[FoRK] exactly how much privacy should we have?

Stephen Williams sdw at lig.net
Sat Jun 15 21:19:47 PDT 2013

On 6/15/13 7:10 PM, Bill Humphries wrote:
> On Jun 15, 2013, at 5:21 PM, Noon Silk <noonslists at gmail.com> wrote:
>> but do we agree that watching nothing is also
>> wrong?
> The problem about "how much surveillance" we should tolerate is complicated by private surveillance.
> We can require it take an act of congress and a note from my mother to allow the government access to communications, but that does not prevent private parties from trying to monitor our movements, intents, conversations and activities. Government surveillance is a 4th amendment matter, private surveillance is, as far as I can tell, a different body of law.

It is mostly but not completely different.  Private property, freedom to move about, personal freedom and space are all 
well-defined concepts for the most part.  Your home has special status, with both the government and other individuals.  There 
are some limits on making private information public for both. Wiretapping and unauthorized use of a computer laws apply to 
both, but the government can get around them.  We're still battling out encryption keys etc. a bit.

Non-government actors are very exposed legally when doing any invasive surveillance.  You can photograph anything from public 
access land, and in public establishments until asked to stop (well, until you actually leave), as long as you don't use a zoom 
lens to peer into a window in a private residence.  In some areas it is illegal to record sound without knowledge and/or 
permission, although that seems overboard in public and seems to conflict with the right to record video in public.

There are a lot of interesting questions to hash out.  The courts and legislature are very slow to understand how the world has 
evolved, but it happens.  They treat email one way when most people use it one way, then start realizing that it is an extension 
of private property and equivalent to postal mail when they use it another, even though some people always used it that way.  
But now they have caselaw to overcome.

Gladly, we are successfully past the brief, ugly, and totally stupid question of whether individuals can monitor and record the 
government (police), although the feds still claim special status on bases etc.

> And the other problem is that even if we make it more difficult for the government to listen in on us, does it prevent them from buying traces of our activities from third parties.

Technically, yes I think, unless we've willingly given data to that party without restrictions, an NDA or similar.
The interesting question is what happens if everyone successfully starts using encrypted everything?  We've been able to for a 
while, but it has been too much trouble and people didn't care.  We may be past that shortly, which is generally good except for 
those who's job is anti-terror / crime.
> Any reforms to the matter have to address both problems.

Creative application of current laws would be a start.  Far too few people take companies and government to court and there is 
little coverage if it is happening.  If wronged, I wouldn't hesitate to publicly file suits and publish my experience doing it.  
As to anti-terror / crime, well that's always a tough job, so they'll have to evolve.  I'm fine with them monitoring what they 
legitimately should be monitoring, but I want only legitimate use, full auditing, and checks and balances.  With real, timely 
consequences for individuals and agencies when they screw up.  Nobody plays god without critics watching, on the record.

Some people truly are trustworthy, wise, and benevolent.  The world has benefited from pivots that they made happen.  However, 
odds are that not everyone is so perfect, so generally ultimate power should be constrained.

> And, for what it's worth, Lauren Weinstein's getting increasingly panicked in his email list posts, because, I think, it's dawning on him that people who don't want Big Brother watching everything they do may not go for Google doing the same, even if you get a free email account with it.

He makes a good point just now:
> Mass hysteria plays into conspiracy theories, and most observers don't have the technical background to even begin reasonable 
> analysis of what's actually happening, even apart from the policy-related aspects.
> These are the spoils of secrecy, the ration of Tantalus, and unless the Obama administration puts its cards completely on the 
> table now -- not in terms of operational data but regarding programs and policies actually in place -- we will shortly pass 
> the point of no return for any sort of rational discussion about these important national security issues.
> We may, in fact, have already passed beyond the event horizon into a black hole of distrust from which we cannot readily 
> escape. And such deep distrust is almost certainly far worse than the actual realities of the NSA and other national security 
> programs that are now being revealed in disparate fragments, encouraging the most alarming, most conspiratorial assessments, 
> no matter how exaggerated those assessments may be compared with the underlying realities themselves.
> Congress and George W. Bush created this PATRIOT Act monster, sleeping like Godzilla on the ocean floor, waiting to be awoken 
> and render random destruction in his wake.
> Barack Obama and later congressional officials voluntarily chose to keep this nightmarish behemoth alive and well fed -- the 
> responsibility now falls directly on their own heads.
> A vacuum of truth is easily filled with fear, hysteria, and insanity. Paranoia breeds where facts are sparse.

Too much secrecy has always seemed to be a potential problem.  Some Intel operating principles are at odds with the nation's 
fundamental operating principles.  The Intel world may have just jumped the shark.

> -- whump

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