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 Bruce Sterling
 [email protected]
 Remarks at Computers, Freedom and Privacy Conference IV
 Chicago, Mar 26, 1994
 	I've been asked to explain why I don't worry much about the
 topics of privacy threat raised by this panel.  And I don't.  One reason
 is that these scenarios seem to assume that there will be large,
 monolithic bureaucracies (of whatever character, political or
 economic)  that are capable of harnessing computers for one-way
 surveillance of an unsuspecting populace.  I've come to feel that
 computation just doesn't work that way.  Being afraid of monolithic
 organizations especially when they have computers, is like being
 afraid of really big gorillas especially when they are on fire.
 	The threat simply doesn't concur with my historical
 experience.  None of the large organizations of my youth that
 compelled my fear and uneasy respect have prospered.  Let me just
 roll off a few acronyms here.  CCCP.  KGB.  IBM.  GM.  AEC.  SAC.
 	It was recently revealed that the CIA has been of actual
 negative worth -- literally worse than useless -- to American
 national security.  They were in the pockets of the KGB during our
 death struggle with the Soviet Union -- and yet we still won.
 Japanese zaibatsus -- Japan Inc. -- the corporate monoliths of Japan
 -- how much hype have we heard about that lately?   I admit that
 AT&T has prospered, sort of -- if you don't count the fact that
 they've hollowed themselves out by firing a huge percentage of their
 	Suppose that, say, Equifax, turned into an outright fascist
 organization and stated abusing privacy in every way they could.
 How could they keep that a secret?  Realistically, given current
 employment practices in the Western economies, what kind of
 loyalty could they command among their own personnel?  The low
 level temps have no health insurance and no job security; the high
 level people are ready to grab their golden parachutes and bail at any
 time.  Where is the fanatically loyal army of gray flannel
 organization men who will swear lifelong allegiance to this
 organization, or *any* organization in this country with the possible
 exception of the Mafia?
 	I feel that the real threat to our society isn't because people
 are being surveilled but because people are being deliberately
 ignored.  People drop through the safety nets.  People stumble
 through the streets of every city in this country absolutely wrapped
 in the grip of demons, groping at passersby for a moment's attention
 and pity and not getting it.  In parts of the Third World people are
 routinely disappeared, not because of high-tech computer
 surveillance but for the most trivial and insane reasons -- because
 they wear glasses, because they were seen reading a book -- and if
 they survive, it's because of the thin thread of surveillance carried
 out by Amnesty International.
 	There may be securicams running 24 hours a day all around us,
 but mechanical surveillance is not the same as people actually
 getting attention or care.  Sure, rich people, like most of us here, are
 gonna get plenty of attention, probably too much, a poisonous
 amount, but in the meantime life has become so cheap in this society
 that we let people stagger around right in front of us exhaling
 tuberculosis without treatment.  It's not so much information haves
 and have-nots and watch and watch-nots.
 	I wish I could speak at greater length more directly to the
 topic of this panel.  But since I'm the last guy to officially speak at
 CFP IV, I want the seize the chance to grandstand and do a kind of
 pontifical summation of the event.  And get some irrepressible
 feelings off my chest.
 	What am I going to remember from CFP IV?  I'm going to
 remember the Chief Counsel of NSA and his impassioned insistence
 that key escrow cryptography represents normality and the status
 quo, and that unlicensed hard cryptography is a rash and radical leap
 into unplumbed depths of lawlessness.  He made a literary reference
 to BRAVE NEW WORLD.  What he said in so many words was, "We're
 not the Brave New World, Clipper's opponents are the Brave New
 	And I believe he meant that.  As a professional science fiction
 writer I remember being immediately struck by the deep conviction
 that there was plenty of Brave New World to go around.
 	I've been to all four CFPs, and in my opinion this is the darkest
 one by far.  I hear ancestral voices prophesying war.  All previous
 CFPs had a weird kind of camaraderie about them.  People from the
 most disparate groups found something useful to tell each other.
 But now that America's premiere spookocracy has arrived on stage
 and spoken up, I think the CFP community has finally found a group of
 outsiders that it cannot metabolize.  The trenchworks are going up
 and I see nothing but confrontation ahead.
 	Senator Leahy at least had the elementary good sense to
 backpedal and temporize, as any politician would when he saw the
 white-hot volcano of technological advance in the direct path of a
 Cold War glacier that has previously crushed everything in its way.
