How Surveillance Inhibits Freedom of Expression

In my book Data and Goliath, I write about the value of privacy. I talk about how it is essential for political liberty and justice, and for commercial fairness and equality. I talk about how it increases personal freedom and individual autonomy, and how the lack of it makes us all less secure. But this is probably the most important argument as to why society as a whole must protect privacy: it allows society to progress.

We know that surveillance has a chilling effect on freedom. People change their behavior when they live their lives under surveillance. They are less likely to speak freely and act individually. They self-censor. They become conformist. This is obviously true for government surveillance, but is true for corporate surveillance as well. We simply aren’t as willing to be our individual selves when others are watching.

Let’s take an example: hearing that parents and children are being separated as they cross the US border, you want to learn more. You visit the website of an international immigrants’ rights group, a fact that is available to the government through mass Internet surveillance. You sign up for the group’s mailing list, another fact that is potentially available to the government. The group then calls or e-mails to invite you to a local meeting. Same. Your license plates can be collected as you drive to the meeting; your face can be scanned and identified as you walk into and out of the meeting. If, instead of visiting the website, you visit the group’s Facebook page, Facebook knows that you did and that feeds into its profile of you, available to advertisers and political activists alike. Ditto if you like their page, share a link with your friends, or just post about the issue.

Maybe you are an immigrant yourself, documented or not. Or maybe some of your family is. Or maybe you have friends or coworkers who are. How likely are you to get involved if you know that your interest and concern can be gathered and used by government and corporate actors? What if the issue you are interested in is pro- or anti-gun control, anti-police violence or in support of the police? Does that make a difference?

Maybe the issue doesn’t matter, and you would never be afraid to be identified and tracked based on your political or social interests. But even if you are so fearless, you probably know someone who has more to lose, and thus more to fear, from their personal, sexual, or political beliefs being exposed.

This isn’t just hypothetical. In the months and years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, many of us censored what we spoke about on social media or what we searched on the Internet. We know from a 2013 PEN study that writers in the United States self-censored their browsing habits out of fear the government was watching. And this isn’t exclusively an American event; Internet self-censorship is prevalent across the globe, China being a prime example.

Ultimately, this fear stagnates society in two ways. The first is that the presence of surveillance means society cannot experiment with new things without fear of reprisal, and that means those experiments­—if found to be inoffensive or even essential to society—­cannot slowly become commonplace, moral, and then legal. If surveillance nips that process in the bud, change never happens. All social progress­—from ending slavery to fighting for women’s rights­—began as ideas that were, quite literally, dangerous to assert. Yet without the ability to safely develop, discuss, and eventually act on those assertions, our society would not have been able to further its democratic values in the way that it has.

Consider the decades-long fight for gay rights around the world. Within our lifetimes we have made enormous strides to combat homophobia and increase acceptance of queer folks’ right to marry. Queer relationships slowly progressed from being viewed as immoral and illegal, to being viewed as somewhat moral and tolerated, to finally being accepted as moral and legal.

In the end, it was the public nature of those activities that eventually slayed the bigoted beast, but the ability to act in private was essential in the beginning for the early experimentation, community building, and organizing.

Marijuana legalization is going through the same process: it’s currently sitting between somewhat moral, and­—depending on the state or country in question—­tolerated and legal. But, again, for this to have happened, someone decades ago had to try pot and realize that it wasn’t really harmful, either to themselves or to those around them. Then it had to become a counterculture, and finally a social and political movement. If pervasive surveillance meant that those early pot smokers would have been arrested for doing something illegal, the movement would have been squashed before inception. Of course the story is more complicated than that, but the ability for members of society to privately smoke weed was essential for putting it on the path to legalization.

We don’t yet know which subversive ideas and illegal acts of today will become political causes and positive social change tomorrow, but they’re around. And they require privacy to germinate. Take away that privacy, and we’ll have a much harder time breaking down our inherited moral assumptions.

The second way surveillance hurts our democratic values is that it encourages society to make more things illegal. Consider the things you do­—the different things each of us does­—that portions of society find immoral. Not just recreational drugs and gay sex, but gambling, dancing, public displays of affection. All of us do things that are deemed immoral by some groups, but are not illegal because they don’t harm anyone. But it’s important that these things can be done out of the disapproving gaze of those who would otherwise rally against such practices.

If there is no privacy, there will be pressure to change. Some people will recognize that their morality isn’t necessarily the morality of everyone­—and that that’s okay. But others will start demanding legislative change, or using less legal and more violent means, to force others to match their idea of morality.

It’s easy to imagine the more conservative (in the small-c sense, not in the sense of the named political party) among us getting enough power to make illegal what they would otherwise be forced to witness. In this way, privacy helps protect the rights of the minority from the tyranny of the majority.

This is how we got Prohibition in the 1920s, and if we had had today’s surveillance capabilities in the 1920s, it would have been far more effectively enforced. Recipes for making your own spirits would have been much harder to distribute. Speakeasies would have been impossible to keep secret. The criminal trade in illegal alcohol would also have been more effectively suppressed. There would have been less discussion about the harms of Prohibition, less “what if we didn’t?” thinking. Political organizing might have been difficult. In that world, the law might have stuck to this day.

China serves as a cautionary tale. The country has long been a world leader in the ubiquitous surveillance of its citizens, with the goal not of crime prevention but of social control. They are about to further enhance their system, giving every citizen a “social credit” rating. The details are yet unclear, but the general concept is that people will be rated based on their activities, both online and off. Their political comments, their friends and associates, and everything else will be assessed and scored. Those who are conforming, obedient, and apolitical will be given high scores. People without those scores will be denied privileges like access to certain schools and foreign travel. If the program is half as far-reaching as early reports indicate, the subsequent pressure to conform will be enormous. This social surveillance system is precisely the sort of surveillance designed to maintain the status quo.

For social norms to change, people need to deviate from these inherited norms. People need the space to try alternate ways of living without risking arrest or social ostracization. People need to be able to read critiques of those norms without anyone’s knowledge, discuss them without their opinions being recorded, and write about their experiences without their names attached to their words. People need to be able to do things that others find distasteful, or even immoral. The minority needs protection from the tyranny of the majority.

Privacy makes all of this possible. Privacy encourages social progress by giving the few room to experiment free from the watchful eye of the many. Even if you are not personally chilled by ubiquitous surveillance, the society you live in is, and the personal costs are unequivocal.

This essay originally appeared in McSweeney’s issue #54: “The End of Trust.” It was reprinted on

Posted on November 26, 2018 at 6:54 AM59 Comments


tz November 26, 2018 7:45 AM

The one issue you don’t mention is Gun Control, but imagine people tried to make gay sex – first you have to register, then have “instant check”, then ban “just those nasty forms”, then a total ban.
While hyperbole, a democratic congressman said the US government had nukes.

And it isn’t theoretical. See Cody Wilson (amazing how sex accusations just happen like with Julian Assange when you do something un-PC). Remember when you couldn’t post the source code to PGP on a bulletin board? What about 3d print or CNC files for firearms?

Wilson has lost his payment processor, I’m watching as Twitter is banning anyone to the right of Paul Ryan, and all the evils you are worried about happening to Trump supporters. Usually to applause. And then wonder why they wish to keep their guns. Or don’t want to be forced to cater Gay weddings – No freedom for those deplorable garbage dirty Christians!

