Privacy IS Important! Without it Trust Withers and We Fester

WSJ: What We Lose if We Give Up Privacy
A civil libertarian reflects on the dangers of the surveillance state. By PEGGY NOONAN



Martin Kozlowski

I have to extract a lot of the piece, it discusses the issues much better than I can:

What is privacy? Why should we want to hold onto it? Why is it important, necessary, precious?

Is it just some prissy relic of the pretechnological past?

We talk about this now because of Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency revelations, and new fears that we are operating, all of us, within what has become or is becoming a massive surveillance state. They log your calls here, they can listen in, they can read your emails. They keep the data in mammoth machines that contain a huge collection of information about you and yours. This of course is in pursuit of a laudable goal, security in the age of terror.

Is it excessive? It certainly appears to be. Does that matter? Yes. Among other reasons: The end of the expectation that citizens’ communications are and will remain private will probably change us as a people, and a country.
Among the pertinent definitions of privacy from the Oxford English Dictionary: “freedom from disturbance or intrusion,” “intended only for the use of a particular person or persons,” belonging to “the property of a particular person.” Also: “confidential, not to be disclosed to others.” Among others, the OED quotes the playwright Arthur Miller, describing the McCarthy era: “Conscience was no longer a private matter but one of state administration.”

Privacy is connected to personhood. It has to do with intimate things—the innards of your head and heart, the workings of your mind—and the boundary between those things and the world outside.

A loss of the expectation of privacy in communications is a loss of something personal and intimate, and it will have broader implications. That is the view of Nat Hentoff, the great journalist and civil libertarian. He is 88 now and on fire on the issue of privacy. “The media has awakened,” he told me. “Congress has awakened, to some extent.” Both are beginning to realize “that there are particular constitutional liberty rights that [Americans] have that distinguish them from all other people, and one of them is privacy.”

Mr. Hentoff sees excessive government surveillance as violative of the Fourth Amendment, which protects “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures” and requires that warrants be issued only “upon probable cause . . . particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

But Mr. Hentoff sees the surveillance state as a threat to free speech, too. About a year ago he went up to Harvard to speak to a class. He asked, he recalled: “How many of you realize the connection between what’s happening with the Fourth Amendment with the First Amendment?” He told the students that if citizens don’t have basic privacies—firm protections against the search and seizure of your private communications, for instance—they will be left feeling “threatened.” This will make citizens increasingly concerned “about what they say, and they do, and they think.” It will have the effect of constricting freedom of expression. Americans will become careful about what they say that can be misunderstood or misinterpreted, and then too careful about what they say that can be understood. The inevitable end of surveillance is self-censorship.

All of a sudden, the room became quiet. “These were bright kids, interested, concerned, but they hadn’t made an obvious connection about who we are as a people.” We are “free citizens in a self-governing republic.”
Mr. Hentoff’s second point: An entrenched surveillance state will change and distort the balance that allows free government to function successfully. Broad and intrusive surveillance will, definitively, put government in charge. But a republic only works, Mr. Hentoff notes, if public officials know that they—and the government itself—answer to the citizens. It doesn’t work, and is distorted, if the citizens must answer to the government. And that will happen more and more if the government knows—and you know—that the government has something, or some things, on you. “The bad thing is you no longer have the one thing we’re supposed to have as Americans living in a self-governing republic,” Mr. Hentoff said. “The people we elect are not your bosses, they are responsible to us.” They must answer to us. But if they increasingly control our privacy, “suddenly they’re in charge if they know what you’re thinking.”
What of those who say, “I have nothing to fear, I don’t do anything wrong”? Mr. Hentoff suggests that’s a false sense of security. “When you have this amount of privacy invasion put into these huge data banks, who knows what will come out?” Or can be made to come out through misunderstanding the data, or finagling, or mischief of one sort or another. “People say, ‘Well I’ve done nothing wrong so why should I worry?’ But that’s too easy a way to get out of what is in our history—constant attempts to try to change who we are as Americans.” Asked about those attempts, he mentions the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, the Red Scare of the 1920s and the McCarthy era. Those times and incidents, he says, were more than specific scandals or news stories, they were attempts to change our nature as a people.

