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Comment on this entry

Don’t Surrender the Privacy Battle

Richard Stallman

Ethical Technology

December 08, 2012

David Brin’s recommendations in his recent article are based on the presupposition that watching “the mighty” cancels out their ability to watch us.


Complete entry


Posted by SHaGGGz  on  12/08  at  08:17 AM

If we can use legislation to protect privacy on the bottom, then why not use it to enforce transparency on the top? The latter would shed light on the inevitable abuses of the former.

Posted by David Brin  on  12/12  at  03:14 PM

Alas, though he is an excellent writer, Richard has shown extreme laziness in this piece, reflexively pulling an “aha! I gotcha!” then dismissing a whole realm of solutions with a facile hand wave.

In fact, the matter of which method to use, in defending freedom and individual safety and rights, is a complex and knotty one that I explore from all angles in The Transparent Society: Will Technology Make Us Choose Between Privacy and Freedom?

The reflex should be to weigh such matters carefully.  For example, in 20 years I have challenged guys like Richard to name for me one time in all of human history when the elites ever allowed themselves to be limited in what they were allowed to see or know.  Such legal restrictions have been laughable at all times except our own, when SOME restrictions are obeyed… but only out of fear of being caught.

It is absurd to claim that any elite, anywhere would refrain from lookin all it wants, without the threat of reciprocal vision to catch them if they do.  Hence, Richard’s whole scenario, banning elites from looking, is utterly dependent upon mine! Sousveillance or empowering the average folk with the power to look back from below.

Oh, sure, there is an inherent imbalance of power.  Citizens can help balance this by pooling resources in NGOs like the ACLU, EFF and IEET and I urge this all the time. Ngos can hire great lawyers and every day they are fighting the fight. They won the vital case allowing citizens to record police!

To claim that the “boss” is invulnerable to transparency is unforgivably passive and cynically surrenderist.  A citizenry that aggressively despises hyprocisy would solve that problem.  It is already in our mythology and if we don’t take that route no amount of “privacy laws” will even save us.

With cordial regards,

David Brin

Posted by rms  on  12/31  at  12:47 AM

David Brin’s reply to my article does not respond to its point.

In his book, and again now, Brin makes the blanket claim that
sousveillance can compensate for surveillance.  I’ve shown a common
case—you and your boss—where all the sousveillance in the world
can’t achieve that.  To encourage people to organize to do more
sousveillance is futile for this problem.

There are problems for which sousveillance is effective: for instance,
against the uniformed thugs on our streets.  It’s effective there
because of specific aspects of that problem.  Thugs may beat you up
and lie to frame you, especially if you’re a dissident or a journalist (see,
but if you can prove that, they can get in trouble.  (Not as much
trouble as it ought to be.)  This is a job that sousveillance can do.

On the contrary, in the US your boss is allowed to fire you for any
reason whatsoever, aside from a few specific reasons prohibited by
antidiscrimination laws.  Video footage of him firing you won’t help
you.  Video footage of his vacation won’t help you either, unless it
catches him committing a crime or a firing offence; and in the total
surveillance world, where his career depends on avoiding such
mistakes, he probably will have done nothing you could use.

Brin talks about whether we can control what elites are allowed to
“see”, “know” and “look at”.  Those words don’t fit this issue; we are
not talking about their noticing what occurs in front of their eyes.
We are talking about massive digital surveillance systems, which can
hardly be installed secretly, and which are usually promoted or
imposed, if not actually run, by large companies and the state.  We
have a chance of controlling them if we organize politically to demand

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