Surveillance and security

An extract from Chapter 5 of the book Transcending Politics:

5. Surveillance and security

Connectivity has its advantages. Consider the needs of hard-pressed parents, who must periodically break away from other tasks to check how well their baby is sleeping. Remote baby monitors, plugged into domestic networks, can cut these parents some slack, by guaranteeing to alert them if their child wakes unexpectedly. Other systems, using small sensors in a “smart sock” worn by the baby, can provide additional assurance about the baby’s heart rate and blood oxygen level. This can reduce anxiety about sudden cot death. The vendor’s website explains, “More data, less worry: 83% of parents report having better sleep while using the Smart Sock on their baby”.

What’s not to like about this innovative use of connected technology? Alas, some baby monitors unwittingly provide the means for outsiders to spy on the children, and even to speak to them. Commissioner Julie Menin of the New York Department of Consumer Affairs issued a stark public warning in early 2016:

Video monitors are intended to give parents peace of mind when they are away from their children but the reality is quite terrifying – if they aren’t secure, they can provide easy access for predators to watch and even speak to our children. There have been numerous reports by consumers, including those here in New York City, that these video monitors have subjected them to unwanted intrusions into the most private of spaces: their own homes. Internet-connected devices like video monitors provide convenience, but without proper safeguards, they pose serious privacy risks. We encourage parents to take steps to make sure their devices are secure and call on manufacturers to make security a top priority.

As we’ll see in this chapter, the problems of insecure baby monitors are echoed in an avalanche of similar examples from the fields of smart cars and smart homes as well as smart healthcare. It turns out that connectivity is a two-edged sword.

The perils of connectivity

Let’s reflect on the predicament experienced by more than 100 car owners in Austin, Texas, as a result of the actions of a disgruntled former employee of used car retail firm Texas Auto Center…

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Tools for better politics?

Which solutions most deserve mention, in a list of “tools for better politics”?

Tools for better politics

As I’m reflecting on comments from reviewers of the draft chapters of the forthcoming book Transcending Politics, I’ve reached the view that I should add a new section, towards the end of the book, entitled “Tools well worth watching”.

This will fit well into Chapter 14, “Afterword”, which already contains a similarly-themed section “Communities well worth joining”.

If you have any suggestions or comments, either leave them in the Google Doc for Chapter 14, or as replies to this blogpost.

Ideally the list will include tools applicable to one or more of the systems described below (this is an extract from Chapter 1).

  • Transparency systems, so that the activity of public organisations and decisions are visible, and can be judged more easily and accurately
  • Fact-checking systems to determine more quickly and clearly, via an online lookup, if some information is misleading, deceptive, biased, or in any other way suspect or substandard
  • Thinking training systems to help everyone understand and routinely practice the skills of critical thinking, hypothesis formulation and testing, and independent evaluation of sources
  • Accountability systems to hold people and organisations to account whenever they pass on damaging misinformation – similar to how codes of conduct already operate in the fields of advertising and investment communications
  • Bridging systems to encourage people with strong disagreements to nevertheless explore and appreciate each other’s points of view, so that shared values can be identified and a constructive dialog established
  • Educational systems to keep politicians of all sorts informed, succinctly yet reliably, in timely fashion, about the trends that could require changes in regulations
  • Simulation systems to help politicians of all sorts creatively explore possible new policy frameworks – and to gain a better idea in advance of likely positive and negative consequence of these new ideas
  • Monitoring systems to report objectively on whether regulatory policies are having their desired effect
  • Concentration systems to boost the ability of individual politicians to concentrate on key decisions, and to reach decisions free from adverse tiredness, distraction, bias, or prejudice
  • Encouragement systems to encourage greater positive participation in the political and regulatory processes by people who have a lot to contribute, but who are currently feeling pressure to participate instead in different fields of activity.

One source of ideas, by the way, is the H+Pedia article on “Politics 2.0”.

 

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