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David Brin on Privacy

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  • A very basic fact... (Score:4, Informative)

    by irony nazi (197301) on Thursday February 14, 2002 @08:58AM (#3006337)
    One cannot forget that the Right to Privacy is not a constitutional right. Nowhere in the Constitution does it state that American citizens have a right to privacy.
    • by nagora (177841) on Thursday February 14, 2002 @09:02AM (#3006356)
      Nowhere in the Constitution does it state that American citizens have a right to privacy.

      Apart from the fourth amendment, of course. Or what did you think "searches" means?

      TWW

      • by nomadic (141991) <nomadicworld&gmail,com> on Thursday February 14, 2002 @09:30AM (#3006462) Homepage
        Or the 9th...

        What we really need is a Constitutional amendment guaranteeing a right to privacy; the only problem is the Constitution places limits on the power of government, not private individuals/corporations. So while it would be nice for it to be easier to prevent the government from spying on us, we still have the problem of corporations eager to figure out what breakfast cereals we prefer.
        • by ch-chuck (9622)
          we still have the problem of corporations eager to figure out what breakfast cereals we prefer.

          Well, what's wrong with that? Don't you want to buy cereal that you prefer to eat? If they don't know, you won't be able to buy it! What you're probably objecting to is their methodology, so everybody fill out the damn survey and send it in, ask your grocer to stock what you want, otherwise corporations will /have/ to resort to ethically questionable survailence to get that data.
        • There are situations when I'll gladly give out my personal information if it means I'll get service faster or better or more personalized.

          Case in point - say you shop at store X all the time. The sales people (or whatever title they're using these days) know you by name, etc...

          You get better service because they *know* you. It's like leaving decent tips at a restaurant. After a while you get excellent service because the waiters/waitresses *know* you're going to leave them a decent tip as long as they give you good service.

          The Web isn't much different. If I do a lot of shopping on-line at a particular place then I'd expect if I call with a problem or a special order that I'd get some damn good service simply because of a history of patronage.

          The issue is that *I* want to be able to control who has the information and who doesn't. And quite frankly, my favorite restaurant/jewelry store doesn't go around selling my contact information to every Tom, Dick and Harry that asks for it. Some of my favorite Web sites DO.

          That, IMO, is the real issue. You have less control over who has your info in VR than in RL.

          So yes - I would prefer to receive targetted marketing than what I get now, which is junk. And in order to do targetted marketing they need to have some sort of demographic information on you.

          And maybe if Corp XYZ knew that millions of us actually liked product A or TV show B then we would't be so pissed off when the product is discontinued or the show is cancelled. If they don't know who's eating/watching/drinking something, they have no financial incentive to continue their offering ...

        • we still have the problem of corporations eager to figure out what breakfast cereals we prefer.

          The horror!

          If you can afford to put time into getting upset about this, you're more fortunate than 99% of the humans who have ever walked the earth.

          Please, read Brin. He's got a much more thoughtful (and productive) take on how to maintain a reasonable balance of power between individuals and institutions than mainstream civil libertarianism.

    • Take a look at Griswold vs. Connecticut, as resolved by the Supreme Court in 1965. The Court ruled that the fourth amendment, as combined with several other factors, does in fact guarantee a basic right to privacy.

      As I have stressed to others in other threads, PLEASE do some research before deciding what rights you do or do not posses. How can you defend your rights if you don't even know what they are?

    • However, one might argue that most of our rights amount to one uber-Right To Be Free From Government Molestation In Our Personal Affairs. That amounts to about the same thing, IMO. If you were aware that gov't was monitoring (for reasons perhaps unknown) and/or recording (for reasons that could change from what you were originally told) what you spoke, where you went, who you talked to, etc, it may cause you to alter your activities. That's a restriction on those primary liberties.

    • The Right to Privacy *is* in the constitution.

      The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

      This amendment has basicly been trampled, stomped, and disregarded. Too many people take the approach of 'if you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to worry about' and forget that this *IS* in the constitution.

    • One cannot forget that the Right to Privacy is not a constitutional right. Nowhere in the Constitution does it state that American citizens have a right to privacy.

      Possibly because, given the technology of the time, a right to privacy made about as much sense as a right to breathe air; there was simply no need to state something so fundamental. After all, even in the most oppressive regimes, people still breathed. If you wanted to have a private conversation, just walk into the middle of a field with your friends and talk.

      The fact that it does not is no reflection on the competence of the Founding Fathers, and the lack of it in the Constitution also does not mean that it should not exist.

      A Bill of Rights written today, like this one [eu.int] does include a right to privacy. And who knows what such a Bill written 2302 will need to contain?
      • If I didn't see it with my own eyes, I would think this [eu.int] was some high school student's term paper of what he considers deep political philosophy.

        It says you have the "right to liberty". Yet:

        - Consider article 14 "the right to education"

        "This right includes the possibility to receive free compulsory education."

        That is possibly the worst 1984/Brave New World NewSpeak I have ever heard. Your "right to education" includes the power to force others, at the point of a gun, to cough up cash to hire teachers, and here is the precious part your right includes the power of others to force you to partake of that education.

        Every single one of these "rights" is exercised as permitted by law, which is to say, it isn't a right. Witness article 16 "The freedom to conduct a business in accordance with Community law and national laws and practices is recognized."

        What the hell does that mean other than there is no right other than what the governments allow? Almost all the described "rights" are these non-rights that exist as designed by law.

        "No one may be deprived of his or her posessions, except in the public interest"

        "Public interest" is a nonsense phrase that means "whenever the government feels like" because the governments are defined as agents of the public. Would not a US government lawyer have dreams of a phrase like "use of property may be regulated by law in so far as is necessary for the general interest"?

        Can anyone please propose any possible thing a government may do that could not be argued is in the "general" or "public" interest?

        Other idiocy at random:

        "The Union recognizes...the rights of the elderly...to participate in social and cultural life."

        Notice the brutish absence of the right of the elderly to continue working past mandatory retirement ages. It's couched in their leading "a life of dignity and independence", i.e. you're done working now, here's your monthly check, don't try to work or we'll have to un-dignify you.

        "The right of so-and-so is inviolable, as is permitted through national laws governing its exercise."

        This clownish listing of "rights" does little more than wrap current national laws of EU with a piece of wet bread that justifies, indeed holds holy, the current laws. "A right to a free job placement service"? Puh-leeze.

        • That is possibly the worst 1984/Brave New World NewSpeak I have ever heard. Your "right to education" includes the power to force others, at the point of a gun, to cough up cash to hire teachers, and here is the precious part your right includes the power of others to force you to partake of that education.

          You are of course correct. I personally am very much anti-EU for these same reasons. But I was merely trying to illustrate the point that the Founding Fathers didn't include some rights that do seem self-evident today (even to a body as obtuse as the EU).
        • Other idiocy at random:
          "The Union recognizes...the rights of the elderly...to participate in social and cultural life."


          You also have things which can be in contradiction. Most obvious would be article 9. "Right to marry and found a family". which han relate interestingly with articles 7 and 10.
        • The bit about businesses being allowable, as long as they follow laws, is something we should have today. But really, it shouldn't need to be said.

          There should be the basic assumption that a business has no rights aside from those the owner has. (As free from search/seizure as they are, etc.)

          And you know, that mandatory education isn't totally a bad idea. It's almost universally recognized that children aren't masters of their existance, so it's not like people see it as slavery.

          Ignorance of the law isn't a defense, but it should be. Our laws are so complex you have to consult an attorney before doing almost anything, if you want to remain on the right side of the law. IMHO part of reducing government to a usable level would be to simplify the laws to the point where the product of our education system could understand them all, and not piece by piece, but where they could hold enough of them in their mind to check for contradiction. Only at that point will people really be treated as true adults - told the rules and expected to live by the rules. Unfortunately this requires people to be educated to a certain minimum level.

