Re: An Argument Against Privacy was: Openness.

Hal Finney (
Thu, 19 Nov 1998 12:47:37 -0800

Paul Hughes, <>, writes:
> However, David Brine make avery good point. It is only a matter of time
[Slight typo, you meant David Brin]
> before 'gnat' bots become widely available - equipped with the latest
> micro-sized video cameras and solid-state recording. With a plethora of
> such flying solid-state devices, what is to keep anyone from spying on anyone
> else? Not much, considering that such gnatbots could conceivably infiltrate
> even the most heavily guarded top-secret facilities.

This overlooks the possibility that future privacy-enhancing technologies will exist as well. It's very difficult to predict which side will win. We may see a technological pendulum which makes privacy alternately easy and hard as new attacks and defenses are invented.

In fact, we have often discussed technologies which would make the gnat's job more difficult or even impossible. Lightweight head mounted displays will paint an image directly onto the retina. This would make it pretty tough for the gnat to see what you were viewing online. At a later stage, implants could do the same thing to the optic nerve, and later to other parts of the brain. Eventually you have technologically mediated mental telepathy, full-sense VR and direct brain access to the information nets. At that point it all comes down to the security of the software and encryption which is used.

> So the question remains - is this a bad thing? And if so, is there a way
> to avoid it anyway amidst a proliferation of commercial gnatbots?

I see two broad choices for the question of privacy. One is to let the question be answered by how the technology works out. There would be a technological competition between the spies and the spied-upon, and one side wins in the end. We let the chips fall where they may, and at the end maybe we will have privacy, or maybe we won't.

>From some points of view, this is a frustrating choice since we don't know
now which side will win, and it seems odd to leave such a fundamental aspect of our future lives to what amounts to chance. On the other hand, we are part of a universe with certain fundamental properties, and whether it turns out that privacy is ultimately possible or impossible within that universe, maybe we'd better learn to live with it.

The other possibility is to try to force the question to come out one way or the other. Some social faction could demand that there be privacy, or that there be no privacy, and attempt to require people to behave accordingly. This wouldn't necessarily involve coercive force, it could be based on voluntary agreement, say a closed society where you have to abide by its conventions to enter.

This is an attractive solution, particularly if society is diverse enough that different approaches can be tried locally, with competition among the various groups so that the best method wins. However, it may be unstable in that there would be pressure to try to cheat, and the laws of physics would be on the side of the cheaters (assuming that the outcome is the opposite of what would have happened in the first case).