Then there is a paragraph were I may part ways in degree if not philosophy…

What of those who say they don’t care what the federal government does as long as it keeps us safe? The threat of terrorism is real, Mr. Hentoff acknowledges. Al Qaeda is still here, its networks are growing. But you have to be careful about who’s running U.S. intelligence and U.S. security, and they have to be fully versed in and obey constitutional guarantees. “There has to be somebody supervising them who knows what’s right. . . . Terrorism is not going to go away. But we need someone in charge of the whole apparatus who has read the Constitution.”

That ‘someone’ in charge and a faint subtext that there is some level of relaxation of the constitution that may be valid bothers me more than a little.

Advances in technology constantly up the ability of what government can do. Its technological expertise will only become deeper and broader. “They think they’re getting to how you think. The technology is such that with the masses of databases, then privacy will get even weaker.”

Mr. Hentoff notes that J. Edgar Hoover didn’t have all this technology. “He would be so envious of what NSA can do.”

As above, it is going to get easier to dive deeper, MINORITY REPORT posited ESP for preempting crime. It’s not impossible that soon technology could do the same thing…with the same problem that some minority of the ‘targets’ would never have acted on the urges, ideas, or impulses that got them preemptively targeted…indeed we are undoubtedly killing ‘innocent”terrorists’ today, some who might have turned away if they had not been evaporated.

The terrorists have won if they twist us into some distorted remnant of ourselves or worst themselves. And one of the things they hate most about us and understand the least is our assumption of trust…I trust that another may be different, think different, have faith different from me and mine but I trust them (within reason) to hold certain things dear…

Consequently I’m a bit troubled by any assumption that we need some huge and empowered organization that is cut out of the normal mechanisms of governing. Yes we have to have to use these tools but if they cannot be used without violating basic rights one of which is an assumption of innocence, then they should be used in the main to figure out how they can be defeated so others cannot use them against us, and their own people…

I do not understand the fear that drives so much of this, the US stands astride the world and yet we do not rule. Instead we cry at others pain and try to do the ‘best thing’ we can, often to the detriment of ‘the easy thing’ or even ‘the only thing.’

OK the ‘intelligentsia’ (or demagogues, ideologues) across the rest of the world often deride us, let them, it not us trying to emigrate there. OK other places do ‘this,’ ‘that’ or ‘the other’ better, we copy the best and ignore the rest, and none of those ideas would work as well broadly across a geography and citizenry as richly diverse as ours!

Megan McArdle // Property Forfeiture laws, license to steal?

Bloomberg// Megan McArdle // How the Lone Star State Legalized Highway Robbery
I think the title’s perhaps Acela corridor biased but the issue is real, very, very, real and localizing it is a dis service, this is a problem all over the US and one of the reasons we should fear the surveillance state.

ViaMeadia // The Miracles Wrought by Price Transparency

Read more at: The Miracles Wrought by Price Transparency

A surgery center in Oklahoma has started a bidding war by offering drastically lower prices than other providers and posting them online. The center describes itself as “free-market loving”—an unorthodox but welcome branding for a health care provider. The evidence of its success, however, is eye-popping. Where some hospitals charge more than $16,000 for a breast biopsy, Oklahoma Surgery Center charges $3, 500, according to a local Oklahoma news station. And that’s just one of many impressive examples.

Read more at: IndyStar: Abdul: Why our health-care system needs a single-payer – you

The recent move by the Obama administration to delay implementation of the employer mandate portion of the Affordable Care Act means this is the perfect time to have a grown-up discussion about how we deliver health care in this country. As a free market-conservative, social-libertarian political pundit, I am convinced more than ever that it is time in this country for a single-payer health care system.

Get rid of employer ‘health insurance’ go with health savings plans and catastrophic medical insurance AND PUBLISHED PRICING then we at least know what the real price is and stop paying for so many empty suites…

On a very related note, at least in my mind: There is a great debate about the collapse of the demand for lawyers and the issues with ‘Higher Ed’ payoff vs price in general outside of core STEM. But as a practicing engineer, business development type I have to tell you that one of the most pernicious problems in today’s world is an over supply of pure play MBA’s, business school PhD’s, Operations consultants, etc, etc, et-bloody-cettera. I’m not saying that the tech types know all, do all, but when they are ignored the company ( practice, clinic,….. ) in which they work becomes a zombie…and as we all know zombies can win in the short run, even proliferate, but in the end they either rot out or pull down the society (economy) around them.

