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Living in a Glass World

December 27, 2013

Privacy is not entirely dependent on the political process. To a degree, it is the result of the interplay between privacy-enhancing technology and privacy-reducing technology. Recently both political and technological forced have pushed hard in the “less privacy” direction. I have my doubts as to the degree moral reasoning and political movements can limit invasive data collection.

Even if you yourself want more privacy, in a democracy, that is irrelevant. What matters is if the majority (or majority of a majority of election districts, which amounts to around 25% of the population) wants you to have privacy. That’s even too strong of a statement. Another question is “Is privacy a big enough issue to cause 50%+ of people to change who they will vote for?”.

Even if Congress wants reform, will the secret police abide by the decisions of the legislature? They have lied, ignored laws, and deliberately withheld information (even from the President and Congressional investigative committees) before. It is naive to assume they won’t do so in the future. To reign in the various secret police agencies, Congress needs to be willing to defund them or something similarly dramatic. The most likely outcome is that they are here to stay for a long time.

Negative Effects of the Glass World
In modern society, legislation and law do not coincide. Things which are immoral and disorderly are not necessarily illegal, and those which are moral and orderly are not necessarily legal. Thanks to the ever-expanding legal code, the average person commits three felonies a day.

In a Glass World, the evidence to convict someone is trivially easy to collect. The only thing preventing universal incarceration is the discretion of prosecutors. That would make it trivially easy for a totalitarian state to arrest its enemies for common crimes. A country where everyone is a criminal but for the clemency of the state is ever on the threshold of tyranny.

Ideally, I think crimes should be limited to that which causes some hard to an individual rather than deviations from some obscure legal codex. Mens rea is increasing not applicable as a defense, which is unfortunate. I can’t think of any law which I would want on the books which someone could possibly not be aware of. Using data mining, authorities could discover thousands of people who violated laws that they were unaware of and which didn’t harm anyone at all. Before you think “oh that would never happen”, remember this could be used to manipulate an election. Suppose one party was on the verge of losing, they could simply arrest enough people who were registered for the other party to assure themselves victory. In the ever more divisive and hostile climate of modern politics, nothing is impossible.

Benefits to a Glass World
Tolerance – When everyone knows just what everyone else is like, they will likely become more tolerant to that reality. Taboos are easily maintained when everyone things the action involved is uncommon and limited to a small group.

There are things which are embarrassing, yet which are not harmful to others. Revealing such things is harmful because the embarrassed person is hurt. Blackmail is impossible in a glass world, because everyone already knows everything about you which the blackmailer might hope to expose. Crime will be a lot harder to pull off, which may be a very large benefit of a surveillance state.

Overall, the loss of privacy is probably a bad thing, but people will adapt and learn to get by.

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