Pete Recommends – Weekly highlights on cyber security issues, November 7, 2020 . Privacy and security issues impact every aspect of our lives – home, work, travel, education, health and medical records – to name but a few. On a weekly basis Pete Weiss highlights articles and information that focus on the increasingly complex and wide ranging ways technology is used to compromise and diminish our privacy and security, often without our situational awareness.
Four highlights from this week: Google users locked out after 15 years’ use; Beware a New Google Drive Scam Landing in Inboxes; Cyberlaw Clinic and EFF publish Guide to Legal Risks of Security Research; and Phone and email scammers have pivoted during the pandemic – Here’s how to protect yourself.
Lessons from the Ancient World about the Political Collapse and Recovery of Self-Governing Communities
This is a fascinating post by historian Bret Devereaux, who specializes in ancient history (esp. Rome), that looks at ancient self-governing democracies and republics in the Greek and Roman world and describes how they fell into crisis and, crucially, how they were able to recover to avoid losing that self-governance.
But in that large sample size, we also get a sense of what solutions succeed and what solutions fail to hold together a self-governing community in these sorts of pressures. Beset by repeated political crises from 494 to 287 (known as the Struggle of the Orders), the Roman Republic repeatedly survived and grew stronger through compromise and by constructive, inclusive redefinition of the republic to include a broader range of people (not merely the patrician elite, but also the plebeian elite). In no small part, that success seems to have been motivated by the avowed need of elite patricians for the support of the plebeian commons in order to campaign, since the plebeians made up most of the army.
In stark contrast, the effort by conservative (in the general sense, not in the American sense) elements of the Roman senate to ‘hold the line’ and permit no compromise on questions of land reform and citizenship in the Late Republic led quite directly to the outbreak of civil war in 91 (with the Italian allies) and in 88 (between Romans) and consequently to the collapse of the Republic. Initially, the influence and raw power of the elite was sufficient to squash efforts at reform (including the murder of some prominent reformers), but in the long run the discontent those crackdowns created laid the fertile ground for the rise of demagogic military leaders to supplant the Republic entirely, culminating in first Caesar and then Octavian doing just that. In an effort to compromise on nothing, the Roman elite lost everything.
Devereaux then draws a parallel to the 2020 election:
In short, Joe Biden is running on a platform of compromise and a constructive, inclusive redefinition of the polity which explicitly welcomes past opponents to join him at the table. To me, reasoning from historical example, that seems like the correct answer to the current moment.
On the other hand, we have a different candidate (and current President) who is running on a promise to ‘win’ the stasis by main force, to dominate and to win, indeed, until he (or we) get tired of winning, to escalate the tensions to the final victory of the faction. This is exactly the approach that I think a sober reading of historical examples warns us is likely doomed to failure, regardless of what one thinks of the underlying policy aims (which might well have been achieved without the rhetoric and practice of escalation). I cannot help but think that, as happened in the last decades of the Roman Republic, rewarding this sort of rhetoric and behavior will produce more of it from both parties and put our republic on a dangerous path.
Citing international precedent and America’s anti-majoritarian systems, Zeynep Tufekci argues that the next authoritarian who runs for President will be much more competent and dangerous.
The Electoral College and especially the Senate are anti-majoritarian institutions, and they can be combined with other efforts to subvert majority rule. Leaders and parties can engage in voter suppression and break norms with some degree of bipartisan cooperation across the government. In combination, these features allow for players to engage in a hardball kind of minority rule: Remember that no Republican president has won the popular vote since 2004, and that the Senate is structurally prone to domination by a minority. Yet Republicans have tremendous power. This dynamic occurs at the local level, too, where gerrymandering allows Republicans to inflate their representation in state legislatures.
The situation is a perfect setup, in other words, for a talented politician to run on Trumpism in 2024. A person without the eager Twitter fingers and greedy hotel chains, someone with a penchant for governing rather than golf. An individual who does not irritate everyone who doesn’t already like him, and someone whose wife looks at him adoringly instead of slapping his hand away too many times in public. Someone who isn’t on tape boasting about assaulting women, and who says the right things about military veterans. Someone who can send appropriate condolences about senators who die, instead of angering their state’s voters, as Trump did, perhaps to his detriment, in Arizona. A norm-subverting strongman who can create a durable majority and keep his coalition together to win more elections.
You should also read Tufekci’s related thread, where she responds to some comments and criticism of the piece.
This isn’t some rare thing that just happened because of weird circumstances. This is a playbook that works. This is a global playbook on the rise. This is a playbook found in America’s past, too. Realism is the true basis for hope.
We have to keep pushing to make sure no populist authoritarians ever get their hands on the Presidency again.
Fast Company – “Over the summer, I came across an online store that was promising big discounts on All-Clad cookware, but with a catch: You had to hand over an email address just to see what the deals were. This would have given me pause if not for a secret weapon: I loaded up a service called Abine Blur and generated a free “masked email” address to use instead of my real one. While the masked email would still forward messages to my actual Gmail inbox, the store would never learn my real address, and I could cut off any future emails with one click. I started using Abine Blur about five months ago, after hearing about it from one of my newsletter readers, and it’s since become one of my most cherished privacy services. With masked email addresses, I don’t have to worry about getting spammed just because I signed up for an app, made a donation, or subscribed to some retailer’s newsletter in exchange for a coupon. I just tell Abine Blur to stop forwarding their emails, and our link is severed…Creating email addresses in Abine Blur is pretty easy. After setting up an account, just head to the masked email menu and select “New Masked Email.” You can then specify what you’re using the address for, which will help you easily disable emails from that site or service later…”