Rock Paper Scissors

I recently attended an information night about internet safety for children. A couple of detectives ran the meeting and did a good job. They gave us a lot of information, much of which horrified me.

For example, they described how a 75 year old man owned a computer. His grandson used the computer to download some files (illegally) from a file-sharing site. But apparently this young man didn’t sign off when he was done ’sharing’, and while he went off to do whatever he had to do for a few hours, thousands and thousands of other people somehow were able to ’share’ files through his connection, or something like that (they weren’t very specific). The old man, since it was his house and his computer, ended up being slapped with a lawsuit for $75k because those files were stolen. The moral of the story: you can be sued if something goes wrong, even if you don’t know or understand a damn thing about what happened.

Another story…some people buy these tiny jump drives to store illegal things like pornography. If police officers suspect that you have something like that and need to search your house, they will turn your house upside down to find a jump drive the size of a thumbnail. You might have one, and it could be hidden anywhere. If you don’t have one? Well, then you will still get to spend the next two weeks of your life putting your house back together. The moral of the story: don’t do anything that might possibly cause a police officer to need to search your house for a type of technology that you may or may not have because they will ransack your house just to be sure.

I have nothing against law enforcement people doing their jobs to find criminals, but the attitude about things like this is a very cavalier Oh Well. As the criminals get wilier and harder to catch, the police have obviously been given greater powers under the pretext of keeping up. We know this. The technology changes so quickly that they cannot be left flat-footed, and therefore it’s understood that they will do what they need to do and worry about any problems later. Or not. Maybe they just don’t worry about things like ransacking someone’s home to find a tiny jump drive and not finding it after all, or finding it with family photos and not porn.

Let’s suppose grandma takes in her grandchild because the child’s parent has been shipped off to fight a war far away. Let’s suppose the teenage grandchild gets in trouble on the internet and the police come to search grandma’s house. Do they ransack grandma’s house to find the jump drive? What if grandma has a heart attack and dies over the stress of having police officers rummaging through her house? Oh well?

These are the scenarios that we need to think through. It’s my experience that suburban people tend to think that law enforcement should have all the power it needs to catch bad guys, and they don’t tend to think of how that power might be abused or misused. There’s an unspoken solidarity that we’re all on the same side…you know, we middle class suburban people and our police officers. Yup. And soldiers are boy scouts and the Easter Bunny is coming this Sunday.

I’m noticing that it keeps coming down to technology. It’s like a game of rock paper scissors with technology. Every time a new technology comes out, the people inclined to commit crimes use it to trump law enforcement. Then law enforcement has to trump the criminals, either by relaxing rules or getting their own new technology. Faster and faster the game goes. And most people have no clue just how relaxed the rules have gotten or how scary the technology has gotten. No clue whatsoever.

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