The end of privacy?

John K Clark (
Tue, 30 Jun 1998 18:31:37 -0700 (PDT)


On Mon, 29 Jun 1998 (Dan Clemmensen) Wrote:

>Brin states the obvious: the technology of surviellence is advancing
>exponentially, and we can't stop it.

That's far from obvious to me. I agree that exponential growth is involved
but I come to the opposite conclusion. If I increase the complexity of my
encryption algorithm so that it takes me twice as long to encrypt a message,
I have made my code not twice, but millions of times more difficult for an
attacker to break. The government has access to more powerful computers than
I do, but not that much more powerful. For the first time in human history
everybody on Earth will soon have the ability to communicate with anyone on
Earth in complete privacy.

Of course there is still the matter of physical privacy, secret cameras,
microphones and the like, I'm sure they will be used but I see no way they
could keep everyone under surveillance all the time as Brin thinks, there is
no enough wireless bandwidth, the signal can be blocked or jammed and due to
the wave nature of light there is a limit to how small a camera can be made.

>Brin's solution to the problem is simply to agree that all actions
>in public places are public, and give access to the scanners to
>anybody at all who wants it.

I haven't read "The Transparent Society" and have absolutely no intention of
doing so. I don't know if Brin's views have moderated, but I do know that
when I corresponded with him on this subject a year and a half ago he made no
distinction between public and private places, there were no private places
and everybody would live every second of their lives in a fishbowl, just as
Trueman did in the movie.

I must say that corresponding with Brin was the strangest experience I ever
had on the net. His first letter was almost friendly and pretty intelligent
but in each subsequent letter he seemed to drop another 15 IQ points.
It was very odd and I have no explanation for it.

>How do you propose to stop an observer, government or private? by
>force of law?

No, I'm willing to take my chances with technology, if you're smarter than me
and get through my privacy defenses then so be it.

>I must assume that you feel that law enforcement is a valid concept


>and that government is necessary.


>please describe an approach to ensuring privacy that may work.

I want no special treatment and I certainly don't want privacy laws, I just
want government to get out of the way, I'll take care of my privacy concerns

>Brin's solution is to say that since we can't protect our privacy
>from the government and other wealthy organizations and individuals,
>then the government and others should not have privacy either.

I guess he hasn't changed much, that's what he was peddling before, but first
he explained to me how evil capitalists and the "techo-elite" were and how
enlightened government bureaucrats can be. He told me there was not even one
example in history were anonymity or as he put it, selling "masks" to the
oppressed, had helped them. He told me secrecy was always bad because it was
the enemy of accountability.

I told him, politely I think, that all the evil corporations have ever done
was little more than mischief compared to the horrors governments have
committed. I told him that whatever virtues his Transparent Society might
have were irrelevant because it was inherently unstable and so would never
happen, the idea of a powerful man like the president of the USA allowing
anybody on earth to watch his every move 24 hours a day was not realistic.
I then said those who sold phony ID papers (masks) to the Jews and enabled
them to escape German murderers in the 1930's and 40's certainly helped them
and deserve praise. I asked Brin if he opposed the secret ballot used in all
modern democracies.

Brin responded to my points by calling me a liar, an ignoramus, a paranoid
little boy, and some other stuff I'd rather not repeat, then he got nasty.
He implied that I was anti Semitic. I still don't know how on earth he got
that bizarre idea into his head or why he became so hysterical, but I had the
strong hunch that if I wrote to him again he would reply by questioning the
marital state of my parents and by telling me to do things that may not be
anatomically possible. I decided that the very last thing he said to me was
good advice, he advised that I "SHUT UP!", so I did.

As I said it was all very odd.

John K Clark

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