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David Brin on Privacy 365

David Brin is interviewed and provides some strong words on modern conceptions of privacy and why they're off-base. Brin asserts - and argues well - that a land with little privacy is a freer land.
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David Brin on Privacy

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  • 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.


  • 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..."
  • 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?


  • by trollercoaster ( 250101 ) on Thursday February 14, 2002 @09:05AM (#3006366) Homepage Journal

    Just saw this on CNN a few minutes ago - country wester music outlaw Waylon Jennings was found dead at his home in Arizona this morning. I'm sure we'll all miss him - even if you didn't enjoy his hits like "Mammas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys," and "Luckenbach, Texas" you've probably loved the "Dukes of Hazzard" theme. Truly an American icon.

  • by ChristTrekker ( 91442 ) on Thursday February 14, 2002 @09:06AM (#3006370)

    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.

  • by topside420 ( 530370 ) < minus author> on Thursday February 14, 2002 @09:06AM (#3006371) Homepage
    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.

  • by sql*kitten ( 1359 ) on Thursday February 14, 2002 @09:11AM (#3006389)
    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 [] does include a right to privacy. And who knows what such a Bill written 2302 will need to contain?
  • Slippery slope (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Chardish ( 529780 ) <> 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.

  • Re:Nice try (Score:2, Insightful)

    by fhknack ( 104003 ) on Thursday February 14, 2002 @09:26AM (#3006444) Homepage
    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.
  • 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 ch-chuck ( 9622 ) on Thursday February 14, 2002 @09:58AM (#3006583) Homepage
    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.
  • by Bookwyrm ( 3535 ) on Thursday February 14, 2002 @10:08AM (#3006633)
    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?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 14, 2002 @10:12AM (#3006659)
    Apart from the fourth amendment, of course. Or what did you think "searches" means?

    I hope the moderators who rated your comment to 5 arent Americans. Are Americans really that stupid about their own Constitution?

    This is the original long-winded version of the 4th:

    "The rights to be secured in their persons, their houses, their papers, and their other property, from all unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated by warrants issued without probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, or not particularly describing the places to be searched, or the persons or things to be seized."

    In other words, the 4th protects you from ham fisted policemen.
  • by Carmody ( 128723 ) <> 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.

  • by Random Feature ( 84958 ) on Thursday February 14, 2002 @10:22AM (#3006714) Homepage
    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 ...

  • 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.

  • by lunenburg ( 37393 ) on Thursday February 14, 2002 @10:25AM (#3006736) Homepage 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.
  • 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.


  • by a random streaker ( 538956 ) on Thursday February 14, 2002 @10:35AM (#3006881) Homepage
    What it does is even more severe. The constitution creates a government with a defined set of powers, and no others. To set limits hints that the government may do anything except what is forbidden, when in theory (sadly, not in fact) it is the other way around.

    The government doesn't have rights -- only individual people have rights. The government has powers over those rights, as granted by the people, who can change or revoke it.

    Of course, this limited government has a budget for this year of 2.1 trillion dollars. It is the most bloated thing ever to exist.

  • by ichimunki ( 194887 ) on Thursday February 14, 2002 @11:30AM (#3007487)
    The solution? That's what the whole article is about.

    The key notion is "oversight". Which means that you watch the watchers. For government this means things like the FOIA, where citizens can see what the files say. This means open meetings with published minutes. It means that court proceedings are public. Things like that. For corporations, it means things like being able to get a copy of your credit report.

    Maybe it should also mean standard reports by businesses that consumers can request that will show what's being tracked, and what those tracked values are for that specific consumer. That way, if a supermarket has used my address (which would be consistent across credit/debit cards and checks) to track my purchases, that I can see my whole file, as it were.

    It might mean that a credit agency has to give a more complete disclosure than just the "credit report" which don't currently show any of the standard scores assigned to my profile.

    But the basic premise of Brin's argument is that privacy, freedom, and security are all orthogonal. None of these are dependent on the others. Which makes sense to me. While I value my right to be left alone (one type of privacy), I almost consider it cowardice that some people are willing to buy/do things that are questionable but won't put their name to it (like only paying cash for computer security books). Their "privacy" isn't helping anyone be free. In fact, their lack of public ownership of who they are and how they behave makes it easier for the power-hungry to use this secrecy to squelch open debate, since anyone who *does* voice oppositional or open opinions becomes suspect.
  • 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 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.
  • by Catbeller ( 118204 ) on Thursday February 14, 2002 @12:27PM (#3007951) Homepage
    I think a *truly* awful government (I suppose we should define what that is) cannot be elected in a country with a strong free press.

    The U.S. has lost a good deal of that strong free press in the last decade as enormous corporate entities have bought entire outlets, replaced their management with new blood more amenable to corporate goals, and overall have created monolithic conservative institutions. We can witness CNN falling to this effect at the moment as "liberal" voices are replaced with moderate conservatives posing as such.

    I think power by coup can only occur in countries that lack respect for the rule of law.

    I think you both miss the point. A coup did occur in 2000, and the free press you speak of no longer existed to point out the madness in the Supreme Court's ruling, nor the riot in the Dade Count recount office, nor to to intelligently analyze the recount audit released late last year. Our press has become a herd of sheep. The most frightening development I have ever seen.

    The constant terror of nuclear bombs I witnessed twenty years ago should pale in comparison to the collapse of a critical press when the current administration seized power. But sadly, the voices that used to shout the alarm have been muzzled.
  • by njdj ( 458173 ) on Thursday February 14, 2002 @12:52PM (#3008095)
    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 ) <> on Thursday February 14, 2002 @01:30PM (#3008364) Homepage

    "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 Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 14, 2002 @01:58PM (#3008517)
    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...
  • by WNight ( 23683 ) on Thursday February 14, 2002 @02:36PM (#3008790) Homepage
    If you've read Brin's earlier essays on this, I think the idea is that we all become (potentially) watchers.

