RE: Privacy

Billy Brown (
Wed, 31 Mar 1999 12:47:24 -0600 wrote:
> One concern I have here is your word "truthfully". Earlier, in the
> discussion of miniarchy vs anarchy, you included "fraud" in your list of
> crimes, along with murder, theft, and so on. Fraud is basically lying
> in a commercial context.
> Would we really want to make it illegal to tell a lie in some cases?

In the narrow sense in which fraud was originally defined, yes. Fraud is specifically limited to the act of inducing someone to enter into a contract with you by providing them with factual information that is demonstrable false. If your comments are a matter of opinion, or are made in some other context, or are not a significant factor, they can't be considered fraud.

I think this protection is necessary to the functioning of any modern economy, because it is a large part of what makes it possible for strangers to do business with each other. Without it, you are forced into a position where you must investigate the reputation of everyone you ever buy anything from, which is completely impractical for a modern consumer (let alone a modern business).

> Lying in love may
> be OK (or is it?), but how about breaking a promise in a marriage

That would be breach of contract, not fraud.

> Also, lying is fundamentally a matter of state of mind. Stating a
> is only a lie if you know it to be false. This makes it hard to
> prove that someone lied and makes justice that much more difficult and
> uncertain.

This is one of the reasons for defining fraud narrowly. You can only be prosecuted if you claim to know the answer to a question of fact, and then give an answer that is false. If you lie about the terms of a contract, or the performance of your product, or something similar, you are held liable for any damage that false information may cause. In any other circumstance, you are under no obligation.

> Making lying illegal would also suggest making slander and
> libel illegal. This is a terrible gray area in the legal system, with all
> kinds of loopholes and tests for when you can lie, is it parody, did
> you know it would cause damage, is the person a public figure, etc. I
> wouldn't want to see all this baggage in a miniarchy or my chosen private
> law provider.

Yes, libel law is a swamp. I don't see a good resolution to that problem either way - their needs to be some kind of protection against real smear campaigns, but I don't see a good way to write such a law. Until someone comes up with a good solution to the problem, my instinct is to make no laws.

However, fraud is a much more clear-cut issue, and a much more important one. IMO we can easily draft a clear, enforceable statute, and it is very much worthwhile to do so.

> I would prefer a system in which people can say what they like. If they
> get a reputation as a liar they will suffer the consequences. The market
> will punish liars by giving their word no credibility. They will not
> be able to make contracts, they will not be listened to. Heinlein had
> a comment in one of his stories: if a man gets a reputation as a liar,
> he might as well be struck dumb, for no one will pay attention to what
> he says.

If only it were that easy.

The problem is that in modern society most of your economic interactions will be with complete strangers. Even if everyone who knows Fred realizes that he is a lying thief, the odds that you will hear about him are very low. If he is even moderately good about covering his tracks that chance becomes miniscule. Unless his business happens to be heavily dependant on repeat customers, he will probably do just fine.

Billy Brown, MCSE+I