3 Matching Annotations
  1. Nov 2020
    1. The first is that the presence of surveillance means society cannot experiment with new things without fear of reprisal, and that means those experiments—if found to be inoffensive or even essential to society—cannot slowly become commonplace, moral, and then legal. If surveillance nips that process in the bud, change never happens. All social progress—from ending slavery to fighting for women’s rights—began as ideas that were, quite literally, dangerous to assert. Yet without the ability to safely develop, discuss, and eventually act on those assertions, our society would not have been able to further its democratic values in the way that it has. Consider the decades-long fight for gay rights around the world. Within our lifetimes we have made enormous strides to combat homophobia and increase acceptance of queer folks’ right to marry. Queer relationships slowly progressed from being viewed as immoral and illegal, to being viewed as somewhat moral and tolerated, to finally being accepted as moral and legal. In the end it was the public nature of those activities that eventually slayed the bigoted beast, but the ability to act in private was essential in the beginning for the early experimentation, community building, and organizing. Marijuana legalization is going through the same process: it’s currently sitting between somewhat moral, and—depending on the state or country in question—tolerated and legal. But, again, for this to have happened, someone decades ago had to try pot and realize that it wasn’t really harmful, either to themselves or to those around them. Then it had to become a counterculture, and finally a social and political movement. If pervasive surveillance meant that those early pot smokers would have been arrested for doing something illegal, the movement would have been squashed before inception. Of course the story is more complicated than that, but the ability for members of society to privately smoke weed was essential for putting it on the path to legalization. We don’t yet know which subversive ideas and illegal acts of today will become political causes and positive social change tomorrow, but they’re around. And they require privacy to germinate. Take away that privacy, and we’ll have a much harder time breaking down our inherited moral assumptions.

      One reason privacy is important is because society makes moral progress by experimenting with things on the fringe of what is legal.

      This is reminiscent of Signal's founder's argument that we should want law enforcement not to be 100% effective, because how else are we going to find out the gay sex, and marihuana use doesn't devolve and doesn't hurt anybody.

    1. Barr makes the point that this is about “consumer cybersecurity” and not “nuclear launch codes.” This is true, but it ignores the huge amount of national security-related communications between those two poles. The same consumer communications and computing devices are used by our lawmakers, CEOs, legislators, law enforcement officers, nuclear power plant operators, election officials and so on. There’s no longer a difference between consumer tech and government tech—it’s all the same tech.

      The US government's defence for wanting to introduce backdoors into consumer encryption is that in doing so they would not be weakening the encryption for, say, nuclear launch codes.

      Schneier holds that this distinction between government and consumer tech no longer exists. Weakening consumer tech amounts to weakening government tech. Therefore it's not worth doing.

    1. My problem with quips like these — as right as they are — is that they accept the premise that privacy is about hiding a wrong. It’s not. Privacy is an inherent human right, and a requirement for maintaining the human condition with dignity and respect.

      Common retorts to "If you aren't doing anything wrong, what do you have to hide?" accept the premise that privacy is about having a wrong to hide.

      Bruce Schneier posits that Privacy is an inherent human right, and "a requirement for maintaining the human condition with dignity and respect".