Privacy Is Far

The British government has decided to go ahead with its plans under what it calls the Intercept Modernisation Programme to force every telecommunication company and Internet service provider to keep a record of all its customers’ personal communications, showing whom they have contacted and when and where, as well as the Web sites they have visited. … The information … will be accessible to 653 public bodies, ”including police, local councils, the Financial Services Authority, the ambulance service, fire authorities and even prison governors.

”They will not require the permission of a judge or a magistrate to obtain the information, but simply the authorisation of a senior police officer or the equivalent of a deputy head of department at a local authority,” The Telegraph says.

The only bit of good news, if you can call it that, is that the information won’t be held in a central database … and the full rollout will be delayed until after the next election. If the Tories or Liberal Democrats win, they say that the intercept program will be changed in scope and function. However, as happened in the United States after the last election, once politicians are in power, promises about privacy and spying on citizens seem to become less important.

More here.  Two decades ago when wonks discussed the coming brave new web/internet world, privacy was an huge concern.  In contrast, today when people choose what to reveal on the web, privacy seems a minor concern.  Together, these suggest that privacy is far – we care about privacy as a high noble social concern, but not as a personal practical matter.  (At least not until someone close in our social world starts to see our private info.)

But if so, why do politicians prefer to schedule to invade your privacy in the future, instead of now?  Won’t that make us all the more concerned about it?

My guess: a broad national policy today is near in time, but far in social scope, so still invokes a substantially far view.  So politicians are still held to ideals on it.  But the far view makes us idealize our future politicians more than today’s; we think our side is more likely to win, and future politicians will act more ideally.  So we don’t expect future politicians to let such privacy invasions go forward.  And since all far events tend to seem less likely, there is less to worry about.  When it actually happens later, they can say move along, there’s no news here, this was scheduled long ago.

Many said Bush’s privacy invasions revealed his evilness, but few care Obama has no plans to reverse those invasions.  Even if UK and US governments don’t misuse this info, their policies will give cover for similar policies elsewhere.  From afar, big brother epitomizes evil and must be resisted.  Up close, he seems tame, until he doesn’t, when its too late.

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  • Cyan

    But if so, why do politicians prefer to schedule to invade your privacy in the future, instead of now?

    What’s the evidence that they do? Is it that the British government isn’t doing so until after the next election? Because I’d think the most plausible explanation for their schedule is that it would be logistically impossible for them to do it sooner.

    Many said Bush’s privacy invasions revealed his evilness, but few care Obama has no plans to reverse those invasions.

    This is only a semi-fair point. Many who objected most loudly about Bush’s invasion of privacy are still criticizing Obama for not reversing them — and criticizing fellow travellers who are inclined to give Obama a pass.

  • Doug S.

    I’m still annoyed. I just don’t know what to do with it.

    • Doug S.

      Do about it, I mean.

    • http://lesswrong.com/ CannibalSmith

      Just annoyed!?

      • Doug S.

        Yeah, it’s not like being more than annoyed would be very useful. Outrage fatigue, and all that.

  • http://www.rationalmechanisms.com Richard Silliker

    Oh, to be in a position af power with an axe to grind. It would be like dieing and going to heaven.

    The words we speak and write are about to become the crime. What a CRIME.

    Keep your powder dry, boys and girls.

    How is it possible to argue about something that has not been implemented? If they had attempted to implement now, there would be hell to pay. By doing what they have done it will give people time to get over it. Then when it is implemented, the government can say; what is the problem, you knew this was coming and did nothing about it, go away.

    In a world that thinks,by abstracting the already abstract, they can solve their problems by simply creating new laws – read here license – they are dreaming. It will always be up to a person to decide if there is a violation of law, but adding ambulance attendents, among other bureaucrats, only makes for a more toxic blend of incompetence.

    On a lighter note;

    http://pov-mentarch1.blogspot.com/2007/06/eight-principles-of-incompetence.html

    Zeroth Principle: Incompetence is driven by intellectual sloth.
    First Principle: Incompetence surrounds itself with incompetence.
    Second Principle: Incompetence is ethics-impaired.
    Third Principle: Incompetence abhors transparency and accountability.
    Fourth Principle: Incompetence does or says anything to defend itself.
    Fifth Principle: Incompetence always supports incompetence.
    Sixth Principle: Violence is the last refuge of incompetence.
    Seventh Principle: Incompetence is nothing but consistent with itself.

