May 30 2012

The Not-So-Fine Line Between Privacy and Secrecy

""){ ?> By Valkyrie Ice


As weird as people familiar with my work and the subjects I write about might find this, I only recently acquired a copy of The Transparent Society by David Brin. I have been told many times that most of my views about transparency have been discussed by David, and indeed, I’m laughing my tail off at the sheer number of phrases and examples we share in common, and I’m not even all the way through chapter one yet.

Now, David and I correspond on occasion, ever since I was one of the very few people who responded to a challenge he wrote to find a “Global Warming Skeptic” who is not merely blindly following the conservative playbook. While we agree to disagree on AGW, and probably many other topics as well, when it comes to transparency and it’s inevitability, we are in pretty close agreement, and one of David’s examples in the opening chapter struck me as a very good starting point to explain the difference between privacy and secrecy, and how it is possible to have privacy even in a society in which there are no secrets.

It’s even one I’ve used before myself – a restaurant. So imagine you are sitting at a restaurant filled with numerous tables, with groups sitting at each one. Would you brazenly listen in on the conversation of the table next to you? Would you try to look up that pretty girls skirt sitting two tables over? Would you reach over and simply take the bread basket from the table behind you?  How about moving over to another groups table uninvited?

In the overwhelming majority of cases, the answer is no. Why? It’s a little convention called social invisibility. Even though you can do any and all of these things, you make a conscious choice not to, because if you don’t, the negative consequences to yourself outweigh the potential gains. You are in plain view of everyone else, so if you fail to give them the same courtesy they are giving you by not doing any of those things to you, the entire restaurant full of people could see you, and take any number of actions to show you how displeased they are at you. This could range from embarrassment to eviction from the restaurant depending on your offense. In other words, you are completely accountable for your actions, and as such, make a decision to give everyone else privacy in exchange for them giving it to you. So long as you are not putting yourself on display in a manner that intrudes on their privacy, you have the same freedom to talk about anything you wish with your group, and behave in whatever manner you choose that is not disruptive, and they will pretend you don’t exist and that they cannot hear a word you say.

This little scene plays out millions of times daily all around the world, and it is a simple, almost automatic reaction regardless of culture. We grant those around us privacy in order to receive the same courtesy of privacy back. That privacy comes not because we are hidden but because it is an active process of society. I couldn’t tell you what the table next to me was doing, despite it being in full view, because I actively wasn’t paying attention due to the fact that I didn’t wish to suffer penalties from society for violating social invisibility.

Now, David takes this scenario a step further. Take the same restaurant, but put up silk walls between each table, so that no-one can tell if there is anyone sitting next to them. You don’t know if what you say is being listened to by someone unknown. You don’t know if the person at the table next to you is eating a hamburger, or their fellow diner. Perhaps the person has a pinhole thorough the wall and is staring at you. Maybe they have a microphone and are recording anything you say. You have no idea what, if anything, is going on behind that silk wall. You have real invisibility to anyone, but note the difference. You are hidden away from everyone! You can dance naked on your table, cut your table mates throat, and do anything! There is no accountability to your society, no penalties for any action, utter freedom to do anything you want, right? All those things you wouldn’t do in the previous scenario, you would be far more likely to do in this one, because you could escape being held accountable.

Secrecy is a threat to society precisely because it allows people to escape accountability. It protects dictators from masses of angry protestors, because it keep those protestors from knowing exactly how harmful the dictators’ actions have been. It’s the enabling force behind nearly every single form of authoritarian leadership ever conceived. It shielded Mubarak and Gaddafi for decades, and still protects numerous other “unpopular leaders” in both nations and corporate offices. Once that secrecy is pierced, and what was hidden is revealed, society enforces an accounting.

And that is the point that both David and I try to make constantly. Transparency forces accountability. Secrecy enables an escape from accountability. It really cannot be made any plainer than that.

We are going to become a Transparent Society despite David’s fears that the “elites” will find a method to retain secrets while forcing complete transparency on the rest of society, because the simple truth is that unified effort by all the various competing “power groups” at the level it would actually be required to prevent any group from forcing transparency on another group is so unlikely I would bet on air spontaneously turning into gold first. While I have every confidence that efforts to preserve secrecy on the part of the PTB will be attempted, the Surveillance Arms Race is going to render those efforts pointless in the not very long run. There is no encryption that cannot be cracked; no technological fix that can prevent universal surveillance from becoming a reality; and far too many uses for such ubiquitous monitoring of everywhere that we will find too liberating and convenient to use to make me believe that any of the efforts of “privacy advocates” who can’t tell the difference between “Privacy” and “Secrecy” will have any real effect. Sooner or later, everyone will be as visible to us as those diners at the next table.

And just like that restaurant, we will be every bit as visible to them. And we will ignore that fact, as they ignore us, and we in turn ignore them, and everyone will have all the privacy that they are willing to give. Yes, the “elites” are going to try and keep their secrets, and even succeed for a brief time, but in the end, even they will lose that ability because they will whittle it away in their paranoid need to peek at each other’s secrets for non-mutual advantage and because it is impossible to prevent all progress. And that is where David and I disagree. He fears that it will be possible to create a perfect “one way mirror” while I can see no manner in which it could be achieved.

And that is how, despite all the constant accusations from paranoid conspiracy theorists that I endorse totalitarian government by supporting the rapid proliferation of numerous surveillance systems, I can view transparency as a wholly positive force for improving the lives of billions, and one of the most basic enablers of a truly free society. Accountability is the key, and it can only exist where secrecy does not.

That isn’t to say very bad scenarios in which enormous numbers of people die at the hands of a totalitarian regime supported by one way surveillance systems cannot occur, simply that such scenarios are inherently self limiting and unstable, and will almost certainly proceed to a revolution and the creation of a society in which complete accountability and complete transparency eliminates secrecy and permanently ends any possibility of further authoritarian governance. While such scenarios are extremely undesirable, and should be avoided if at all possible, they are not dead ends, merely hazardous and costly detours.

Because if you truly want privacy, and a free and permissive society, where you can do anything you want so long as it causes no harm to another, nonconsenting, individual, then understanding the difference between privacy and secrecy is essential. It’s what will ensure we avoid the paranoid “Big Brother” detours and chart a much more pleasant course into the future.


  • By mark myers, May 30, 2012 @ 8:12 pm

    there is no difference between secrecy and privacy
       [see-kruh-see] Show IPA
    noun, plural se·cre·cies for 2, 3.
    the state or condition of being secret, hidden, or concealed: a meeting held in secrecy.
    privacy; retirement; seclusion.
    ability to keep a secret.
    the habit or characteristic of being secretive; reticence.

  • By Leyvenn Valeth, May 31, 2012 @ 5:35 am

    @Mark Myers: While it is true that dictionary meanings are useful to preserve a relative integrity in common understanding, we must also keep in mind that dictionaries can represent too narrow conventions that doesn’t necessarily reflect daily language. I understood perfectly what Valkyrie Ice meant, and I think that the comparison between these two terms is very convenient to make people understand the existing difference between the two concepts.

  • By Synchromystic, May 31, 2012 @ 7:49 am

    Interesting thoughts here. I am reminded of the panopticon effect, where people monitor their own behavior when they assume that someone else is watching them.