          Now, mandatory standard education isn't a good thing IMHO, but making it mandatory that a child be educated is different. I think there should be a written exam you need to pass to be counted as a legal adult. If you're a natural genius and don't need teaching, fine. If your parents home-school you, fine. But if you aren't being educated I think it's in everyone's best interests if you are forced to get one. Otherwise the state has no recourse but to treat you as a child, someone incapable of taking responsibility.

          Taxes may be akin to "theft at gunpoint" but I don't feel they'd be that way if we had two things.

          1) Accountability - independent auditors (or ourselves) checking the government books and civilian oversite commitees.

          2) The ability to refuse to pay tax, at which point we opt out of the whole social contract. So work for a few years, buy a bit of Montana, and opt out of the system. (Perhaps being required to put up a lifetime's worth of tax for defense, or something that protects you regardless). But anyways, something achievable by the libertarians who feel hard done by. If they want to visit the rest of the country they can do so as foreign citizens from then on.
    • It's a Human Right (Score:3, Informative)

      by bartyboy (99076)
      • Not according to that very document you point at. If you look down at the bottom, all the way in Article 29, you'll see Paragraph 3. 29(3) reads:
        These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.
        So, according to the UN, they're not really human rights, they're just what they're willing to let you do as long as you don't get in the way of what the UN wants to do. They just call them "Human Rights" in hopes that you won't realize there's not really anything of substance left at the end. As an example, if the UN decides that part of its purpose is to rid the world of firearms, their granting you a "right" of privacy (Article 12) goes right out the window.

        (Boy, I can't wait to see the moderations on this one.)

        Chris Beckenbach

    • I think there would be less of a call for privacy if morality laws would be revoked.

      Some states say you can only have sex in certain ways whether or not you are a consenting adult. I believe some states even outlaw homosexuality.

      There are just too many really stupid and unenforceable laws out there for people to feel comfortable. For example: Why is it legal to pay someone to have sex on camera but illegal to pay someone to have sex with you unfilmed? Hmmm....

      And the absurd war on drugs -- people would probably use less drugs if they were legal. The laws against drug use #1 assume that the citizens don't have the ability to use them intelligently and #2 force us to go to a doctor, even if we don't need or want to. I mean why should I go to a doctor to get medicine for things that are obvious? Example: head lice - uh hello, it's a bug and it's in my hair...duh.....if I can't read the outside of the box why would I be able to read my physicians handwriting???

      Another problem with having no privacy is sales people. Just like Verio phoning up all the new clients in the DNS records, noone wants encyclopedia salesmen to know where they live or what their phone number is, etc. If we want to buy encyclopedias we'll call them.

      And last but not least it is the power people can have over you. Mostly this is the government. I don't want the government to be able to profile me and others like me and make us the target of whatever. This wouldn't have to be just the government either it could be Jeffrey Dahmer or some other entity or individual.

      There is just no way that I can see that less privacy would make American's more free. That's really impossible. Our privacy lets us speak out without fear of reprisals just like I am doing right now.

      If I knew that everything I just wrote would be immediately forwarded to the FBI along with my name, and social security number, menses cycle, age, weight, color, financial status, dob, hair and eye color, copy of fingerprint, and the last 20 posts I did, last 100 web searches, & etc. Do you really think I would have written it?
      • And the absurd war on drugs -- people would probably use less drugs if they were legal. The laws against drug use #1 assume that the citizens don't have the ability to use them intelligently and #2 force us to go to a doctor, even if we don't need or want to. I mean why should I go to a doctor to get medicine for things that are obvious?

        I agree with you WRT the war on drugs. Right now, the only thing that keeps it alive is selective enforcement: If middle and upper class people were subject to drug laws to the same degree that poor people are, the laws would be repealed within months.

        And while I also agree with you that requiring prescriptions is stupid for a lot of things, I'd like to point out one exception: Antibiotics. Improperly using antibiotics leads to the development of drug-resistant strains of diseases. This is bad for everyone, so you can't really make the same "Keep your laws off my body" argument that you can for free access to other drugs.

      • Some states say you can only have sex in certain ways whether or not you are a consenting adult.

        With associated issues of selective enforcement. You also have the whole thing about marriage laws, which are not really that different....

        And the absurd war on drugs -- people would probably use less drugs if they were legal.

        History appears to show that drugs are less of a problem than prohibition anyway.
    • So? What does that have to do with the question as to whether privacy is "good thing" or a "bad thing".
      IMHO, Brin is being optimistic. If goverment surveilance went to the max today, I doubt any immediate problems would arise. Most democratic governments today do not, believe it or not, have any malicious intent towards their citizens as a whole. However, their is no guarantee that things will stay that way. If things changes, then it is too late to regret the powers we gave governemt.
      • I think what he's saying, though, is that it's better to set the precedent of openness now, before all of these surveillance technologies are already in place, than to wait until they are there and only then start demanding the sort of accountability that only comes with exposure. These things ARE coming; soon, it will be all but impossible to verify that your privacy is being respected by normal means (looking around for cameras, getting credit agency reports, etc.). The best safeguard we can have against future abuses is to set strong societal precedents for demanding accountability and openness--unfortunately, this works both ways. If you want to be able to hide things, the same laws and precedents that allow that will allow wealthy and powerful individual and corporations to do the same. In other words, they'll be in a better position to violate your privacy and get away with it than you will theirs. It's a losing proposition.
    • There is a movement to get it stated EXPLICITLY in the Bill of Rights. In any case, though their is no specifically enumerated right to privacy, the Supreme Court and all other courts accept that the right to privacy is implicit and implied by the Consititution. The courts (ALL of them) will accept and agree on this. You DO have a right to privacy. You can find this out for real if you want by violating someone else's privacy. Go ahead. Do it. Test your statement that you have no right to privacy because it isn't explicitly listed in the Constitution or Bill of Rights.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      One cannot forget that the Right to Privacy is not a constitutional right. Nowhere in the Constitution does it state that American citizens have a right to privacy.

      It doesn't have to. The Constitution does not give rights to the people. Those rights are intrinsic. The Constitution LIMITS the rights of the Federal government. Only rights specifically stated are given to the Federal government. All other rights are reserved for the states and individuals. Too many people forget this...
    • An even more basic fact, universally overlooked, is that the Constitution limits Federal government power. It does not describe or grant you rights. In fact there was opposition to the Bill of Rights because some saw it as redundant and likely to create the false impression that leaving something out (like the right to privacy) means that the right is denied. The constitution says, in short, the Feds may do this, that, and the other, and nothing else. If you want to do something else, you have to amend the Constitution. By design, the feds were even subordinate to the states. Want to amend the Constitution? You have to get permission from the states to do so. They have to ratify the amendment.


      The drafters of the Constitution had this revolutionary idea that people had rights ABOVE the government and granted power and rights TO the government, not the other way around. That may sound revolutionary, and in fact it very appropriately was. These are the guys who abolished their absentee government and created their own.

  • Nice try (Score:3, Insightful)

    by nagora (177841) on Thursday February 14, 2002 @09:00AM (#3006346)
    But, much as I like Brin's fiction he's being hopelessly optimistic here. The problem is oversight of people with power. Such people will only suffer such oversight by people with more power (ie you must force them to accept it). Then who watches the watchers of the watchmen? And so on. People with power will use it to remove/bribe/curtail anyone who tries to limit that power.

    TWW

    • Re:Nice try (Score:2, Insightful)

      by fhknack (104003)
      I don't think he's being optimistic at all. I've read Transparent Society (and the novel Earth which TS refers to repeatedly by way of example), and if anything he's pretty much resigned to the fact that in real life, we're going to lose our privacy in exchange for nothing.
      What he does sound upbeat about is the "if" vision. IF we can get the accountability, IF we can know who's looking, IF we can get the same views of the people in power as they get of us, THEN we'll have a Transparent Society that is not a 1984 dystopia.
      As for who's going to watch the watchmen? The same people who do it today: advocates, journalists, activists, and crackpots. In other words, whoever cares.
    • Re:Nice try (Score:3, Interesting)

      by JordanH (75307)
      • The problem is oversight of people with power.

      That's the problem. Laws designed to protect people's privacy are always abused by people in the public sphere to do dirty dealing in private.

      We don't need Campaign Finance Reform. What we really need is for all of the political deliberations and contributions to be publicly available. Then, we could choose which politicians to support based on which special interests they listen and act upon.

    • Re:Nice try (Score:3, Informative)

      by interiot (50685)
      Most of the repressive regimes throughout history have tried to limit the flow of information, and the only governments that try to hide information on a massive level are repressive regimes. So it's probable that a completely open government would put a lower bound on how oppresive a government could be.

      Also, there need not be a system of ever-increasingly powerful watchers. If that were required, then even our 50% open society would be doomed. One alternative is to have (as we have now) several equal powers which balance each other out. In this way, if one makes decisions which are too extreme, the others can collectively put pressure on the one.

      • Also, there need not be a system of ever-increasingly powerful watchers. If that were required, then even our 50% open society would be doomed. One alternative is to have (as we have now) several equal powers which balance each other out. In this way, if one makes decisions which are too extreme, the others can collectively put pressure on the one.


        If by "several equal powers" you mean some kind of organizations dedicated to the task, I don't think we need anything so elaborate. We just need to make sure that what goes on inside the government is visible from outside. Whoever has a need to find out what the government is up to will have free access.

    • Re:Nice try (Score:4, Insightful)

      by tyl (520631) on Thursday February 14, 2002 @10:27AM (#3006746) Homepage
      As a good friend of mine says : Tension is what keeps bridges up. Rather than tail off into infinite recursion, set a couple of groups to watch each other, and try and maintain the balance between them.

      I have always believed that privacy is a sociological construct that is overrated these days. Oversimplified, one could put it as "What are you afraid of other people seeing if you've got nothing to hide".

      Us Belgians have lived with ID cards since before I was born. The government has always known the 'official address' of every Belgian. As far as I can remember, no abuse of that has been made that affects me. I don't know anyone else either who complains about it. Heck, I consider it very practical even ! No lumpy passports to carry around (and to forget) when I need to travel to the UK every other week...

      So that's point one : giving up some privacy does not automatically lead to abuse. Point two : Loss of privacy can be made symmetrical. The more "they" know about you, the more you should be able to know about "them". I'm not gonna rgue this at length, 'cause I got work to do :^( At any rate, I believe that with a couple of carefully chosen rules, in many situations you can lose a little bit of privacy and gain freedom, and protection from abuse.

      Philip

    • >Such people will only suffer such oversight by people with more power (ie you must force them to accept it).

      I'm glad you said people with more power instead of person with more power. US history is replete with examples of the powerful being brought to bear, and the US is not unique.

      Every time we elect a new President, the power of the people checks power.

      When Richard Nixon resigned, it was an indirect exercise of "people power."

      The breakup of Standard a hundred years ago.

      Real action on the budget deficit ten years ago.

      Jesse Ventura being Governor of Minnesota when the majore parties wouldn't deal with tax surpluses.

      Top executives at Enron being dragged before Congress and facing the very real possibility of jail-time

      And so on.
      It ain't the instant reactions we'd like, but all we wee little people aren't nearly so powerless as we feel sometimes. It's just that we have to roll up our momentum instead of being able to bark an order.

      • who watches the watchers of the watchmen

      Uh, we do. That's rather the point. The watching goes both ways. We watch them watching us. You want to search my home? Fine, then we'll go round to yours, and I'll go through your underwear drawer.

      That's not how it works, and you're right that it's about power. When the police say "We can film ourselves arresting you, but you can't film us", it's about power, pure and simple. We may. You may not.

      It is optimistic to think that we can change that dynamic, but our reach should always exceed our grasp, right?

  • Credibility (Score:3, Insightful)

    by skroz (7870) on Thursday February 14, 2002 @09:01AM (#3006350) Homepage
    Oh, sure, this from the guy that wrote a perfectly good hard sci-fi book about singularities and "gravity lasers" and all kinds of other fun stuff, then had to ruin it all in the last 20 pages with aliens, earth spirits, and exploding meat puppets. The man doesn't know how to end a book... maybe if someone had been snooping his computer files, that someone could have said "Whoah, Dave! Back up, dude..."
    • The man doesn't know how to end a book... maybe if someone had been snooping his computer files, that someone could have said "Whoah, Dave! Back up, dude..."

      You've never written commercial fiction, have you? Someone "snooped his computer files" -- that person has the title "Editor". Indeed, for most books there are multiple editors, including editors hired by the author in addition to those editors hired by the publisher.

      If the editor thought Brin was over the top, he or she would have said so. Period.

      "Timid editor" is an oxymoron.

    • Can anyone say 'ad hominem'? Let's discuss the argument, not the source.
  • by fluxrad (125130) on Thursday February 14, 2002 @09:04AM (#3006357) Homepage
    e.g - who cares who's watching me smoke marijuana, so long as i have the freedom to smoke it.

    of course, this all begs the question: which came first, the paranoia of not wanting to be watched, or the laws that we're all trying to hide from?
    • by Carmody (128723) <slashdot@d o u g s h a w . com> on Thursday February 14, 2002 @10:12AM (#3006664) Homepage Journal
      who cares who's watching me smoke marijuana, so long as i have the freedom to smoke it.

      Well, I care. Even if I had the freedom to smoke marijuana, I wouldn't want people to watch me smoke it, or even know that I did. Why? It's nobody's business but my own.

      That attitude, "if you're obeying the law you don't need privacy" is a dangerous one. It implies that the only people who want privacy are people who are doing something Illegal, or at least something for which they are afraid of being caught.

      Some people just want privacy because they don't think their personal lives are anybody elses business. I'm not ashamed of a word I've written in my journal, but I will be damned if I let you come to my house and read it.

      • That, Mr. Anderson, is the sound of inevitability...

        And unfortunately, this one is inevitable. Given the choice of power vs privacy, people will choose the former.

        100 years ago, the telephone was considered a horrible intrusion of privacy. Many newspaper articles were written decrying this senseless intrusion into parlor life.

        <snicker>But privacy won, right? </snicker>

        Here is an article [wired.com] that goes into more detail. I strongly recommend you read it.

    • e.g - who cares who's watching me smoke marijuana, so long as i have the freedom to smoke it.

      First, the one does not naturally follow from the other (in other words, Brin's naively optomistic notion of a society without privacy working well does not mean we would suddenly enjoy freedoms we have unconstitutionally been denied for the last seventy years).

      Second, such a "transparent" society would give parents and peer groups a great deal more power in coercing behavior from their children or peers. How many gay people choose to remain in the closet because of society's mistreatment of gays? Probably quite a few ... many of whome would probably be coerced into conforming to our notion of how they should live. How many youths would be able to get out from under the idealogical wings of their parents and form their own philosophy and approach to life in a society where their parents can follow their every move (and perhaps even thought)?

      Peer pressure is bad enough in American Society. Conformity in western society in general, and American society in particular, is already extreme (and extremely destructive in many cases). The kind of world Brin advocates would make these things dramatically worse, not better.

      You want a pleasant place to live? Require absolute transparency for public officials (and define publicly held companies as "public" not private, making Enronesque boards and CEOs public officials subject to scrutiny as well), but be just as vigilant in protecting the privacy of private individuals as you are in exposing the private lives of public individuals. Of course, that sort of utiopia would never survive, if for no other reasons those with power will find ways to obfuscate their own lives while defining anyone with any responsibility (which means pretty much all of us) as "public officials."

      Which of course means the only remaining acceptable situation is one in which all of our privacy is jelously guarded. Germany in a good example of a country which jelously guards its citizen's privacy, actively through stringent regulation on how and when personal data can be shared (in the vast majority of cases it can't, even between government agencies).

