takes a reasonable approach to privacy politics in response to a piece by Declan McCullagh
In the amazing June issue of Reason--the one with the cover showing an aerial photo of the individual subscriber's house--Declan McCullagh punctures overblown, panicky privacy concerns about database-mining by private companies. But when it comes to government data mining, he gets a bit panicky and overblown himself, conjuring up fears of a "police state" and engaging in some scare-mongering about the "massive Total Information Awareness project that John Poindexter tried to put together" as well as a Justice department plan to obtain a database of "Americans' names, addresses, previous addreses, places of employment, spouses' names, and Social Security numbers." I don't understand why I should be so complacent about having Microsoft connect my name, address, etc. with other available private data but so terrified of the Homeland Security Agency doing the same thing. With all due respect, what the Homeland Security Agency is trying to stop (Al Qaeda) is rather more threatening than what Microsoft is trying to stop (Linux).
Kaus also links to this op-ed piece by Heather Mac Donald
with which I agree. She disagrees with the final report
of an independent advisory panel appointed by Don Rumsfeld, declaring datamining techniques for fighting terror as being "a flawed effort to achieve worthwhile ends." Apparently it didn't consider preventing more suicide attacks like those of 9/11 to be sufficiently worthwhile, compared to the privacy lost by having computers searching public and private databases for patterns linked to terrorism. It recommended that datamining be done only with a warrant, which kind of defeats the point of it. If you knew enough to name persons you want to investigate, you wouldn't need datamining. The problem with this thinking, as far as I'm concerned it that it equates a computer program with a conscious investigator who might learn and remember something you might consider too personal. I don't think that a computer is capable of determining what might be embarrassing. It is not capable of being distracted.
I'm always struck by the irony of a society where pornography and privacy are juxtaposed as civil rights. We demand that the government protect us from crime and terrorism, but refuse to allow it to gather information which might help it do that. I remember a discussion on a New York Times forum about surveillance cameras set up by British police in public high crime areas. One woman posted that she liked to wear low-cut tops and short skirts, but that the thought of some cop back at headquarters slavering over the image disgusted her. So muggers or rapists are entitled to scope out her goodies (This is, remember, a public place.) while only the possibility that a police officer might ogle her disturbs her.
If you want absolute privacy, move to Montana or Idaho, don't subscribe to anything, don't have a bank account, a post office box, or credit cards, build a 20 foot fence, don't drive a car and buy enough land so that you don't have any close neighbors. Grow your own food, and don't patronize doctors, grocery stores, garbage collectors, etc.
Look, society is a deal where we live together and know each other and look out for each other. we are prosperous and free largely because we live in a society where we specialize and trade goods and services produced more efficiently, and where money and spending facilitates those activities.
If I had to list the things I expect from society and government, the first would be safety for my life, family and property. The second would be peace and quiet, which was an important part of common law, where people were entitled to have their lives undisturbed by private and public nuisances. "A man's home is his castle," that old aphorism was a legal maxim. Our bill of rights was based on this expectation, but it was understood as a balance between legitimate societal requirements and personal privileges. The Fourth Amendment speaks of unreasonable searches and seizures, such as random searches like those carried out by the British Army before and during the American Revolution. The evil was the disturbance of having one's home invaded and tossed without sufficient reason to believe that there was something illegal going on there. This current worry about privacy and the idiotic insistence that we have the right to be anonymous is the result of the idea that there are such things as victimless crimes.