    One mundane area where this is very important is the police. They want to squash anyone else’s ability to record them doing what they do, often because they know it’s wrong and would be extremely offensive to others. Yet they go around spying on people and recording as much as possible. Having a taped account of a situation involving cops is crucial, because it often makes them cave in to the panopticon effect, and they won’t abuse their power if their power is transparent or they could be held accountable for their actions. The proliferation of recording and surveillance devices is definitely positive in this regard.

    The potential effects of this transparency shouldn’t be underestimated. Just look at the Rodney King beating: an entire metropolis went batshit when they saw the truth in action. We need more of this.

  • By Angela Adams, May 31, 2012 @ 8:39 am

    Google CEO Eric Schmidt Dismisses the Importance of Privacy

    Yesterday, the web was buzzing with commentary about Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s dangerous, dismissive response to concerns about search engine users’ privacy. When asked during an interview for CNBC’s recent “Inside the Mind of Google” special about whether users should be sharing information with Google as if it were a “trusted friend,” Schmidt responded, “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”

    Unfortunately, Schmidt’s statement makes it seem as if Google, a company that claims to care about privacy, is not even concerned enough to understand basic lessons about privacy and why it’s important on so many levels — from protection against shallow embarrassments to the preservation of freedom and human rights. In response to Schmidt, Security researcher Bruce Schneier referenced an eloquent piece he wrote in 2006 that makes the case that “[p]rivacy is an inherent human right, and a requirement for maintaining the human condition with dignity and respect.” Schneier writes:

    “For if we are observed in all matters, we are constantly under threat of correction, judgment, criticism, even plagiarism of our own uniqueness. We become children, fettered under watchful eyes, constantly fearful that — either now or in the uncertain future — patterns we leave behind will be brought back to implicate us, by whatever authority has now become focused upon our once-private and innocent acts. We lose our individuality, because everything we do is observable and recordable.”

  • By Valkyrie Ice, May 31, 2012 @ 1:58 pm

    Those fears, Angela, are based on the common assumption that the “one way mirror” will exist, with some “authority” existing in a untouchable zone of secrecy and free to inflict unjust and unequal penalties on anyone who fails to match their “rules”. A such, it is a fear based on a fallacy and promoted due to a failure to understand the difference between being accountable for one’s actions, and the desire to remain unaccountable.

    Simply put, I have far more agreement with Schmidt. 90% of the laws that currently exist do so because there is little accountability in our present social systems. People want to “get away with” behaviors that actively cause harm to others for minuscule amounts of personal gain. And most fears of “loss of secrecy” (usually called “privacy” but in reality is always fear about people finding out things you wish to hide in order to avoid being accountable for them)are based in a desire to avoid repercussions for actions which either have actually caused harm, or could potentially cause harm. You are afraid of people finding out you are cheating on your wife? Then WHY ARE YOU? You don’t want people to know that you embezzled from your company, then WHY DID YOU?

    We live in a culture of secrets, and have for so long that most of us cannot imagine a reality in which secrecy is no longer an option. We have to assume our secrets are SO IMPORTANT, and so bad that their revelation will lead to us being tossed into the deepest pits of hell, because we have been raised in that culture, and have had that fear of punishment drummed into us since children.

    So you smoke pot? Big effin deal. Sleep with your Dog? So do millions of others. Have orgies? So what. Like to cover your body with butter and masturbate? WHO FUCKING CARES. 99% of all the things people who fight tooth and claw to hide are a frigging bad joke. And they do not amount to a hill of beans in comparison to the CEO who hides the fact that a dam that burst and killed 100,000 people was badly in need of maintenance that he bribed an official to ignore, all so that he could pocket the money that should have gone to fix the dam. Embarrassment Vs lives saved, homes not destroyed, humanity not exploited? The equation is simple.

    Society will adapt to living with transparency, and most of those things you feel are so crucial to “individuality” will thrive far beyond what is possible now. Think about it. Creativity? When you can actually know exactly who has looked at your work, and they can not copy you in any manner without it being immediately caught? When you have the freedom to discuss your ideas without any fear that anyone could take them and claim that they are theirs? The paranoia of the present “IP” laws is totally unnecessary in a world of full transparency. The same goes for the freedom to express yourself, with the knowledge that you share the company of millions of others, instead of being convinced you are all alone.

    So no, I have no fears of transparency, and all the arguments presented against the elimination of secrecy share the same basic assumption of fear of an unaccountable elite remaining hidden. Without that most basic assumption being made, none of them retain any validity.

  • By Angela Adams, May 31, 2012 @ 4:20 pm

    This has nothing to do with any ‘elite’ at all. It has to do with the dehumanization that being under constant surveillance causes.

    “(under a panopticon surveillance state) We lose our individuality, because everything we do is observable and recordable.”

    – Bruce Schneier

  • By maximo ramos, May 31, 2012 @ 5:53 pm

    Quite right, Angela. A very simple equation sums it all :

    Transhumanism = Dehumanization.

    The price of being more than human is also being less than human.

  • By Valkyrie Ice, June 1, 2012 @ 2:45 am

    Not buying it Angela. I work on camera every day. So do millions of others, and it has never stopped any one from saying or doing anything they please. Witness the endless numbers of “Caught on tape” shows. You are expressing a paranoid fear with little basis in actual observed reality.

  • By maximo ramos, June 1, 2012 @ 5:07 am

    Read up on quantum cryptography. It is a form of encryption that can only be broken by violating the fundamental laws of physics.

    Serious secrets and streaming DRM media in the future will all use QC. This makes your so called “transparency” moot and impossible.

  • By mark myers, June 1, 2012 @ 9:26 pm

    Valkyrie Ice you argument is just rhetoric politicians used in the past to scew privacy rights bush with his nothing to hide nothing to fear mantra to obama’s transparency which is strange for a man who has perused more whistle blowers than any other president in history… it will never sell first off there are to many people who have committed victimless crimes… so even though there are some people with political agend’s who want to blue the line between secrecy and privacy so they can spin semantics you must keep in mind the very people who made much of these technologies like the internet in its current state know the difference, not only will the cypher punk work against this so will the legion… for you to say people keep secrets only to conceal bad things is a logical fallacy… and you said it yourself tranparency wont stop crime people do it on camera all the time what makes you think they will stop the elite? the elite have done most of their deeds in the public eye and then sell it to the people as something good and people buy it nice try and by the way I am not out to sell you anything you greatly over estimate your importance you are not the only person with an opinion that boarders on fanaticism.

  • By Valkyrie Ice, June 2, 2012 @ 6:30 am

    You mean THIS quantum cryptography?

    Jan-Åke Larsson, associate professor of applied mathematics at Linköping University, working with his student Jörgen Cederlöf, has shown that not even quantum cryptography is 100-percent secure. There is a theoretical possibility that an unauthorized person can extract the key without being discovered, by simultaneously manipulating both the quantum-mechanical and the regular communication needed in quantum cryptography.

  • By Angela Adams, June 2, 2012 @ 8:26 am

    work is not private space or public space with an expectation of privacy, duh. one is paid at work _not_ to be an individual. your comparison is specious and ignores what Mr. Schneier is saying completely.

  • By maximo ramos, June 2, 2012 @ 11:20 am

    _all_ cryptography is subject to impersonation/”man in the middle” attack. but it is easy to design a protocol to secure it. Y

  • By maximo ramos, June 2, 2012 @ 11:24 am

    In the IEEE Transactions on Information Theory article, the authors propose a change that solves the problem.

    “We weren’t expecting to find a problem in quantum cryptography, of course, but it is a really complicated system. With our alteration, quantum cryptography will be a secure technology,” says Jan-Ã…ke Larsson.