There is more intolerance on the left, but maybe you don’t see it because you are on the left and don’t care about censorship or even vandalism and violence directed to the right or the hard censorship for gun owners. But if you are to convince “everyone”, you should start with those being attacked, ostracized, and censored now. Not historic examples on how the left expanded its speech.

Or to ask the question on a poster considered hate speech, “it’s okay to be white” – or isn’t it?

Because, like the Obama imperial presidency, one day a Trump will be in office. How about liberty and universal tolerance, for both Marijuana and Guns? Christians and Gays? Lets leave each other alone, or leave it to the States – why does the left insist on turning Salt Lake City into San Francisco?

parabarbarian November 26, 2018 9:39 AM

I wonder if Bruce would extend these privacy protections to groups he (I suspect) disapproves of. A sincere commitment to privacy implies that white nationalists, anti-semites, threepers, etc would also be exempt from surveillance.

Iggy November 26, 2018 10:34 AM

@tz and @parabarbarian, agree. You beat me to it. It’s easy to protect and respect the privacy of those we like or identify with, the challenge that people of integrity face with fidelity to their alleged principles of justice and equality is to protect and respect the privacy of those they not only don’t like, but disagree with vehemently.

The purging of merely conservative speech, speech that is diverse from regressive youth speech, not just “hate” speech (which is nonsense) or calls for violence or child pr0n, from Google the Good Censor, Youtube, Twitter and Facebook in particular is what should trouble Schneier, because that corporate censorship is doing exactly what he is warning against in this essay. If he hasn’t reached out to Sergei, Mark, and @jack to offer his wisdom on this subject, may I be so bold as to so recommend.

Because if Google, Youtube, Twitter and Facebook in particular don’t stop being Big Brother, the People will use the government to stop them.

Impossibly Stupid November 26, 2018 10:51 AM

We don’t yet know which subversive ideas and illegal acts of today will become political causes and positive social change tomorrow, but they’re around.

More upsetting to me is the objectively awful stuff that is already around despite mass surveillance. For all the claims of tight-knit control, the Great Firewall of China still isn’t preventing a large volume of attacks on my server from getting out. For all the telephone call monitoring that gets done in the US, they still aren’t putting a stop to telemarketing robocalls. Have crimes disappeared in the UK thanks to ubiquitous CCTV coverage?

So never mind all the potential positive change in the future. All evidence shows that mass surveillance can’t even protect against most of the negative actions it should be able to stop. Some might even argue that it encourages such bad behavior; how many terrorists use social media to actively broadcast their bad deeds? On the flip side, how many more “Collateral Murder” videos are out there to be discovered?

The truth is that bad people like to have evidence of their crimes, so long as they don’t have to face any consequences. That’s the real problem with mass surveillance. Nobody balks about recording of mundane daily activities. What they take issue with is being singled out as a target for some “unacceptable” behavior when it’s clear that many people (especially those in power) are doing the exact same thing, yet never get punished.

new November 26, 2018 10:58 AM

Missing Privacy also inhibits cognitive evolution. Time and attention are very limited goods. If everyone always spends time to re-evaluate, if his or her behaviour / association / comment is observed and scored, there will be less time left to really develop a creative thought. And creative thoughts are pretty easy to be interrupted by observation… ask any artist.

Regarding the social scoring: Projecting into the near future (china 2020), the hole society will most likely focus on accumulating score points. They will search for loop holes, lie, steal, cheat and kill. It is pretty likely a spiral to hell and stand-still. Identity theft will be become the holy grail on the black market. Blackmailing to impact the social score will have a completely new value. It’s just so scary that they develop the scoreing system to be deployed world wide. First, via the gaming sector (see tencent) and online sales (see alibaba).

boomslang November 26, 2018 11:17 AM

I think the article is great and I don’t want to detract from your main point, however, I disagree with the prohibition examples.

If pervasive surveillance meant that those early pot smokers would have been arrested for doing something illegal, the movement would have been squashed before inception.

Marijuana users have been arrested because it is illegal, and it’s not as if there was a single person who introduced marijuana to the USA–like some sort of groovy patient zero–who authorities could’ve stopped to crush the movement.

In the USA, marijuana was first legalized in Colorado in 2014. That means the path to legalization spent 13 years under post-9/11 surveillance. Perhaps the reason marijuana use was not squashed under post-9/11 surveillance is because authorities had more important things to worry about than ski bums hot-boxing the gondola.

This is how we got Prohibition in the 1920s, and if we had had today’s surveillance capabilities in the 1920s, it would have been far more effectively enforced.

Unless we’re talking about 100% panopticon surveillance, my guess is that the alcohol prohibition hypothetical scenario would play out much like the marijuana real-life scenario.

vas pup November 26, 2018 11:45 AM

@Bruce:”If there is no privacy, there will be pressure to change. Some people will recognize that their morality isn’t necessarily the morality of everyone­ — and that that’s okay. But others will start demanding legislative change, or using less legal and more violent means, to force others to match their idea of morality.”
Bruce, you have to read book ‘Sex and Constitution’ by Jeff Stone as very best research confirming the idea above. I know how busy you are, but that is going to be very fruitful reading.

I guess nobody have to like ALL (e.g. blacks, Jews minorities, other groups) regardless of their personality. But racism is demanding to treat people based on their demographics, i.e. HATE all blacks, Jews, minorities REGARDLESS of their personality. May I ask respected bloggers belonging to those minorities: do you know within you race or ethnic group people who you hate by your self because of their personal deeds, behavior, personality? Do you think that folks of other demographics should like those people? I doubt. One Armenian poet was asked: “What is your personal attitude towards Jews? He answered: Good towards good ones, and bad towards bad ones. Nationality is NOT important.” I agree with him, but ‘Thought Police’ applying political correctness towards freedom of thoughts may have other opinion.

Rask November 26, 2018 11:56 AM

As someone who is socially awkward, I’ve had to spend an enormous amount of mental resources in recent years constantly evaluating everything I say online and everywhere I travel to in person that may need Google Maps.

It’s exhausting constantly trying to do a privacy risk assessment. But in an age with such umbridled commercial and government surveillance, I fear I have no other option for my peace of mind. I hate this so much.

mushu November 26, 2018 12:00 PM

Wow Bruce you’re wrong on many points in this opinion piece, and that’s unfortunate. To begin, I take umbrage at your concept that increasing marijuana use doesn’t impact anyone else. See for example. Predictable and obvious. As well, now many more children are using pot which has a long-standing effect on brain development and falling grades/attendance. See And let’s not even get started trying to compare pot to alcohol. We could also go into the gay topics you brought up and I note that it is not normal and will never be, in fact you even refer to it as “queer”. If it were normal then all fauna including humanity would shortly cease to exist. The issue isn’t allowing people to do whatever they want in their own homes behind closed doors, it is in them pushing it in our face and trying to force us to accept it as the new normal (legal heroin injection sites anyone?) See

Bruce, stick to security.

Rask November 26, 2018 12:02 PM


Imagine if fighting drug use was still a top priority for the government like it was for decades prior to 9/11.

Aaron Nagy November 26, 2018 12:05 PM

Thank you Bruce, you’ve been an inspiration over the years.

It’s now either time to express freedom through demonstration of civility & love, or structure a defense so uniquely contoured that offensive dispersion derived via power is rendered null & void.

