Brin on privacy

John K Clark (
Sat, 14 Dec 1996 21:16:49 -0800 (PST)


On Fri, 13 Dec 1996 (d.brin) Wrote:

>Scandinavians, for instance, have high freedom, high


>low nosiness

If you say so, but I have no knowledge of that one way or the other.

>and rather low degrees of personal secrecy. Any citizen can
>look up a lot of info about his/her neighbors.

Excellent! Privacy laws do more harm than good. You should be free to find
out everything you can about me, limited only by your abilities as an
investigator. If there is something that I don't want you to know about me
then it's my responsibility to put that information in a place where you
can't find it. If you're smarter than me and discover it despite my best
efforts then so be it, you beat me fair and square.

>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.

I would certainly agree with that. I conclude that if I want privacy I
shouldn't count on third parties, especially government, to dole it out to
me as a favor, I've got to grab it.

>your "privacy" might be someone elses "unaccountability"

Yes, it's possible.

>my freedom is enhanced by increasing your freedom.

Not always, your "freedom" might be my "persecution", again there is no
reason to expect third parties to hand out freedom if we are good little
boys, like we might give a biscuit to a dog. If you want freedom the best one
to give it to you is you.

>Of the five dangerous power centers in the world today,
>government, aristo-oligarchies, criminals, religions and the
>techno elite, you ONLY talk about government!

In general I have absolutely no objection to power centers, they had to
happen and some I am very fond of them, civilization would certainly be dead
without them. Aristo-oliga... I'm sorry that's too much of a tongue twister
for me, Business drives the economy, Techno Elite drives Science and the only
criminals I fear are the unorganized ones, the ones who will put a bullet in
my brain because they don't like the way I part my hair. The power centers I
dislike are the ones that force you to join, government and religion. In the
western world only government, mostly.

>there is all the world's difference between "privacy" and
>"freedom", even under your definition.

I don't see how you could have one but not the other.

>if I have freedom, under your definition, I can say what I
>wish, argue among my fellow citizens, live my life

And if I have privacy I can do all that and more, and it makes not the
slightest difference if my self proclaimed masters say I can or can not.

>if I have privacy but no freedom, I have nothing. I am a

Big Brother can pass all the oppressive, genocidal, laws he wants to, if he
has no way of enforcing them, no way of knowing if I've broken the law or
not, then they can't cramp my style in the slightest. With the increasing
importance of the Black Market, the one true free market, governments will not
be overthrown, they'll just become as irrelevant as The Flat Earth 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.

A straw man and very insulting. Nobody is defending Ted Kazinskis, certainly
nobody on the Extropian list, if he hadn't been caught some of us could have
been his victims.

>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.

And destroy all the worlds PC computers and shut down the Internet? Not
impossible I suppose but pretty damn unlikely.

>[Privacy] will certainly rise to some extent after a tyranny
>is shaken off.

You bet it will!! Government leaders will enthusiastically support your
proposal, well half of it anyway, the part about keeping their subjects under
constant surveillance. As for the other half:

" My fellow Americans, I am sure that very soon, real real soon, there will
be a camera right here in my oval office so you can watch me conduct the
business of this wonderful country, just as I can now watch each and every
one of you 24 hours a day 365 days a year. The day that you good, dear
wonderful people can scrutinize my every move will be the happiest day of my
life, and I mean that sincerely. Unfortunately there are evil men out there,
leaders of godless nations, who refuse to let me spy on them as is my right. If
they knew everything I was doing but I knew nothing about them it would give
them an unfair advantage. Please understand, I don't want to keep secretes
for you my dear wonderful friends, but only from bad men in foreign lands,
but to my everlasting sorrow I can't do one without the other. I am
There is another reason to preserve the privacy of the president, a reason
that would instantly convince my strongest critics. I do SO want to tell
you what it is, but for National Security reasons I can't. Just trust me,
it's a wonderful reason that would make you proud of this wonderful country
and its wonderful people. I'm sure this unfortunate situation is only
temporary and I can very soon tell you everything, in the meantime I want to
assure you that I will never lie to you, I am not a crook, I feel your

>You are making a grand prescription for how to cure a sick
>society. Well, then show us examples that the prescription
>has worked in even one patient before this.

In the first place it's not a prescription it's a prediction, it matters not
a bit if you or I or The President or The Pope thinks it's a good idea or not.
In the second place I'm unable to find a precedent for the current situation
because never before in human history has it been possible to instantly
communicate with anybody on earth, even somebody on the other side of the
planet, and be impossible for any other living being to know what you were
sating. Never before did we know about DC nets and Steganography so you can't
even tell who I'm talking to, much less what I'm saying. Never before has it
been so easy to engage in regulatory arbitrage and put money in any place on
Earth you have decided is most friendly to it, never before have we known how
to make totally anonymous digital cash that is far more secure than paper
money and can be sent out of the country over a wire.

It is for these reasons that the central pillar of your argument, that privacy
must invariably decay, is fatally flawed. You're the one trying pedal a
prescription, personally I have grave doubts your snake oil would work, but it
wouldn't matter even if it did because the medicine is impossible to obtain.

John K Clark

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