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Saturday, November 23, 2002

Privacy, or Sanity?

Snipped from a recent email to some friends, on the topic of the recent huge increase in government snooping:

If the laws of the country were fair and reasonable in your views (i.e., no victimless crimes, no productivity taxes, etc..., and in general a fairly small body of law with no random cruft) what would be the down-sides of having the government tracking absolutely everyone and everything (including the government itself)? (I.e., the "open society")

Aside from issues of personal embarrassment, it seems most people's emotional objection to being tracked is that it will be harder/impossible to violate the laws they object to.

The other major claim is that the government will inevitably "abuse" the information. However, most examples I hear of that ultimately come down to using the information to subject someone(s) to crappy laws. I.e., it's harder to imagine abuses if A) the laws were sane, and B) the actions of the government itself were also tracked (publicly?).

So, my final question is: while there may be issues with the open society approach in terms of potential information abuses, is it possible the other approach has an even worse outcome: encouraging crappy laws.

I.e., if nobody could cheat on their taxes, would taxes be as bad as they are? How many people who would object to the law are thinking to themselves "I don't pay as much as most people, because I'm so clever..." with the added "and I better not rock the boat and call attention to myself."

Consider: if everything about everyone were already known (to the government, if not publicly available as is I think the premise for the open society), this would greatly reduce the incentive most anti-law folks have to stay low so as not to be noticed, and make it much safer (because everyone who's not under arrest is, by auto-precident, not guilty of any crime) to actively protest the laws you think suck.

Finally, I don't think the "administrative cost" is necessarily very high at all -- in this day and age (it would have been absurd just forty years ago). It's mostly all easily automated. Yes, it's a horrifying, Orwellian image, but the thrust of my question is: why is it horrifying? I think the horror comes from the assumed companion body of laws which say "these are all the [benevolent] things you can't do...".

San Diego Realtime Traffic Map

That table on the right (click on the left for different roads) is regularly filled with numbers in the high seventies. If all those cars one day started being automatically identified and ticketed, WHY is it that people would (vocally!) object to being tracked rather than objecting to the speeding law itself???

I don't want the world to be a place where I can hide. I want it to be a place where I don't have to.

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Simon Funk / simonfunk@gmail.com