Iggy November 26, 2018 1:38 PM

@mushu, you express the same reservations that came to mind when I read the post as well. I think Bruce champions privacy for certain causes via the examples because he’s a regressive liberal and so it goes. His examples could have used a few more from the entire spectrum of humanity, if only to appear more balanced. His example of the conservatives being the threat to privacy, and free speech, is biased, obviously. Which is unfortunate to see in someone who wishes to influence others.

Rach El November 26, 2018 2:13 PM

Glen Greenwald wrote a book called No Place To Hide which discusses this exact issue with his usual scope and attention to detail

i agree the cannabis componenet is quite tangential and confuses the discussion, not least for the non US of North America readers.

The thing so rarely referenced or understood by anti surveillance pro privacy advocates, is indeed the ‘chilling effect’ is in fact the whole point. They say
‘but people won’t feel free’ . The response is ‘Yes, thats the whole idea’

it’s not about data

Men in Black November 26, 2018 2:38 PM


Re: marijuana

Marijuana stinks.

There is no covering it up.

Those who smoke it lose the mental capacity to hide it.

No special privacy-invasive surveillance is necessary or helpful in the war on drugs.

When people are minding their own business and not bothering the neighbors, they are not doing drugs, and they are not doing sfx-for-money.

Unfortunately, guns are banned, and the government has other goals which do involve invading the privacy of our homes.

Geoffrey Kidd November 26, 2018 3:02 PM

@tx: “…why does the left insist on turning Salt Lake City into San Francisco?”

Short answer: Because the right insists on turning San Francisco into Salt Lake City.”

echo November 26, 2018 3:10 PM


This topic is very true in the UK too. There is also the ongoing issue of abuses of pwoer and ignorance and, sadly from personally experience, behind closed doors when alone being ganged up and bullied by “professionals” with a “duty of care” and “obligations”.

I have stated to an equality lawyer that “my rights were thrown out the window like a frisbee”. This same lawyer also berated me and was extremely demanding and trampled over amy anxiety and trauma and verbally mocked me. I would love to name this UK lawyer who took local government grant money to represent me and all the other “public servants” who broke the law including police officers who sexually harassed and physically assaulted me and local council officials who lied to councillours or councillours who kicked me to the kerb and abused information given in confidence for their own career advancement. As for the Equality and Human Rights Commission and journalists (some of whom have knowingly covered up a brutal rape for discriminatory reasons) I have discovered a lot of bury the problem attitude from them too.

I’m not stupid. I do know what is going on. I know what was done to me and how this was covered up.

I want my day in court and the establishment man who tried to murder me and ruined my life held to account not to mention all the others who abused trust and trivialised what happened because it disagreed with their clubby and comfortable “worldview”.

Jesse Thompson November 26, 2018 3:11 PM


“And let’s not even get started trying to compare pot to alcohol.”

Drinking too much can harm your health. Excessive alcohol use led to approximately 88,000 deaths and 2.5 million years of potential life lost (YPLL) each year in the United States from 2006 – 2010, shortening the lives of those who died by an average of 30 years.1,2 Further, excessive drinking was responsible for 1 in 10 deaths among working-age adults aged 20-64 years. The economic costs of excessive alcohol consumption in 2010 were estimated at $249 billion

I agree, there’s simply no comparison to be had: alcohol is worse (I mean not as bad as tobacco, but still..) yet should still be allowed. So too, then, should marijuana.

“If [homosexuality] were normal then all fauna including humanity would shortly cease to exist.”

You do realize that “normal” does not mean the same thing as “no other options can ever happen”, right?

“The issue isn’t allowing people to do whatever they want in their own homes behind closed doors, it is in them pushing it in our face and trying to force us to accept it as the new normal (legal heroin injection sites anyone?)”

Hey, if you would prefer that we collectively force you to keep your opinion “in your own home behind closed doors” instead of “pushing it in the faces of” everybody reading this blog, then I am happy to inform you that you do not require our help to clam the hell up. You can totally self-regulate this behavior. 😀

The fact that you choose not to suggests that you’re already a fan of pushing your own behaviors in the faces of others. I don’t personally begrudge you that, but all that we demand is the same consideration. :J

Iggy November 26, 2018 3:16 PM

@Geoffrey Kidd, excuse me? I used to live in The City and under no circumstances can any Salt Lake City style influence be detected there, publicly or privately. Are you effing kidding me? They allow naked people to ride bikes into the business district every year. Guys wearing women’s panties with a cut out for their peckers to poke out of. Where Castro Street is over-run with sex perverts to flout their freak flag in public, to offend as many people as possible, and you know it. Where the street sewers smell so bad, just walking to the mall for lunch turns your stomach. Where now people are using the sidewalks as porta-potties without walls. SFO has been ruined by the filthy of mind and body. It’s why I left.

Iggy November 26, 2018 3:33 PM

@Jesse Thompson,

“The issue isn’t allowing people to do whatever they want in their own homes behind closed doors, it is in them pushing it in our face and trying to force us to accept it as the new normal (legal heroin injection sites anyone?)”

Hey, if you would prefer that we collectively force you to keep your opinion “in your own home behind closed doors” instead of “pushing it in the faces of” everybody reading this blog, then I am happy to inform you that you do not require our help to clam the hell up. You can totally self-regulate this behavior. 😀

The fact that you choose not to suggests that you’re already a fan of pushing your own behaviors in the faces of others. I don’t personally begrudge you that, but all that we demand is the same consideration. :J

Wrong Jesse, you confuse freedom of speech with action. In America, everyone is free to openly say they do or do not like X. No one is allowed to “force” them to do anything in public. Everyone is free to listen or walk away. Mushu is right, the militant members of many self-defined minority groups have decided that being tolerated isn’t good enough, now they demand to control our speech and garner our open acceptance, REGARDLESS. That most people belong to the biologically dominant forms of whatever trait is not an act of “pushing” it onto anyone, we’re just born this way. You don’t have to feel left out. You belong to the human race whether you like it or not, why not celebrate that commonality for a change instead of staying outsiders with political leverage and guilt ridden billionaire donors working the grievance trail of tears until it hurts as many as possible?

echo November 26, 2018 3:39 PM


Cognitive load can be very impairing as can lack of trust and emotional comfort. Some of this can be attributed to instititional abuse and isolation. The medical profession can be very very bad at dealing with this unless you are fortunate enough to be wealthy. The joke is if you are wealthy you become merely eccentric not nutty so have no pressing material need for therapy.

@mushu, @iggy

Anyone well versed in the broad fields @Bruce has discussed will know that what he is saying are “known knowns”. There is an embarassing amount of material publicly available on the subjects too. They may also be tied in with security for a lot of reasons whether it is a question of political, economic, or more lower level national and personal security. I have posted quite a few links touching on these subjects. While not in “solved problem” territory to argue against it is like arguing against the standard model.

I welcome @Bruce’s topic as he steadily introduces concepts at a political and social level and articulates how they interact with the security domain from someone who has credibility and writes well.


