Transparent Society (WAS: RE: law enforcement for profit)

From: Billy Brown (
Date: Sat May 06 2000 - 13:46:43 MDT

Zero Powers wrote:
> There is no question that a completely transparent society would be near
> impossible to implement *now*. However, all the obstacles you mention are
> dependent upon present-day public attitudes and present-day technology.
> Both of these are rapidly changing, even exponentially so. So when you
> me that ubiquitous surveillance won't happen *in the future* I simply
> believe it. I could be wrong, but I don't believe it.

Loosely speaking, the capacity of any society to implement a universal
surveillance system would be proportional to per capita wealth times
available technology. Less obviously, the ability of the same society to
implement security measures is determined by exactly the same equation.

Security vs. surveillance is an arms race, just like projective penetration
ability vs. armor stopping power. That isn't obvious, because until recently
the natural defenses provided by geography, biology and (most of all) human
information processing capacity were sufficient to make any attempt at
universal surveillance a hopeless task. But these limits are fixed, so as
technology improves they will gradually become insignificant and the arms
race effect will come to predominate.

Unless some unforeseen technology emerges to give one side to the that a
dramatic advantage, surveillance appears to be a typical arms race case.
Neither "attack" nor "defense" has a large inherent advantage, so the victor
will depend on circumstances. Keeping what you do in public a secret will be
almost impossible, but keeping what happens in your house a secret is a much
easier problem. Many of the places people are most interested in keeping
private (small enclosed spaces, virtual worlds, personal records and online
activity) are inherently quite easy to defend against surveillance, unless
you have the government outlaw defensive technologies.

All in all, I see no reason to predict a big win for either side in this
struggle based purely on the evolution of technology.

Billy Brown

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