Entrepreneurial Drought Limiting job and wealth creation

20130604-210243.jpgWhere are the entrepreneurs? More evidence the very heart of the US economy is failing
James Pethokoukis | June 3, 2013

In my opinion the culprits are easy to discern…..

  1. Uncertainty
  2. Regulation
  3. Taxes
  4. intellectual property law breakdown ( too much, too long, too easy)
  5. Healthcare
  6. Retirement
  7. Risk aversion by banks

I am also thinking that:

  1. the informal economy is more active than is accounted for
  2. people who are paid can in fact support more hangers on than one might expect
  3. especially away from the ‘urbs’
  4. significant numbers are hidden on disability of one sort or another

Which may be hiding lots of small scale entrepreneurial efforts.

But in the main what we are seeing is the aggregate effect of the first list which significantly suppresses the urge to grow. Many commentators miss that the way so much regulation is structured once you reach a certain size it suddenly becomes asymptotically more difficult / expensive / stressful to operate. This makes even starting much less attractive. It also means that we are suppressing companies just as they start to kick up into a realm where they could potentially quickly accelerate out of small business land into middle sized and become more consequential.

This is a socio-economic problem that has to be solved on a broad scale:

  1. Lower but still progressive taxes
  2. Brute simple tax code
  3. Individual focused health care
  4. Individual focused retirement
  5. Small business non interference focus in government rules setting
  6. Standards setting and supporting organizations for: health, safety, financial stability, etc, instead of regulatory administrations
  7. Return IP law to its small creator anti monopoly roots
  8. Support a couple of ‘international’ banks but return banking to moderate scale focus
  9. Eliminate subsidies
  10. Continue deep and wide science support with focus on stimulating commercial support like NASA’s ISS assured access program.

Both main parties need to develop their versions of this list, the massive scale, top down, big corporation supporting model both have devolved into has come to the end of its efficacy and we need to go back to our roots. Those roots are individuals acting on, in and through the small scale collective, which both Dem and Rep should be able to support. Of course the downside is that large scale pandering and petty corruption are less hide-able in such a polity.

Another example of why important stuff should NOT be left to government bureaucrats : Reports from “Humans 2 Mars Summit” suggest dust may prevent human settlement of Mars by Bob Yirka

…. perchlorates appear to be widespread on the planet’s surface. The fine dust material produced by perchloric acid has been known to cause thyroid problems in people here on Earth.
Just as problematic, … is gypsum…. been known to cause a condition similar to black lung in coal miners in people exposed to it for long periods of time.
… known presence of silicates on the Martian surface—if breathed-in they can cause reactions with water in the lungs and result in the creation of harmful chemicals.
Martian dust could pose health hazards because of the difficulty of removing it from space suits and boots. … fear the dust would build up in air filters and living quarters, adding yet another life threatening element to the list of other known hazards (traveling and landing safely, exposure to radiation and cosmic rays, etc.) for the people who seek to colonize the planet.

You can always find some pretext for why not to do something.

This sort of narrow thinking is why it the Mars colonization effort by somewhat older unworried warriors is a great idea, they will lead the way, they may die earlier…will almost certainly die earlier than they would on Earth but in the big picture they will be immortal.

I think that a commercial fly by of Mars possibly convoying with early colony equipment makes a lot of sense. Drop off a 3D printer to start fabbing buildings or building parts. The fly by would work on the tech of getting there and of living in space for long periods. Multiple (4 in a Bigelow Cross?) inflatable Bigelow modules would make a light weight but spacious habitat that one or two couples could live in for the time needed. I would boost and decelerate the complex with an earth orbital tug and have minimal onboard propulsion since its pointless mass to take with you. With the right kit of science and DIY they would keep busy doing various types of investigation the whole time.

Big picture:

  • Asteroid capture and exploitation
  • Refueling / reuse of space side craft
  • Asteroid mining for space side resources and drop side assets
  • L point science platforms with robo and human servicing
  • Low earth orbit hotel/spa/ops-center
  • 4 person large scale spacecraft flyby of Mars
  • Mars colony robot precursor landings
  • Mars colony crew of 6 to 8 no return, first Martians
  • Follow up resource flights to Mars, gradual build up of Mars colony
  • All possible in the next twenty years, tenish if we really pushed, and I think we could commercial/ kick start/survivor fund the whole bloody thing…