The thing so rarely referenced or understood by anti surveillance pro privacy advocates, is indeed the ‘chilling effect’ is in fact the whole point. They say
‘but people won’t feel free’ . The response is ‘Yes, thats the whole idea’

it’s not about data

I agree. This is the dirty secret “they” won’t admit to. It’s a broad form of instititionalising or learned helplessness and social fear so we all obey and go trotting back to our “betters” who have” all the answers”. In fact a fair degree of common law cases articulates this to one degree or another. It’s a thing that GCHQin their annual reportessentially admitted to as has the Care Quality Commision whose previous CEO advocated that patients should assert themselves and no longer defer to doctors. It is shameful that the plight of UK homeless and other poor people had to be articulated by the United Nations special investigator. The plight of people in this position is another dirty secret which fully deserves the oxygen of publicity. Isn’t it funny how secrets are a bad thing unless it’s “them” and suddenly it’s “D notices” all round.

parabarbarian November 26, 2018 4:29 PM

@Geoffrey Kidd

“Because the right insists on turning San Francisco into Salt Lake City.”

Nah. I am perfectly happy to let San Francisco flounder about in a sea of feces and used needles. 🙂

Men in Black November 26, 2018 5:30 PM

The Chinese (to the credit of whatever regime) at least appear to be able to complain openly and in large numbers about the “social credit score” phenomenon.

In America’s consumer culture, it affects everything from health, auto, and homeowners insurance rates to access to mortgage loans and other finance, eligibility to possess firearms, and even consideration for employment. It’s a brutal, despotic, unbelievably cruel system.

Once you have run afoul of “social consumer credit” in the United States, you are $#¶√ out of luck in extreme poverty on the streets for the rest of your life no matter what.

There is no way back to any semblance of “normal life” ever, once this system has hit you. It takes an extraordinary amount of luck just to stay alive from one day to the next.

Sancho_P November 26, 2018 6:04 PM

”In this way, privacy helps protect the rights of the minority from the tyranny of the majority.” (@Bruce)

I have general issues with the term “the rights” but agree that privacy helps protect the minority from the majority. Good article, examples are dangerous, as always.

But the other way round is at least equally important:
Privacy protects the majority from the minority, that is the people from the Powers.
Privacy protects personality.

John Smith November 26, 2018 6:12 PM

“…But even if you are so fearless, you probably know someone who has more to lose, and thus more to fear, from their personal, sexual, or political beliefs being exposed…”

Including religious and anti-religious beliefs.

As a fan of the Enlightenment, I used to think Denis Diderot took it foo far with this:

“Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.”

My own view is that religious belief is an intelligence test: if you believe then you fail. This would get me executed in certain countries. It would cause trouble for me in my own.

I also hold the view that certain religious countries, highly important for geo-political reasons, have yet to emerge from medieval barbarity, and will likely fail to do so in my lifetime. This would also get me executed abroad and in trouble at home.

So I am very careful with whom I speak my mind. Immediate family, yes, on the understanding this is strictly confidential. Outside that inner circle, no.

SH-2 November 26, 2018 6:54 PM

Big data gathering has completely modified my life on a daily basis. Three examples:
1) Haircut salons want your name, email and phone number. (Humor: I made up a numbers each time and got a new customer discount. This anti big-data scheme worked for two years)
2) Restaurant hostess asked for our phone number to call us when our table was ready. We stood 10 feet away and were seated a few minutes later.

3) My basic flip phone was too old so i ‘upgraded’ to the latest 4G basic phone at 2.5x the price. It weighs twice as much and is twice as large.
The salesman was competent about the phone as we auditioned it. I signed no contracts (on my wife’s account) and am not listed on her account. I turned off Wi-Fi, Blu-tooth, GPS, Data and store contacts locally. Best of all i did not have to agree to an all-or-nothing terms of service. That is, until I tried to message.
The messaging worked in the store, but I was now confronted with an all invasive 300 pages terms of service on a 1” screen. From experience I knew every shred of my personal info (like location) would then be sold to third parties; most notably Google.
When I returned to the store (15 minutes later) the salesman went to the back and refused to come out. We later learned the customer must accept these zero privacy terms on the new 4G phones if they wish to use email and messaging.
As a result I use the dumb phone for phone calls and voicemail only.
Customers didn’t have to with the older 3G phones. I’m sharing this because in every aspect the new technology is worse.
What an utter minefield being laid against customer data privacy.
Big-data seeks to hound, pester and increasingly control us products on a daily basis.
Who wants a Facebook camera and mic in your bedroom? Bathroom?

Wall St backed health insurance companies are coming on hard to monetize through cash ‘rewards’, medical devices and prescriptions. The widespread techniques include feigned ignorance (Facebook), deception, vagueness and making decisions based upon false or incomplete assumptions.
As a result is i now favor a single payer health care system based up privacy alone.

As a result I’ve had to endearingly modify my lifestyle to counteract these intrusions. So far I’ve been very successful in finding alternative (usually regressing back to traditional) ways. I’m now driving myself to the bank to complement the teller on still being human!

Eustace November 26, 2018 7:23 PM

This all presumes that change is good. What if things are going fine as-is and change is destabilizing and undesirable? That’s China’s viwpoint.

Men in Black November 26, 2018 8:04 PM

@SH-2: Haircut salons want your name, email and phone number. (Humor: I made up a numbers each time and got a new customer discount. This anti big-data scheme worked for two years)
2) Restaurant hostess …

It’s not a joke, and there’s nothing funny about it. There’s a haircut in bed, and they are tracking you down to your hotel room after slipping date rape drugs in your espresso.

gordo November 26, 2018 10:08 PM

I just watched this movie for the first time, yesterday. Taking the notion of “surveillance inhibiting free expression” to an extreme, the basic or generic plot of the 2016 Martin Scorsese movie “Silence”, about Portuguese Christian missionaries in seventeenth century, feudal Japan, goes something like this:

Representatives of an outlawed group are given the choice to either renounce their beliefs or see their followers killed.

See also the plot summaries at IMDb:

The security approach taken by the samurai was to “separate the head from the body”, i.e., to “silence the movement”. Though the same methods are not used in our times, the effects, or silences born of fears of association, are similar. The difference today is that any proscribed movement or group, whether new, as yet unnamed or declared so, with relatively little effort, is an algorithm or two away from being made subject to attack and silenced. One can see this in the daily news cycles. There is, however, at the end of the Scorsese movie, a kind of silence, an immovable silence, dare I say, unique to that subject matter that is of born of hope. As all analogies eventually break down, the question remains: What’s to be done about ubiquitous surveillance?

Weather November 26, 2018 10:43 PM

Your asking how could checks be put in place for things that can help, but also removing things that can’t.

Good post early about a Christian that doesn’t want to make a cake for a gay civil union, the damages is equal to the cake maker and gay couple.

Bad post early ,its not natural, why does 100% have to be breedable maybe infertile? No that is more if you don’t have blue eyes and blond hair you should do X

ITs a hard topic to analyzed good luck

ismar November 27, 2018 12:16 AM

Great arguments as always. Alas, the overwhelming evidence points towards the totalitarian end to human society (that is before the machines take over)

Clive Robinson November 27, 2018 1:51 AM

@ Eustace,

This all presumes that change is good. What if things are going fine as-is and change is destabilizing and undesirable?

Change happens, it’s built into the Universe as far as our current laws of nature are concerned (entropy). We know that at some not to distant point in time the Earth will not be habitable by humans, due to any one of hundreds of different reasons.

As far as we can currently tell mammals got lucky when dinosaurs got unlucky. The exact cause(s) are still under discussion but put simply they had a life style that was considerably more unchanging than ours, a major “existential” event happened, they could not either cope or change[1] thus died out. Mammals could cope and change and survived and some apparently thrived in their own view…

We may like to think we are masters of not just our environment but our destiny as well, but we are not now, and may never become so. That said we appear to have developed further than any other species so far in that direction which means we have more survival options open to us.