    MAN IN THE MIDDLE, bread and butter crypto, a _theoretical_ issue with _authentication_ which the authors propose a SOLUTION to!

  • By Valkyrie Ice, June 2, 2012 @ 6:25 pm

    Yes, Max. To this problem. Which no-one knew about until he found the problem. So what will the next loophole be? What new problem will be found in a supposedly secure system? You put far too much faith it’s “uncrackability” considering how no “secure system” ever made in all of history has proven “uncrackable”

    And Angela, Not at all specious. Watch a few episodes of “Big Brother” and tell me again that these people don’t simply forget that the cameras are there. Feel free to enjoy your paranoia, but the fact remains that constant surveillance has no real observed effect on human behavior. It simply allows people to be held accountable for their behavior. The EVIDENCE is against you. Feel free to run on pure emotion and outrage, but it’s a pretty meaningless argument.

  • By Angela Adams, June 2, 2012 @ 6:55 pm

    You have not come within a million miles of “evidence” There are _thousands_ of psychological research studies on the effects of constant surveillance, and you simply aren’t familiar with the academic study of dehumanization – not even aware of the most infamous studies, such as the prison/guard simulations (and countless studies of the dehumanizing effect of surveillance onb actual prisoners) of the 1970’s etc. In your “Brave New World” the entire human environment is a Benthamn Panopticon!

    Philosopher Sandro Gaycken, a PhD student at Germany’s Institut für Wissenschafts- und Technikforschung in Bielefeld, wants to give pro-privacy forces stronger arguments to counter these concerns. Speaking today at the Chaos Communication Camp, he conceded that activists’ justifications for their concerns often fail to resonate with the broad public. Many anti-surveillance arguments are based on vaguely emotional concerns, or appeals to abstract values, as opposed to the hard facts of suicide bombers or commuters killed on the subway.
    In response, Gaycken argued that there are well-established psychological consequences to being watched, observed consistently in studies. People change, tailoring their behavior to fit what they believe the observer wants (or in some cases actively rebelling against those wishes).

    Now imagine a society where everyone knows they are or may be watched as they walk through the streets, or while surfing online. That – as in societies like Hitler’s Germany or Soviet Russia – will have tangible and widespread psychological consequences, reinforcing conformity, and literally crippling the ability to make autonomous and ethical decisions, he argued.

    An analogy might be the well-studied population of children with overprotective mothers, the philosopher said. Studies show that such children tend to be indecisive, dependent on others, have little “ethical competence,” and often live suppressed and unhappy lives.

    As or more disturbing may be the political implications of having a surveillance infrastructure in place.Metroparis

    Many philosophers reject the notion that given technologies are inherently politically neutral, Gaycken said. Surveillance, for example, can be used to support democratic values of freedom, equality, and state neutrality – but its tendency to create a watched and a watching class lends itself better to totalitarianism. In a country such as Germany, which has seen democracy slide into the Nazi state, such a warning resonates strongly.

    “Surveillance stabilizes totalitarianism, and destabilizes democracy,” Gaycken warned.

    Psychological Considerations
    The ‘panopticon’ is a prison design first proposed by British philosopher Jeremy Bentham in 1785; all inmates are visible by a guard while the guard himself is not visible. French philosopher Michel Foucault’s book, Discipline and Punish, likened modern society to a panopticon through its controlling structure of teachers, social workers, probation, daily living, and workplace organization. Foucault connects knowledge to power, theorizing that knowing everything about another person, creates a means to control that person. (Natsios 2001).

    Foucault’s death in 1984 prevented him from seeing additional tools of panopticism evolve, namely through technology and the advent of the computer age. Bentham said the key to the panopticon’s success was the uncertainty the prisoner felt; he also held that the panopticon was adaptable to any environment which involved some level of supervision (Warriar et al., 2002).

    Professionals have hypothesized the psychological effect of surveillance on the individual, but no real data through scientific research exists. Many of their arguments are persuasive. A recurring theme regarding the psychological effect of constant surveillance are the loss of spontaneity, passivity, fear, loss of dignity, punishment for trivial crimes, and the feeling of already being a criminal. Certain groups may be affected psychologically much more than others; women may feel they are being recorded for voyeuristic reasons, while minorities may feel they are being ‘profiled’ for criminal activity.

    According to Riley (2001), “…video surveillance serves as the best symbol of a wider endemic problem facing humanity, the increasing dehumanization effects that new technologies are having on all of us.” According to Ball (2003), in a panopticon society, in which everyone is on camera all the time, is like a prison without walls. “Society has a carceral texture and deepens into a disciplinary society” (page 6). Jay Stanley of the ACLU believes that surveillance discourages free expression and protest at demonstrations (Stanley, 2002). Canada’s Privacy Minister, George Radwanski, in a ‘Letter of Finding’, states, “The psychological impact of having to live with a sense of constantly being observed must surely be enormous, indeed incalculable” (2001); Canada sees fit to protect its citizen’s right to privacy.

    “In our research we have found that constant surveillance often leads to increased worker stress and may be associated with a variety of stress-related illnesses. A series of studies have examined the effects of this “electronic presence,” using a social facilitation (theoretical) framework. It seems quite clear that this important change in the workplace has the potential for dramatically altering the relationships of workers and their supervisors.

    Our studies have explored the specific nature of this impact, as well as the moderating role of other context variables (e.g., whether computer monitoring is done at an individual or work group level, whether the task climate is positive or punitive, whether the pattern of supervisor feedback changes). Other studies have investigated the effect on supervisors of “continually available” performance information (e.g., how does s/he cognitively process this new type of information, how is the performance appraisals process altered, does the supervisor spend more time watching his or her computer screen and less time with workers). ”

    do you need 200 more extracts from academic studies of the negative effects on the human mind and body of constant surveillance?

  • By Valkyrie Ice, June 3, 2012 @ 2:13 pm

    Cherry pick the psych studies done precisely to induce the paranoid mindset all you wish Angela. I am fully acquainted with the “Panopticon” example, but again, it is also specifically set up for “top down” surveillance, in which one side has complete invisibility and the other complete transparency. It assumes that the “Watchers” are OUTSIDE the glass box looking in, and that the inhabitants of the box cannot see out. And I have pointed out repeatedly, such one sided visibility is indeed capable of producing all those effects you are so afraid of.

    The problem is that you STILL ASSUME ONE WAY VISIBILITY will be possible. When you presuppose the existence of an “Authority” watching from hiding, then yes, it has severe “dehumanizing effects”, precisely because it involves an “Unseen Watcher”. The study you quotes also observes a ONE WAY system. I’d be willing to bet as well that all 200 other studies you could quote feature one way surveillance systems as well.

    However, I am not discussing a one way “panopticon” I am discussing a universal panopticon in which every single member of society has the exact same access to the surveillance systems as every other single member of society, and in which every member can know exactly who is observing them at any given time. THERE ARE NO SECRET WATCHERS, and without that little assumption of yours being a given, then no, I don’t see your arguments as anything but paranoia.

  • By Angela Adams, June 3, 2012 @ 4:54 pm

    and now it is ” _turtles_, _all_ the way down…..”

    that is the level you are arguing from with your last post, Mr.Ice.

  • By Valkyrie Ice, June 4, 2012 @ 1:34 am

    Nope, but when all you examine are one way transparency systems, you can only see what occurs in a one way transparency system. As I am neither discussing one way transparency systems, nor the psychological effects of one way transparency systems, your arguments are completely inapplicable.