    • e.g - who cares who's watching me smoke marijuana, so long as i have the freedom to smoke it.


      Mr. Brin, and apparently you, make the naive assumption that the world is divided into legal and illegal, and all legal things are ok. That isn't the case. We continually judge each other based on the data we collect on each other. Seeing you smoke marijuana influences my, and others, opinion of you. We as a society have a long history of taking data which shouldn't be used to make decisions about you and doing so anyway. Some very public information you couldn't hide if you want to, like race and gender, has historically played a major role in your station in life. I'd like to think most today would agree that is inappropriate. In a world with no privacy you've done nothing more than open up a world of discrimination, and just like today, it need not be overt. You'll never know you were passed over for promotion because you read comic books, subscribe to playboy, eat too much pizza, etc.


      Thanks, but I'll stick to privacy where I can keep information that's none of your business, in other words, which shouldn't influence your decisions about me, out of your hands.

  • by RC514 (546181) on Thursday February 14, 2002 @09:10AM (#3006387) Homepage
    Allowing some entity to know almost all about you is fine as long as people roughly have the same idea of what you can and can't do. As soon as the government decides to go another route, their power of knowledge is going to hurt anyone in their way. Technology allows a decreasing number of people to control many and that technological power is necessarily concentrated in relatively few people. No matter how much you control them, when they decide to leave you behind, they can and will do that.
  • Slippery slope (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Chardish (529780) <`moc.liamg' `ta' `hsidrahc'> on Thursday February 14, 2002 @09:11AM (#3006391) Homepage
    Biometric-based I.D. cards for everybody are coming. Squint, look ahead 50 years and honestly tell me you can envision a world where such things are not simply assumed. The important factor is not whether such cards exist, but whether they are a tool for robbing us of things we want and need.

    No, the important factor IS that such things exist. If personal information is stored in a database that is easy for the powerful to access but difficult for the commoners to access, the powerful people WILL attempt to exploit it for their own desires and wants.

    -Evan
  • by Charm (313273) on Thursday February 14, 2002 @09:12AM (#3006395)
    I think that the view that democracy and freedom protects us is flawed. Rather it is the beuracracy that we lay in the path that slows down corruption we should consider. Such beuracracy slows down the right people from changing the root laws as it does the evil. The best chance then is for a society to start with good root laws and layer them with a defensive structure of beuracracy. This stands the test of time and a revolution every 500 years is better than every 50.
  • It seems the only thing Orwell was wrong about was the date. 18 years later and we're almost to 1984.
    • Bullpats. You ppl really need to get off your high horse.
    • Care to explain yourself? Although there are still serious problems, here in the US people have a fuck of a lot more personal freedom now than they had 50 years ago. 50 years ago, black people in the south had to go to separate schools, ride in the back of the bus, drink from separate drinking fountains, etc, etc, etc. Women could not legally choose to have an abortion. Women were bound to decisions made by their husbands. A person could lose their job for being homosexual. There was the McCarthy era. Entertainers were blacklisted for being communists, whether they really were or not. Do you think you have less freedom and privacy now, honestly?
  • The old arguments (Score:3, Informative)

    by Alien54 (180860) on Thursday February 14, 2002 @09:21AM (#3006434) Journal
    It is nice to be able to read something that does not drift into the old argument of privacy vs security. refreshing.

    even if he has some "old ideas". some of these are very practical.

    There's a whole shopping list we could ask for. The creation of a true office of the Inspector General of the United States. It doesn't exist. In each department, the inspectors report to the cabinet secretaries that appointed them. It's incestuous, as ridiculous as Enron hiring their accountants to be consultants. Autonomy would help. That's just one example.

    The lightbulb, she goes on, y'know?

  • by sphealey (2855) on Thursday February 14, 2002 @09:24AM (#3006441)
    I was reading a newspaper article a few months ago (can't remember if it was WSJ, NYT, or Chicago Tribune) about the FBI's use of private databases to dig up information on suspects. The reporter called the database company and ordered searches on the Director of the FBI, John Ashcroft, Bill Gates, Laura Bush, and a few others in similar positions of power. He received a reply of "sorry - we don't sell information on those people" from the database company.

    So if living one's life in full view is such a great thing, why do the powerful arrange things so that they (and their families) don't?

    sPh

    • They probably don't want to open themselves up to be liable or responsible for providing info that could be the ticket to getting them kidnapped or murdered. I bet you couldn't buy info on most public people, government or otherwise. It could be suicide for the company if one information puchase could be linked directly to some terrible event.

      They could sell my information to Lorraine Bobbit or the KKK and if I ended up dead, they wouldn't have news reporters beating on their door.
      • by sphealey (2855) on Thursday February 14, 2002 @09:55AM (#3006573)
        They probably don't want to open themselves up to be liable or responsible for providing info that could be the ticket to getting them kidnapped or murdered. I bet you couldn't buy info on most public people, government or otherwise. It could be suicide for the company if one information puchase could be linked directly to some terrible event.
        But it is perfectly OK for the same company to sell information to someone who desires to steal my identity, or violate my constitution rights (the FBI was using the private database company because they claimed that such information was not subject to FOIA requests or subponeas)?

        Where exactly in the US Constitution does it say that there is a protected class of people, say goverment employees, who get additional protection over and above the law? Does the Constitution not in fact explicity forbid granting of titles of nobility?

        sPh

  • I bought Brin's book (ISBN: 0738201448) when it came out in '99. I was struck with his sense that surveilance in the larger sense was technologically inevitable- not only cameras, but every expenditure, even RF tags on your money . He argued that it was impossible to supress this capability; that doing so would simply give those in power the ability to take unfair advantage; so we should make everything completely transparent. If we all have the legal right to spy on each other, the little guy can't be sanctioned for finding out what the bigs guys are up to - kind of a pessimists take on "information wants to be free".

    Maybe I'm failing to adapt to change, but the prospect of what he proposes makes me really uncomfortable and could lead to a level of social conformity that most of us would find stiffing. Also, I don't know that I have that little faith in our (western civilization's - I'm Canadian) ability to govern our behaviour and that of our institutions.

    The book is worth a read - I may just haul it out and take another look.

  • Listen to this man (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SlashDread (38969) on Thursday February 14, 2002 @09:32AM (#3006471)
    David is dead on.

    "Information wants to be free"

    Apply this to information about YOU.

    My point is, most of our actions are done in the public sphere, and can be observed by ANY casual observer. In theory, what anyone does in a public space, cannot be private by definition. Is it bad that people track you for your personal buying habits?

    I dont think so, because I _could_ have spotted you buying it anyway.

    Now, the problem is in WHO can see that data. F.E. if the governement or anyone really, has data on me, Id sure want to know what. So I should be granted access to that data. If only to correct errors made.

    "Information is power"

    It sure is. Just ask the MPAA.
    Now who should have this power? Everyone. That way we can garantee supervising the supervisors.

    So.. Privacy doesnt really exists, but that does not scare me. Information exists, and what scares me if the powers have infomation, that the public has no access too. That way the balance is off.

    Gr /Dread
    • Privacy DOES exist. Your example is flawed. If you see someone buy something in "public" you still don't know squat. All YOU know is some guy bought X. You don't know his name, his address, his personal habits, to what use he will use X, if it is a gift for someone else or for him, etc. You know a random piece of almost useless information. Not even the store knows everything. They MAY only know Mr Y bought item X on such and such date. That's the extent of it. They know nothing of the rest - if he used a credit card or check, then an address of some sort is included. If bought with cash, the store knows no more than you do casually observing the transaction.


      There IS privacy. There is fair expectation of privacy too.

      • 15 years from now, tops, I look at the guy through the camera on my wearable, and since someone else who's imaged him before has entered his name, and someone else has associated the name with his address, I know everything about him. Assuming that there is some sort of P2P network to which I subscribe to get info which requires that I give info, software automatically analyzes the picture and logs his purchasing habits, and sells the info for 5c.