With regards your observation,

That’s China’s viwpoint.

It surprises me that people think authoritarian entities believe they can some how hold back the forces of time and nature. Change like death and taxes –of some form[2]– exist it’s also built into the Universe. Any entity that wishes to survive has to fundamentally accept that either it has to change or it will cease to exist as a viable entity[3].

Thus authoritarian or not all organisations seek not try to halt change, but control change in a way that best benifits it at the time. As individuals die within all organisations they get replaced by new thus slightly different individuals. In “higher” life forms that have not just agency but intelligent agency what is seen to “best benifit” the organisation changes by what is perceived as choice[4].

Therefore all organisations like life it’s self evolves to the ever changing environment and threats within it or dies. All that realy differs is the defence mechanisms and the direction the organism or organisation of organisms evolves in.

Privacy can be seen in a number of ways but in essence it is about the control of information. As far as we can currently tell information is a necessary part of work beyond a certain degree of complexity and distance. Thus information can be regarded as being local through to global and beyond. As the ability to process information is finite it is also distributed. Which brings into question the scope of information. That is does information that is required localy need to be available at a geater distance? The answer is both yes and no, some of the information required to function locally needs to come from a distance thus the reverse is true.

That is for an entity to function a subset is purely local whilst another subset is from a distance, which also means that another subset is necessary for other entities to function.

The question then arises as to what information belongs in which subset as a minimum and what else might make the functioning of other entities more efficient on an organisational or individual level. That is there is a number of trade offs to do with distance that implies both time and capability to process information as well as advantage in functioning.

Without going into all the details it can be seen that in a resource limited environment it can be adventageous for an individual entity to withold information from other entities. But also that it would be at other entities expense and thus potentially at an organisations expense, which implies that it might contrary to first order thinking not be in an entities best interests to withhold that information.

It is this individual -v- organisational benifit that gives trade offs between entities, thus the idea of private and public domains of information and thus the question of which entity decides what information belongs in each domain, why and the benifits that accrue and to which entities.

There is thus a trade between an individualistic view and a social view, likewise resources.

As can be seen from some of the comments here there is actually little rationality and both ends of the viewpoint spectrum can invent arguments to support their view and denegrate the other view. As with most things in life the extreams are not just difficult to understand they are actually positively dangerous and self defeating…

To see this is quite easy, let us say I am of the view that their should be no society, it’s every man for himself. Well the first problem is how do I ensure my own existance? Remember life preys on life thus it’s easier for me to steal your work output than it is for me to both make my own work output and defend against other attackers. Thus two individuals working together can alternatively work and defend. Whilst the individual is working not having to waste effort on defence their work becomes more efficient thus they will produce more in any given time period. Thus being able to divide up labour gives greater through put. But importantly with three people two can work together whilst one defends, thus gaining further benifit.

The argument would go on untill you started reaching limits. A defender can only see and cover a limited area against a limited attacking force, thus there is a point where the division between work and defence reaches some effective ratio. But you can never know what that ratio is because as a defender your viewpoint is different to that of an attacker.

Thus no man can stand alone, they are dependent on others in many ways. However argument can likewise be made in the opposit direction.

The important point to realise is that there are capability limits and distance thus time limits and that they differ for all entities and organisations, so there is no one answer.

[1] This is as far as we can tell an over generalisation, because quite a few other forms of flora and fauna did cope or change, and for some apparently neither was required. But I suspect the lifestyle of the life that did not have to change or cope is not one you would care for.

[2] The ultimate form of tax, also results in the ultimate form of pollution, and they are “inefficiency” and “heat”. They exist where ever “work” is done and they are as far as our current laws of nature are concerned “built into the Universe”. Work by the way is what life fundementally is.

[3] As life is “work” it has to transform things to exist, be they inanimate or other forms of life. Because other forms of life have done most of the work required by different forms of life, life finds it easier to work on closely related forms of life as the work involved is less… That is, it is a “Dog eat dog” world out there, unless there are reasons for one species not to eat it’s own, that is what to some extent it will do, because it’s more “efficient” to do so. Thus all life is under attack by other living things and needs to defend it’s self in some way.

[4] Choice is actually a belief in “free will”, that is life above a certain stage of development can have “intelligent agency” not just agency, in the manner it works. If this is true or not is a matter of philosophy to most, thus it may well be that “free will” is an illusion based on our inability to sufficiently comprehend the complexity of our existance within a given environment.

ismar November 27, 2018 3:41 AM

Surveillance creep is a term we don’t here that much about and it seems relevant to this post

From an excellent book – Re-Engineering Humanity

“Surveillance creep is an offshoot of what engineers call function creep, the
idea that a tool designed for one purpose ends up being used for another
one. A classic is the driver’s license. In a short period, the document went
from being proof that you could legally drive a car to a credential for
purchasing alcohol and getting into nightclubs; thanks to the post 9/11
passage of the Real ID Act (2005), licenses have become more secure and
are used as counter-terrorism measures for decreasing the chances that
people on the terrorist watch list can board commercial airlines or enter
federal buildings.
Surveillance creep can take many forms. The gradual expansion of
surveillance from one context to another. Or, the gradual expansion of the types of data collected in each context. Or, the gradual expansion of the
use or sharing of that data. Surveillance creep is perceived as something
happening on the side of those doing the surveillance (e.g. the National
Security Agency or Facebook). It also can happen on the other side, as
those being surveilled become accustomed to it. Their beliefs and preferences
about surveillance technologies and surveillance more generally are
shaped through experience. Educationally mandated surveillance programs
do much more than get students accustomed to using digital
technology for self-tracking purposes. They habituate students to submitting
data to opaque third parties that exercise authority and have agendas
that may diverge (now or in the future) from the best interests of those
surveilled. Such programs also normalize arrangements that occur in noneducational
contexts, such as insurance companies that want to set rates by
having their customers provide self-tracking data. Or, we might turn to the
employment sector, where such programs are pervasive ….”

echo November 27, 2018 3:50 AM


A great deal of what you mention has been the subject of public inquiries and legal cases. There is a fair bit of law on this now. I hope people forgive the ramble but this is off the top of my head. I find the erosion of instititional intelligence and media dumbing down and the lack of civic education in the UK is worrying. “Dog eat dog” seems to have become an all too common norm.

During the Brexit case heard in the UK Supreme Court the issue of Burkian doctrine came up. This was mostly passed on the nod. Politicians and pundits like to quote Burk when it suits them but ignore all his other stuff including the Burkian doctrine. Essentially, a club of elitists in parliament decided that the constitition was that the state is an entity and when things got tight could do whatever it wanted to assert and defend itself including monopolising resources even where this resulted in harm to citizens. Parliament is a copurt which appropriated law making powers to itself after having first developed out of the system of inter-kingdom courts. Parliament asserts that it manifests powers previously held by the monarch. The monarch in theory has the final say when signing an act of parliment but there is a limit to the monarchs powers. The power of the monarch is as representative of the will of the people in common law. Careful readers will note that taken as a whole nothing above makes logical sense.

A fair few people know that the General Synod is part of parliament. Not many people know the GMC is also part of parliament. Then there are regulators and ombudsman who form another quasi judicial wall around parliament.

