Solove on Stuntz on Privacy and Transparency

Excellent blog post. Well worth reading.

EDITED TO ADD (4/25): Stuntz responds to Solove's post. And Solove responds to Stuntz's response to Solove's response to, um, to Stuntz's original essay.

Posted on April 19, 2006 at 1:14 PM • 9 Comments

Comments

Pat CahalanApril 19, 2006 2:41 PM

I think Stuntz needs to answer that question that you always point out, Bruce -> when ceding power to the government, you're not just giving it to the current iteration.

Stuntz seems comfortable reducing citizen liberties and increasing government secrecy, but I imagine he would not be so sanguine if the American Nazi Party was elected...

Clive RobinsonApril 20, 2006 3:39 AM

The argument about privacy and transparency that most upsets me is

"If you have done nothing wrong then you have nothing to hide/fear/etc"

Apart from the obvious falacy (see further down) of the statment if you then turn it around and say,

"If that is true why does the goverment want more and more privacy from those who pay for it?"

You get a series of stupid answers that usually involve "National Security" or even worse those that imply that officials would not act if their actions became common knowledge (one of Stuntz's arguments).

The obvious question then arises from this,

"Are officials frightend that like criminals their actions will lead to their public disgrace, humiliation and possible imprisonment?"

At which point the argument generally becomes a little heated...

For some reason most Politicians do not like being compared to criminals, though if you ask any voter to find something in common between Polititians and Criminals they are not usually stuck for answers ;)

Oh the obvious falacy is that,

"for people to function in society and therefore society to function it's self people need to maintain distance from other people"

This can only happen if they are alowed to maintain privacy from all those they wish to. That's why we call them "little white lies" amongst other things when we make false statments to maintain the "social niceties".

royApril 20, 2006 6:54 AM

Stuntz wasn't paid to think. His task was to invent arguments to support his sponsors' aims, which are to hide the workings of government from the masses while stripping privacy from the same.

AleApril 20, 2006 8:05 AM

In Solove's blog, Stuntz comes across as illiterate in both technology and security. His image of government contains no vulnerabilities, no opportunities for inside subversion and (maybe most importantly) no possibility of malicious intent. His understanding of information assumes that it is trivial to compartamentalize and control it even for huge data sets, particularly with respect to its dissemination. It is my opinion that he is wrong in both assumptions, and when you remove them, almost all his arguments fall like a pack of cards.

radiantmatrixApril 20, 2006 8:52 AM

One of the most salient points Solove makes is his argument against the idea that we will have better privacy if the government collects massive amounts of data on everyone (the "needle in a haystack") approach. Solove debunks it nicely by pointing out the data-mining tech that's available.

But what struck me was Stuntz' apparent hypocrisy. In his article, Stuntz claims that we need to get rid of privacy and transparency so that the government can collect the intelligence it needs to fend of terrorists. But, in the same article, he claims that we should allow massive data collection because it makes it harder for people to sift through and find specific information.

Given data on everyone, if it really was so hard for government to sift through that data for information about you and me, wouldn't it be equally hard for them to find valuable intelligence? Stuntz' argument is paradoxical.

another_bruceApril 20, 2006 2:14 PM

when you want a stronger, less transparent government with greater authority to snoop on its citizens and less accountability for doing so, that's called fascism.
we had to destroy our country in order to save it!

kurzlegApril 21, 2006 8:34 AM

Radiantmatrix's catch is so obvious I feel ashamed I didn't notice it myself. Stuntz has made a logical contradiction of the highest order.

AnonymousApril 21, 2006 12:17 PM

Yes, the argument works both ways.
Do we have something to hide ? Of course we have, for reasons of personal security. Security from criminals, the effects of society, the greed of large organisations, the powers of the state, and the greed of individuals within the government. From the present state of affairs as well as from everything that may follow anytime in the future.

Just remember how seemingly harmless records about personal religion were misused during the second world war to exterminate certain groups of humans. With all the surveillance and data mining in place today it is predictable that not a single target person will survive the next holocaust.

One of the central properties of a democracy is the division of powers. Powers must always, and *at any time* be sufficiently divided that the people as a whole are able to take any power back from the government, and even replace it, if necessary.

A single short period of concentrated power (vulnerability) is sufficient for the power grab of a dictator (attack), hence it is a security hole. Unfortnately, this kind of security hole is the most dangerous imaginable, because both the motivation for the attacker and the potential damage are maximal, and the latter grows infinitely with the former.

Whatever a state does, no matter how much pain and damage it causes, is legal under the law and "good" under the moral framework of that state. Hence it follows that whenever people feel different that must be illegal and immoral, and the current state must protect itself from changes with surveillance, weapons and social frameworks.

Hence the natural goal of the state is to secure its own current existence ("national security") by concentrating power and using it against the people, which is quite the opposite of democracy and it's characteristic division of power which protect the freedom, independence and safety of people.

And the natural goal of powerful individuals is to accumulate (and *not* divide) power. (And use it to accumulate even more power in a loop of exponential growth, like a black hole in space does with matter and gravity.) The natural way to achieve this is to create problems, threats and fear, and use them as an excuse to concentrate and misuse powers in the clothes of the government.

By the way, this is what "Star Wars" is all about.
President, ahem, Chancellor Palpatin: "I promise I will restitute the powers that I have been granted as soon as these exceptional circumstances are resolved. My first action is to send a large army to find and defeat the terrorists, ahem, rebels."
We all know how this led to the dark age of the hated imperium. If you don't understand this, go and review the first three episodes with your brain turned on.

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