  • Eric Falkenstein

    I too, thought privacy was merely for those who were modest, as in when we don’t like to show our nakedness, or had something to hide because they did something wrong. But don’t forget, there are evil people and institutions, people with bad faith, who view your personal destruction as a means to some greater good. The more data they have on you, the worse they can make you look, taking things out of context, etc. Remember when Robert Bork was up for Supreme Court, and his video store leaked his movie rentals? Think if everyone saw every Google search you ever did, and this was shown to the judge during a child custody hearing.

    In countries where paying bribes is the only way to succeed (say, Italy or India), everyone wealthy has done something illegal or at least embarrassing politically, otherwise they wouldn’t get anything done. Ex post, a crime can always be found with sufficient bad faith and data.

  • Doug S.

    “You have no privacy anyway. Get over it.” – Scott McNealy

    • http://www.rationalmechanisms.com Richard Silliker

      This may be true. However, who wants to be vulnerable.

  • Thomas M. Hermann

    I’ve given up on the governments acting in my best interests, so I’ve focused more on subverting their efforts. Tactic 1 is to use a TOR network. Tactic 2 is to support the data gather efforts under the premise that the flood of data will exceed their ability to usefully use it. The second tactic appeals to my passive-aggressive side, but the first tactic is probably more effective.

    I’m reminded of Spy-vs-Spy.

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  • 2999

    Privacy is certainly far. That’s why we need professional privacy defenders, like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and others like them.

    The people and organizations that have high stakes in the issue of privacy pay them to make privacy concerns “near”, and they hopefully work on the issues proactively, so we don’t have to.

    I’m not certain how well it works, but I think it’s our best shot.

  • Jackson

    Quantative Easing is an attempt to keep some sort of continuity to an extremely flawed system. When the trick fails, the music stops, those in power will be consolidating whatever power they can whatever way they can… world wide WEB. Nevermind the invisible hand, what about the invisible spider? We’ve been bitten and everything is dissolving.

    • http://www.rationalmechanisms.com Richard Silliker

      Interesting indeed, when you consider that the total UK debt amounts to $150,000.00 per person.

  • http://shagbark.livejournal.com Phil Goetz

    I’m perplexed by liberal vs. conservative attitudes about privacy. Conservatives mind less if the government spies on them; they often say, “You don’t need to worry if you’re not doing anything wrong.” Yet they don’t trust the government any more, as demonstrated by their invectives against big government, and their stance on gun control. Liberals don’t want the government to spy on them, but don’t mind if the government takes away their guns. I can’t make any sense of either attitude.

    • Constant

      Nutshell: Conservatives think the best solution to violence is punishment after the fact (as an example to others, as a disincentive). Liberals think the best solution to crime is pre-emptive action (confiscating guns, making potential criminals happy and peace-loving).

      Detail: Conservatives tend to think that government has insufficient power to deal with actual criminals: robbers, rapists, murderers, terrorists. This isn’t really about government power. Conservatives also tend to think that individual people have insufficient power to deal with actual criminals. They are horrified by tales (often from England) of honest citizens being severely punished for defending their homes, when what they deserve is a medal and a parade.

      Since they distrust government, they are presumably not unaware that handing over more power to government to deal with criminals can backfire, but it’s an imperfect world. The point is, sure, government is a problem. But criminals are also a problem. And the main responsibility of government is, after all, to keep the peace.

      Anti-gun liberals are similarly concerned with keeping the peace, but they have a different idea of how best to go about it. They believe in preventing violence not by the disincentive of the prospect of being captured and punished, but by preventing people from having either the capacity to do it (in the form of weapons) or the initial incentive to commit a crime in the first place.

      • Jackson

        You think you’re confused now… here

        “There has been an unholy alliance between those on the Left, who believe that man is endowed with rights but no duties, and libertarians on the Right, who believe that consumer choice is the answer to all social questions, an idea eagerly adopted by the Left in precisely those areas where it does not apply. Thus people have a right to bring forth children any way they like, and the children, of course, have the right not to be deprived of anything, at least anything material. How men and women associate and have children is merely a matter of consumer choice, of no more moral consequence than the choice between dark and milk chocolate, and the state must not discriminate among different forms of association and child rearing, even if such non-discrimination has the same effect as British and French neutrality during the Spanish Civil War.” Theodore Dalrymple

        I don’t agree with everything Roger Scruton has to say on the matter but I think he has some very important points. He believes people, generally (and that’s crucial) need continuity to form identity, embedded in community, customs, tradition (not absolute and inmpervious to change) Edmund Burke, he’s your man.

  • http://timtyler.org/ Tim Tyler

    The Intercept Modernisation Programme was widely reported as being canceled back in November sometime:

    “Plans to store information about every phone call, email and internet visit in the United Kingdom have in effect been abandoned by the Government.”

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/big-brother-database-cancelled-by-ministers-1817708.html