Re: Brin on Privacy

d.brin (
Fri, 13 Dec 1996 02:05:05 -0800

Hall Finney recently wrote:
I will try to address directly one challenge which David Brin makes:
>From: (d.brin)
>> In fact, they cannot cite a single example from human history in which
>> freedom was enhanced by selling masks and chadors to the poor. But you
>> point to ANY occasion when freedom increased in the world, and I'll show
>> that it happened in direct correlation with increased ability by the masses
>> to see what the mighty were doing. Zero percent versus 100 percent is
>> pretty damn devastating. As a protection of freedom, secrecy is no match
>> for transparency.
>First, it would be interesting to hear what David has to say about this
>in more detail. I would like to see some specific examples of this
>100 percent correlation. Perhaps his forthcoming book will discuss this.

I'll make it simple, Hal. Name a free society, any time, anywhere, in
humanity's history. Rank them in order. I'll show you that the
correlative factor was nearly always how well people could hold their
leaders accountable, while personal secrecy varied according to culture and
technology, almost at right angles to freedom. Scandinavians, for
instance, have high freedom, high courtesy, low nosiness... and rather low
degrees of personal secrecy. Any citizen can look up a lot of info about
his/her neighbors. Nudity is common, etc. things were much the same in
the oldest democracy, Iceland.

In fact, there were renaissances in which personal secrecy was almost
nonexistent. The golden age of Athens featured a democracy without even
the secret ballot. Everyone knew everyone else's dirty laundry. It was
very imperfect, yet they were free compared to all that came before them.

Go ahead. Stop the mantras and self-hypnotic droning catechism about
privacy being this and freedom being that.... It's exactly the sort of
word-hypnotism used by the Marxists, who could "logically" prove the
righteousness of their cause eleventy seven days from sunday. I don't give
a rat's$%&^%$% about that. SHOW ME! Name an example from human history
of a society that was free. Name ten. Let's compare what pragmatically

In THIS democracy, it is was and always has been accountability. Something
you have never once even tried to dispute.

>Let me briefly explain what I see as the relationship between the concepts
>of privacy and freedom. This is not intended as an exhaustive or detailed
>definition, but just a broad description. Privacy generally refers to
>my having control over information about myself; freedom refers to my
>control over my own actions. The two concepts are closely analogous, one
>referring to the information world and the other to the physical world.
>To me, then, privacy is really the extension of my own freedom of self
>control into the information world.

Ah, but to your enemies, what YOU call privacy seems a lot like concealing
from them what they need to know about your nefarious schemes and nasty
conspiracies. Is it impossible to imagine that you, Hal Finney, as you
get deservedly rich and powerful, might be perceived as part of a power
bloc who someone else worries about? This RELATIVE aspect of secrecy --
that your "privacy" might be someone elses "unaccountability" is a feature
that is completely different that freedom, where my freedom is enhanced by
increasing your freedom.

I have pleaded again and again for someone on your side to address the
relativity issue, to no avail. But let's consider it a moment.

Of the five dangerous power centers in the world today, government,
aristo-oligarchies, criminals, religions and the techno elite, you ONLY
talk about government! The tools of secrecy you tout will help the other
four to conspire... and by human nature, they certainly will. They already

The fact of the matter is that there is all the world's difference between
"privacy" and "freedom", even under your definition. If I have freedom,
under your definition, I can say what I wish, argue among my fellow
citizens, live my life and try to persuade my fellow citizens that we
should vote ourselves more (or less) privacy. On the other hand, if I have
privacy but no freedom, I have nothing. I am a slave. And privacy

Again, privacy is a BENEFIT of freedom.

The fact of the matter is that most free people don't give a $#^&$ what
others know about them, as long as they can confidently see what's going
on. That is really SEE.

(Ooh! wouldn't it be awful if your neighbors knew how much you pay in
property taxes? Or the size of your mortgage? The world would end! The
sky would fall!.... Uh... oh, yeah... they already can. Uh, well, never

>Heading towards David's challenge, then, in fact I would be surprised if
>David did not agree that historically, increased freedom and increased
>privacy have generally gone hand in hand. This is actually a very
>natural phenomenon and can be easily understood. In a history where
>there is a constant struggle by one group for control over another,
>often the most (or the only) practical way for someone to escape this
>control was avoidance. They would move away, or adopt a low profile,
>"go underground". They would avoid the soldier, the tax collector,
>the census taker.

Aw geez. (1) again these are vague generalities, Hal. Hypnotic mantras.
(2) I'm not interested in tales about the oppressed in a total tyranny
needing cyphers to scurry like rats through a maze while emperors feast.
It makes great cyberpunk lit, but it's not relevant to my challenge, which
is asking you to show correlations between true historical increases in
freedom on the one hand, and either secrecy or transparency on the other.

>In the aggregate, though, I think the
>increased privacy and corresponding increased freedom which people
>achieved in this way was nevertheless very significant.

Wha? I think? When? Where?

>(Keep in mind, too, that by its nature, privacy enhancement tends not
>to make it into the history books! A person who successfully achieves
>privacy will not be a prominent public figure, he will be an "invisible
>man", someone who does not come to the attention of either the authorities
>or the historians.)

Civilization is not made by nihilists. I will defend their right to say to society. I will not defend their right to be Ted Kazinskis and
hide behind masks of anonymity while mailing bombs at what they idiotically
believe to be a tyranny.

>Burmese freedom fighters and other resistance groups around the world,
>giving thanks for the availability of privacy protecting technology,
>which they say has saved many lives.

If tyranny comes, it will be because we failed to keep the mighty
accountable. In that case, I'll certainly join the cypherpunks and use all
the secret techniques I can to fight. (I always said I was a moderate on
this issue. I just seem extreme because the "center" in this "debate" is
out on the weird fringes.) Anyway, we'll fight. But can you name such a
resistance that ever actually worked, without outside help? (I can name
one, but can you?)

Okay. Bigh Brother's here. We'll fight... until they decide they've had
enough with our PGP and underground web sites, and they knock the doors
down and kill us all and our families. So much for cypher tech.

>The best example I can give to directly address David's point, a case
>where I would argue that increased privacy provided the forces and
>motivations for a significant increase in freedom, is the American

Must I say it again? Privacy, being a benefit of freedom, will certainly
rise to some extent after a tyranny is shaken off. But the American
Revolution is the ultimate paramount example of MY correlation! It was a
revolution about accountability. About setting up the world's first system
in which the mighty were effectively exposed to light and prevented from
conspiring against the masses.

The sad thing about this is that I have been willing and ready all along to
discuss varied aspects and levels of privacy, ranging from my "benefit"
version to Strong Privacy all the way to Randite secrecy fetishism. I've
looked at it from all angles with you guys. But not once has Hal or his
rude friend made even the slightest effort to address my concern about
accountability, either to demonstrate that it is less important than their
conception of privacy, or to show that government is the only power center
that needs it, or to consider how it might involve a tradeoff with the
personal secrecy they extoll, or to show that we can apply accountability
to ALL dangerous power centers in an environment in hich secrecy is a
paramount virtue.

They comment not at all about how the privacy tools they would give the
common man will certainly be used (to greater effectiveness) by cliques of
the mighty.

Now why is that?

Again, I care not a whit about arm-waving hypnotic phrases. The challenge
stands. You are making a grand prescription for howto cure a sick society.
Well, then show us examples that the prescription has worked in even one
patient before this.

David Brin

PS.... Hal, you and Robin understand that I'm flamboyant and noisy. But I
like you guys and would never holler this way at folks whose brains I
didn't dig. I don't have the life span to waste any on fools.