An Algorithmic and Social Introduction to Computer Science (CSC-105 2000S)

Response to Risks Digest 20.77


A rather interesting digest, if I may so say. My initial impression was that this is a compilation of comments and observations about technology from computer users around the nation. (isn't that what a digest is?) Probably the most freighting thing i read, simply because of the sheer reality of it, was the part pertaining to identity fraud. I do not believe that identity fraud occurred nearly as much 10 years ago as it does today. Of course, 10 years ago we did not have the same type of technology available to users. I believe that there are two evident reasons as to why identity fraud has increased. First off, there are people out there with malicious intentions who have the ability to replicate with much more ease, documents that are supposed to be "official." College campuses around the nation are swarming with people who sell fake identification cards to minors. With stolen ID templates, they can easily create an "official" ID card with a high quality printer, a scanner, and a photo editor (Adobe). The second thing, is our dependence on technology. Everywhere we go, we are required to prove that we are who we say we are. We do this with "official" documents. As blank (Sam R.), you can get a job because you have an ID card, a social security number, a birth certificate, a passport, etc.. that say you are who you claim to be. All of these things are made because of technology. And, our society has become so reliant on them as proof, as the truth. So, if i present a falsified "official" document, people are bound (by law) to accept it as being real (unless it is evident that it is not real)

What is my conclusion here? I do not know. well, I'd hate to put the blame on technology and I can't say that society is to blame (for being gullible). I'd like to blame the government (it's always good to blame the government) for imposing a system that requires such "official" document, but what does that do?


The issue of privacy seemed to echo throughout the risks digest in many of the entries -- not only individual privacy, but government and business privacy, and technologies used in both maintaining and 'invading' privacy. To some extent, I feel like it's the price we have to pay for being slaves to technology, if we're going to broadcast information about ourselves over computers or cellular phones, perhaps we shouldn't expect this information to be private. This could go for governmental and business privacy too. Then again, it's important to think of whose interests are served when secrets can be kept, and whose secrets are deemed important enough to be protected. I think that big business is going to find people and market to them whether they're on-line or not. I'm more concerned about the government and insurance companies and the like looking over people's shoulders in order to "catch" them at something or other. Then again, maybe some people should be caught.

I think that the person who wrote "lessons of Y2K" was on the right track. The technological revolution is great, but we need to step back and look at the bigger picture. I think that there are probably a lot of people out there right now who probably think that they're doing the world a favor by trying to create or innovate in this field faster than their competitors, or by financing these people, but I just can't concede all of that money being poured into making the next Palm Pilot or a better web browser or a computer you can wear on your head. Computers are a great convenience, and I want to be able to support the expansion of this technology while at the same time advocating for radical social change, but this is very difficult. It often seems like a zero-sum game -- technology OR people -- even though I know we have the potential to make it both. Can I support the radical potential of technology without supporting the current structure of big business that creates and maintains most of it? I don't really know.


i was actually interested in two aspects of the digest. one being the identity theft and the other about how technology is the reverse of evolution. the identity fraud just because i think about how relatively easy that must be. i know that were i interested in them, i could easily get a fair number of grinnell college students' social security numbers, and from that and their name, one can do a lot of damage. it makes me feel good to know that my credit cards have policies where i wouldn't have to pay charges that aren't mine but i do worry about other things, such as check cards that often don't have those same policies. and that girl's experience where she had all these fake records was just scary. seems that someone either had a serious grudge against her or was just having too much fun, because i can't imagine what the other person would gain from doing that.

as for the technology one, i think everything he said was true. it is ridiculous the society we live in and how much we rely on artificial conditions. heaters, air conditioners, cars. we can't work out if the gym's closed. as if the great outdoors or things improvised in your house wouldn't cut it. makes me think we're setting ourselves up for one big failure. i mean as a species in a future beyond our lifetimes. i don't see how this kind of living can be sustainable though. i don't know. i'm sure there are those who would disagree with me.


