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December 2015

Gun violence, cybercrime, and alternatives to living in fear

A recent New York Times editorial, Fear in the Air, Americans Look Over Their Shoulders begins with “The killings are happening too often. Bunched too close together. At places you would never imagine." The article continues by saying, 

... a wide expanse of America’s populace finds itself engulfed
in a collective fear, a fear tinged with confusion and
exasperation and a broad brew of emotions. The fear of
the ordinary. Going to work. Eating a meal in a
restaurant. Sending children to school. Watching a movie.

Gun related murders, whether perpetrated by terrorists, troubled teens, or sociopaths, are altering how Americans live. How I live.

I reject the notion that we must live in fear.

I grew up in a post WW II society. I felt safe. I trusted police officers. Our moms let kids play in the streets, walk in groups to school, sit in a classroom or theater unafraid of a random or calculated act of violence.

I want that America back.  

And the only way we'll get it back is if we cease racing to absurdly polarized positions regarding gun control and begin, please, by agreeing that 

gun violence is bad and our society is lessened by the
frequency, the scale, and the casualty count.

Surely, we can begin here?

Whether you own or abhor guns,  you surely don't feel good about the deaths, the fear, the loss or the emotional pain inflicted on friends, families, and our society as a whole. Can we agree that it's time to seek common ground, or to take a look at how societies are attempting to mitigate other classes of crime? 

Gun violence and cybercrime share some characteristics. While our track record for fighting cybercrime is nothing stellar, it's worth looking at these two crime classes in juxtaposition:

  • Both acts are too easy to commit. 
  • Both acts take crime to scale, i.e., the casualty count, harm, or loss from a single event is often high. 
  • It's relatively simple, inexpensive to acquire resources to commit both acts.
  • The "One" solution - eliminate guns, computers, and networks - is riddled with Constitutional implications.

We're learning as we fight cybercrime that the most commonly proposed solutions, particularly those that see to eliminate a single contributing factor, won't work, in some cases because they violate real or perceived rights of citizens in many jurisdictions or because they would disrupt or erode confidence in Internet commerce or business systems; for example, a ban on encryption (or mandatory back doors) undermines legitimate uses of cryptography with little likelihood that it would deter criminals from employing encryption (see Schneier). Mass surveillance arguably accumulates imperfect information and successful outcomes from mass surveillance fall within the realm of probabilistic impossibility

What both of these examples illustrate to me is that we'll never make progress, we'll never truly mitigate cybercrime at national or international levels, if we try to circumvent due process. I do see game change opportunities. Efforts like the APWG's Accelerated Malicious Domain Suspension program (AMDoS) can make voluntary, collaborative counter-crime efforts more accessible, transparent and accountable. A similar opportunity may exist if we can accelerate due process to Internet pace at at international level. These initiatives will require concessions, multi-disciplinary participation (law, tech, civil society), and trust in systems, which stems from transparency and accountability. 

I don't have a solution to mitigate gun violence.  I do think that to mitigate gun violence, we need to begin by examining the solution space with the open-mindedness, multi-disciplinary participation and mutual trust that I fervently believe will positively influence counter-crime efforts,  and then define cooperative processes or legal frameworks that promote controls that balance freedoms and harms.

The alternative is to continue to live divided, and in fear.