December 10, 2018

Of Protests and Privacy

By Stephen Tuttle | March 31, 2018

Is this their Vietnam? 

That's the question now being asked about the students participating in the recent March for Our Lives protests condemning gun violence and demanding reform. 

Protests against the Vietnam War started in earnest immediately after the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. It was the phony rationalization for dramatically increasing our commitment of personnel and equipment in Vietnam. The protest were small, at first, but grew consistently larger over time and continued until we left Vietnam in 1975. 

That war cost the lives of 58,220 Americans in a little more than a decade. In the last decade in the United States, there have been more than 280,000 gun-related deaths, including suicides and accidents, so the protesters cause is not without some justification. 

But they have a long and bumpy road ahead of them. 

Effective protests, like those that helped generate the Civil Rights Act, require considerable staying power and a clear, consistent message. The other side of that coin is the Occupy Wall Street protests, which had both a garbled message, or many garbled messages, and didn't last beyond the year they began. 

What we're currently hearing from the protesters, which started with a group of students from Parkland, Florida, is not a cry to ban all guns, despite what the NRA and others on the fringe of the issue claim. 

They do want to ban so-called assault rifles, an attractive target given their usage in several recent slaughters. They would also like to require digitized, universal gun registration, including gun shows, and a ban on high-capacity magazines. All three of those notions are supported by a majority of the public but not a majority of elected politicians. 

Most importantly, they are encouraging young people to register to vote. There is little likelihood they will convince enough politicians in thrall to the National Rifle Association to change their minds, so changing the politician is a more logical goal. 

They've already had some success. Some states are at least considering tougher registration laws and age restrictions. The Department of Justice is likely to ban bump-stocks, an evil tool that converts a semi-automatic rifle into a nearly automatic killing machine.  

But they will need to keep at it if they intend to succeed. They have fierce and effective opponents and a country with an embedded gun culture. The big money is on the other side of the issue, as well as powerful politicians. They've made a good start, but a start is all it was. Now the hard work begins.

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Did you really still believe your social media and other online information was private? How many more breaches before we all start to catch on?

The latest is the revelation that Facebook gave information about some 50 million members to a professor, ostensibly for private research. All of that information then found its way to third parties, including Cambridge Analytica, a research firm that assisted President Trump's election campaign. It might also have found its way to Stephen Bannon, the former Trump attack dog (he denies it), and John Bolton, the president's choice as his next National Security Advisor. 

Why would such information help a campaign? Because Facebook, and all social media sites, know almost everything about its members. They know where we eat, where we shop, what we read, where we vacation, what car we drive, and that's just the beginning. How? We tell them with our obsessive posting of every detail of our lives. We just never stop blabbing.

That information, though allegedly not your name, can be mined and sold. It's why we see the online ads we see. And it's valuable information for a sophisticated political campaign. Our profile is bundled with other similar profiles, and political ads can then be specifically targeted based on our information. 

Our bank account numbers might be protected from hackers, but our lives are an open book to the data miners. We are a monetized commodity and selling every shred of data they can find about us is how they make a lot of money.

You know those little boxes that pop up and tell us that by using the site we agree to their terms and conditions? We should be reading those, crushingly boring as they are. It's where the ugly secret — that they can harvest us and, in many cases, sell us to second parties — lies. 

Using email instead? Our own government keeps tabs on that, and every keystroke is available to them.  

There is nothing private in the digital age. Nothing. And no organization has yet figured out how to change that. Every post, every internet search, every email is being recorded and mined by somebody. It's what they do. And, so far, there's nothing we can do to stop it.

 

 

 

 

 

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