Privacy and security

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Privacy is part of nature

Privacy is important for the survival of many species, including humans. Predators actively seek to keep their existence, location or intentions private in order to enhance their chances of catching prey. Prey animals seek to keep their location or existence private in order to avoid predators. Among primates and other species that have dominant males, females will conceal mating activity with non-alpha males in the group to avoid retribution. Privacy is an inheritable trait that is subject to natural selection, and enhances the changes of survival for many animals.

Humans, as animals, also use privacy to enhance their security and survival. We use it both defensively and offensively. For example, people keep their personal financial information private to protect against fraud. Collectively, we keep certain information about our military defenses private. Privacy is absolutely essential for security, both individually and collectively.

Privacy is completely normal. Privacy is needed.

Privacy and government

How do we integrate privacy within our legal framework?

People have a right to self-defense and privacy is a key component of that right. Individual privacy is a right which should not be infringed.

In governement, however, the opposite is true. Transparency is essential for our democracy to function. Transparency is required to assure the integrity of government and allow people to make informed decisions about how to govern themselves. Those who choose to represent our interests and perform government functions on our behalf understand that the activities they perform are open to the public. For our elected representatives, even their private lives are subject to disclosure because the integrity of government is so important. Privacy in government should be avoided.

Individual privacy is desired; privacy in government is not.

However, when we form societies, we give up a small portion of our rights (see John Locke, et al), including part of our privacy. We voluntarily provide information about ourselves to facilitate relationships and trade, and we provide the governemnt with a limited amount of information when we interact with it. For example, we provide our name and other contact information to facilitate communication; we disclose where we live to show that we are voting in the right jurisdiction; we provide information about real property we own when deeds are recorded publicly. In these situations privacy is voluntarily reduced to facilitate some specific purpose.

In governemt, to help provide for our common defense, government transparency is attenuated for some functions. For example, the identities of our undercover agents are kept private to facilitate gathering intelligence on our advisaries; the location and capabilities of certain weapons are kept private to protect them and enhance their effectiveness. Because individual privacy and government transparency are such key components of our democracy, those few circumstances in which individual privacy and governement transparency must be reduced should be kept at a minimum. The conditions and criterion for those rare cases must be voluntary, narrowly construed, and checked with mechanisims to prevent abuse.

Probabilities and specifics

There is another situation where privacy is abridged: when there is probable cause that a crime has or will be committed. Search warrants are issued when it is more likely than not that a specific person has committed a crime. A warrant must specify a particular object to search for so as to prevent wholesale stripping of the right to privacy. A search warrant is the only situation in which the right to privacy is involuntarily abridged by government under our highest law.

When there is wrongdoing in a private function of government, the privacy of that government function is opened up as necessary to allow investigation, procecution and public examination. This is necessary to prevent future violations and to preserve the integrity of our government and democracy.

Another aspect of privacy to consider when evaluating public policy is the effect on our culture. Our highest law assumes innocence. This is done for multiple reasons, but one very important reason is because of the effect the policy has on our culture. The assumption of innocence has a positive effect a person's attitude. Cultural attitudes and resulting behaviors are driven by societies expectations. That is, if society expects that people will follow the law, people will see that expectation as the norm of behavior and therefore more people will follow the law. When expectations are higher, when the bar is set higher, behavior follows.

It has been proposed that we give more power to the government to invade the privacy of Americans in the name of security; in essence, to assume guilt among those whom we have no suspicion. If we were to change the assumption of innocence in our handling of privacy, i.e., if we were to allow government to invade privacy when there is no probable cause of guilt, then the general expectation of society is shifted. The expectation would be that people do not follow the law and behavior would follow that expectation -- more people would break the law.

The result of that proposed policy -- in addition to eroding individual security -- would be to actually cause an increase in crime among the general population; the opposite of the intention of the policy change. This is one of the reasons why countries that have imposed draconian invasions of privacy still have crime.

Triggering a civil war

Another possible adverse affect of the governement seizing more power by abridging individual rights is to push those people who are on the edge of active revolution to take action. Domestic terrorism would increase as a result, again the opposite of the intention of the proposed change in policy.

Our security is strengthened when we have unity. Our unity is defined by our common values; and the primary value that all Americans share is Freedom. It's what America is all about. Policies that reduce Freedom erode our unity and ultimately weaken our security, both individually and collectively.

See also

The security of privacy

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