As technology advances and our society evolves, so does everything that comes with: social protest, human rights, privacy, justice, law enforcement, education, etc.
The Police Department of New York recently used an LRAD (Long Range Acoustic Device). It is a portable sound speaker designed to scare people away with sound. But there is more to it than scaring people away and dispersing a crowd. Even if you would be able to withstand the ‘fear’ that would overcome, and decide to remain in place, you would be overwhelmed by agony, confusion and pain. It was deployed for the first time during the Ferguson riots, and it seems to become a wanted item for Police departments.
The LRAD device is developed by LRAD Corporation, formerly known as the American Technology Corporation.
You know that whenever I get into a discussion with someone about mass surveillance, companies who specialize in collecting personal information or privacy in general, there will always be someone who says: “I have nothing to hide, so I don’t really care about how I would be monitored’. This reasoning is flawed, and I will explain to you why.
Without a doubt, you might have seen a handful of videos on Youtube. Surely you’ve seen a video where a person, thinking that they are alone, is doing something expressive – be that singing, dancing, something sexual or something very personal they are capturing – only to discover that, in fact, they are not alone, that there is a person watching or about to discover what they are doing. The sense of shame and humaliation in their face does not need further explanation on how they feel. You can look at it as “this is something I am willing to do, but only when nobody is around”.
This small example is only a fraction to what this article is getting at on why privacy matters. Privacy has been featured numerous times in the news, through the revelations of Edward Snowden that the United States and its partners, has converted the Internet – a once unprecendented tool of liberation and solidified product of democracy – into an area of mass, indiscriminate surveillance.
There is a very common sentiment that arises in this debate, ven among people who are uncomfortablewith mass surveillance, which saysthat there is no real harmthat comes from this large-scale invasionbecause only people who are engaged in bad actshave a reason to want to hideand to care about their privacy. These people their worldview is so dualized, that there are two kinds of people in the world,good people and bad people.Bad people are those who plot terrorist attacksor who engage in violent criminality and therefore have reasons to want to hide what they are doing,have reasons to care about their privacy.But by contrast, good peopleare people who go to work,come home, raise their children, watch television.They use the Internet not to plot bombing attacksbut to read the news or exchange recipesor to plan citytrips or activities for the kids,and those people are doing nothing wrongand therefore have nothing to hideand no reason to fearthe government monitoring them.
The people who are actually saying thatare engaged in a very extreme actof self-deprecation and are lying to themselves.What they are really saying is,“I have agreed to make myselfsuch a harmless and unthreateningand uninteresting person that I actually don’t fearhaving the government know what it is that I’m doing.”This mindset has found what I thinkis its purest expressionin a 2009 interview withthe longtime CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt, who,when asked about all the different ways his companyis causing invasions of privacyfor hundreds of millions of people around the world,said this: He said,“If you’re doing something that you don’t wantother people to know,maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”
Now, there’s all kinds of things to say aboutthat mentality,the first of which is that the people who say that,who say that privacy isn’t really important,they don’t actually believe it,and the way you know that they don’t actually believe itis that while they say with their words that privacy doesn’t matter,with their actions, they take all kinds of stepsto safeguard their privacy.They put passwords on their emailand their social media accounts,they put locks on their bedroomand bathroom doors,all steps designed to prevent other peoplefrom entering what they consider their private realmand knowing what it is that they don’t want other people to know.The very same Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google,ordered his employees at Googleto cease speaking with the onlineInternet magazine CNETafter CNET published an articlefull of personal, private informationabout Eric Schmidt,which it obtained exclusively (Oh Irony!) through Google searchesand using other Google products. This same division can be seenwith the CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg,who in an infamous interview in 2010pronounced that privacy is no longera “social norm.”Last year, Mark Zuckerberg and his new wifepurchased not only their own housebut also all four adjacent houses in Palo Altofor a total of 30 million dollarsin order to ensure that they enjoyed a zone of privacythat prevented other people from monitoringwhat they do in their personal lives.
A simple experiment. Every single time somebody has said ““I don’t really worry about invasions of privacybecause I don’t have anything to hide.”I always say the same thing to them.I get out a pen, I write down my email address.I say, “Here’s my email address.What I want you to do when you get homeis email me the passwordsto all of your email accounts,not just the nice, respectable work one in your name,but all of them,because I want to be able to just troll throughwhat it is you’re doing online,read what I want to read and publish whatever I find interesting.After all, if you’re not a bad person,if you’re doing nothing wrong,you should have nothing to hide.”