    I am discussing omnidirectional transparency systems, Angela dear. And such systems do not cause the same psychological traumas that unidirectional transparency systems cause. Your examples so far have all failed to address this rather crucial difference.

  • By Angela Adams, June 4, 2012 @ 10:27 am

    such “systems” are so radically impossible and ridiculous that you might as well be promoting something from Lewis Carroll as a practical reality to be implemented. You just don’t get that most of us DO NOT and WILL NOT stand for panopticon survelliance for any reason. We will put out the eyes, one by one…blind your Beast for you. We will resist dehumanization with every means we can.

  • By Valkyrie Ice, June 4, 2012 @ 5:55 pm

    Yes, and do you own a smartphone Angela? A GPS? How about just a regular cell phone? Do you drive on the street? Visit restaurants? Go to the mall? Browse the WWW? Go out in public at any point?

    Because you will have to give up all of these things for your “anti-surveillance” heaven to happen. Hopefully, you enjoy living in your home, barricaded inside and terrified of ever leaving your “secure haven”, since everywhere else is going to be “on camera” in the not to distant future.

    Enjoy your fear, Angela. But the rest of the world has been rather rapidly embracing the advantages of transparency, and shows little indication that it gives a damn about your paranoia.

    But I do thank you for providing such a wonderful example of someone who can’t tell the difference between secrecy and privacy.

  • By Angela Adams, June 5, 2012 @ 4:40 am

    I do _not_ own a smartphone, and I never will. They violate the principles of Free Software.

    Privacy United Kingdom Your Rights Online
    UK “No Tracking Law” Now In Effect
    Posted by samzenpus on Monday May 28, @05:05AM
    from the no-cookies-for-you dept.
    Fluffeh writes “The British Gov might have more cameras up on street corners than just about anywhere else in the world, but it seems that the Gov doesn’t want anyone else stepping on the privacy of their folks. In what the media have dubbed the ‘Cookie Law’ all operators of websites in Britain must notify users of the tracking that the website does. This doesn’t only cover cookies, but all forms of tracking and analytics performed on visitors. While there are potential fines up up to 500,000 pounds (Over US$750,000) for websites not following these new rules, the BBC announced that very few websites are ready, even most of its own sites aren’t up to speed — and amusingly even the governments own websites aren’t ready.”

    There is _no_ difference between “privacy” and “secrecy” at all except when used in Orwellian language.
    And Orwellian language is a diminished and corrupted language ie “Newspeak”, for the many here who have quite obviously not read Orwell and Huxley.

  • By Valkyrie Ice, June 6, 2012 @ 9:00 am

    Funny, you give me an example of a society forcing transparency on something that has previously been kept secret, and think that somehow this disputes anything I’ve said?

    Wow, Angela. The laugh you just gave me is making it hard to type.

    The cookies have until now, been a UNIDIRECTIONAL SURVEILLANCE SYSTEM, which the new law is ATTEMPTING to eliminate by making it OMINDIRECTIONAL, in that the user is watching the watcher just as much as the watcher is watching the user. TWO WAY VISIBILITY, as opposed to ONE WAY VISIBILITY. It is being done because the PEOPLE demanded it, even though no-one on the other side of this law has any desire to comply, and would far rather keep the people in the dark as to what info they monitor, including the government. Society demanded transparency and accountability, and is in the process of getting it. While I have no doubt that it will be a long uphill fight to actually enforce this law against the overwhelming urge on the part of the website owners to keep their surveillance hidden to avoid being held accountable, it is a step towards exactly what I am talking about.

    Understand now? Transparency used to eliminate Secrecy? Privacy being a SOCIAL FORCE, Secrecy being an ANTI-SOCIAL one?

    You can of course continue to make my points for me if you wish, but even YOU are arguing against yourself…

  • By maximo ramos, June 6, 2012 @ 11:30 am

    Nothing – god damned nothing justifies universal surveillance, no matter how you attempt to sugar coat it and justify it with your half baked and ill thought out notions. You will be weeping, indeed, should you get your wish….

  • By Angela Adams, June 6, 2012 @ 12:58 pm

    I would expect you to grasp the difference between DISCLOSURE and SURVEILLANCE. But you have not made a distinction, in fact you have confused these two utterly distinct concepts as well. Your use of language is intentionally? imprecise and vague.

  • By Angela Adams, June 6, 2012 @ 4:53 pm

    “For if we are observed in all matters, we are constantly under threat of correction, judgment, criticism, even plagiarism of our own uniqueness. We become children, fettered under watchful eyes, constantly fearful that — either now or in the uncertain future — patterns we leave behind will be brought back to implicate us, by whatever authority has now become focused upon our once-private and innocent acts. We lose our individuality, because everything we do is observable and recordable.” Bruce Schneier

  • By Valkyrie Ice, June 6, 2012 @ 5:09 pm

    In cause you missed it Angela, DISCLOSURE means REVEALING THAT WHICH WAS HIDDEN, or kept secret. What was kept secret was the SURVEILLANCE being done by the websites, who watched their users SECRETLY without revealing that they were watching, or what they were watching. They now will have to “reveal what was hidden” which means they will now have to operate in transparency, and will be held accountable for what they watch, how they watch, and what they do with what they watch.

    I’m not the one mincing words here.

  • By Valkyrie Ice, June 6, 2012 @ 6:41 pm

    You can keep quoting Schneier all you want Angela, it won’t change the fact that he is discussing one way surveillance, not omnidirectional surveillance and therefore inapplicable to the discussion at hand.

    I have not disputed the harmful effects of unidirectional surveillance, nor disputed the uses that various power groups will attempt to use unidirectional surveillance for. People love to keep their secrets after all, and remain unaccountable for their actions. I’ve never disputed that secrecy is a vital tool for a rebellion against such totalitarian efforts either.

    I do however dispute that secrecy can be maintained, or be desirable, in a mature society in which universal omindirectional surveillance has been achieved. I have argued that privacy, which is NOT THE SAME AS SECRECY no matter how hard you try to obscure the difference in your desire to keep your secrets and remain unaccountable, will be created by such a society because we already have the mechanisms to create privacy under omnidirectional surveillance. This is the original state in which society evolved, in a tribal culture in which everyone was aware of everyone else, and chose to grant privacy, while secrecy is a much later development that only has existed since mankind has created large communities in which no-one is able to know all other members. As such, it has created enormous suffering throughout recorded history by enabling parasitical behaviors to flourish.

    Arguing with me that one way surveillance systems lead to such harmful parasitical behavior and systemic abuse is rather pointless. I already agree with you. Your failure to comprehend that one-way systems ARE NOT THE SAME AS omni-directional systems is the sole point of contention. You cannot see a difference because you refuse to look past your fear of one-way surveillance and it’s potential abuses. That’s not a refutation of my article, merely an admission of your failure to comprehend.

    So, once again to clarify, Uni-directional surveillance is harmful, will lead to totalitarian systems of control in an effort to preserve the secrets and power of various power groups that wish to remain unaccountable. However, as those groups will inevitably desire to know each others secrets, the eventual effect of a continuing Surveillance arms race will eliminate the ability of EVERYONE to keep secrets, which will force total disclosure, and eventually force society to return to the model of accountability under which it evolved, in which privacy is granted as an active social process, an in which secrecy can no longer be used as a shield to hide parasitical and harmful behavior.

