Re: Brin on Privacy

Robin Hanson (
Tue, 10 Dec 1996 11:31:40 -0800 (PST)

I wrote:
>... 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 ... 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 ...
>-- 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.

David Brin responded:
>Yes, that is a basic assumption of my argument. I believe it is supported
>by history.
>No mass government in all of history has known as much about its people as
>ours does. And no mass citizenry has ever been as free. The obvious fact
>is that there is zero correlation between limiting the governments access
>to information and our freedom.
>There is an almost direct correlation, on the other hand, between freedom
>and our ability to deny government officials secrecy.

I asked you to defend your assumptions about what our real choices are
regarding who can watch who, and you responded with claimed
correlation info on govt "access to info" vs. "freedom", and on
"freedom" vs. govt "officials secrecy".

I am having trouble mapping between these two sets of concepts. I
presume govt access to info means govt can watch us, and govt
officials secrecy means we can't watch govts. But what does "freedom"
mean about who can watch who? And what would these correlations imply
about our choice set?

>In fact, Robin, in your second scenario... if it is inevitable that we
>cannot watch them... it will not matter an iota whether we are all armed
>with PGP. Aristos and bureaucrats will conspire together with impunity,
>and eventually crush us. PGP is defeated pretty easily by a battering ram
>and armed storm troopers.

Not an iota? This is a pretty strong claim. It would seem that
authoritarian regimes have varied greatly in how badly they treat
their citizens, large scale conspiracies may be detected even if the
principals use crypto, and the expense of crushing each person should
effect how often folks are crushed. Perhaps you exaggerate?

Robin D. Hanson