Re: Brin on Privacy

d.brin (
Tue, 10 Dec 1996 02:47:27 -0800

>My statement of David Brin's views was based on my sincere attempt to
>understand them in our correspondence a couple of years ago.

Sorry Hal. At the time I found willful and eager misinterpretation to be a
better characterization of your attempt. It's why (despite sincerely
liking you, and respecting your obvious intelligence) I had to exit our
useless exchange.

>In discussing the pros and cons of privacy, Brin argues that there is
>a dichotomy between privacy and freedom, that if we have the one, we cannot
>have the other.

This proves my point. It is, indeed, a total misunderstanding. I said no
such thing.

What I have said repeatedly is that privacy is a very nice thing. But it is
a BENEFIT of freedom. Even in a transparent society we will have some
privacy, because as sovereign citizens we will be able to demand some.
Under freedom, we can negotiate ways and means with each other.

But accountability is not a benefit, it is the absolute basis of freedom.
Its prime prerequisite. Without accountability, freedom will die. That is
history. That is human nature.

>He says that our efforts to preserve
>privacy will actually cost us our freedom.

Only if those efforts are not about privacy at all, but are about paranoic
secrecy. Inability to see the difference (and there is one) plagues the
self righteous.

>In discussing the Clipper chip debate, a still-active policy dispute over
>the government's efforts to ensure that it can get access to the plaintext
>of encrypted communications, Brin offers a "Third Option": neither allow
>the government a monopoly on eavesdropping, nor let individuals and
>corporations have the ability to send meaningless scrambled messages and
>static. If the average person can't read the message, it should be
>forbidden. Encryption must be banned!
>Now he then follows this with some caveats related to the _practicality_
>of the proposal, but not to the moral justification.

I am, indeed, resigned to seeing us pass through a brief age of fog, in
which people fill the corridors of honesty (the internet) with clouds of
deceit. But it won't matter much. Those who rely on masks will be
dismissed by mature people as irrelevant.

Again, my role as curmugeonly contrarian is partly what drew me into this
debate. The near universality of the secrecy-fetishism argument provoked me
to offer a 3rd choice. So? Not once have I heard a cypherpunk admit the
existence of an entire class of solutions to the privacy dilemmas we face
-- the mutual transparency class, which should be part of any mature
discussion of these issues.

>Brin concludes the draft of his book by clarifying that he personally
>has a vested interest in what he is advocating....
>While I find it admirable that Brin is willing to make this forthright
>admission, it still makes me question his arguments.

Pah! Again you pick and choose to support your point. I _also state that
in the long run, I'll wind up living off charity anyway, so it hardly
matters! I am arrogant enough to believe that people will pay me well all
my life for the fecundity of my mind. Copyright or no copyright. Don't
trawl for motives, Hal. It's a discursive trick that's beneath you.

And now when he
>says that his position is "diametrically opposed" to my characterization,
>I can only wonder at why he would have found it necessary to make this
>admission if I was so wrong in my reading of his views.

Say what? Your sentences do not parse well and make no sense at all to me,
Hal. Hint: re-read email before sending. I have no idea what the above

I reiterate. You have never shown the slightest sign of paraphrasing me
accurately. Dats a fack.

>What bothers me is when he departs from prediction and gets into advocacy,
>as in the examples above. If he wants to prevent me from using encryption
>on the net, or he tries to convince people that they face a choice between
>privacy and freedom (with the implication that they must forbid privacy
>in order to retain freedom), I see threats to my own freedom of choice
>and action. I am not trying to demonize Brin or exaggerate his views.
>I do, however, view his ideas as dangerous in their implications.

Oh, Hal. Like the cypherpunks NEVER advocated anything! ;-)
Can the sanctimony, eh?

Get this, Hal. Whether or not you admit it, you and I are very much the
same... individualist eccentrics who know in our hearts that we would be
squashed flat in any society that practiced traditional human
authoritarianism, because with our big mouths we'd harrangue the priests
and kings til they hung us! Each of us feels a desperate need to defend
freedom's ramparts. You perceive the best defense as giving all the po'
folks armor plate and masks to walk around in, saying this will keep the
mighty from harming us'ns.

I say, give the masses light sabers and make the kings and priests and rich
men walk around in their skivvies like the rest of us.

I leave it to readers to decide which sounds more plausible. *


*Here's a clue. Which method has contemporary America used? Now tell me
which ancient empire you'd rather have been born in.