Privacy, Security, and Implied Mutual Exclusion
Privacy, Security, and Implied Mutual Exclusion
There are many lives. Each life is as the next, and each is observed by ever-vigilant eyes and ears, whose purpose is to safeguard against danger. A man, like any other man, lives a life like any other life. He sleeps, and his house is monitored for danger, lest he be disturbed. He awakens, and his actions are watched, lest he endanger himself or another. He is watched in the street, as he walks to the car, and he is watched in his car, again, for the safety of all concerned.
This man is watched, as all men are watched, for the safety of all men. If he were to commit a crime, he could be easily apprehended. If he were to be the victim of an accident or crime, he may be swiftly saved. His every gesture, expression, and word are perused in search of intent. It is hoped that, when he shows signs of danger, he may be apprehended before he has acted. Thus ensuring the safety of all concerned. The man, like all men, knows he is safe, because his neighbors are watched as well as he.
Why then, does he feel vulnerable? Why does he still feel unsafe?
In today's world it is accepted that privacy must be sacrificed for the sake of well-being and safety, both national and personal. People are told they are safer watched than alone, and that secrecy is the shield of those who intend harm. If someone has something to hide, they are of ill intent. "After all, you have nothing to hide, do you comrade?"
Unfortunately, the lives above are not works of fiction. They are a manifestation of possibility. In the end humanity is presented with a question of power and trust, and something must be decided and acted upon before this irreversible state comes to pass, humanity must at least decide to do nothing, if this is that to which they aspire.
The United States has been watching telecommunications for decades both legally and illegally. (Poole) In the United Kingdom, it is estimated there are only 14 people for every surveillance camera. As dense as the surveillance is it is estimated that the average person is recorded on camera about 300 times in a single day. (George) Additionally, vehicle movements have been watched and recorded by a combination of GPS satellites and license plate reading cameras since 2006. (Connor) Possibly most foreboding is the increasing trend in proposed legislature toward data-mining. The Smith Data Retention Act has been cited as a prime example of this most disturbing tendency:
"Sec. 6. Record Retention Requirements for Internet Service Providers. (a) REGULATIONS.---Not later than 90 days after the date of the enactment of this section the Attorney General shall issue regulation governing the retention of records by Internet Service Providers. Such regulations shall, at minimum, require retention of records, such as the name and address of the subscriber or registered user to whom an Internet Protocol address, user address, or telephone number was assigned, in order to permit compliance with court orders that may require production of such information."
Further provisions in the same bill effectively require ISPs and internet hosts to retain not only the specified information, but also hosted content for the use of law enforcement and judicial personnel. (Smith DRA)
Due to advances in telecommunications and information technology the availability of information, in both diversity and sheer volume, has reached a previously unfathomable level in recent years. Never before has so much information been available with so little effort in so little time. Humanity is no longer bound by the speed of physical travel, and subsequently new networks and systems have been formed as people have learned to cope with such an onslaught of data.
While the sheer scope of available knowledge is an academician's dream, it is a security nightmare. Privacy becomes sorely at risk as personal information, finances, even everyday communiques are transferred to a medium that is almost entirely public.
The mentality and openness are best surmised by this succinct statement. "'The Internet treats censorship as though it were a malfunction and routes around it.' -John Gilmore" (Barlow)
The migration of everyday life to this very open medium allows for those who would invade privacy, whether they be conmen or security forces, to do so with minimum effort and danger.
The same advances that have allowed humanity to move a piece of information from one side of the globe to another in a split second allow for the large-scale recording of what little isn't already resident in the digital world. Sensor technology, such as cameras, microphones, and scanners, is being employed everywhere for purposes legitimate and otherwise. In the age of information technology, anyone can see or hear anything on this planet.
With the vast resources at their disposal, nation-states are in a prime position to commit invasions of privacy, and many if not all have motive to do so.
The government claims that in the face of threats such as terrorism, safety is dependent on the ability of law enforcement agencies to track and prevent criminal activity. However, this is in direct contradiction to a tenant long held among both military and civilian peoples, that information is among the most potent of weapons. Children have long been admonished, "Don't talk to strangers," and Sun Tzu devoted over a tenth of his famous treatise to the use and warding of spies and scouts, even going so far as to state: "Thus, what enables the wise sovereign and the good general to strike and conquer, and achieve things beyond the reach of ordinary men, is foreknowledge." (Giles XIII) Thus, there are two contending postulations concerning safety, that which exemplifies privacy and that which exemplifies openness.
"The less you know about something, the harder it is to kill." This is the postulate behind the age-old doctrine we are all familiar with. This is the same assumption Sun Tzu made 26 centuries ago. The other assumption is that the more the government knows about, well, everything, the safer the citizens of that government are.
Obviously, one cannot withhold information about oneself, and subsequently ensure one's safety while simultaneously disclosing any and all information to another entity. It is simply not logically valid. Therefore, one of these statements must be incorrect.
The latter postulation is easily traceable to the first, on the grounds that the more knowledge, and therefore power a nation-state has, the better it can protect its people. However, power, being the potential of action, can also be used against the people. This can occur directly, in instances such as Stalin's crackdowns in Soviet Russia or McCarthyism in the United States, or indirectly, in instances where improper leadership imposes adverse conditions upon the populace.
Therefore, although the greater resources and coordination of an informed government can yield greater defense than simple non-disclosure of information, the assumption that well informed government is intrinsically protective is valid only under the assumption that the government in question holds the best-interests of its citizens as a priority.
It can be concluded given that our government is by nature transient in its intent, having elected (and therefore shifting) leadership in addition to other, more ambiguous, flaws, it cannot be held as a certainty that our government will always have the best interests of its citizens as its first priority.
Given the capacity for information retrieval and abuse available to both our government and independent entities, it is important that humanity prevent the further development of an information infrastructure that is already large enough to allow power to fall into the hands of one who would use it adversely to public safety or progress. Privacy is a person's only shield against those who would cause them harm. To put it in the hands of another is to give that other control of one's life. The question is, can an institution be trusted with the lives of an entire nation?
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Connor, Steve. “Britain Will Be First Country to Monitor Every Car Journey.” The Independent. 22 December 2005. 26 March 2007 <http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/transport/article334686.exe>
Giles, Lionel. Sun Tzu on the Art of War. 1994. Project Gutenburg, 26 March 2007. <http://www.gutenburg.org/etext/132>
“George Orwell, Big Brother Is Watching Your House.” This Is London. 31 March 2007. Evening Standard. 31 March 2007 <http://www.thisislondon.co.uk>
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United States of America. Rep. Smith, Smith Data Retention Act. 110th Congress, 1st Session. Washington D.C. 2007