        It will happen.
    • My point is, most of our actions are done in the public sphere, and can be observed by ANY casual observer. In theory, what anyone does in a public space, cannot be private by definition. Is it bad that people track you for your personal buying habits?

      I'm not sure there exists any rational basis for the assumption that because something is done in public, that it must be public information. One often doesn't have a choice in the matter - you have to visit the grocery store in order to buy food, and you have to buy food in order to survive. Suddenly, this one necessary act becomes a wealth of information that can be accessed by any number of intruders - usually for their own gain.

      Using the logic that, "well, someone would have seen you anyway," is purely fallacious. What we have that technology allows is the ability to shift both time and medium, as well as persistence. It's not that something happened in public, it's that everything has the potential to become series of recorded, massively linked events that can be viewed and used by people without your knowledge, for as long as the information is available.

      As long as a government has the means to keep information from its citizens, it has the ability to abuse the tremendous power that comes with it. "No Privacy" has to be an all-or-nothing proposition, so that it can be symmetrically applied to every citizen, regardless of their role in society. Since this will never happen, the only option left is to ditch the idea entirely.
  • by AgTiger (458268) on Thursday February 14, 2002 @09:51AM (#3006557) Homepage
    Brin writes:

    > Biometric-based I.D. cards for everybody are coming.
    > Squint, look ahead 50 years and honestly tell me you
    > can envision a world where such things are not simply
    > assumed.

    I think what bothered me most about the article was this particular foregone conclusion about the future. I hate to disappoint Brin, but I'm not so imaginatively myopic that his is the only future I can see.

    > The important factor is not whether such cards exist,
    > but whether they are a tool for robbing us of things
    > we want and need.

    This seems to imply that what we really want or need could be a _lack_ of such intrusive measures in our lives. There comes a point where if you're being challenged to validate your identity at every turn, we begin to adopt a mentality of "That which is not expressly permitted is automatically forbidden."

    This flies in the face of the principles on which this nation was founded. As others have pointed out, read through the first ten ammendments (Bill of Rights) to the U.S. Constitution. Disregard what the courts have done to this fine set of principles in the last hundred years, and just read it.

    If that doesn't say, "Anything not expressly forbidden is permitted, oh and by the way, these are limits that the powers can be can place on those 'forbiddens'" then I don't know what does.

    Quite simply, the society that Brin sees us moving more towards is unamerican in its principles. If our government and society are to collapse and fail eventually, then let it do so because of a failure of the principles that it was founded on, not because of our collective unwillingness to stick to those principles.

    • by TheFrood (163934) on Thursday February 14, 2002 @10:24AM (#3006725) Homepage Journal
      Quite simply, the society that Brin sees us moving more towards is unamerican in its principles. If our government and society are to collapse and fail eventually, then let it do so because of a failure of the principles that it was founded on, not because of our collective unwillingness to stick to those principles.

      What Brin espouses is that the actions of those in power be visible to everyone, and that they be held accountable for those actions. Frankly, I can't think of anything more American, or closer to the principles the U.S. was founded on.

      TheFrood
  • 250 Years ago, before the American Revolution, the founding fathers of America realized that the gov't they were living under was broken. They found it to be unacceptable. Thus began America.

    Our ( America's) new gov't was framed in the idea that gov't can't be perfect, and that if it gets really screwed up, citizens should have the power to revolt, and to create a new gov't. This, I believe, is the root behind the 2nd amendment. Regular common people, it was written, should have the right to bear arms, form up a non-state controlled militia, and fight for their rights if they need to. ( Of course they never dreamed how of the twisted ways liberals would try to interpret the second amendment. If only they would have been a little more specific.)

    I agree with the author. We SHOULD be fighting intensely for rigorous oversight of the Gov't in the cases where we can't stop them from taking our freedoms.. But we should NOT embrace the erosion of our freedom. Freedom is not just "freedom from attack by foreign bad people." Freedom is also "freedom from your own gov't." As we let the gov't be more in control, and in the know regarding each of our lives, we really are setting ourselves up to be citizens of the Big Brother country of the future, where it will be totally impossible for people to revolt if the USA runs astray.

  • by SerpentMage (13390) <ChristianHGross@yah o o .ca> on Thursday February 14, 2002 @09:57AM (#3006577)
    Last year at an Apache Conference I heard David Brin talk. Really interesting! And then I bought his book at the conference. He has a lot to say and definitely worth the read.

    The problems that he outlines are very legit and there is only his solution as a way out. For example he says secrecy laws like in Europe are DUMB. Living in Europe I thought they were good, but he put in further terms.

    Data is immortal. Hence with data secrecy laws what ends up happening is some people have power and others do not. And having run conferences and mailing lists that is the exact problem. Once I ok the use of my data I cannot control it. For example lets say I want a mortgage. In Europe I sign a sheet saying yes the bank has the right to look at all of my data. But the question what data will the bank look at? And how will they use that data? The secrecy laws do not address that issue. That is the crux of the problem with or without data secrecy laws. I have no idea how the data is being used.

    David Brin argues you can give out all the data you want, but you have control on what is being seen and manipulated.

    My favourite part of his book is the following (it starts off with that). We have privacy in public. For example lets say that you go to lunch with people. Do other people listen in on your conversation? No because people mind their own business. The reason is because people can see when you are not minding your own business. And that is the crux of his argument regarding privacy laws. We cannot tell companies or governments to mind their own business!
    • by AndyS (655)
      Is this about the Data Protection Act?

      Over here, it means that we get the right to control who gets access to data about us, and we get the right to view data held upon us.

      So, for example, it is a requirement to ask me if they want to sell my details to spam me (although of course, they usually try and hide it), and that, if say, the government, or my doctor, or my employer has information on me, for a small fee (the cost of looking up the information), I can demand access to it.

      Sounds like a good law to me.
  • by Crixus (97721) on Thursday February 14, 2002 @10:01AM (#3006603) Homepage
    Brin may be right, or he may be wrong.

    The fact is that most Americans don't care if they have the government oversite that he speaks of. They TRUST their government.... after all, we're the GOOD guys. We would NEVER do anything wrong.

    I saw Phil Zimmermann speak a few years ago and Phil spoke about how technical infrastructures rarely go away. There are no laws mandating 120 volts @ 60 cycles in the US. It's just an infrastructure that's in place, that will likely not go away, ever.

    The same will be true for the spying infrastructures that we're allowing our government to install.

    Brin's argument assumes a truly awful government will never be elected or take power by coup. Apparently he knows nothing about history.

    Installing these infrstructures is a terrible mistake that we will one day regret.

    Rich...
  • I find that I agree with David Brin. I have always been a bit paranoid about my privacy and take many steps to safegaurd my private info. In retrospect, though, I have usually been much more relaxed about divulging private info when I know there are more rigid laws to protect it.

    For example I would never open an account with an online bill paying service but as soon as my bank offerred one I jumped at the chance. I beleive that we have already traded any true privacy for the many conveniences that most of western civilization now demands. We are our own worst enemies in this regard. The most effective means of protecting ourselves is not to try to hide our personal information but to limit how others can legally use it.
    • What is your social security number? How many women/men have you slept with and what are their names, addresses? What sort of sexual positions do you prefer? Please write down your deepest, most personal thoughts and feelings, no holding back at all now, write them down, and at the end of every week, post them on the net and/or send them to me.


      Privacy is important. Some things are NO ONE'S business but yours or yours and your significant other's. There really are some things that really BELONG to you, me, each individual, that need not be and should not be shared.


      In a world with "less" privacy I will still have and protect mine to the fullest extent possible via obscurint the truth or just withholding information. This is not a hive, this is a human population of INDIVIDUALS. Distinct individuals. Privacy is both psychologically necessary and desireable.