Nobody agrees to this. And there’s a reason for that,which is that we as human beings,even those of us who in wordsdisclaim the importance of our own privacy,instinctively understand the profound importance of it.It is true that as human beings, we’re social animals,which means we have a need for other peopleto know what we’re doing and saying and thinking,which is why we voluntarily publish information about ourselves online.But equally essential to what it meansto be a free and fulfilled human beingis to have a place that we can goand be free of the judgmental eyes of other people.There’s a reason why we seek that out,and our reason is that all of us —not just terrorists and criminals, all of us —have things to hide.There are all sorts of things that we do and thinkthat we’re willing to tell our physicianor our lawyer or our psychologist or our spouseor our best friend that we would be mortifiedfor the rest of the world to learn.We make judgments every single dayabout the kinds of things that we say and think and dothat we’re willing to have other people know,and the kinds of things that we say and think and dothat we don’t want anyone else to know about.People can very easily in words claimthat they don’t value their privacy,but their actions negate the authenticity of that belief.
Now, there’s a reason why privacy is so craveduniversally and instinctively.It isn’t just a reflexive movement like breathing air or drinking water.The reason is that when we’re in a statewhere we can be monitored, where we can be watched,our behavior changes dramatically.The range of behavioral options that we considerwhen we think we’re being watchedseverely reduce.This is just a fact of human naturethat has been recognized in social scienceand in literature and in religionand in virtually every field of discipline.There are dozens of psychological studiesthat prove that when somebody knowsthat they might be watched,the behavior they engage inis vastly more conformist and compliant.Human shame is a very powerful motivator,as is the desire to avoid it,and that’s the reason why people,when they’re in a state of being watched, make decisionsnot that are the byproduct of their own agencybut that are about the expectationsthat others have of themor the mandates of societal orthodoxy.
This realization was exploited most powerfullyfor pragmatic ends by the 18th- century philosopher Jeremy Bentham,who set out to resolve an important problemushered in by the industrial age,where, for the first time, institutions had becomeso large and centralizedthat they were no longer able to monitorand therefore control each one of their individual members,and the solution that he devisedwas an architectural designoriginally intended to be implemented in prisonsthat he called the panopticon,the primary attribute of which was the constructionof an enormous tower in the center of the institutionwhere whoever controlled the institutioncould at any moment watch any of the inmates,although they couldn’t watch all of them at all times.And crucial to this designwas that the inmates could not actuallysee into the panopticon, into the tower,and so they never knewif they were being watched or even when.And what made him so excited about this discoverywas that that would mean that the prisonerswould have to assume that they were being watchedat any given moment,which would be the ultimate enforcerfor obedience and compliance.The 20th-century French philosopher Michel Foucaultrealized that that model could be usednot just for prisons but for every institutionthat seeks to control human behavior:schools, hospitals, factories, workplaces.And what he said was that this mindset,this framework discovered by Bentham,was the key means of societal controlfor modern, Western societies,which no longer needthe overt weapons of tyranny —punishing or imprisoning or killing dissidents,or legally compelling loyalty to a particular party —because mass surveillance createsa prison in the mindthat is a much more subtlethough much more effective meansof fostering compliance with social normsor with social orthodoxy,much more effectivethan brute force could ever be.
The most iconic work of literature about surveillanceand privacy is the George Orwell novel “1984,”which we all learn in school, and therefore it’s almost become a cliche.In fact, whenever you bring it up in a debate about surveillance,people instantaneously dismiss itas inapplicable, and what they say is,“Oh, well in ‘1984,’ there were monitors in people’s homes,they were being watched at every given moment,and that has nothing to do with the surveillance state that we face.”That is an actual fundamental misapprehensionof the warnings that Orwell issued in “1984.”The warning that he was issuingwas about a surveillance statenot that monitored everybody at all times,but where people were aware that they couldbe monitored at any given moment.Here is how Orwell’s narrator, Winston Smith,described the surveillance systemthat they faced:“There was, of course, no way of knowingwhether you were being watched at any given moment.”He went on to say,“At any rate, they could plug in your wirewhenever they wanted to.You had to live, did live,from habit that became instinct,in the assumption that every sound you madewas overheard and except in darknessevery movement scrutinized.”
The Abrahamic religions similarly positthat there’s an invisible, all-knowing authoritywho, because of its omniscience,always watches whatever you’re doing,which means you never have a private moment,the ultimate enforcerfor obedience to its dictates.
What all of these seemingly disparate worksrecognize, the conclusion that they all reach,is that a society in which peoplecan be monitored at all timesis a society that breeds conformityand obedience and submission,which is why every tyrant,the most overt to the most subtle,craves that system.Conversely, even more importantly,it is a realm of privacy,the ability to go somewhere where we can thinkand reason and interact and speakwithout the judgmental eyes of others being cast upon us,in which creativity and explorationand dissent exclusively reside,and that is the reason why,when we allow a society to existin which we’re subject to constant monitoring,we allow the essence of human freedomto be severely crippled.