    So, telling me that unidirectional surveillance is harmful is merely agreeing with me, and then failing to take your logic to the next step, but instead turning around and endlessly chasing your tail. Screaming at me in defiance is completely pointless, because I am neither advocating for increased surveillance, nor supporting totalitarianism, merely reporting on the already ongoing process of the Surveillance Arms Race, it’s effects and eventual outcome. I am emphasizing that eventual outcome because it is one that has far more beneficial effects for eliminating human suffering and enabling human happiness than people like you are willing to contemplate, due to such ideological blinders as those you have demonstrated with your refusal to acknowledge the differences outlined in my article above.

    Seriously Angela, you are quite obviously intelligent, but your failure to realize that you are merely agreeing with me on the harmful effects of unidirectional surveillance, but unable to take that next logical step to the larger point I am making about it’s difference from omni-directional surveillance systems tells me that you are allowing blind emotion override that intelligence. Please, think about what I discussed above rationally, and not merely show a knee-jerk reaction to what you *think* I am saying. I’m in agreement with you on what is undesirable, I am merely pointing out that once you get past that point, the final result will actually be beneficial.

  • By Angela Adams, June 7, 2012 @ 4:30 am

    there is not a fucking bit of difference between these “two” forms of surveillance you have cooked up. that you don’t see this is only pitiful.

  • By Angela Adams, June 7, 2012 @ 6:27 pm

    this “ominidirectional surveillance” nonsense, which you in all caps state CAUSES NO CHANGES IN HUMAN BEHAVIOR OR PSYCHOLOGICAL DAMAGE? since it doesn’t exist (and never will exist as it is opposed to every political and corporate power structure and org chart on the planet, ALL of them some centuries or millenia in the business of accumulating and keeping social and economic control), just how do you justify your claims? cite a paper from a respected academic psychology journal please, regarding this fantasy concept you yearn to punish humanity with, yet don’t seem too clearly even… understand at all!

  • By Valkyrie Ice, June 7, 2012 @ 9:02 pm

    Walk out in public, Angela. Stand on a crowded street. You will be experiencing “Omni-directional surveillance”. That is, unless you have a cloaking device and can somehow stand there completely invisible, in which case you and you alone would have “Uni-directional surveillance”.

    We’ve lived with Omni-directional surveillance our entire lives, as the restaurant example should have shown you. It is only uni-directional surveillance which enables the ability to conceal oneself while spying on others. All “Omni” means is that everyone can see, as opposed to “Uni” in which only one can. We don’t like it when the boss sits in a room concealed from us while watching us on cameras, but we don’t have a problem when he’s sitting in the same office with us and we can watch him right back.

    If I can see you looking at me, and you can see me looking at you, without either of us being concealed from the other, it is omni-directional surveillance, regardless of whether it is by direct eyesight, or enhanced via electronic means. Universal Omni-directional surveillance is merely the next stage of this very normal mode of human existence. Sure, maybe we will be able to have far more detailed info at our fingertips, but so long as ALL SIDES have access to it, it’s not really any different than that group of people sitting at a restaurant in plain view of each other.

    And again, Angela, I have no wish to “Punish Humanity”. Once more, you attribute some evil motivation to my reporting on the inevitability of the Surveillance Arms Race, and it’s eventual conclusion, simply because you are fixated on the idea that surveillance cannot have a beneficial outcome at any level, and that secrecy and being able to avoid accountability is necessary to society. Regardless of your beliefs, my motive is to simply show that your paranoid fears are merely that, paranoid fear. I don’t dispute that uni-directional surveillance is harmful. Nor do I dispute that totalitarian power groups will seek to use it to maintain power. I merely point out that such efforts are inherently limited, and that the end result will be the elimination of the secrecy which enables such efforts to even be made.

    Simply put Angela, your fear is meaningless, and your anger misdirected. You want to take that rage out on someone, why not direct it towards someone who actually has some ability to change things? Why not call your congress man, or your local police station and tell them to take down the street cams that have reduced crime enormously? Why not call your local tv station, and demand that they ban street reporting? Call up all your friends and tell them to stop using their camera phones. Call the electronics firms and insist that they stop making cameras altogether. See how far it gets you.

    But I’m just a reporter, discussing something that is occurring without any effort on my part, and not some hidden Illuminati agent manipulating the world. This is occurring regardless of whether I talk about it or not. My observations are simply observations. No matter how much you might disagree with me as to the potential benefits versus the potential abuses, the fact remains that neither of us have any control whatsoever as to what is occurring in the world.

    You wish to believe that only harm will result, feel free, just be aware that you are about to descend into a future in which you will have no choice about being watched. By humans, by machines, even eventually by your very home and personal possessions. Your every move will be observed, recorded, analyzed and reviewed, all to enable you to access entirely new abilities and conveniences. From being able to talk face to face with your buddy a world away, to having your own personal servantbot, the world is heading towards ubiquitous surveillance. All your fear and paranoia is going to get you is a future locked in your own home, terrified of leaving out the front door. What it will not get you is a world in which secrecy is still possible.

    You have two choices. Adapt, or don’t.

    Either way, I am still just a reporter, and not a James Bond villain.

  • By David Brin, June 7, 2012 @ 10:00 pm

    Valkyrie Ice, a pretty good summary here of the “Restaurant Allegory.” And the lesson that it teaches. But I would elaborate. In reading The Transparent Society, people are surprised to find a whole chapter devoted to how essential some privacy is to being human. We’d go crazy without having some space, some intimacy with those we choose, some way to mull impossibilities with a few friends.

    Ironically, we have more privacy than our ancestors in part because we are free to look. To catch the peeping toms and snoops. And in the arms race of smaller-mobile cameras, that will be hard to do unless the whole process of technology is open enough for us to know that our divided elites are only a bit ahead of us… and that they are busy watching each other.

    (Indeed, today’s assault on scientists, journalists, teachers, civil servants, doctors, professors, skilled labor and every other center of intellect can only have one purpose: to leave just one elite standing. The elite that ruled every human society across 6000 years. But that’s an aside.)

    The key term (I helped coin) is sousveillance. Looking BACk at the mighty, from below. If we insist on this… and transparency of ownership and economic activity… then Adam Smith’s prescription of creative competition will keep us free and prosperous. That prescription did not call for oligarchy (which Smith despised) or monopolies or rule by uber-rich. It was (he repeated) about folks competing on a level playing field.

    Education and other things help create that level playing field. But light… that is the greatest enabler of competitive freedom, of all.

    With cordial regards,

    David Brin

    PS… you folks should have a look at my new Preview trailer!

  • By Valkyrie Ice, June 8, 2012 @ 12:52 am

    Thank you for commenting David, and despite what Angela would have you believe, I happen to agree that privacy is essential. I merely also believe that the sole way to achieve that privacy is via universal societal participation in the giving of that privacy to it’s individual members, as a voluntary act.

    There is no other possible end to the Surveillance Arms Race then total surveillance, and no manner in which I can foresee a totalitarian power group being able to prevent infighting among it’s members and retaining unidirectional surveillance capabilities for any length of time longer than a few years. The SOLE way that a power group would be able to accomplish this is for one single individual to somehow become god with full powers of omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence, and eliminate free will among the remaining human race.

