Posts tagged surveillance

Online Collectivism, Individualism and Anonymity in East Asia


This is the abstract of a presentation I’ll be giving this spring at a cyber-surveillance workshop at the University of Toronto.

Entering the second decade of the 21st century, anonymity, appears to be under siege. While targeted behavioral advertising continues to expand and personal information becomes increasingly commoditized, government officials around the globe warn us that true anonymity is in conflict with national security goals. Indeed, there appear to be growing questions about its continued viability within the digital environment in the age of terrorism.Will anonymity turn out to be a relic of the 20th century or does it have a future?

As Gary Marx has noted, different contexts and value conflicts make it difficult to take an absolute position for or against anonymity. And while the basic idea is clear, a formal definition of anonymity remains elusive. There are a wide range of approaches to anonymity across the world; some are parts of cultural tradition, while others seem more emergent, less bound by established norms.

This paper, a meta‐analysis drawing data from related academic studies, trade press and mass media, will examine recent variations in the salience, use, and comparative value of anonymity, and its tripartite relationship with individuality and collectivism, across three specific cultural contexts: China, South Korea, and Japan. Anonymity is framed in this investigation as a critical form of “context relative informational norms” within Nissenbaum’s (2010) “contextual integrity” model of social information flows. While data gathering is likely to continue until the end of 2010, some of the intermediate findings are discussed below.

Although the primary subcultures of East Asia share a broad range of social values including Confucian collectivism, they have unique stories to tell about the role and importance of anonymity in their lives.

China, perhaps, is the most surprising, where anonymity, and its affordance of experimentation with alternate online identities, is prized more highly among Chinese youth than their American counterparts. Chinese netizens have continued to push back successfully against PRC government policies to require real name registration for bloggers.

In South Korea, public sentiment is more wary of anonymity, as it is seen to have facilitated extreme and inappropriate crowd behaviors leading to public shaming and a number of suicides. Disparate, nameless crowds combine bits and pieces of knowledge about a target to identify it, a curious case (known in China as the “Human Flesh Search Engine”) in which anonymity in one place can be used to extinguish anonymity in another.

The Japanese seem to value anonymity for different reasons and are less social than the Koreans and Chinese. Their anonymous “2chan” web site was the inspiration for the West’s 4chan. Confucian collectivism expresses itself most as the desire to blend nameless into the crowd.

It is through increased understanding of global cultural contexts that we can better understand the critical role anonymity plays in social systems. Even within a region where collectivism rules over individuality, anonymity plays a surprisingly key role. We must be especially wary about assuming social systems might be better off, more secure, without it.

Ground broken for massive cybersecurity data center


The federal government has just broken ground on a massive new cybersecurity center in Utah, the “Community Comprehensive National Cyber-security Initiative Data Center .” From the Deseret News story “Utah’s $1.5 billion cyber-security center underway“:

Officially named the Utah Data Center, the facility’s role in aggregating and verifying dizzying volumes of data for the intelligence community has already earned it the nickname “Spy Center.” Its really long moniker is the Community Comprehensive National Cyber-security Initiative Data Center — the first in the nation’s intelligence community.

A White House document identifies the Comprehensive National Cyber-security Initiative as addressing “one of the most serious economic and national security challenges we face as a nation, but one that we as a government or as a country are not adequately prepared to counter.”

The most complete open source information I’ve found to date on the data center can be found at the public intelligence web site.

Washington Post Story on Monitoring America


A in-depth report today in the Washington Post describes the expanding apparatus of US domestic intelligence since the September 11th Terrorist Attacks, including fusion centers, the new Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative and the FBI’s Guardian Database. One of the many eye opening findings in this report:

The vast majority of fusion centers across the country have transformed themselves into analytical hubs for all crimes and are using federal grants, handed out in the name of homeland security, to combat everyday offenses.

This article is well worth reading, but it is missing a bit of legal context that is important to an understanding the government policy that is driving the change. US domestic intelligence is being expanded under the authority of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act (IRTPA) of 2004. This was the first and most comprehensive legal response to the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. It outlined a wholesale rewiring of the domestic intelligence apparatus and the establishment of an Information Sharing Environment (ISE). The nationwide suspicious activity reporting initiative (NSI), which journalists Dana Priest and William M Arkin mention briefly, is the primary focus of the ISE today. It includes its own federal data standard. The “See something say something” campaign which has been getting so much press recently is simply one facet of the NSI, the focus of which up until recently has been training local and state police to be intelligence agents. For a wide range of public documents that provide coverage of the NSI and ISE, see my web site, developed with the support of NYU’s Department of Media, Culture and Communication and a grant from the Department of Defense.

Patriot App for the I Phone


In case you’re wondering, the above is a real product developed by a Florida company called Citizen Concepts. It’s designed to facilitate the flow of information from citizens out in public to institutions entrusted with protecting our safety. Although the video covers the full range of security threats from fires, to tainted food, to suspicious individuals the focus appears to be the latter. The app fits right in with the new “see something, say something campaign” designed to use the citizen public as an extension of the domestic intelligence system.

USA Today poll suggests privacy is still important


Nine of 10 poll respondents say they pay little if any attention to the ads they see on websites. Still, 61% say they have noticed ads that “seemed to be directed specifically” at them and that are related to websites they’ve previously visited. Two-thirds don’t believe Internet advertisers should be able to tailor pitches by collecting data that show where they’ve been prowling around in cyberspace.

What’s more, 61% of those surveyed don’t believe that the methods used in targeting ads are justified just to keep costs down so that people can visit websites for free.

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