Local government has become money sucking disaster management seat filler.

I don’t believe the legal profession have much to shout about but cuts to legal aid and other forces restricting access to justice are reducing the power of the people to scrutinise and challenge.

When I read of one lawyer boasting of 60% margins I know something is wrong.

This entity refuses to die easily.

Clive Robinson November 27, 2018 6:34 AM

@ ismar,

Surveillance creep is a term we don’t here that much about

The reason being it is currently a minor issue in comparison to the sheer rate at which new surveillance methods are being developed.

But that does not make it any the less important.

Lets assume for the sake of argument the Unelected Government regard all Citizens –including the politicians and those that work for them– as at the very least covertly hostile. That is they have a lower Police rank “Canteen Mentality” of either “You’re for us or against us” with the subtext of “If you’re not on the forecastle pissing out…” (thus comanders and pilots on the aftcastle of a boat/ship are likewise seen as hostile).

Such an environment is decidedly toxic as it brews up at the very least the “We are the good guys” mentality which in turn gives rise to the “For the greater good” sentiment that white washes all evil thus making the “Might is Right” thugish attitude SOP to everybody’s detriment, as it brooks no argument via total obedience through “Authoritarian following”.

Simplistically the old excuses of faux patriotism of “My Country Right or Wrong”, “Only following orders”, and “Exceptionalism” none of which are acceptable behaviour. Nor have they been since the US put the policy in place over seventy years ago at the Nuremburg Trials[1] that as Wikipedia so delicately put it,

    … their [US] decisions marked a turning point between classical and contemporary international law.

It is actually not just toxic it has within it’s self the seeds of it’s own destruction. Each increase in surveillance either by new technology or creep requires new resources. However old resources can not be freed up, thus the slice of GDP taken rapidly approaches or exceads the “Tax Take”…

At which point their can only be one future, which is the fall of such a system. Often as the famous saying about the “Tree of liberty” by the spilling of blood on both sides.

Sadly the current thinking is that “as the price of technology is falling” it will continue to do so such that the economic point is never reached. Well such thinking is delusional because the world currently has finite physical resources which technology uses up and as with all scarce resources as the demand rises the price rises more so.

But creep has the similar issues, each expansion requires more resources which are again finite. Even in Eastetn Germany where they tried to co-opt citizens into spying on each other, each change required more backend resources and things inevitably collapsed to the point of fragility which then shattered one memorable night as the sledgehamers and other hand tools were brought to bear on the Berlin Wall. Thankfully without the command structure the result was without blood shed the migration of significant numbers of people to friends and family they had been seperated from for so long.

There are obvious lessons here, East Germany was not alone, for years it had the backing of the CCCP both economically and militarily and had a large influx of foreign currancy. But the government paranoia still took it to the point of bankruptcy and beyond.

The simple fact is society can not aford the indirect costs of surveillance due to “oportinity loss” let alone the direct costs.

The only reason the US can support it is buy burning raw resources at a horrendous rate. As the old saying has it, “The candle that burns twice as bright, burns only for half the time”. Currently the US is using it’s resources around five to ten times the rate of other supposadly similar democracies… The lost “opportunity coast” is almost unimaginable in size thus the question must be asked at what point is the US going to hit the point where surveillance takes all the tax take?

I suspect like others that the US “burn rate” is such that they won’t realy get out of the “new tech” phase before that point is reached. What happens after that is largely dependent on other factors such that economic considerations are nolonger a factor, which makes “creep” difficult to predict as in effect it will either be “primary policy” or carried out by other not yet involved government entities on what is in effect a “war footing”.

[1] Done for both overt political and covert fiscal reasons, predictably it has come back to haunt the US. Which is why ever since the US has tried to divorce it’s self from the consequences of via the usuall “We are the good guys” Exceptionalism.

Petre Peter November 27, 2018 9:49 AM

Privatization is related to privacy because it deals with collective action problems which collectivization creates. The collectivization of property for the sake of the common good was theft in the 40s that’s about to happen again in this decade – collectivization of thought for the common good will lead to data warehouses of The People without The People having access to them.

Inventor November 27, 2018 1:35 PM

“The lost “opportunity coast” is almost unimaginable in size thus the question must be asked at what point is the US going to hit the point where surveillance takes all the tax take?”

Nonsense talk presented as if factual.

Clive Robinson November 27, 2018 3:56 PM

@ Petre Peter,

Privacy is the freedom to think everything in my mind.

The problem is without other Points of View it is in effect an “echo chamber”. Progress hapens where people spar and challenge as they see differently. The process should then move to consensus and does in some fields of endevor.

But sadly few in power want to be questioned let alone challenged, at best their paternalism is their guiding light and moral compass, that most would wish were otherwise…

Clive Robinson November 27, 2018 4:06 PM

@ Inventor,

Nonsense talk presented as if factual.

As your comment is oppinion only and thus devoid of fact… it is not just “self referential”. As it adiquately describes you and your commet’s failings.

echo November 27, 2018 4:22 PM


But sadly few in power want to be questioned let alone challenged, at best their paternalism is their guiding light and moral compass, that most would wish were otherwise…

Try taking this and telling UK police about “malpractice in public office” and “hate crime” (a.k.a. “harassment” for “discriminatory” reasons”) and fraud. Even go so faras to point out the exact act of parlimaent the offences are defined udner. Then watch the police without hearing through the argument or viewing the evidence proceed to “no crime” incidents and write them off as a “civil case” or deny it is actually a crime.

Also watch the police try to fob you off by referring you to another agency just to get out of acknowledging their responsibility or do any work. Oh, not to mention pointing out incident evidence and the equality act and an academic study on the map of hate crime and watch the police nod along saying “Yes, this is sound and proper” then lazily tell you to get this work done yourself when the police are the ones with positive obligations under an act of parliament to do the work themselves and take the allegations seriously.

A lot of this is driven not just be gross negligence but also by empire builders and UK state officials sticking their hands out for money. I have hardcopy evidence from mutliple sources in my database that citizens are being thrown under the bus as a pay bargaining chip. I have also personally been indirectly and direcxtly pressured by people acting in an official capacity for money.

I hate to think how much has been spent by the UK state with my fiasco just to petulently save what had originally been less than £1000 of expenditure at most.

It’s not always about the amount but who gets it. People die over these squabbles.

Michael G November 27, 2018 4:39 PM

Our protection of privacy is very important.

But, without playing devils advocate, I need to say that privacy and secrecy are possibly the most detrimental things in human society.

Sounds crazy right?

Well, it is crazy if you frame that statement into a “we need to let some people have privacy and others be surveiled” viewpoint. It’s also a bit crazy because it’s impossible to get rid of all privacy.

However….we must be willing to see all of what privacy does. In our imperfect and warped world privacy is vitally important. It also keeps us from understanding one another, allows room for great crimes, and a bunch of other bad things.

Imagine an impossible world where people could read each other’s minds if they chose….where they could truly experience another person’s experiences. This is an impossible world without privacy.

Privacy is the farm tool in the hands of the mob. It is both positive and negative and must be used with proper considerations.

Clive Robinson November 27, 2018 5:53 PM

@ Michael G,

I need to say that privacy and secrecy are possibly the most detrimental things in human society.

The point many don’t understand is that privacy and secrecy come about due to “technical methods” that are agnostic to use.

