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Commentary: 'Challenge Network'
by Arnaud De Borchgrave
Washington (UPI) May 17, 2012

Clash in US on mobile privacy protection
Washington (AFP) May 17, 2012 - Law enforcement officials and civil liberties advocates clashed Thursday at a US congressional hearing on a proposed law to protect the "location privacy" of people using mobile phones.

A House of Representatives panel called the hearing on the Geolocational Privacy and Surveillance Act, aimed at protecting people from being tracked by police through their phones without a search warrant, except in emergencies.

Catherine Crump of the American Civil Liberties Union welcomed the proposal and said it would help ensure constitutional rights against "unreasonable" searches.

"Americans' privacy rights are threatened by warrantless access to geolocational information, and history teaches that the executive cannot be counted upon to police itself," she told the committee.

The ACLU maintains that many police forces take advantage of the ambiguity in the law to track people without consent or probable cause of a crime.

"Congress cannot afford to wait any longer to enact a warrant and probable cause requirement for location tracking," she said. "Today Americans' privacy rights are being violated routinely by invasive location tracking, particularly cell phone tracking."

But John Ramsey of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association said the law would tie the hands of police when they are investigating crimes or trying to catch criminals.

"Who are we protecting with this legislation? The innocent or the criminals?" he said.

"Do we really want to slow down the apprehension of murderers and rapists so they can build their trophy wall by increasing the amount of legal documents necessary to gather information?"

Joseph Cassilly of the National District Attorneys Association said the law "would hamper law enforcement's ability to quickly obtain important information that could be used to save lives."

"Because so many cases are time sensitive in nature -- including child abductions, other forms of kidnapping and organized criminal and/or terrorist activities -- law enforcement must be able to work these cases without unnecessary administrative delay," Cassilly said.

But Ed Black of the Computer & Communications Industry Association backed stronger privacy protection, saying, "To cede to government the unchecked power to track you wherever you are is to lay the cornerstone of the surveillance state."

The US Supreme Court has held that the use of GPS devices placed by police on a suspect's car constitutes an "unreasonable search" under the constitution. But the question of cell phone tracking is still making its way through the courts.

Several members of Congress have introduced bills calling for "location privacy" to be respected by police, except in cases of emergency.

Privacy advocates say real-life police, like the ones on TV, often use phones to track suspects despite the murky legal situation. This could be limited if courts provide clearer rulings or if Congress passes legislation on "location privacy."

The British-led Challenge Network attracts thinkers about the future, companies geared to 2020-40 and former government leaders with future scenarios based on their experience of muddling through.

On the bridge of Challenge Network is Oliver Sparrow, a former head of planning at Royal Dutch Shell and a former director of Chatham House, Britain's most prestigious think tank. He put together a set of scenarios for the year 2040 and invited futuristic brains from around the world to react to them.

One of those asked to participate is Richard O'Neill, who heads the Highlands Forum, a one-time Pentagon think tank that has brought together a brain trust of some 500 out-of-the-box thinkers from all forms of human endeavor --from astronauts to spelunkers -- and from all sciences.

What the world needs urgently, says O'Neill, "is a number of new institutions and mechanism to cope with easily foreseeable difficulties." And the Challenge Network explains why this probably won't happen.

"Emergent economy middle classes will outnumber the entire industrial world population by several times" by 2025, "which will give rise to its own forms of friction." And "the primary impact will be on those least able to pay or least able to deploy technology."

"The quality of their lives," says the Network, "will be diminished by 2025, whatever the ostensible economic growth (and) the result is predictably fractious."

"The prospect for rapid solidarity among the Asian proletariat is augmented both by information technology and a tradition of solidarity," it explains, and this could have "momentous consequences (such) as the unionization of China that would then have major impacts on labor and politics in the West."

Those with "neither mass solidarity nor good prospects may look to other means -- the more focused and technologically-aware use of terror," says the Challenge Network document.

The Network has come up with three scenarios for 2040: Waking Up, Yesterday's Future and Neglect and Fracture. They explore "two key dimensions." At the "crudest level, the wealthy world must accept radical curbs on its accustomed behavior and the billions of poor aspirants must submit to a degree of external management and narrower horizons."

Their "negotiating strength, which their demographic and economic numbers imply, and the moral high ground that they occupy in negotiation, imply that the rich, powerful world has to cede the most."

Yesterday's Future is "a long twilight period in which 9 billion people learn to live together, doing so under more and more pervasive transnational control of the choices that are open to individual lives. People in the poor nations have few bright horizons, middle-income lives are bound up with restrictions on mobility, energy use; middle-income lives are bound up with restrictions on mobility, energy use; the rich world is preoccupied with maintaining stability around growing demand and static or costly resources."

The Yesterday's Future world is "of course dotted with locations and situations where negative forces have taken over … dominated by populist voices that deny the need for change and the right of others to impose their views."

If the protection of local interests prevails -- "natural status, commerce, employment" -- a large part of the world "will drift into the probably irresolvable world of N&F" -- "Neglect and Fracture."

This translates into a world "dominated by short-term accommodations, increasingly erratic supply costs and sharp economic discontinuities."

"The poor world is quickly and finally affected and, in some cases, this drift may turn into a catastrophic and rapid downturn for even richer and more established nations."

"A significantly N&F world," says the Network, "would skirt an aptly named archetype: Fearsome Chaos."

The Challenge Network says that Moore's law extrapolated "gives us a laptop with human level processing power in 2026 and the processing power of the entire human race in about 2030. It is not unlikely, therefore, that what we now see as cellphones and tablets will become aware of the owner's general situation and able to hold conversations and dispense advice."

And in 2040, the Network predicts, the world will have something "around 60 times as much deployable science as we have today" and "a commerce that is using tools as distinct from those of today as those of Victorian England."

On the optimistic side, sensors we are told "can now watch up to 7,000 genes turn on and off in real time." And next year, the ability to "sequence a human-sized genome for under $1,000."

There are undoubtedly countless millions -- 60 percent of the world's population is 20 or younger -- "whose life will be getting worse in coming years. Higher costs for the poor do not always mean higher wages."

"A generation in Africa and Central Asia," predicts the Network, "will be immersed in a culture of blame and hopelessness."

"Incoherent anger" is the key ingredient in "terror used as a tool by sophisticated and cynical quasi-criminal or would-be dictators."

The Challenge Network in one of its conclusions says this is a "frightening prospect … that may find considerable resonance in the disaffected of the industrial world."


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