    Anything involving humans will inevitably give way to factionalism and infighting as various individuals seek to elevate their own personal status at the expense of others. The Status Game effectively ensures that no totalitarian system will ever be stable, and since technological progress cannot be halted, no technological system of control will ever be established which will not eventually be broken. This logically leads to the inescapable conclusion that total surveillance will be reached, and that universal access to that surveillance will also become a reality. This means that secrecy is inevitably doomed.

    But the death of secrecy does not mean we must sacrifice privacy, as I attempted to show in my original article, because privacy is an active social process, not a static one. We don’t have privacy merely because of walls and curtains and other devices which hide us from each other. We have privacy because we choose to grant it to each other, and even in an age of total surveillance, we will still have that power. Sure, maybe you can google everything about me, but if I know you are googling me, and exactly what information you have on me, and I have the exact same ability to know everything about you, what advantage does that ability give you? There is no asymmetry of information, no ability to deceive. I can’t lie to you about who I am, and you can’t lie to me about who you are. I have no incentive to be untrustworthy, because only negative consequences remain once I can no longer hide my untrustworthiness behind a veil of secrecy. That same fact will be true for every member of society, and thus eliminate the ability to “game the system” regardless of who you are, or what level of society you perceive yourself to be on.

    It will also mean that an overwhelming number of present laws and regulations will no longer be necessary, as they all seek to enforce accountability on various groups seeking to harm society for individual gain. As I have argued previously, a truly open society that is immune to parasitic invasion by individuals seeking to divert societal resources into personal gain is one that has almost no need to regulate it’s individuals actions or interests, as maximum diversity ensures maximum growth. It is only in a society plagued by parasites that such diversity is condemned, because it threatens the parasites ability to continue to divert group resources into personal gain.

    Transparency forces accountability by eliminating deception, which in turn enables equality and tolerance. Education and sharing of knowledge also assist in enabling equality and tolerance, but so long as deception is possible, it is subject to diversion, manipulation, and “spinning”. ONLY in a transparent society can absolute freedom, license, and individual liberty be achieved, because it eliminates secrecy and all the benefits it gives those for whom freedom, license and liberty are merely threats to their status as top parasites.

    So far David, it appears to me that our main disagreement is on the ability of “elites” to retain secrecy as the Surveillance Arms Race culminates. I don’t see it as possible because human nature and the status games we are forced to play because of our genetic heritage as pack animals make it impossible. It will be attempted, I have no doubt. It will cost a lot people their lives as well, sadly. But it is not a “dead end” beyond which there is no further future. Merely a detour we should make every effort to avoid on the road to the future.

  • By Hank Pellissier, June 8, 2012 @ 12:55 am

    Val – I totally agree with what you’re saying and I regard it as a great article. Keep up the good work – I am watching you.

  • By Angela Adams, June 8, 2012 @ 5:56 am

    You dare to tell people they have no choice? You are a fascist, and you have no skill whatsoever to tell the future or prognosticate in any rational manner. Street cams have done NOTHING to reduce crime, as every study on them has proved. You are a pundit who never reads science journals!

    “Massive investment in CCTV cameras to prevent crime in the UK has failed to have a significant impact, despite billions of pounds spent on the new technology, a senior police officer piloting a new database has warned. Only 3% of street robberies in London were solved using CCTV images, despite the fact that Britain has more security cameras than any other country in Europe.”

    “London has 10,000 crime-fighting CCTV cameras which cost £200 million, figures show today.

    But an analysis of the publicly funded spy network, which is owned and controlled by local authorities and Transport for London, has cast doubt on its ability to help solve crime.

    A comparison of the number of cameras in each London borough with the proportion of crimes solved there found that police are no more likely to catch offenders in areas with hundreds of cameras than in those with hardly any.

    In fact, four out of five of the boroughs with the most cameras have a record of solving crime that is below average.

    The figures were obtained by the Liberal Democrats on the London Assembly using the Freedom of Information Act.

    Dee Doocey, the Lib-Dems’ policing spokeswoman, said: “These figures suggest there is no link between a high number of CCTV cameras and a better crime clear-up rate. ”

    “The real story for me is about surveillance, and not the mere use of CCTV footage to apprehend rioters after the fact. It’s about the total failure of CCTV to deter people from committing crimes in the first place.

    After all, that’s how we were sold on CCTV – not mere forensics after the fact, but deterrence. And although study after study has concluded that CCTVs don’t deter most crime (a famous San Francisco study showed that, at best, street crime shifted a few metres down the pavement when the CCTV went up), we’ve been told for years that we must all submit to being photographed all the time because it would keep the people around us from beating us, robbing us, burning our buildings and burglarising our homes.”

    “, but we don’t have a problem when he’s sitting in the same office with us and we can watch him right back.”

    once again, cite a psychological study that backs this bold assertion, or …. SHUT UP!

    “people are surprised to find a whole chapter devoted to how essential some privacy is to being human. We’d go crazy without having some space”

    but your scheme won’t work at all if anyone ever anywhere has any opportunity at any privacy at all. your scheme requires 100% universal and constant surveillance, and punitive laws to enforce it. Mr. Ice has stated that even private sexual behavior needs to be constantly monitored in order for Utopia to spontaneously emerge, somehow.

  • By maximo ramos, June 8, 2012 @ 6:01 am

    time to start vandalising cell towers, in a co-ordinated fashion ? might come sooner than I expected….

    cell anntennae are might fragile, would probably stop working from a mere drive by and spray with some good old fashioned buck shot…

  • By Angela Adams, June 8, 2012 @ 10:56 am

    and let this be very clear : Mr. Ice’s definition of “privacy” never includes shutting off the camera. People are just supposed to “not notice” the camera is never off. Thus Mr. Ice’s definition of “privacy” is Orwellian in the extreme.

    Real Privacy is a bedrock human right, and it does not and will not stand to be eviscerated and left to some ‘social whim’, this restuaurant analogy is specious and completely inappropriate, it is not even logically sound. If the cameras can’t be turned off, we don’t live in a human world anymore. We live in an insect hive.


    any other way you abuse the word “privacy” is purely Orwellian.

  • By Valkyrie Ice, June 8, 2012 @ 11:40 am

    *sigh* strawman arguments all Angela. You post your own fears and argue against them, when not one of them is something I have either stated or implied. I’m not forcing anything on anyone hun. Merely reporting on what is already happening. I am sorry you don’t like it, but reality is still reality, and not under my control.

    But please, do feel free to promote your fears as you wish. Call me whatever names you feel you must. It’s not going to change what is occurring, nor deter me from reporting it as I see it. You’ve made your choice, and I wish you the best with it, but I feel you are merely setting yourself up for a miserable future of self deception and delusion. You will be all too happy to sit back and relax, secure that there are no cameras on you because you can’t see them, and have no access to them, so can not actually know for sure whether their are there or not. But don’t worry, I’m quite sure someone will be willing to tell you that they are all gone… until they get used against you.

    So in my opinion, Angela darling, you are doing ever so much more to ensure that totalitarian forces can make for the most unpleasant sort of pathway to the future by a willful insistence that secrecy be maintained, all so you can remain in blissful ignorance of the true level of surveillance you are under. Myself, I much prefer being aware of the true state of affairs, and not delude myself, but to each his own.

    As David points out in the intro to his book, there are but two choices, one where only some have access to the cameras, and one where all have access. There is no third option, but those interested in keeping their secrets will be quick to assure you otherwise. Deception, after all, is the primary means by which they remain in power.

    But no, dear, I will not “Shut Up” just so you can remain in blissful ignorance. If you truly cannot stand to hear my message, don’t read or respond. It’s your choice to remain here screaming in hysterics, not mine.