The last point I want to observe about this mindset,the idea that only people who are doing something wronghave things to hide and therefore reasons to care about privacy,is that it entrenches two very destructive messages,two destructive lessons,the first of which is thatthe only people who care about privacy,the only people who will seek out privacy,are by definition bad people.This is a conclusion that we should haveall kinds of reasons for avoiding,the most important of which is that when you say,“somebody who is doing bad things,”you probably mean things like plotting a terrorist attackor engaging in violent criminality,a much narrower conceptionof what people who wield power meanwhen they say, “doing bad things.”For them, “doing bad things” typically meansdoing something that poses meaningful challengesto the exercise of our own power.
The other really destructiveand, I think, even more insidious lessonthat comes from accepting this mindsetis there’s an implicit bargainthat people who accept this mindset have accepted,and that bargain is this:If you’re willing to render yourselfsufficiently harmless,sufficiently unthreateningto those who wield political power,then and only then can you be freeof the dangers of surveillance.It’s only those who are dissidents,who challenge power,who have something to worry about.There are all kinds of reasons why we should want to avoid that lesson as well.You may be a person who, right now,doesn’t want to engage in that behavior,but at some point in the future you might.Even if you’re somebody who decidesthat you never want to,the fact that there are other peoplewho are willing to and able to resistand be adversarial to those in power —dissidents and journalistsand activists and a whole range of others —is something that brings us all collective goodthat we should want to preserve.Equally critical is that the measureof how free a society isis not how it treats its good,obedient, compliant citizens,but how it treats its dissidentsand those who resist orthodoxy.But the most important reasonis that a system of mass surveillancesuppresses our own freedom in all sorts of ways.It renders off-limitsall kinds of behavioral choiceswithout our even knowing that it’s happened.The renowned socialist activist Rosa Luxemburgonce said, “He who does not movedoes not notice his chains.”We can try and render the chainsof mass surveillance invisible or undetectable,but the constraints that it imposes on usdo not become any less potent.
It stuns me to see how many enterprises and organizations still chose to use closed proprietary software such as Windows, Active Server Pages, Sharepoint, Office Suite, etc. While there are perfect alternatives available as free software (free to use and adapt). Not only is using software such as Linux, MariaDB, Nginx free, they also are much easier to change to how you want them to work. Getting a license for your company to use Windows as an operating system can cost you hundreds of thousands a year, not counting that you might still want your own IT department for development and support.
Why don’t these enterprises use Linux, which is free software to begin with? It all comes back to education. Here in Belgium, when someone goes to university or attends a school, Windows literally tries to shove all of its software down to everyone’s throats at bargain prices. This obviously leads to a mass audience that only knows Windows and is familiar with making documents in Word and Microsoft’s interfaces. People are reluctant to change, and thus changing the habit – in this case the operating system – barely never happens. Linux is also more challenging in terms of difficulty as the user has to actually understand how it works, and how your commands to the system will affect the system. But even today you have graphical user interfaces where users can simply click and drag for basic operations. Proper education and recognizing the operating system as a viable replacement in school environments would be a first good step to reduce what I see as, indoctrination of software.
Linux distributions and their goals
Linux comes in different tastes and flavors, depending on what you find important. Several organizations offer what we call a ‘distro’, which is short for distribution. Each of these organizations built on top of the Linux kernel, and usually offer a package management system to install software. There is a range of largely advanced distro’s, as well as smaller ones focusing on specific aspects.
What makes a distro different from each other?
Each organization has a different philosophy and goals. For example one could focus on stability, security, cutting-edge software or innovation. Another distribution could opt for a more stable approach, only using software that has proven itself in the industry, eliminating the potentially unstable new features.
You will find more conservative distro’s, such as Debian or CentOS, who prefer running stable, secure versions of software with upstream porting (this means they apply critical bug fixes themselves from more modern distros) while cutting out modern features or commercial branding. You have distro’s who are more innovative (but with this comes an increased change of breaking your production environment, and potentially requires you to work on settings and features where problems are not well documented). Depending on the distribution, they also come with different user interfaces, but this doesn’t matter much to us since we are going to focus solely on using the command-line in this series.
We can divide distro in the way they supply you with packages.
Debian supports a lot of different architectures
which makes it suitable to run on pretty much anything. Debian uses dpkg and apt-get, which is different from Red Hat’s yum approach to package management. Apt-get allows you to easily install a program without having to set up your tools to compile a program from source code.
Red Hat (RHEL)
Red Hat Linux is commercial software and meant for enterprises. Fedora is a community distribution sponsored by Red Hat. Red Hat Enterprise Linux, or RHEL, is a based of Fedora. Fedora has a quickly changing development cycle with rolling releases. It also is up to par with the latest technologies, which makes it a very interesting distro to choose if you like to be up to date with everything.
CentOS is a distro which uses the sources of Red Hat and is fully compatible with upstream RHEL versions. CentOS focuses on stability within a production environment. This means that certain software might not have the latest features as in Fedora. They do however patch security fixes for the older packages.
There are literally dozens of distributions out there, if you are interested in learning more about them, you can check out their wikipedia page.