[In response to the identity theft article.]

I found this article to be one of the most interesting in the digest. I think it's scary to think that people can just steal an identity. Moreover, it seems that as computers take over in various sectors of our lives (like electronic money storing devices) that the danger that experienced hackers could steal an identity, money, or anything else that can be stored in a computer system is more threatening. The article points out more how storing identity information on computers is helpful until an identity is stolen, and then it may be endless grief for the victim.


It was interesting to read about how various national governments are being affected by different kinds of technological risks. Particularly in fields that are highly sensitive, like nuclear technology. It was pretty ridiculous that the security in the DOE's nuclear labs with regard to passwords was so lax, though given that we're talking about a branch of the U.S. government, it didn't surprise me all that much. Even in the Japanese case, even though you're not talking about highly sensitive material, it's still disturbing that people have the capability to penetrate and alter government sources. But just generally, all the articles, from the one about credit card fraud in Japanese department stores, to the French listening in on the Brits' cell phone conversations, to how it took four years for that French guy to outsmart the supposed "smart" cards, aside from making me kind of paranoid, really made me wonder if there really is any such thing as absolute security. Even theoretically, is there actually any kind of security system that can't somehow be decoded or cracked or broken into?


[In response to the Y2K article.]

Society controls the rate of change of technology. The advances in the 20th Century were relatively faster than any other century every. The standard of living now is higher than at any other time. Technology is largely if not completely responsible for that. Humans are not changing, the products humans use are. As long as humans control the rate of technological change the rate of change will not overtake society. Individuals can choose to use technology or resist it. Those who resist make due and do not enjoy the increase in standard of living. Technology may or may not exacerbate faults in the human condition. The advantages technology offers far outweigh the cost of human adaption.


I thought the one about the French Intelligence intercepting British phone conversations was pretty interesting. I don't see how that is legal, or why it continues to happen even after the British found out about it - especially because it could have such crucial effects. I suppose that there always has and always will be people (e.g. spies) who try to get important, secret information from other countries, but in this case, I think the French Intelligence has gone a little too far.

I also thought it was crazy/interesting how someone stole that college student's identity after stealing her car and handbag. I don't understand how that is possible. It is pretty scary though, as in her case, she almost lost her job and more because of it.


Okay, this may be the very first thing, but I think it's really neat (bad word choice for the person involved, though) that our society has come to the point where it's possible for a person to be thoroughly harmed without anyone touching them or stealing anything important of theirs. I'm actually surprised that the author was unwilling to write a quick allusion to "The Net," either the movie or TV series, which dealt with just that kind of identity theft. As "neat" as it might be, this theft is also very frightening. How secure are we if our identities can be stolen and tampered with such that we can no longer function as ourselves? The dangers of a highly computerized society? Perhaps . . . .


There was really only one item that caught my eye. This was the one titled "Lessons of Y2K." I am taking an Anthropology course on sociobiology (or evolutionary psychology or whatever you want to call it) and the idea of our environment changing faster than evolution can keep pace with is interesting. We were discussing in class the other day how the speed of our innovation has made our culture and technology far surpass the evolutionary state of our bodies. Biologically we still have the bodies of hunter-gatherers. Our medical technology has doubled our lifespan, but now that we make our bodies last longer they can't deal with the stress of old age. Our use of "external minds" is interesting, but the author is misinformed about the capacity of our brains. The common thought is that humans only use 10% of the ability of our brains, but this is just not true. The reality is that humans are yet to understand completely how our brains work.


[Sam had tacked his response onto a daily question, and I'd missed it.]

By the way, I'm sorry that my risk digest response from last week didn't turn up. I wrote about the Superbowl XXXIV/XXX website mix ups. It was a pretty hilarious article. It really highlighted some of the inaccurate intricacies of the web and search engines, where the utmost amount of accuracy can sometimes be misleading. It also brings into play the concept of url ownership and the minute differences that can mean a world of disparity.

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