 	But that unlucky flak-catcher the White House sent down here
 -- that guy was mousetrapped, basically.  That was a debacle!  Who
 was briefing that guy?  Are they utterly unaware?  How on earth
 could they miss the fact that Clipper and Digital Telephony are
 violently detested by every element in this community -- with the
 possible exception of one brave little math professor this high?
 Don't they get it that everybody from Rush Limbaugh to Timothy
 Leary despises this initiative?  Don't they read newspapers?   The
 Wall Street Journal, The New York Times?  I won't even ask if they
 read their email.
 	That was bad politics.  But that was nothing compared to the
 presentation by the gentleman from the NSA.  If I can do it without
 losing my temper, I want to talk to you a little bit about how
 radically unsatisfactory that was.
 	I've been waiting a long time for somebody from Fort Meade to
 come to the aid of Dorothy Denning in Professor Denning's heroic and
 heartbreaking solo struggle against twelve million other people with
 email addresses.  And I listened very carefully and I took notes and I
 swear to God I even applauded at the end.
 	He had seven points to make, four of which were disingenuous,
 two were half-truths, and the other was the actual core of the
 	Let me blow away some of the smoke and mirrors first, more
 for my own satisfaction than because it's going to enlighten you
 people any.  With your indulgence.
 	First, the kidporn thing.  I am sick and tired of hearing this
 specious blackwash.  Are American citizens really so neurotically
 uptight about deviant sexual behavior that we will allow our entire
 information infrastructure to be dictated by the existence of
 pedophiles?  Are pedophiles that precious and important to us?  Do
 the NSA and the FBI really believe that they can hide the structure of
 a telephone switch under a layer of camouflage called child
 pornography?   Are we supposed to flinch so violently at the specter
 of child abuse that we somehow miss the fact that you've installed a
 Sony Walkman jack in our phones?
 	Look, there were pedophiles before NII and there will be
 pedophiles long after NII is just another dead acronym.  Pedophiles
 don't jump out of BBSes like jacks in the box.  You want to impress
 me with your deep concern for children?  This is Chicago!  Go down
 to the Projects and rescue some children from being terrorized and
 recruited by crack gangs who wouldn't know a modem if it bit them
 on the ass!  Stop pornkidding us around!  Just knock it off with that
 crap, you're embarrassing yourselves.
 	But back to the speech by Mr. Baker of the NSA.  Was it just me,
 ladies and gentlemen, or did anyone else catch that tone of truly
 intolerable arrogance?  Did they guy have to make the remark about
 our missing Woodstock because we were busy with our
 trigonometry?  Do spook mathematicians permanently cooped up
 inside Fort Meade consider that a funny remark?  I'd like to make an
 even more amusing observation -- that I've seen scarier secret
 police agencies than his completely destroyed by a Czech hippie
 playwright with a manual typewriter.
 	Is the NSA unaware that the current President of the United
 States once had a big bushel-basket-full of hair?  What does he
 expect from the computer community?  Normality?  Sorry pal, we're
 fresh out!   Who is it, exactly, that the NSA considers a level-headed
 sober sort, someone to sit down with and talk to seriously?  Jobs?
 Wozniak?  Gates?  Sculley?  Perot -- I hope to God it's not Perot.
 Bob Allen -- okay, maybe Bob Allen, that brownshoe guy from AT&T.
 Bob Allen seems to think that Clipper is a swell idea, at least he's
 somehow willing to merchandise it.  But Christ, Bob Allen just gave
 eight zillion dollars to a guy whose idea of a good time is Microsoft
 Windows for Spaceships!
 	When is the NSA going to realize that Kapor and his people and
 Rotenberg and his people and the rest of the people here are as good
 as people get in this milieu?  Yes they are weird people, and yes they
 have weird friends (and I'm one of them), but there isn't any
 normality left for anybody in this society, and when it comes to
 computers, when the going got weird the weird turned pro!  The
 status quo is *over!*  Wake up to it!  Get used to it!
 	Where in hell does a crowd of spooks from Fort Meade get off
 playing "responsible adults" in this situation?  This is a laugh and a
 half!  Bobby Ray Inman, the legendary NSA leader, made a stab at
 computer entrepreneurism and rapidly went down for the third time.