Therefore you have to fathom the purpose of not just the “Directing Mind” that employes the methods but also that of any “Observing Minds”. As in many cases it is very unlikely that the Directing mind point of view or interest is going to in any way align with that of the various observing minds. So the process has conflict built in as a fundemental attribute.

One of the issues of Government is “Eminent Domain” that is the belief that all of Governments whims, wishes and desires take presidence over that of the citizens. Thus in times past citizens have established “rights” under law to limit some of the excesses of Government, especialy that part that is not voted for[1].

However as we can see from living memory going back as far as the end of WWII government has repratedly run assults against the citizens “rights and freedoms” and whilst they often get repulsed it is very very rare that they get forced into giving ground or receive any meaningful sanctions.

So much so that to all intents and purposes any fractional gain “is a keeper” and the lack of consequences emboldens government entities to keep pushing against the citizens rights and freedoms at the citizens expense. In effect they know that they will always win or draw, whilst the citizens will only ever loose or draw, it is thus by definition “a rigged game”.

In the same way as we say of terrorists “They only have to get lucky once” it is the same for government entities, which might account for why people are increasingly seeing government entities as terrorists or similar.

This in turn gives the government entities the excuse to see the citizens as the enemy. Such a viewpoint is always negative, so any attempt to give yourself privacy in their eyes must be due to the fact you are a criminal or worse… And as we know the likes of the FBI and IC are quite happy to abuse “useful idiots”, that is manufacture terrorists etc to justify themselves in various ways…

It’s what the “gowing dark” debate is all about, the FBI do not need backdoors or frontdoors or golden keys, and they know it. The debate is about demanding heaven and earth, not because they want or need them, but such that in comparison what they do steal from the citizens looks minor in comparison, rather than the outrageous it looks by it’s self.

It’s the old game of “horse trading”, it only works because the other party is not going to take punitive action against outrageous demands… If they did then such games would carry to much risk and they would deminish if not stop.

[1] One of the failings of the US system is the fact that way to many Government –be it local, state or federal– positions are voted for. This is because it brings in politics but not democracy or responsability, as well as the worst of all failings “popularism”. Such posts are not ment to be popularity or beauty contests, they are also supposed to be filled by those who can make hard but nessecary decisions free from any bias, such as that of knowing such future contests are comming up might engender.

Ian November 27, 2018 7:18 PM

On the Prohibition subject, if we had today’s surveillance capabilities in the 1920s, the corrupt officials would have found it easier to rub out the opposition and make more money.

That’s the problem with surveillance – it gives more power to corrupt/evil officials. If Germany had today’s surveillance capabilities in the 1930s…

Otter November 27, 2018 7:54 PM

Oddly, until this comment, “panopticon”, the epitome of Bruce’s topic, has been mentioned exactly once. And used incorrectly that once.

Nope November 27, 2018 11:33 PM

“It’s what the “gowing dark” debate is all about”

No, it’s not. And it’s GOING. Wtf is GOWING?

Clive Robinson November 28, 2018 2:19 AM

@ Nope,

Wtf is GOWING?

Do you think being proportionately the shoutiest person on the thread gives you some kind of majesty?

It is a proper noun that originates from the Breton-Norman word ‘goff’ for an iron working forge artisan or “smith”.

It happens to be in the predictive spell checker on the mobile phone I use…

I guess better “fat finger syndrome” than the syndrome your “shouty” behaviour is indicative of, wouldn’t you agree?

Wesley Parish November 28, 2018 3:02 AM

When I was but a little boy, my Mum told me about some people living in a valley not too far away. There was a man whose toes dropped off one day, due to gangrene, and not understanding what had happened, he picked them up and ate them. Then there was the little girl who rolled into the fire (banked up) while asleep and suffered third degree burns all over her body.

They suffered from Hansen’s Disease, where the nervous system dies from the periphery inwards, and in consequence, as the nervous system is the feedback mechanism for the body, the body can no longer adjust itself to circumstances such as pain. Ditto pleasure. (FWIW, Steven Donaldson got everything right about Thomas Covenant’s condition right in his several series of books on that particular character – and why not? His Dad was a medical missionary dealing with Hansen’s Disease (leprosy) in India while he was growing up.)

It follows that feedback systems are vital for the body politic. It also follows that cutting feedback back, will have consequences for the body politic.

Precisely what consequences follow, will of course vary, but several instructive examples have occurred within recent history: the Cold War (being the period of time between the ending of the Second World War and the collapse of the Soviet Union), which brought out the difference between a planned economy and one with more freedom, due in no small measure to the more open feedback cycle in one versus the closed feedback cycle in the other with its minimal allowed feedback.

And in regard to the commenters in the first part of the blog feedback cycle: homosexuality appears to be inescapable biological destiny for a small percentage of humanity. My own hypothesis is that it survives because it was one of the things that allowed humanity to struggle through a population bottleneck about 2 MYA – “altruistic gene” argument, I’m afraid, much too complicated for the average conservative. And decidedly off-topic for this blog. So I’ll stop right now ….

Jon (fD) November 28, 2018 4:15 AM

@echo, in. re.:

” I have also personally been indirectly and direcxtly pressured by people acting in an official capacity for money.”

In an effort to reduce this sort of thing in India, they introduced a 0 (zero) value bill.

The general idea was to pass it out as a bribe, yet send a very pointed message that bribery was not acceptable. Somehow I doubt it worked very well – anyone who tried it would find out very quickly that while bureaucrats can be both mildly helpful or mildly obstructionist just typically doing their jobs, but when really angry they could become truly nasty. Getting a zero bill would not make them happy at all.

Part of the problem is universal criminalization. When the laws are so complicated, vague, over-broad, and interwoven that everyone’s always guilty of something (see “Three Felonies A Day”, Robespierre’s remark about “Give me six lines by the most honest of men…” or just get followed around by a police car for awhile) then any official annoyed enough can find something to get anyone who made them angry for.

And that’s the problem with universal surveillance. Write enough laws so everyone’s guilty of something, so to ‘get’ anyone you want just watch them for awhile.

“If You Have Done Nothing Wrong You Have Nothing To Fear.” snigger

Jon (fD)

Clive Robinson November 28, 2018 6:15 AM

@ Wesley Parish,

Hansen’s Disease (leprosy)

I read the early “white gold wielder” series but it got over the top eventually.

As for Dr Hansen, there is a bit of a horror story behind him and his research.

He was riddled with syphilis, which some may know effects the mind in various ways. His leprosy reaserch was a bit controversial at the time as the medical proffession having come down on the incorrect side of the fence of genetic/contracted were far from pleased to have their feathers ruffled. He also had a research assistant/partner who tried to steal the credit of the bacterial discovery…

As part of his research Dr Hansen committed the crime of deliberately trying to infect a woman with the bacteria, not just without her knowledge / consent but as part of a supposed treatment for another illness…

Thankfully Hansen’s Disease (leprosy) is actually quite difficult to catch, but these days is relatively easy to cure, but somewhat protracted (three different antibiotics given over a two year period). What is not curable is the neuropathy, which can either kill the nerve or almost infinatly worse short circuit it giving rise to extrodinary pain, which makes full blow gout a meer itch in comparison…

There is an issue however Hansen’s Disease superficially can look like diabetes, including as some studies have found raising blood glucose levels…

Thus it may well be possible that with modern travel and unrest giving rise to very large numbers of asylum seekers for leprosy to resurface in Europe and other Western nations, much as TB initialy did.

