Transcending the "liberty versus security" debate
January 26, 2011
Wherever the line between the right to privacy and security is drawn, it should apply equally to governments and citizens.
“The NYPD recently announced that it’s working on a mobile scanner designed to detect concealed weapons on people from up to 75 feet away.” The obvious, age old question, is where to draw the line between liberty (or the right to privacy) and safety. Ben Franklin weighed in on the side of liberty when he said,
Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.
But ultimately, this question is irrelevant, because the naturally occurring and increasingly rapid advance of technology literally outpaces the debate. Instead of slogging through this murky philosophical swamp, why don’t we just fly right over?
Human transparency applied to governments
Wherever the line between liberty and security is drawn, it should apply equally to governments and citizens.
Citizens have, or will soon have, no privacy. The president himself has said that we have no right to privacy in our public movements. In DC, the government uses a network of security cameras to track all license plate movements. Crying out for privacy is becoming synonymous with opposing the advance of technology. Rather than oppose the growth of technology, here’s a better system:
Hold our governments, corporations, and other various macrohumans to the same standards of transparency that individuals are forced to maintain.
All the top secret files, every hidden piece of information, all of the “sensitive materials” which are hidden from the public eye, it all needs to be revealed. No secrets. If citizens can’t have secrets, neither should the government.
Hey, we’re in a war! We’re at war, and the enemy can’t know our plans. Some things must be kept secret to protect our national security!
Problem is, we’re not in a war. The “war” on terror, or drugs, or whatever your evil of the week might be, is not actually a war, in the sense that America was once at war with Great Britain in 1812. The existence of terrorism is a fact of life. Terrorism is one of the oldest practices in human history, and it will continue long after we die. Terrorists, like all humans, are subject to the following rule for action. Action requires both:
1. awareness, and
Limiting information (or keeping secrets) is the limitation of awareness. This is, however, not possible in the long term, and shouldn’t be attempted. Limit the power, if you want to stop someone’s action. Not their awareness. Even if a terrorist knows the government’s plans, it makes no difference if that terrorist has been prevented from having the power to act.
For example, a terrorist may be aware of the relevant flight patterns, how to make a bomb, how to detonate it, and so on; but if airport security physically prevents the terrorist from boarding the plane by the use of lawful arrest, the terrorist lacks the power to act, and therefore cannot. In this way, the revelation of secrets poses no direct threat, because power is also required to carry out an act.
The simple philosophical point outlined by this article, if applied to our world, would ensure that the interests of the macrohumans of our world (governments, corporations, corporato-governments, governing corporations, etc.) align with the microhumans of our world, further making impossible the oppression of the latter by the former. This is a perfect incentive structure, and we need perfect incentive structures like these to ensure that citizens and government can trust each other. The main point here is exemplary of the way we should be engineering the incentive structures of our future world, today. These incentive structures must reflect the realities of informational freedom.
Conflict, of course, will always exist in some form, and with it will the tendency to keep certain information secret from the opposition. This is the origin of secrecy. However, it is only the loser of a conflict that would keep a secret, or at least one who fears and guards against defeat. If you’re in a conflict, and the truth is on your side, wouldn’t you want to shout it to the world as loudly as you could? Informational freedom affects our lives at a very fundamental level, and the changes are for the better.
As the natural process of technological advance causes individuals to become increasingly transparent, and as privacy evaporates, we enter an era of informational nudity. Rather than fight awareness or technological progress, we must fight the power of evil to manifest in our world.
Citizens must be as aware of their government as their government is of them. It’s a double edged sword, and it swings both ways.
Wherever the line between security and liberty is drawn, it should apply equally to governments and citizens. Let me repeat, for a fourth time: