Re: Brin on Privacy

Peter C. McCluskey (
Sun, 15 Dec 1996 11:12:57 -0800 (d.brin) writes:
>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.

I will suggest Switzerland as an example of a fairly high-secrecy,
high-freedom country that doesn't fit your correlation well.
But I suspect the correlation you see is real. That doesn't make it
obvious what is cause and what is effect. I find it easy to imagine
that both freedom and low demand for secrecy are the result of high
degrees of tolerance, and that freedom and secrecy have no measurable
causal effect on each other.

>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.

What do privacy and accountability have to do with each other? I think
we all agree that government accountability is important for producing
freedom, and if you had a clear argument that accountability was inversely
proportional to privacy, I would admit you had a strong argument.
But I have no trouble imagining conditions under which total privacy
and total accountability coexist. My attempts to hold the account accountable for the ideas it emits will probably not be
hindered if I am unable to trace it to a human, committee, AI or whatever
else might control it. I can hold Chrysler accountable for the quality
of its cars by reading Consumer Reports much more easily than by methods
which require that Chrysler give up some privacy. In a completely free
society, I could hold the U.S. government accountable by checking whether
people who subscribed to its services are better off than those who
subscribe to Switzerland's services, and do business with whichever
was better (in a free society I could switch in much the same way I
can switch insurance companies).
The way governments currently operate, there is some need to limit
their privacy (i.e. we need to know which congresscritters voted for
which laws), but I see no sign that tools such as PGP threaten this

>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

I agree that having different rules for government employees is
suspect (I want governments to become competing corporations with
no monopolistic claims of jurisdiction, so I don't want them to
have different rights than other corporations). I am even more puzzled
by your belief that secrecy will make religions noticeably more
dangerous than by your belief that it will make governments more

Peter McCluskey |                        | "Don't blame me. I voted | | for Kodos." - Homer Simpson |     |