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If Everyone Has Something to Hide, Then It’s Not Surveillance that is the Problem
Jon Perry   Jul 4, 2013   The Decline of Scarcity  

Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution recently wrote a post called No One is Innocent:
“I broke the law yesterday and again today and I will probably break the law tomorrow. Don’t mistake me, I have done nothing wrong. I don’t even know what laws I have broken. Nevertheless, I am reasonably confident that I have broken some laws, rules, or regulations recently because its hard for anyone to live today without breaking the law. Doubt me? Have you ever thrown out some junk mail that came to your house but was addressed to someone else? That’s a violation of federal law punishable by up to 5 years in prison…

“One of the responses to the revelations about the mass spying on Americans by the NSA and other agencies is “I have nothing to hide. What me worry?” I tweeted in response “If you have nothing to hide, you live a boring life.” More fundamentally, the NSA spying machine has reduced the cost of evidence so that today our freedom–or our independence–is to a large extent at the discretion of those in control of the panopticon…”

All good points. Government surveillance now has the ability to find dirt on everyone. However, it is not necessarily surveillance that is the problem in this scenario. Rather, isn’t it bad laws that are at fault? If we are all by definition criminals, something is wrong with our legal structure. Surveillance just exposes what has always been a big problem. As we move into a world with less privacy, we are going to need fewer and more lenient laws, or else society will grind to a halt.

Imagine every person who used illegal drugs, broke a traffic rule, or violated copyright was immediately caught and punished. I’m guessing that in a matter of days at least half the American public would end up on the wrong side of the law. That’s because these laws are poorly designed. They always have been.

The same principle holds true when talking about cultural norms. If surveillance technologies are used to out a closeted homosexual against his will, then what is to blame? Is it the surveillance technologies? Or is it the screwed up culture that demonizes gays and forces them to hide in the first place?

I believe that more than anything else, a society with less privacy is going to have to become more relaxed. Most likely we’ll end up more tolerant of drug use, atypical sexual behavior, and minor rules infractions. And in many ways that might be a very good thing.




COMMENTS

When everyone is guilty of some law or another, many of them serious yet virtually unavoidable offenses (e.g. violating digital terms of use is a felony, which is, unquestionably, absolutely fucking insane) means that those in power have free rein to throw whoever they don’t like in jail. This generally applies to those of us who are disempowered, as anyone following the news knows how little accountability there is for those at the top who have demonstrably and publicly broken laws. The law itself, even if it were applied impartially, is still grossly decoupled from the will of the people, a fact largely attributable to the corporate takeover of public institutions, with public campaign financing being an obviously necessary solution.

http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/story?id=5322198&page=1

We have a case study of this theory (that a society with less privacy is going to have to become more relaxed).  Instead, I suggest a different paradigm, where the government vacuums up every scrap of data, but instead of using it cosmopolitan,  they only are allowed to use it when the offense rises to a certain level of seriousness (i.e. a warrant is necessary to access the data-base).  Otherwise the super-ego state will over-dominate the id individuals, resulting in neurosis.

@dobermanmac: That is basically what the Obama admin is claiming is going on - the issue is that we don’t believe them. Therefore your “solution” that the government be trusted to only do this and not that, is not a solution at all. Since we’ve been shown that we’d be idiots to keep providing this trust, we need legislation actually mandating greater sousveillance, because evidently, Slick Barry’s promises of bringing us the “most transparent administration in history” is a load of bullshit.

Face it, you either choose to enjoy the benefits and pay with the responsibilities of a Brave New World, or you go live the life of a Nobel Savage.  High technology is inevitably dual-use, therefore you need surveillance of individuals, or they will inevitably greatly damage or destroy the group.  You want 100% security and 100% privacy?  So you would rather trust every individual to behave civilly than to trust the government to police them, huh?  Good luck with that SHaGGGz.

@dobermanmac: How is that at all what I said? I’m not naive enough to think we can put the technological genie back in the bottle, and I see the benefits of increased transparency. All I said was that we also need to turn the surveillance technologies back at those in power (“sousveillance,” watching from below, as opposed to “surveillance,” watching from above) so that the information flow is not one-way, which would be a reliable recipe for despotism.

“I believe that more than anything else, a society with less privacy is going to have to become more relaxed. Most likely we’ll end up more tolerant of drug use, atypical sexual behavior, and minor rules infractions. And in many ways that might be a very good thing.”

We would all like to believe so yes.. but history tells us the opposite is true? This type of thinking hoping our pseudo “powers” of democracy will overcome an emerging surveillance/oppression culture is just wishful thinking.

The powers of the state still remain in the hands of the individuals and the few, and no Humans can be trusted above and beyond their own fears and Self-interest - not even Obama, and I think he’s proved that hypocrisy rules, (visiting Mandela’s cell for some quiet time to reflect on Guantanamo?)

Laws should always be challenged for validity and worth, yet this still leads to a lot of suffering for the individuals chastised by due process and incriminated by outdated, outmoded and petty laws.

And regardless of whether the full weight of law is even applied, (and it usually is when you do not pay taxes or fines, and stand to oppose injustice), taxation and revenues from all sources, (example parking fines), is being used as justification for promoting a surveillance culture - local and state wide?

I must say, I agree with CyngusX1. It would be wonderful if less privacy made us more relaxed, but it doesn’t. I believe it was Ben Franklin who said, “He who gives up freedom for safety deserves neither.” And all this spying is billed as a “safety” or “security” measure. And giving up privacy is like giving up your freedom, in my opinion. Freedom is being able to go about your business without the government knowing your every move.

When that happens, things tend not to become more relaxed. You tend to get a fear state when that happens. People become less open about what they are doing—out of fear—rather than more open.

No, surely freedom has to mean something much more profound than “being able to go about your business without the government knowing your every move”. Surely freedom is being able to do what I want, when I want, without suffering unpleasant consequences. How much one cares whether government knows what that is is a matter of taste as much as anything.

I think SHaaaGz is closest to the mark with his reference to corporate takeover of government, although I’m sceptical as to whether public financing is the answer. Could be part of the solution, I guess, but it seems a bit 20th century somehow. We need to make corporations more accountable, but to whom, and how? To the people presumably, but I’m not sure how far we can or should try to rely on traditional representative democracy and state mechanisms to make that happen.

At the risk of being trite, it’s probably best to start from within: be the change, and all that. Whether surveillance (or the lack of it) makes us more or less relaxed depends to a degree on us. Not that ‘relaxed’ necessarily needs to be the objective - alertness is even better in my view - but to the extent that there is fear, it needs to be acknowledged and channelled in line with our values, rather than being allowed go lead us to a neurotic flailing around, as so often happens.

“but to the extent that there is fear, it needs to be acknowledged
and channelled in line with our values, rather than being allowed go lead us to a neurotic flailing around, as so often happens.”

Wherein conspiracy theories build up to in the mind the CIA, FBI, the Cosa Nostra, Cuban exiles, Castro and the Russians all killing JFK simultaneously. The paranoia increases to where explosives were allegedly stored inside the WTC as part of controlled demolition. It’s also entertainment as well as paranoia—infotainment.

 

 

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