexican border.

We are redefining specialties and trying to reach out to the IT community as well. These things aren't mutually exclusive. Hackers, yes, because they're the best top guns, but there are also, as Mitch says, an entire generation of the brightest people who are very skilled in IT and we're trying to reach some of that and appeal to their patriotism and finding that it's an appeal that resonates with them.

HANSON: I'm going to ask three questions in one here as the last question and that is, How much can politicians, members of government who were all born after the Internet revolution, who perhaps are not very sophisticated in regard to computers, how much help are they going to be in resolving the privacy verses security issue, or the database abuse question? How much help is the press going to be in this struggle? Finally, what can private citizens like us do to help in this on going debate and on going need for some resolution to the privacy versus security and database usefulness versus abuse controversies?

KAPOR: When the politicians are bought and paid for by defense contractors and other special interests, the big telecommunications firms as they are today by and large, they're not going to be of any help. The real question is: Is it possible? Can we imagine getting politicians that actually are elected on the basis of representing the people's interest? So that's the problem that we have to solve because in that case they could be very, very effective.

ARQUILLA: I agree. I think it's time for a new progressive era. A century ago politicians were in the pocket of large corporations not unlike today, and the people rose up in a series of progressive reforms, particularly here in California. I think it's time for that again. We have the technologies for social networking today that go way beyond what was available back then. If they could have progressivism that came from the citizens a century ago, shame on us if we don't replicate that today.

STAR: I just want to say that, yes, if I could do it in such a way that I didn't have to leave my networks or traduce myself, I would consider it. PUt it that way.

HANSON: If these average citizens in the room want to join your progressive moment and make use of the IT at our disposal, to organize networks of progressives, what should they do?

ARQUILLA: Well, they're already out there in many places. I would connect with them. People don't realize the reds in this country already do this. One of the reasons there's still something like half the country supporting policies that are hugely ineffective and terribly costly is that they're highly networked. Karl Rove was a master of mass mailing marketing early in his life, and he has applied many of those skills and a lot of networking skills in this area and it's used for all sorts of red causes. On the blue side, Howard Dean was actually quite good at this until the Democratic establishment I guess decided to line up and execute his candidacy the last time around. The point is that in the political realm they're already doing this. Organizations exist out here. Hok up with them, start your own. Who knows how Critical Mass started in San Francisco?... Has anybody ever watched that? I just go there to watch, or I used to when I had the time to do it. It's magnificent, that's people power. It shuts down the downtown completely. "Why are you driving?" is what it says to people, and it's civil and it's powerful.

Civil society almost stopped the Iraq invasion. It delayed it for about six months. If they decide they want to go to war with Iran (which I also think would be a terrible, terrible mistake), I think civil society will get up on its feet and stop a war with Iran. We have the technology today. That would, I think be a real litmus test.

Don't feel disempowered. This a technology that empowers everybody. Don't just let the folks at the top of the hierarchy tell you that they're going to gather all the information and have all the power. Progressivism has been possible in the past; it is imperative that we pursue it today.

Traces of Ourselves was the third in a series on the politics and ethics of information technologies, co-sponsored by the Center for Science, Technology, and Society and the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. Other panels from the series are:

Playing Games With Ethics: A Panel on Video Games

The Ethics and Politics of Search Engines


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