democratising national security

If we believe that a hundred focussed and motivated pairs of eyes can make software more secure than it might be, why not argue the same about national security?

We’ve already seen the downsides of not democratising the beast: VIP paedophilia is tolerated for decades; police officers on official business get involved in taking over identities of dead babies and sleeping with activists; we could even argue that lately, whilst billions are invested in surveilling absolutely everybody, we simply do not get enough bangs for our bucks.

Neither, of course, is it absolutely certain that crowdsourcing – and/or its more rigorous cousin, open-sourcing – guarantees complete stability: the recent Heartbleed scandal an example of such a situation.

But there is a broader case to be made for democratising how we secure our society: after all, if we’re can’t bring ourselves to believe in the move, perhaps we might as well give up on the idea of liberal democracy altogether.

It’s really not very coherent to say we can only defend democracy through undemocratic means.

How would it work?  I’m not talking about spies in every street.  I don’t think I’m suggesting this should be from an operational point of view, at least not right now: we don’t want to reconstruct a Stasi in modern Britain; a police state where fear drives subjects to “snitch” on their neighbours before their neighbours “snitch” on them.

No.

Instead, I think I’d be inclined to take the Icelandic model for dealing with banking crime, and apply and re-engineer it for the context we’re talking about this morning.  It may be that ordinary people will simply suggest we do whatever those whose job it already is to action this stuff, already know and do.  But a history of occasional failure needs a degree of humility to prevent future recurrence.  In a world where gossip and the multi-tasking of streams of information is commonplace, it’s better to aim to get people onside through involving them in something constructive than to batter them blindly into submission through the tools of fear.

Collaboration is the touchstone of 21st century living, after all.

If it isn’t, it jolly well should be.

Even when they monetise us whilst we do it, we continue to want to do it.

It shouldn’t, then, be beyond the ken of clever security-minded folk to crowdsource objectives, the levels of privacy invasion we’re happy to tolerate and, indeed, all those other matters currently the responsibility of closed-off boardrooms – which existing as they do in anything but public spaces lend themselves to an unquestioning application.

And whatever your point of view in this matter, you must surely be able to see that to be unquestioning is to be inefficient: the political and operational Petri dish of inefficiency and failure, in fact.

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