Monday, June 18, 2018

Policy Bugclass: False inequivalencies

I'm going to leave it up to your imagination why this picture perfectly encapsulates every moment someone suggests two random cyber things are different that are actually the same.

We try to maintain a list of policy-world "bugclasses" when in the cyber domain. 
  1. Assuming Data or Execution is bound to a physical location
  2. Assuming code has a built-in "Intent"
  3. Building policy/law in legal language instead of in Code (i.e. policy that does not work at wire-speed is often irrelevant)
  4. False inequivalences
In this article I want to talk a little bit about False Inequivalences, since they are probably the most prevalent type of bugclass that you run into, and you see them everywhere - in export control, in national security law, in policy in general.

For example, export control law (5a1j) likes to try to draw distinctions between the ability to store and the ability to search, or (4d4) the ability to run a command, and the ability to gather and exfiltrate information. In national security policy papers you'll often see a weird distinction between the ability to gather information and the ability to destroy information. Another, more subtle error is a sort of desire to have "networks" which are distinct. Technologists look upon the domain name system as a weak abstraction, but for some reason policy experts have decided that there are strict and discernible boundaries to networks that are worth porting various International Law conventions over to.

This bugclass is a real danger, as explaining why two things are "provably equivalent in any real practical sense" annoys lawyers whose entire lifespan has been spent splitting the hairs in language, and think that as a tool, hairsplitting can produce consistent and useful global policy. 

More specifically, we need to find a way to revise a lot of our legal code to accept this reality: Title 10 and Title 50 need to merge. Foreign and domestic surveillance practices need to merge. The list goes on and on...

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