RE: Brin on Privacy

d.brin (
Mon, 16 Dec 1996 01:03:48 -0800

>I agree with Mr. Brin that it would probably be best for everyone if we could
>all keep an eye on each other, so that we could especially watch those who
>have a great deal of power, so that we can be aware if they are planning to do
>anything dangerous to us, so that we can take action to stop them. I sort of
>agree with his point that not having privacy is a good thing.

To be precise, I distinguish between privacy (lower case), which is a
dearly pleasant product of freedom and I refuse to do without, and Strong
Privacy, which fundamentally implies secrecy, encryption and other methods
to conceal information that others might have some reasonable desire to
see. Of course there will be a fuzzy zone of overlap, which free citizens
can and will argue about.

Again, I am a moderate! I only seem an extremist because the center of
opinion in this debate is already so incredibly far tilted toward knee-jerk

However, what I
>have not read from Mr. Brin is *how* we can realistically prevent people from
>having high levels of privacy, especially the powerful. How can we stop
>people from using encryption? The people who are conspiring against us are
>the ones who will most desire privacy and secrecy, but I don't see any
>realistic way of preventing them from attaining a sufficient level of secrecy
>to keep their conspiracy private.

I discuss this in my book. It will partly be a cultural thing. If people
REALIZE that freedom is fundamentally based on accountability, there will
be a general atmosphere of suspicion toward secrecy... and greater
suspicion the more powerful the secret-keepier. Note that the mighty emply
flunkies, and those flunkies can blow whistles, leak documents, etc. Mind
you, THAT implies that it is our best interests to allow/encourage
anonymous whistle blowing! But Brin hates anonymity! What's going on?

Hey, I am a pragmatist and a moderate, not an ideologue. The reason I push
accountability is because it is what gave us this wonderful civilization.
No other reason.

Advanced encryption is profoundly difficult
>to even detect or crack. How do we stop the powerful from developing and
>using such technologies? How do we even know that they are using such
>technologies? Sure, we can voluntarily refrain from keeping our own affairs
>private, but how can we ensure that *everyone* does this?

Almost everyone will, if it is considered rude and shameful and silly to be
so paranoid, and if enough people get caught doing it and shamed.

Face it, this is inevitable! Try to picture a future society filled with
mature, self-confident grownups with ambitions but nothing to hide. Who's
gonna skulk around encrypting then? Silly paranoics, that's who.

Mr. Brin, are you
>advocating *forcing* everyone to be public with every detail of their lives?
>Or are you just hoping that everyone will see the sense you argue in not
>having too much privacy and willingly avoid being secretive?

I answered this above. In the short term, the paranoids and aynrandroids
will win. But if I am right, maturity will prevail in the long run.

What about those
>who have a real interest in keeping their affairs secret, such as the
>powerful? What are you proposing to do about them?

I propose continuing as we have. Every year we demand more accountability
from govt. The movement goes in fits and starts re: aristo-oligarchy, but
their corporations get more scrutiny each time they are caught doing shit.
What people miss is that the trend I describe is already what America has
been about for a very long time.

>Mr. Brin, you preach the virtues of a society without privacy. I would like
>to hear your plans for actually implementing this idea. It's one thing to
>argue that your idea is a good idea, and it's quite another thing to actually
>have concrete plans to implement the idea. I don't see how your idea can be
>implemented. Do you?

Thank you for the courteous and well-phrased questions. If I had answers
for every one, it would be a sure sign that I was an ideologue. I'm not.
Some suggestions etc can be found in my book manuscript. At some point
I'll be distributed a small number of copies for critique.

Best wishes,