    If the government passes laws against civilian access to cameras, etc, it won't stop the government, or the rich. But the poor will not only be out of the loop (illegal cameras are expensive cameras) but they'll be punished if they ever compete.

    If the laws put everyone on an equal footing then people can watch the rulers and the rich even while they're being watched themselves. Sure, no individual watcher is above corruption, but if we're all corrupted, does it count as corruption, or a changing society? If there are laws against the monitoring (as opposed to the use of knowledge from monitoring) it'll be hard to punish the people with smaller cameras, and police even now tend to go after the poor instead of the rich. If however the laws prevent the use of knowledge gained through snooping, we'll have the ammunition needed to take on the rich and powerful if they ever abuse their power enough for "us" to find it worth whistle-blowing.

    I find the end of privacy to be inevitable, so I want some way to ensure we don't end up with 1984. I'd rather everyone could stare at me and vice versa (we'd all get over sexual hangups fairly soon) instead of only the elite few who control the police. Especially if those people could also watch the police and the officials, seeing that they followed their own laws.

    It wouldn't be an ideal world, but it'd be better than others, and I think we're headed in that direction, like it or not.
  • 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.

  • Privacy / Reality (Score:3, Insightful)

    by stinkydog ( 191778 ) <sd@strangedo[ ]et ['g.n' in gap]> 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 [] that descibes a new system for protecting IP. Add ability to copyright your personal data and we have a start on the Transparent Society.

  • by No One ( 142157 ) on Thursday February 14, 2002 @03:55PM (#3009303)
    Brinesque instruction

    Stop creating strawmen and actually read what Brin's saying. Brin's belief is that it's more important to focus on getting oversight of the activities of the powerful than it is to prevent the powerful from getting information on us. Godwin's law aside, the situation you describe in no way fulfills Brin's ideals. That is a situation where the powerful have surveillance over the majority, but the majority have no way to obtain information on the powerful. Your example, while a nice story, has exactly nothing to do with Brin's "Transparent Society".

    Brin's philosophy is not that the powerful having surveillance abilities over the masses is good, it's that that situation is unavoidable. Given that, he believes it's more important to enable the masses to surveil the powerful to keep them in check, rather than fighting a lost cause to stop surveillance entirely. Instead of trying to remove the databases, he wants universal access.

    I don't necessarily agree with him, but misrepresenting his beliefs doesn't further the discussion.
  • by vanyel ( 28049 ) on Thursday February 14, 2002 @04:01PM (#3009371) Journal
    The biggest problem with a lack of privacy is when you want to do something the majority doesn't like: The freedom to do only that which others approve of is no freedom at all. Yet see what happens when everyone knows you're gay in Podunk, North Carolina or say 50 years ago just about anywhere. Until we stop harassing or prosecuting victimless "crimes", or just people who are different, we need privacy.
  • Brin's Views (Score:2, Insightful)

    by quiller ( 67784 ) on Thursday February 14, 2002 @04:24PM (#3009539)
    From what I have read of Brin, his problem with privacy advocates is that they are uncompromising. He believes that we need to bargain on privacy. If we can get the same information about the government and corporations as they get about us, then the bargain is even, and we have a better restraint on their extremes.

    Enron had plenty of privacy, even from those who owned part of it.

    I personally think Brin has some wrongheaded ideas, but that he brings up points that others aren't really talking about. Sure, let's force the openness from the government first, but if everyone can do everything in secret than we must suspect everyone. That is not a healthy way to live.
  • Privacy is a tool (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Merovign ( 557032 ) on Thursday February 14, 2002 @04:52PM (#3009733)

    One of the most powerful tools, in war and politics, is surprise. Without it, power almost never changes hands. Think about it. How do you get the upper hand when someone else controls the police, the press... (and I'm mainly talking politics here, not war... though the same principles apply).

    You don't have to be a revolutionary to have a problem with the way things are being done - and legitimate protest can lead to targeting. A significant political movement has a hard time developing when its members are isolated, harassed, and discredited before they can form up.

    And if you think that loss of privacy will be symmetrical, they you Just Don't Get It.

    Those who retain privacy will be the usual suspects: the elected, the appointed, the wealthy, and the popular.

    It will be a simple power (surprise) shift in favor of those who already have the power, just like newspapers and TV stations love "campaign finance reform" that shuts private citizens and groups up and lets the press blather on as much as it wants - because it maintains and expands their power.

    Politicians like speech restrictions and privacy reduction for exactly the same reason.

    It may seem cynical to some of you, but go to the capitals, volunteer to help, sit in on the meetings, talk to insiders, and see what they think. See how they talk about their relationship to "the people."

    As someone wise once said to me, "You may not be in the game, but you're still on the board, so you had better damn well care about the rules."

  • by Judebert ( 147131 ) on Thursday February 14, 2002 @06:06PM (#3010305) Homepage
    History does support your point. However, we're doing more than just wishing here. Remember that America is "The Great Experiment", the first democracy to last 200 years. And still going. All previous (so my father tells me) fell into dictatorships.

    In any case, the future is not entirely determined by the past. We have an opportunity to shape our future. If we oppose the cameras altogether, we will get cameras used only by the rich and empowered. If we accept cameras with the teeny little caveat that we have access to them and cameras in the police stations, then we get real equality.

All Finagle Laws may be bypassed by learning the simple art of doing without thinking.