  • The idea that increasing transparency at all levels is an interesting one, but I would like to see how Brin would deal with the issue of simulated transparency verses actually seeing what is there.

    He is correct that as the technology improves it is easier to share information and to gather information, it also makes it easier to simulate and falsify information. (Info-tainment, commercials disguised as informational presentations, etc.)

    It might make for an interesting arms race between those who try to see what is really going on and those who obscure what is happening by creating false but believable data with the facilities available to them. A person could be so bombarded by so many 'experts', each claiming a different view point or interpretation of 'what really happened', that the person cannot decide who to believe.

    There is probably a necessary layer of filtering required there (i.e. like people wear sunglasses to keep the glare from blinding them -- too much transparency can be bad), but that leads yet again to the accountability problem -- who runs the filters?

  • Biometric-based I.D. cards for everybody are coming. Squint, look ahead 50 years and honestly tell me you can envision a world where such things are not simply assumed. The important factor is not whether such cards exist, but whether they are a tool for robbing us of things we want and need.
    Mr. Brin seems to believe that once a technology is developed, it must be used regardless of the desire and will of the polity. This is not correct. Decisions to use disruptive technology can be made on a deliberate, political basis.

    As an extreme example, South Africa and Brazil both decided to terminate and dismantle successful nuclear weapons progrms (S.A. after actually assembling and testing weapons). Both countries deliberately decided that the dangers of having that technology were greater than any possible benefit.

    So the creation of an Iraqi-style national ID card in the U.S. is not inevitable.

    sPh

  • A bit Naive. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by modipodio (556587) on Thursday February 14, 2002 @10:10AM (#3006649)
    " I just wish they weren't so contemptuous of the masses. If they weren't, they would notice that people are very sensible."

    I do not think the problem is that the majority of people are stupid more that the majority of people are apethetic and lazy about issues which could effect them in both the long/short run, and unless something is shown to have a very direct immediate negative effect on there day to day lives ,in general the majority of people do not care about it and will not do any thing signifigant about it.

    "Government power is kept in check by stripping the powerful down and subjecting them to scrutiny in the application of their delegated power, so that abuse of the power can be caught and rapidly dealt with. We are protected by enhancing our ability to see them, not by reducing their ability to see us."

    The whole issue of who funds party's running for Government needs to be addressed before we will see truly open and observable government and business .Until this happens I do not believe that the public will be given, "fierce accountability measures", in fact I think that in most cases whatever laws or legislation that get's passed will most likely come out heavily in favor of big busines and not the general public.

    People will not wake up one morning and suddenly find all there rights taken away and a secret police officer at there door enquiring about the printed copy of the anarchists cookbook under there bed .What is more likely to happen is a slow eroision of rights that the general public take for granted and are to apathetic to do anything about and by the time they realise, "hey why can't I do that any more ", and decide that maybe they should have done something about that 'crazy russian commie' who cracked adobe's ebook program and that maybe there Privacy is some thing they should care about,it will be to late and The majority of people through apathy and not a lack of inteligence will have, "grant(ed) our servants the tools they claim they need".

  • ...is that it's currently a one-way street. We, the individuals, are expected to give up personal information, allow unlimited surveilance and suspicion, and pretty much become an open book for the government and corporations. But the trend is for INCREASED privacy for those groups. Corporations are trying to lock up more and more information under the guise of "trade secrets" and have laws like the DMCA, etc. to back them up. Governments are moving more and more lawmaking into secret sessions, and hiding more information under the guise of "National Security."

    I agree with the author that the only way the "transparent society" will work is if the transparency goes both ways. But that will never happen, as both governments and corporations see the citizenry as resources, not equals.
  • This interview explains very well Brin's viewpoints, very valid viewpoints, at that. I think it would interest many people to know that analysis of many privacy-thru-secrecy advocates actually subscribe to a philosophy closer to Brin's than they think. After all, it is not the additional security that privacy advocates are against, it is the potential for harm through abuse of the system that they decry. Precisely this harm is what is limited and eliminated by the oversight that Brin speaks of. When you have the good and eliminate the bad, what's to lose?

    Most importantly, Brin points out that the citizens should have a say in what aspects of our supposed privacy should be 'transparent' and what should be kept private. This is an important point, don't miss it: the amount of privacy we enjoy should be determined not by committee, but by the masses. What could be more Open Source than this? Even if the committee contains members of the EFF, ACLU, or whatever other organization, that's not enough ... it should be up to the citizens themselves to determine as a mass what is adequate privacy, where to draw the line.

    Whenever I think about national ID cards or have a conversation about it, I have to balance my views on privacy (as an EFF member, I have pretty strong views, views that didn't necessarily jive with Brin's before reading this article) and views on the benefits of a national ID system (done right) to verifying identity for online transactions, and such. The potential for limiting fraud through identity verification (done right) is quite large, when you think about it. I would love to see a system that provides for the strongest security (hardware device, biometric, and soft device) in all cases. If a system like this can be assembled and made easy to use without compromising its strength, that would be sweet.

  • I spent a pleasant afternoon at David Brin's house last fall, and in addition generally enjoying our talk, I came away with a feeling that he believes that intellectuals have a responsibility to think about the hard problems in the world.

    His stance on surveilance might be a little idealistic (I tend to the more paranoid fears of big-gorvernments of now inefficient nation states increasingly getting rough with their own citizens).

    He admits readily to being a very optimistic person.

    In addition to issues of uniform access to surveilance information, he also talked about his ideas for "EON" Eye of the Needle Foundation, discussing the lack of morality of some high stakes investing, the possibility of the new-rich to donate their money for "positive sum games", charities that do the most good, and at the same time give the givers positive notoriety.

    Anyway, disagree with David Brin if you want, but he seems right-on in his personal convictions.

    -Mark

  • by Catbeller (118204) on Thursday February 14, 2002 @11:44AM (#3007607) Homepage
    Here's the fallacies I can pop off the top off my head:

    Make every transaction, every movement traceable! Use scanners and biochips to make sure no one can perform a terraist [sic: Texan] act.

    And how would this have stopped the men from threatening the passengers of the planes with boxcutters? The idea of a suicidal attack is that the attacker dies. What the hell use is the post-mortem activity of a dead man? The ability to throw every semite he knew into jail for the rest of their lives?

    If we all lead transparent lives, then we can all live in peace --

    Stop there.

    The Bush administration has put ALL of its records into a vault, effectively for all time. And Reagan's. And Bush the First's. And Jeb's. Cheney is leading the way to establishing a totally opaque ruling junta. They are building walls around themselves. Hell, we don't even know where the Vice President is!!!

    Guess which president's records are being selectively released, juiciest scandal-provoking one's first, by the administration? Oh, guess, guess!! Of course, all surrounding records that may show the releases are out-of-context have been sealed. Why? National security, of course.

    Point? Privacy is sacrosanct -- for this administration, and all future Republican administrations. And their corporate friends.

    Think of it: you ever read the minutes of ANY meeting of ANY corporation such as Enron? EVER?

    Their privacy is sacred. And will remain so.

    The only thing we will get from "total transparency" is the loss of common rights of privacy for suspiciously arabic foreigners, all non-corporate Americans, and anyone who pisses off the future right-wing administrations, such as popular former Democratic presidents and near-presidents, and journalists who don't agree with the adminstration.

    Why in the hell do sane men suddenly get Royalty on the brain whenever a right-wing adminstration comes into power, but want armed citizens ready for revolt when a non-right wing president holds office?

    The current power structure has shown what it will do with "transparency": nail its enemies and reward its friends.

    No, I think I'll stay with my freedom, if it's all the same to you.
    • by w3woody (44457) on Thursday February 14, 2002 @02:39PM (#3008806) Homepage
      If we all lead transparent lives, then we can all live in peace --

      Stop there.