    But I will thank you for driving up my hit ratings : ) Great Job!

  • By Valkyrie Ice, June 8, 2012 @ 11:56 am

    And you want the “scholarly” discussion? Here it is.

    A nice collection of David’s writings on the topic. Have fun.

  • By Angela Adams, June 8, 2012 @ 12:10 pm

    David is a science FICTION writer, he is not an accredited or appropriate authority to fallaciously invoke regarding this topic. But circular reference is your forte,and I have seen you even cite yourself and no one else to bolster your nonsensical assertions.

  • By Valkyrie Ice, June 8, 2012 @ 4:41 pm

    Angela, dear, go Wiki him. He is also a Physicist, and for a listing of his non-fiction achievements:

    Brin is a world recognized authority on the concepts under discussion. That you failed to know this is just sad. Did you miss the very first link in this article to his book “The Transparent Society”?

    It IS considered the definitive work on this topic after all.

  • By Angela Adams, June 8, 2012 @ 7:34 pm

    Cite works by accredited psychological and sociological authorities, or just Shut Up.

  • By R.U. Sirius, June 8, 2012 @ 8:01 pm

    OK. I’m bored with this endless back and forth. I’ll let Valkyrie have the last word if he wants it. After that, I’m only taking comments from new visitors… and Valkyrie’s responses to those, if any….

  • By Leyvenn Valeth, June 9, 2012 @ 4:42 am

    Many “anti-surveillance” arguments tend to assume that a transparent society will be based on many of the social constructs and values that define society today. The fears on negative psychological effects that surveillance in an omnidirectional surveillance system could bring to individuals constitute nothing more than a failure to acknowledge the fact that, in the process of understanding what a different future could mean to us, we need to rethink society from a radically different set of collective and individual rules and preconditions.

    What “anti-surveillance” lines of thought are mostly doing is extrapolate the psychology of current individuals (with psychological constructs based on the rules of current social interaction) to future transparent societies. If we do this, then we are making it very easy for us to focus on hypothetical (and improbable) problems rather than on a more objective perspective on the most probable equilibrium between the advantages and disadvantages.

    What we are discussing here is not a scenario in which I can watch you all but you cannot watch me. Val has already explained this one time after another, but it seems that it is not enough to some people. The article is very clear, yet not everybody has proved to having read it without the interference of white noise coming from personal beliefs and ideologies. And desires.

    Depending on the situation we are suggesting, we should apply the proper set of social rules along with their unique psychological effects on individuals, but please DON’T MIX THEM. If we mix present and future constructs, we often end up flirting with paranoia and unjustified dystopian nightmares.

    I am a solitary person with a very strong sense of privacy, yet I am a advocate for a transparent society. As Val has stated tirelessly, there’s a difference between secrecy and privacy. I don’t want secrecy because of the potential damage it can bring to society. We can see the destructive consequences of it just by observing, not only past history, but also our current society. We can easily observe trillions of examples of negative outcomes, from smooth to extreme consequences, derived from secrecy. The example Valkyrie offered about the dam is just one of the many we can find. Most of the atrocities that we are seeing today (towards other humans, animals, the environment, etc.) are based on the availability of secrecy. Between 60 and 80 millions of humans starve to death each year, billions of animals are constantly raised in farms in hellish conditions, countless women and children falling in sexual abuse (some men too), workers being victims of corporate abuse, wars being triggered for the gain of a few, environmental disasters based on the ability of some individuals to act from the shadows… All of this involves the ability to escape accountability on one degree or another. Most major problems can be solved with omnidirectional surveillance. What do we have to sacrifice to achieve that? Just accepting the fact of being observed by ubiquitous surveillance.

    I could be being monitored in my own bedroom? Yes. So what? As I stated above, I have a strong sense of privacy. But let’s consider the different scenarios separately:

    -On one hand we have our present society, based on a strong sense of both secrecy and privacy. I am aware that not just me, but also everyone else is not being monitored everywhere. I specify ‘everywhere’ since we are already being monitored whenever we are in a shared space. We monitor, judge, praise or/and condemn everyone else by using our own eyes and brains, as in any other time in human history. But we currently have our own spatial “bunker/s” too, in which we keep our secrecy and privacy. We fear to lose our bunker/s because we know that everyone else is going to keep theirs. In other words we fear TO BE THE ONLY ONES TO LOSE OUR SECRECY AND OUR PRIVACY, because if we do that, we would be in a clear disadvantage to the rest of the citizens. If our secrecy and privacy are uncovered, even if they are not really serious issues and are also performed by 99% of society (and everyone is aware about everyone being aware about that), we’ll be embarrassed only because we are the only ones explicitly uncovered. Let’s imagine that in the current society an invididual is caught on camera masturbating in his/her own bedroom, and the captured video is uploaded on the internet so that everyone else can watch it. Every classmate, every co-worker, every friend or relative could watch how the individual masturbates. In most cases, the spied person would feel terribly embarrassed, as she or he would feel that she or he would be the only one that is being pointed at and laughed at by everyone else. Everyone (or most people) would laugh at the only victim that has been uncovered, because even though everyone knows that everyone masturbates, the fact of explicitly uncovering it for a single individual is an unusual event. That’s how we feel about secrecy and privacy today, because we are constantly in fear that we could be THE ONLY ONES being uncovered at any moment. Therefore we are hardly being honest with others. We are not even being honest with ourselves in many aspects. If this lack of self-knowledge doesn’t make someone feel worried about our current society, then I’m worried about the person in question.

    -On the other hand, we have a scenario in which no one has a private “bunker”. Everyone can watch us while masturbating in our bedrooms, and we can watch everyone masturbating in theirs. As shocking and aberrant this scenario can be to many people, it would be a configuration in which a very different set of social rules, characteristics and values take place and we will fail to understand the new scenario if we keep observing it from our present values, fears and prejudices.
    If everyone is in the same situation, that is, everyone gets “caught” masturbating on camera and is watched on the internet, then no one is going to laugh at no one because we’ll become used to it eventually and we all will be on the same level. We won’t even bother about trivial things like this. It could eventually become as trivial as watching everyone else eating fries in public.
    Perhaps a better example would be our current fear of being watched while naked. In some cultures individuals are naked in their everyday lives and no one gives a damn because it is part of their daily lives. They are used to it and don’t even think about it. In our culture, most of us would feel embarrassed if we appeared completely naked in the middle of a mall, because we would be the ONLY ONES in that situation, while the others watch at us with a shocked expression.
    Most ‘anti-surveillance’ stances are placing current humans, with current values and fears, in a future hypothetical scenario that should actually be seen running on radically different tracks.

    Dehumanizing? First of all, I would like to know what ‘humanity’ means. It is one of those extremely ambiguous concepts on par with ‘nature’ or ‘reality’. If ‘humanity’ is the force that has been modelling the world without the presence of a specific amount of technology, by observing the outcome I don’t see why we should see ‘humanity’ as a good thing that should be kept as a worshipped totem. If fact, I would be terrified if someone from the future told me that society (and humans) will stay eternally static, preserving its values, biology, rules, social interactions, and in essence keeping a similar configuration as the one we are currently enduring.