 Then he got out of the shadows of espionage and into the bright
 lights of actual public service and immediately started gabbling like
 a daylight-stricken vampire.  Is this the kind of responsive public
 official we're expected to blindly trust with the insides of our
 phones and computers?  Who made him God?
 	You know, it's a difficult confession for a practiced cynic like
 me to make, but I actually trust EFF people.  I do; I trust them;
 there, I've said it.   But I wouldn't trust Bobby Ray Inman to go down
 to the corner store for a pack of cigarettes.
 	You know, I like FBI people.  I even kind of trust them, sort of,
 kind of, a little bit.  I'm sorry that they didn't catch Kevin Mitnick
 here.  I'm even sorry that they didn't manage to apprehend Robert
 Steele, who is about one hundred times as smart as Mitnick and ten
 thousand times as dangerous.   But FBI people, I think your idea of
 Digital Telephony is a scarcely mitigated disaster, and I'll tell you
 	Because you're going to be filling out your paperwork in
 quintuplicate to get a tap, just like you always do, because you don't
 have your own pet court like the NSA does.  And for you, it probably
 is going to seem pretty much like the status quo used to be.  But in
 the meantime, you will have armed the enemies of the United States
 around the world with a terrible weapon.  Not your court-ordered,
 civilized Digital Telephony -- their raw and tyrannical Digital
 	You're gonna be using it to round up wiseguys in streetgangs,
 and people like Saddam Hussein are gonna be using it to round up
 democratic activists and national minorities.  You're going to
 strengthen the hand of despotism around the world, and then you're
 going to have to deal with the hordes of state-supported
 truckbombers these rogue governments are sending our way after
 annihilating their own internal opposition by using your tools.  You
 want us to put an axe in your hand and you're promising to hit us
 with only the flat side of it, but the Chinese don't see it that way;
 they're already licensing fax machines and they're gonna need a lot
 of new hardware to gear up for Tiananmen II.
 	I've talked a long time, but I want to finish by saying
 something about the NSA guy's one real and actual argument.  The
 terrors of the Brave New World of free individual encryption.  When
 he called encryption enthusiasts "romantic" he was dead-on, and
 when he said the results of spreading encryption were unpredictable
 and dangerous he was also dead-on, because people, encryption is not
 our friend.  Encryption is a mathematical technique, and it has about
 as much concern for our human well-being as the fact that seventeen
 times seventeen equals two hundred and eighty-nine.  It does, but
 that doesn't make us sleep any safer in our beds.
 	Encrypted networks worry the hell out of me and they have
 since the mid 1980s.  The effects are very scary and very
 unpredictable and could be very destabilizing.  But even the Four
 Horsemen of Kidporn, Dope Dealers, Mafia and Terrorists don't worry
 me as much as totalitarian governments.  It's been a long century,
 and we've had enough of them.
 	Our battle this century against totalitarianism has left
 terrible scars all over our body politic and the threat these people
 pose to us is entirely and utterly predictable.   You can say that the
 devil we know is better than the devil we don't, but the devils we
 knew were ready to commit genocide, litter the earth with dead, and
 blow up the world.  How much worse can that get?  Let's not build
 chips and wiring for our police and spies when only their police and
 spies can reap the full benefit of them.
 	But I don't expect my arguments to persuade anyone in the NSA.
 If you're NSA and I do somehow convince you, by some fluke, then I
 urge you to look at your conscience -- I know you have one -- and
 take the word to your superiors and if they don't agree with you --
 *resign.*  Leave the Agency.  Resign now, and if I'm right about
 what's coming down the line, you'll be glad you didn't wait till later.
 	But even though I have a good line of gab, I don't expect to
 actually argue people out of their livelihood.  That's notoriously
 	So CFP people, you have a fight on your hands.  I'm sorry that a
 community this young should have to face a fight this savage, for
 such terribly high stakes, so soon.   But what the heck;  you're
 always bragging about how clever you are; here's your chance to
 prove to your fellow citizens that you're more than a crowd of net-
 nattering MENSA dilettantes.  In cyberspace one year is like seven
 dog years, and on the Internet nobody knows you're a dog, so I figure
 that makes you CFP people twenty-eight years old.   And people, for
 the sake of our society and our children you had better learn to act
 your age.
 	Good luck.  Good luck to you.  For what it's worth, I think you're
 some of the best and brightest our society has to offer.  Things look
 dark but I feel hopeful.  See you next year in San Francisco.