There was a great blog post a while ago on the Signal blog. I’m pretty sure it was by Moxie, and it might have been before the name change from TextSecure to Signal. Of course, I can’t find it now.
The thesis was that in order for society to progress, it’s important that people be able to get away with crimes. I can’t remember what the specific examples were but the general idea was that by doing things that are forbidden, people can determine if the laws still make sense in current times.
As a modern example, marajuana legalization. Had there been perfect enforcement of the prohibition of marajuana, it’s unlikely it would have ever been legalized in any US state. The stories about how terrible it is would persist and nobody would have any evidence to refute these stories.
I suspect it’s since been removed and the only chance at getting it is via archive.org, but I didn’t go digging through there (yet) to find it. If anyone does, please post the URL because that’s one I want to save this time so I can reference it in the future. Moxie put it far more elequantly than my summary from something I read probably 7 or 8 years ago.
I think it’s also important to ask when this technology would be appropriate, if anywhere. It has resulted in one criminal being caught and while enforcing drug laws isn’t nearly as important to me as other crimes, like solving murders, it is still a benefit or the technology for many people.
On the flip side, tracking everyone’s movements to the greatest extent possible, which is what it sounds like this system intends to do, has obvious privacy implications. It’s pretty easy to imagine how it could be abused by a wide variety of people from domestic abuse to determining who is participating in labor movement meetings or protests.
But what is the liklihood of it being abused? In my opinion, pretty high. For example, “police officers in the United States perpetrate acts of domestic violence at roughly 15 times the rate of the general population.” source: Police Domestic Violence: Data Shows 40 Percent of Cops Abuse Family
It is no secret that police are not on the side of the labor movement and if there is an allegation that a crime has been committed, they will use tools like this to investigate. Even if the allegation is completely fabricated, the investigation may turn up something else, or be used to intimidate the suspect so they stop trying to help form a union.
That’s just a few examples of how it could be abused by people who have legitimate access to the system. There’s the question on whether the people who hold all of this raw data can keep it safe. We’ve seen that the FBI does not appear to be up to the task.
I do think the system would be very effective at collecting infomation on people and finding some of the people that are commiting crimes. I think it’ll also sweep up people visiting their significant other, having an affair, looking for a job, organizing, or any number of other perfectly legal activities that they might want to keep confidential.
The amount of information that can be revealed about someone based on with whom they associate is staggering and largely unrecognized by the average person. Unfortunately, this is difficult to demonstrate without committing the abuses or finding some way to uncover the abuses that have already occurred.
Anyway, that’s just my 2¢