      The Bush administration has put ALL of its records into a vault, effectively for all time. And Reagan's. And Bush the First's. And Jeb's. Cheney is leading the way to establishing a totally opaque ruling junta. They are building walls around themselves. Hell, we don't even know where the Vice President is!!!


      Did you even read Brin's article? If you had, you would have realized that the problem he has with the current debate is exactly the thing you point out--that our loss of privacy is currently happening without a corrisponding loss of privacy within the Government.

      Without that corrisponding loss of privacy within the Government, it strips us of our own privacy without the necessary controls to allow us to know who has information on us and what they are doing with it. It also allows a small, elite class of people to arise who can control information on themselves (and, thus, do great harm or illegal stuff a'la Enron), while the rest of us are relegated to "sheep."

      Until this transparency happens in Government, there is a problem.

      The current power structure has shown what it will do with "transparency": nail its enemies and reward its friends.

      And that's why Brin, in his article, called for transparency within Government. Otherwise, we cannot watch the watchers.

      No, I think I'll stay with my freedom, if it's all the same to you.

      But you have already lost your freedom. Enron happened; the powerful elite who can control the public's ability to see what they are doing already have closed the shutters and have already committed crimes which took money out of your pocket (if you are an investor or live in California and buy electricity here).

      Only transparency (which means also the transparency to see what Bush--and Clinton--had to do with Enron) will allow you to prevent a bunch of elite thieves from picking your pocket in the future.
  • Brin: When the government pursues new surveillance powers, our habit is to kick and scream and moan and then watch helplessly while they get what they want, as when something bad like 9/11 happens. A far more effective
    technique is to demand fierce accountability measures in return for granting our servants the tools they claim they need. That?s how to keep both safety and freedom.


    It's a shell game. In effect (I won't say it's deliberate) the focus on secrecy keeps the powerful in power. This is becausethe "watchdog" groups are so obsessed with secrecy that they ignore what the observers do with the information that they get regardless.
    This works for both sides. The privacy lobby gets the ego boost and righteous publicity, while the watchers manage to get the information they want with minor restrictions on acquisition and very little constraint on its use.
  • Unrestricted surveillance won't fly with people because just about everybody feels embarrassed in some situations. And a lot of information can be distorted and altered by the people involved for their own purposes.

    But there is some information that I strongly believe should be public: tax returns (which, of course, include salary information), credit records, itemized donations to non-profit organizations, ownership of investments, driving records, driver's licenses (including photographs), places of residence, ownership of real property, beneficiaries of trusts, most police records, etc.

    That kind of information would allow people to negotiate and participate more rationally in our economic system (e.g., in salary negotiations), and it would allow you to assess conflict of interest issues of other people involved in political decisions. In fact, arguably, without such information, our market economy and political system simply cannot function efficiently.

  • by robstercraws (458221) on Thursday February 14, 2002 @12:13PM (#3007867)
    Brin's argues that we should be screaming for more oversight, not for more privacy protections.

    This argument seems a bit overly optimistic. Even if we have oversight, how do we know the government (or corporate America) is really disclosing everything they are doing with our private information. If Enron has taught us anything it's that corporations do not do what is in the best interest of even their own shareholders, let alone the random Joe Schmoe. Brin points to the Freedom of Information act as being a good example of oversight of the government. Is it? A lot of what people ask for comes back highly redacted.

    Furthermore, his solution seems like it would be expensive. How much would all these oversight committees cost? Who's going to want to raise taxes to pay for them?

    The simplest solution is to just protect people's privacy. I really don't see why Brin has a problem with that.

    Several times, Brin also talks about how our Liberties are not based on controlling what the government knows about us. Really? Well, he must be ignoring those handy laws about the government not being able to search our homes unwarranted, and that people are assumed innocent until proven guilty. What he is advocating is a police state, where anything that is yours is the government's right to know about ("I cannot believe how many sincere civil libertarians have actually convinced themselves that freedom is best preserved by blinding government. That has nothing whatsoever to do with how we acquired our present liberties."). Wrong David. That has everything to do with it.
    • "I cannot believe how many sincere civil libertarians have actually convinced themselves that freedom is best preserved by blinding government. That has nothing whatsoever to do with how we acquired our present liberties."

      That statement jumped out at me too. Is Brin really so stupid (no lesser word will do) as to think that this country would exist if George III had been able to get a copy of the letters written by the Committees of Correspondence in the late 1760s - early 1770s?

  • ...to quote the Good Doctor---in this case, the powerful will always try to cloak what they do, at least if we avoid the sort of fascism/Klingonry in which you _gloat_in_public_ over how much you're screwing everyone else. That is, no matter what the restrictions are, the powerful will buy their ways out of them, or what's a heaven for (that is, what's the point of being a powerful bastard if you can't enjoy things not available to other people)?

    The only solution I can see is to eliminate power differentials; this is probably impossible. However, this doesn't eliminate pursuing a "harm reduction" policy. To my mind, the most obvious course is putting a floor on how powerless or abject you _can_ get, and increasing the likelihood of turnovers in societal power.

    For example, we will never be able to guaranty that innocent people won't be imprisoned, but if we do guaranty that anyone, no matter how much we might hate them[sic], has the right to vote and to publish their grievances, and not to be killed, then we are all a bit safer from the government. If we put in a firm anti-lynching policy, we are safer from The People; if there is some kind of basic sustenance floor to the economy, we are less open to coercion (don't bother telling me it's not 'really') by our bosses.

    If one party is always in power, they will treat members of others badly. If there are fairly regular changeovers, every party has an interest in seeing that the losers are not treated too badly. Similarly, if Mr Ashcroft could be convinced that the guns and cameras he wants will eventually be aimed at _him_....well, he might get off on it, unfortunately---he already believes himself to be living in a Universal Dictatorship, where you're always under observation and your only right is to freely choose to agree with the Boss or go to a very bad prison forever.

    Sorry; well, to pop the stack: if a _reasonably_ _rational_ Attorney General were to believe that that powerful white men like him were eventually subject to frequent random stops in his neighbourhood, racial profiling there wouldn't be an issue (this is why the "racial" element is so nasty---it cuts off the feedback loop by assuring some people that it will never happen to _them_).
  • by Steve B (42864) on Thursday February 14, 2002 @12:36PM (#3007998)
    A few of the gaping holes in Brin's notion of "surveillance with accountability":
    1. It's simply too easy for the people in power and their minions to walk away scot free even when we
    already know what they've done. I'll be willing to entertain arguments to the contrary when Lon Horiuchi is waiting for his appointment with a guerney and a needle.

    2. Accountability can be easily evaded by hiding behind pretexts. If some politician doesn't like you for a non-actionable reason (e.g. you tried to prevent him from getting re-elected), he can always find an actionable reason (e.g. you once smoked the Devil Weed With Roots In Hell[tm]). This is routinely done now, and would be far easier given the surveillance abilities Brin postulates (and, no, surveillance the other way couldn't catch it, much less prove it, unless it includes mind-reading).

    3. The notion of really wide-open government is simply not possible. Nobody in his right mind is going to allow some "citizen watchdogs" to leaf through genuine national security secrets; thus, there will always be safe harbors for abuse free from prying citizen eyes.

  • To them, it's just as harmful for a supermarket to know what salad dressing you bought as it is for a convicted abuser to know the location of the battered wives shelter. But this is obviously absurd.

    Why is this absurd? The point is, if privacy is not valued for it's own sake, it will be taken from you when you really need it. Of course we don't need special rules to protect privacy when even Mrs. Grundy can see that it's needed.

    The Anschluss was approved by an overwhelming majority of Austrian voters. Albert Goering, who did not share the political beliefs of his more famous brother, described how this vote worked to his Allied interogators after the war.

    Voting took place in a large hall. In the centre there was a table, surrounded by seated officials, with ballots and ballot boxes. At the far end of the hall was a privacy booth. One approached the table and was handed a ballot with the Brinesque instruction that if voting "yes" (in favour of unification), there was no need for privacy - you could skip that long lonely walk to the booth. (Amusingly, the "Yes" alternative was printed very large on the ballot, the "No" very small. The Nazis weren't exactly subtle.)