    Individuality doesn’t have anything to do with the presence of secrecy. The only act of removing secrecy doesn’t remove individuality. It does remove A SUBSET of the wide spectrum that the concept of ‘individuality’ embraces. That is, it just would remove our individuality to harm others; our individual freedom to do as we please, no matter what the consequences to others are. No matter where we look at: past of present times, laws have always been built, not to increase freedom, but to protect ourselves from the freedom of others.
    The removal of secrecy will remove our individuality in specific aspects that are harming our hive (thus every individual), while benefiting our individuality in other points related to our individual development. Removing our secrets to others will also remove to a large extent our constant attitude of self-deception. That’s not something that should be understimated.

    Other aspects related to our individuality should remain untouched, as our artistic individuality, our hobbies, our passions, etc., AS LONG AS THEY DON’T HARM OTHERS.

    Will it be a perfect paradigm? Hardly. We still have to face problems, and we’ll have some things that we won’t like. But we’ll probably look back into the past and we’ll be glad that we have cameras even in our bathrooms. Each individual will have her/his individual notions and values of privacy, which will be different from those of other people. We will be able to transgress those privacy barriers of specific people, the same way we are already able to do now. But we won’t generally take the risk to do that (the same way we don’t do now in some circumstances) because we know that everyone else will be able to discover our espionage. Me, you and everyone else will still have our ‘bunker/s’ (please understand that I’m not talking just about physical locations, but conceptual private spaces in general), but they will have the door unlocked. You can open the door anytime and stick your head in, but everyone will know that you did. I won’t extend on this since Valkyrie explained it with a very good example in the article.

    Survival is a matter of adaptation. Adapt or die.

  • By Valkyrie Ice, June 9, 2012 @ 6:08 am

    Yes, I will take the last word R.U.

    Angela, I can tell you feel compelled to defend your views on privacy and secrecy, but the fact remains that you have accused me of causing something which I am merely reporting on, claimed that I have made statements which I clearly have not said, and stopped just shy of calling me Hitler for little more than making a logical extrapolation of current ongoing trends. For your “defense” you have cherry picked citation after citation of studies done on the harm caused by “one way” surveillance – which I have continued to agree with you on. “One Way” surveillance *IS* harmful. That is the entire point of my original article, which you have willfully refused to comprehend in your eagerness to paint me as some Illuminati villain.

    As I have stated, Privacy IS NECESSARY. It is, in my opinion, a BASIC RIGHT. However, dependence on secrecy to maintain privacy is not merely harmful to everyone because it enables a select few to escape penalties for actions that directly harm others, it is also completely impossible to retain in an age of total surveillance. However, REGARDLESS of that loss of the ability to keep secrets, (and as a corollary, the elimination of the ability to deceive,)PRIVACY is not truly threatened, because it is an active social process, not a static one dependent on keeping things hidden.

    I have also argued that by eliminating the ability to deceive, as well as eliminating the ability to hide one’s actions from the collective, we can achieve previously unthinkable levels of personal freedom, creativity, and diversity. Total transparency effectively neutralizes the root cause of most forms of suppression, the genetically driven urge to exploit others and society for personal gain. As such exploitation offers no benefits, merely negative consequences when it cannot be hidden behind a veil of secrecy, the net result of total surveillance will likely be beneficial to the human race, though any stage below total surveillance retains sufficient potential for abuse that such abuse must be carefully guarded against.

    In others words, Angela, we agree on almost everything. You merely are unable to look beyond the short term potential for abuse to see the long term potential to eliminate abuse for the foreseeable future.

  • By Ian, June 9, 2012 @ 8:49 am

    I find it mildly amusing that everybody involved in this thread about “privacy” and “transparency” are using pseudonyms to identify themselves.

    And, IMHO, if George Orwell were alive today, I think he’d be appalled by the
    abuse of the word “Orwellian” going on around here.

  • By Valkyrie Ice, June 9, 2012 @ 3:16 pm

    Ian, learn the difference between a pseudonym and a unique identifier. My name can be googled, and you will find that I have been using it for over 25 years, and it is linked very thoroughly with my “legal name”.

  • By Leyvenn Valeth, June 10, 2012 @ 12:29 am

    Ian, I don’t see why using a pseudonym should be critized. A pseudonym is not necessarily a way to hide ourselves. I use a “pseudonym” because I am more identified with it than with the set of phonemes my parents chose for me before I was even able to articulate any word. In the physical world people know me as ‘Guillermo’, or ‘Guille’, but in the virtual space, my name is Leyvenn.

    I would like to shift to Leyvenn in the physical world too as soon as I’m able to shift my body from male to female. People use pseudonyms for various reasons, not only to launch opinions from behind the barricades of anonimity.

  • By greg byshenk, June 22, 2012 @ 9:48 am

    Coming from David Brin’s site, I have one (perhaps tardy) comment: I think I largely agree with what is written, but one significant concern (which may be shared by David) is that, even if totalitarian uni-directional surveillance is unstable over the long term, as you suggest, a great deal of damage can be done over the short and medium term before things work out in the end. Additionally, I fear that the attempt to preserve secrecy will make uni-directional surveillance more likely than omni-directional. As you point out, technology is such that the elimination of surveillance becomes impossible, attempting to block it by law just disarms the honest and vulnerable, while doing little to stop the powerful and manipulative. Or, as Heinlein pithily put it, “The main thing achieved by any ‘privacy law’ is to make the spy bugs smaller.”

  • By Betty Boop, July 1, 2012 @ 6:36 pm

    One question for Valkyrie Ice, in an omnidirectional world, do you suppose we (at the bottom of the pyramid) will have the ability to view the NSA or president? While you seem to elaborate on the social implications for the individual, you fail to define how we, the people, will operate in total transparency on the other side of a veil we will never be privilaged to peer through.

    Suppose that your GPS system clocks you travelling one mile/hr over the speed limit and alerts local authorities who then mail citations to everyone found speeding in thier data base. I suppose you would say that those who speed do so because of a privacy and that omnidirectional surveillance would inhibit people for breaking the law?

  • By Valkyrie, August 6, 2012 @ 7:50 pm


    Indeed, but not really much I can do about it. I’m merely pointing out the realities of the situation, with the intention of encouraging thought on the matter by those who might actually be able to help us avoid the “worst case” scenarios.

    And yes, unidirectional surveillance will come first, and will drive the entirety of the “Surveillance Arms Race” and inevitably lead to omnidirectional surveillance as it becomes impossible to maintain any form of unidirectional surveillance. I’m pointing out that omnidirectional surveillance is the ONLY end point. The very nature of the mindset that desires surveillance and an unequal advantage over others ensures this outcome. Only the timeframes involved are uncertain.

    Yes, the “powerful and manipulative” will do everything to prevent being spied on themselves. I’m counting on it. The very act of those continued attempts to keep secrets will also drive continued attempts to pierce the “veil of secrecy” those individuals seek to raise around themselves. This “Arms Race” is exactly what I am reporting on.

    No, it will not be pleasant. No it cannot be avoided. It can, however, be mitigated. There are hundreds of potential actions that could make this transition from our current social reality to the inevitable future society far less harmful, costly, and deadly. I am reporting on the logical outcome, regardless of which path you chose to take.

    @Betty Actually, I’ve answered your question repeatedly. again, you are assuming that a veil of secrecy will still exist. This article and all commentary has been an answer to that assumption.

  • By shagggz, August 22, 2012 @ 7:42 am

    Val, the sheer simplicity, universality and certitude you allege your technohistorical law as having is not warranted by our available knowledge of technological potential, how our particular civilizational arc will develop, and how these two variables will end up interacting.

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