Whilst it “may” personaly based on the information I’ve seen think it is quite low risk unless new vectors arise.

vas pup November 28, 2018 10:06 AM

@all: several years ago I’ve read several articles on prison psychology published in Russian Psychological Journal published before October, 1917. The most disturbing for inmates in solitary confinement based on one of the article was not bad food, cold, loneliness, but that small opening in the door which let prison guard watch what you are doing without your knowledge – zero privacy – total exposure. Prison in Tsarist Russia were not resorts for sure, but sexual and other violence towards prisoner by other inmates or guards was exception rather than the rule. You know what I am talking about. E.g. Lenin, Stalin, other Bolshevicks being inmates never recall such kind of violence towards them versus terrible regime in Soviet Gulag and many countries currently as well in XXI century(not in North Korea only). Norway is just exception worth for follow as example.
In animal kingdom being watched = being selected as prey. Never good for psycho of any mammal humans included. Same applied to snitching as sibling of surveillance.

Foa November 28, 2018 6:09 PM


It would be worthwhile for you to distinguish more on what you mean by progress. Despite the extreme surveillance happening modern day, it’s clear society is progressing in various ways due to the Internet and various other technological advances.

I want your argument to be as robust as possible against skeptics. This is the elephant in the room that comes to mind after reading your post.

echo November 28, 2018 9:33 PM

@Jon (fD)

I agree with your broad comments on the intersection of bureaucracy, personality, and money. In the UK it can be fairly subtle but there are clear cases occasionally reported in the media of any one of these.

The case I want to bring includes abuses of power and breaches of privacy and fiscal decisions. There is something wrong with the system when ordinary people are locked out and only those with “high status” seem able to comment or even bring a case. One element of the case I want to bring is the subject of a judicial review by the EHRC yet I was treated appallingly by the EHRC who broke their own rulebook. I have enough evidence in my logs to bring a case against the EHRC for discrimination which seems to defeat the point of the EHRC.

Pretty much everyone is holding out their sticky mittens for more money and the system is collapsing. The UK state sector doesn’t get the idea of reform and the government is using this as a stick to justify more austerity in a vicious circle. Both the left and right are so polarised in their religious wars there is no “effective remedy”. I certainly don’t trust the UK media as the media are up to the same game. There’s far too much power tripping and greed and censoring of discussion in the UK.

This is one of a long list of reasons why my “Plan B” is to save up my money and leave the UK and claim asylum in a mainland EU country.

I need a lawyer to countersign a critical one page document and I’m up to my ears in complaints with multiple lawyers because they misbehaved in a number of ways including refusing to print the document when their own T&Cs listed document printing as a billable item and I both my card and more than enough cash on me to cover the transaction. I can’t get a passport until this is completed so I’m effectively being unlawfully held in the UK and haven’t committed a crime nor is there an injunction or any ruling of any kind against me!

Jon (fD) November 29, 2018 4:16 AM


I just read a book you might find interesting, called ‘Farthing’ (alas I’ve forgotten the author’s name – I could find out if you wanted me to) about a somewhat alternate future Britain and people going through things not unlike your experiences.

Also, long ago, I asked an attorney friend of mine (some really are nice people, strange though that may seem) “What happens if you sue the Bar Association?”. I had in mind something like every judge is or has been a member of the bar, and thus must (or should) recuse themselves, so the case can never be heard. He had a simpler answer: “You lose.”

Lo and behold, this does apply to surveillance, because those who do the surveying are really much less fond of being surveyed. Those who apply the laws are much less fond of having the laws applied to them. Unfortunately, they also have much greater ability to avoid the consequences as well (e.g. personal tracking via license plate doesn’t work if the car is one of dozens of shared company cars, grocery shopping tracking doesn’t work if your cook does all the shopping for you, and being caught in flagrante doesn’t work if the cops recognize you as a fellow cop and ‘look the other way’, &c).

In a way it’s very partly-baked. Those who cannot avoid it are “little people”, minor in both influence and resources, therefore not very important (but play well on TV) to catch, while those high in resource and influence can trivially avoid the surveillance, and they’re the ones you really want to catch.

I’d suggest as a first step to watch very closely those who would like to be watchmen.

Jon (fD)

echo November 29, 2018 6:38 AM

@Jon (fD)

I did a search and discovered the alternative history book “Farthing” is by Jo Walden. My brain is clogged with books and exhausted from trying to sort this mess out so I don’t have much headspace for reading.

Anyone born and raised in the UK and who is old enough should remember a few things which allude to some of the points you mention. The book reviews indicate they have captured some of these mentalities and others @Clive often pontificates about.

My experiences have coloured my view of the world and tested my faith in human nature to the limit. I’m sticking to the truth as I see it which can be awkward.

Men in Black December 3, 2018 12:37 AM

Consider the decades-long fight for gay rights around the world. Within our lifetimes we have made enormous strides to combat homophobia and increase acceptance of queer folks’ right to marry. Queer relationships slowly progressed from being viewed as immoral and illegal, to being viewed as somewhat moral and tolerated, to finally being accepted as moral and legal.

It has never been considered immoral in general for two men or two women to live together, as long as they get along with each other. People are not generally hindered from having same-sex roommates or whatever relationship they choose to have.

Morality has on the other hand always centered on an enforced separation between the two sexes with the exception of a man and a woman in a registered and recorded marriage.

Legalized gay marriage may make same-sex couples feel recognized, but the possibility remains of a hostile political regime coming into power with official rolls of registered homosexuals with disastrous results for those same-sex couples.

GABE January 14, 2021 8:17 PM

Hey Great article,
Some real interesting points. Like how the elites can evade the surveillance, but they’re the ones u may especially want watch.
Or the guy looking at it systematically as intel between organism and a larger system or organization.
Or the people speaking of the fact that lack of privacy does protect us.
However. Someone says that lack of privacy has not slowed down crime. And I agree. Still happens. Especially vice crime. Because the elites will know how to conduct it and can work the system. It’s a monopoly for class warfare.
And yeah it does not seem to help crime but it does seem to impose dark limitations on idealistic and creative people.

Creativity and ingenuity are economic engines. Privacy allows for trade secrets to exist which is fundamental in the property system. Intellectual property is worth money. So privacy is about the people being entitled to their creative productions. What if big brother was watching Bill Gates in secret? In a corrupt world it is conceivable that Microsoft would have been stolen tech if hackers got a hold of it. Or a greedy surveilance officer….
I think redesigning how we live is key. Certain things and privacies in certain places. We gotta ditch these bronze age town ideas. We gotta redefine the way we build a human community because it’s the design of the communities that can mediate these issues. That plus real democracy. We have to go to school for 12 years. We should have to have town meetings for life. Democracy is key. Humans perfected communication for a reason. To solve collective issues. Not to silence ourselves while 1000 people control the lives of 8 billion humans.

Xanthus Parker February 4, 2022 3:26 AM

I am very much at the university today and I am researching the issue of freedom of expression in its various aspects. At the moment I am writing several studies that relate to the struggle for civil rights and against racism in the sixties in America. One of the important topics that I explore is the movement led by Martin Luther King and his famous Letter from Birmingham Jail. On the site I read a lot of research about this letter and I can say one thing. As long as the state restricts freedom of expression until then a person cannot be completely free.

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