Brin on privacy

John K Clark (
Mon, 16 Dec 1996 19:39:51 -0800 (PST)


Hi David:

> Sun Dec 15
>They'll [power centers] still screw us if they ever get the
>chance. Your complacency seems strange, given your
>prescription for paranoid encryption.

Power exists in society (fortunately, I'd hate to live in a powerless world)
and like matter, energy, information, and everything else in the Universe,
it is not distributed evenly; after all, we've known for more than a century
that the aether does not exist. Raging against power centers is like raging
against electromagnetism.

>Bullshit. Kazynski would use PGP if he could.

Kazynski never used PGP, he wouldn't dream of such a thing, he hated it more
than you do, it's FAR too high tech for him. On the other hand, we know for
certain that he used a bicycle to help him in his nefarious activities.
Should bicycles be banned?

>When OTHER Kazynskis want to do it, they most certainly will.

Yes, bad people as well as good will use PGP, just like every other invention
any human being has ever made.

Let's forget about morality for a minute and talk a little about practicality.
The government has shown that it is utterly incapable of stopping even
something as concrete as an object from coming into the country, an object
like hundreds of tons of cocaine or many thousands of tons of cannabis.
Encryption is just Mathematics and PGP is not an object, it's a sequence of
bits. If you can't even stop objects from entering the nation how on earth
are you going to stop bits, bits that can be duplicated endlessly at no cost,
bits that can be easily and very effectively hidden, bits that can make use
of the new communication channels that open up daily to every part of the
planet? Like it or not the world is changing, learn to live with it.

>I know that men who escape accountability often conspire
>together to rob other men of their liberty, and then their
>women and wheat.

I'll make a deal with you, if you don't call "privacy" my mantra I won't call
"accountability" yours.

>I don't care how good your PGP is, it won't matter when the
>secret police subborn your correspondents, infiltrate your
>conversation cells, learn the prime factors, then break down
>your doors and kill you. But not before persuading you to
>help trap your remaining friends.

First of all, I could communicate, send money, even sign contracts with my
correspondents without them knowing my location or true name and without me
knowing theirs, but there's a broader issue here.

You're postulating a nightmare 1984 type society, and I'm saying that recent
advances in communication and encryption are the very things that will stop
it from happening, long before things have degenerated to such a sorry state.
If Big Brother was somehow put in power could encryption overthrow him, even
if he tried a scorched earth, back to the land, destroy all machines, policy
as the Communists did in Cambodia? I honestly don't know, there are no
guaranties in the world of human affairs, but I think there is a good chance.
I do know that your "Transparent Society" would not work. The idea of saying
"Please Mr. Secret Policeman, let me hang this camera around your neck so I
can make sure you don't do anything nasty" is not viable, for that matter,
do you imagine the The President would stand for it, that he would let you
turn on your TV anytime you wanted and watch him work? Do you really believe
that? If so I'd like to talk to you about investing in my perpetual motion
machine company and I have some swamp land I'd like to sell you.

>Be well.

You too.

John K Clark

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