Brin on privacy

Lyle Burkhead (
Thu, 19 Dec 1996 00:04:03 -0500 (EST)

I wrote,

> Encrypting messages is like painting your windows black:
> it just attracts attention.

To which Twirlip of Greymist replied:

> How about using curtains or Venetian blinds? Or using envelopes for
> letters? "Encryption is an envelope for your e-mail" may sound trite,
> but as far as I can tell is true.

If encryption were as common as curtains and envelopes, then it
wouldn't attract attention. But it isn't that common.

Consider three subsets of the set of all people who send e-mail:

1. People who don't use encryption.
2. People who use encryption, but do nothing else to attract attention to
3. People who use encryption, and also post defiant messages about
destroying the government by depriving it of its tax revenues.

The vast majority of people who send e-mail fall into subset #1.
Subset #2 is rather small. It is small enough so that the NSA or FBI can
keep a list of such people. Subset #3 is very small indeed; probably
less than a thousand, possibly less than 100. The government can easily
identify such people and watch them. They are just asking for it.

If somebody puts up curtains and blinds in all his windows, and keeps
them closed *all the time*, and drives a VW bus with Grateful Dead
decals all over it, plus a bumper sticker that says "Just Say Grow!" --
that would be foolhardy, but not as foolhardy as what a certain person
on this list is doing.