    Goering insisted on using the booth, but of course this was tantamount to an admission that he was voting "no". He could afford to do this because his powerful brother could free him from the clutches of the Gestapo (as happened on more than one occasion.) Most voters didn't have that luxury.

    There was no way to argue the merits of privacy in the particular case, as Brin advocates, without arguing the case itself. If it had been possible to argue for privacy on a principled, rather than particular, basis, more people might have voted "no".
  • In the original interview, he parrots phrases like:
    We are - even after 9/11 - toweringly safer and freer than any other people in history.

    ...

    no government ever knew more about its people than ours does - and no people have ever been so free.


    Obviously he has never lived outside the USA for any significant length of time, and obviously he doesn't know much history.

    Even in the United States in the last couple of centuries, some people at some times were freer than they are now. Could Thoreau have done what he describes in Walden today? Of course not - or at least, not legally. He had no means to pay the property taxes that would be levied on his "house in the woods".
  • "argues well"? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Mr. Slippery (47854)

    "Argues well?" No. Forcefully, and perhaps eloquently, but very badly.

    His central thesis is that government "sight" will not be abused if there is citizen "oversight". He completely ignores the fact that, again and again, the majority of citizens have proven quite willing to allow the state to run roughshod over the rights of the minority.

    Brin writes from the position of a supporter of the general political and social status quo - his outlook is basically that our society is the best that's ever been. In this article, he claims we're both the safest and the freest, making no mention at all of such facts as our absurdly high incarceration rate. I've read other essays where he's quite exhuberant about his praise for modern western culture.

    Now that's all well and good. While his praise of the system is sometime more emotional than rational, he does have some good points. But he seems keenly unaware of the nature (maybe even the existance) of dissent, and of the sociopolitical reaction against it.

    Would citizen oversight have protected leaders like Martin Luther King and Huey Newton against the FBI's COINTELPRO? Would it have protected anti-globalization protestors who were pre-emptively raided before WTO protests in Seattle, IMF protests in D.C., and the RNC in Philadelphia? No. The system had done an excellent job of convincing the masses that these people were a threat to The Very American Way Of Life.

    Brin's a smart guy. I like a lot of his fiction, and on many issues he's pretty right on. This, however, is not one of them. He argues from either ignorance of, or deliberate refusal to acknowledge, the attitudes of the majority toward political dissent.

  • by markmoss (301064) on Thursday February 14, 2002 @01:54PM (#3008500)
    I grew up in small town American -- places where the neighbors knew who you were, and were likely to tell your parents what you were doing. There are some obvious bad points to that, but also good points. Brin's proposal amounts to using internet cameras, etc., to create a similar situation everywhere.

    It's likely to happen regardless of whether we want it to or not -- between the government using every opportunity to stampede the sheeple into allowing increased governmental powers to "protect" them, and old folks whiling away their time with video cameras (I think that was a Brin novel...). But several things are needed to make the good balance the bad:

    1. Government should be at least as subject to surveillance by citizens as the other way around. That is, if a corporate official comes around a congressman's home or office the day before a vote, we should at least be able to see him going in and out. If they go out to a restaurant, we can tape them -- if they are taping us.

    2. There are a few government issues which have to be worked in secret -- weapons designs (sometimes), military planning, police investigations. But these categories should be strictly defined, as limited as possible. Everything else must be open to the public, and classified items must be opened up as soon as possible. There must be severe penalties for overclassifying materials -- mandatory minimum of being barred from ever working for the government again, plus fines and possible jail time. Don't depend on gov't prosecutors to enforce this -- private citizens can file charges before a grand jury, prosecute if the grand jury indicts, and get well-paid out of the fines. (I know, that's encouraging the sharks to go feed themselves. Better on gov't officials than us...)

    3. There are public areas and private areas. You DON'T surveil private areas without a warrant. If you saw what Mr. Jones and Mrs. Smith were doing inside Mr. Smith's house, you'd better keep it to yourself, you damned peeping tom!

    4. One big fear about a no-secrets society is that we have things we don't want the neighbors to know about -- not illegal stuff, but embarrassing. If you knew what your neighbors were hiding, you probably don't have anything to be embarrasssed about . We'll have to get used to people not being perfect. Small-towners know that -- and the only ones that are excessively concerned about what their neighbors are doing are the old ladies without a life... ("Old lady" is not defined by gender...)

    5. Don't expect perfection from politicians, either. J. Edgar Hoover once had enormous power, more from fear of what might be in his secret files than from respect of his abilities as director of the FBI. Remember, once it's out in the open, it's not blackmail material any more...

    5. Repeal a hell of a lot of outmoded laws. We're not only worried about the neighbors seeing something embarrassing, but also about some malicious DA digging up a 150 year old law and prosecuting.
  • by SecurityGuy (217807) on Thursday February 14, 2002 @02:39PM (#3008811)
    I'd like to split Brin's ideal society down the middle. The first half is greater oversight of government activities. The second is dropping our privacy. Mr. Brin's assertion is that the second is fine as long as the first happens. I don't happen to agree with that, but let me suggest that those of you who do accept that the government oversight is a prerequisite to the second and go about achieving it. You'll be happy pursuing your goal. I'll be happy knowing you'll never break the black curtain surrounding "private" government activities and I'll not be bothered with people asking me to sacrifice my privacy for a Utopia which will not come to exist.


    Think about it. Greater insight into what our government is doing, supposedly on our behalf, is a Good Thing(tm) independent of Brin's transparent society ideal.

    • by markmoss (301064) on Thursday February 14, 2002 @05:50PM (#3010168)
      There is actually a much, much bigger prerequisite to reaching Brin's ideal society, one which Brin never faces. And that is that a lot of everyday activities by normal people are now technically illegal. Americans have this terrible habit of trying to legislate an ideal world, and then hoping the cops don't catch them breaking those laws. Unfortunately, between the cops greater efficiency, and ever longer sentences for the poor bastards that did get caught and aren't named "Bush", our greatest growth industry has become prisons. Put out enough video cameras without changing the laws, and they'd better figure out how to make prisons self-supporting, because there won't be enough people on the outside paying taxes!
  • I've enjoyed almost every book written by Brin, with the exception of the book "Earth". In this world of tomorrow, privacy is a thing of the past. Virtually everything you say and do is open to public scrutiny. It was a frightening world, one in which I would not wish to live in.
  • Privacy / Reality (Score:3, Insightful)

    by stinkydog (191778) <.sd. .at. .strangedog.net.> on Thursday February 14, 2002 @03:20PM (#3009084) Homepage
    The reality of the world today is that each one of us leave a trail of bits as we pass through our days. The purpose of "privacy" is not to stop those bits, but to keep them from being aggregated and used against me.

    If my kroger buyer card shows that I do not buy pork and I charge fuel and fertilizer on my lawn care company visa, I do not want to be questioned by the FBI as a terrorist. The oversite needs to be on the use of the data, not it's existance.

    My doctor needs the ability to genetically screen for disease, but my insurance company, even if it knows my flaws, should not be allowed to charge more. In the past I had the security through obscurity that my privacy provides, but this is no longer the case.

    The transparent society is an open source society. The 'source code' of an individual are their life experiences. The exploits are already in the wild. (People generally by milk and produce in a grocery so why are those sections the furthest apart?).

    The success of the transparent society will depend on the protections we provide for our most valuable intellectual property we own, ourselves.

    Lawrence Lessig has an article [sfgate.com] that descibes a new system for protecting IP. Add ability to copyright your personal data and we have a start on the Transparent Society.

    SD

"Card readers? We don't need no stinking card readers." -- Peter da Silva (at the National Academy of Sciencies, 1965, in a particularly vivid fantasy)

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