Re: Brin on Privacy

Robin Hanson (
Mon, 9 Dec 1996 15:04:48 -0800 (PST)

I wrote:
>In his 12/96 Wired article ... Brin says that it is
>inevitable that most of us will be viewed by cameras while we walk
>about in public, and "the proliferation of vast databases ... about
>our lives, habits, tastes, and personal histories."
>But he says we can still choose whether or not the public knows that
>they are so watched, whether there are cameras in police stations, and
>whether cameras are banned from many indoor places. ...
>The obvious question is: why are these the choices? Why is the one
>set open to change and the other set not? Without hearing some
>reasoning in defense of this division, it is hard to take Brin's
>analysis very seriously.

David Brin replied:
>Alas, I find Robin's question opaque. I read it several times and can see
>he was trying to set me a clear question, but it just doesn't register.
>What, specifically, is he trying to ask. Help?

Sorry to be opaque, let me elaborate. Your basic argument appears to
be that it is inevitable that "they" will be able to watch "us", but
that we may be able now to choose whether we watch them. Given your
assumptions, your anti-privacy answer is obvious -- of course, let us
watch them. But what if you are dead wrong about your assumptions?
If it were inevitable that we could not watch them, but open to choice
whether they could watch us, the obvious choice would be pro-privacy
-- let them not watch us.

Given that your assumptions about what is and isn't likely to be up
for grabs matter this much, you need to give explicit arguments to
defend these assumptions. I'm not saying you're wrong - just undefended.

>Robin, I do not insist that these are the only choices. I maintain only
>that the mighty have a window of opportunity in which they MAY be able to
>set up barriers against light. Barriers that you and I cannot hope to
>match, no matter how many PGP programs the cypherpunks tout. WE will live
>in glass houses, like it or not.

I will join your crusade, *if* you can convince me that you have
correctly identified here what is open to change here and what is not.

Robin D. Hanson