Transparency Isn't A Substitute For Privacy
from the power-imbalances dept
Slashdot points to a great Bruce Schneier article debunking the idea that "transparency" is better than privacy. People like David Brin argue that technological change is rapidly making the concept of privacy obsolete, and that instead of lamenting this fact, we should make sure that everyone, including the government, is subject to increased "transparency." But Schneier does a great job of explaining what's wrong with this theory: the less power you have, the more important your privacy is to you. If the government knows everything about you, and you know everything about the government, that's not a fair trade. The government can use its increased knowledge to coerce you in a variety of ways that you're not going to like. But even if you know about everything the government is doing, you're not going to have the power to stop it from doing things you don't like. Reduced privacy for everyone increases the power of those who already have power, and increases the vulnerability of those without power.
The other problem is that in the real world, accepting less privacy for ordinary citizens isn't going to lead to increased transparency in government. Government officials who might want to put more cameras up on public streets are not going to want cameras installed in police headquarters. The Bush administration wants our electronic communications to be more "transparent" to NSA eavesdropping, but they haven't reciprocated by giving us information about how those eavesdropping programs work. It's a mistake to equate government transparency with reduced privacy for private citizens because transparency of government activities and privacy for ordinary citizens are both ways of limiting the ability of the government to violate our rights.