Friday, July 07, 2006


Violet Blue nails the recent troubles between Second Life and Robert Scoble. When I read Scoble's blog report of the incident, my first thought was that his son was being monitored by his father (not to mention a room full of attendees). Um, isn't that the ideal? Parents have the right to consent to allow their children to do all sorts of things, provided that the child is in no serious danger, all precautions are taken to minimize risk, and the actions are properly supervised. Violet nails the hysteria surrounding MySpace well in her post. I would also ask, is visiting Second Life while Dad is monitoring your time more dangerous than letting your kid, say, take flying lessons or swim from Alcatraz to San Francisco? Anyhow, go read Violet's post.

Schneier points out that Canada has a Privacy Commissioner. From the Commissioner's 2001 - 2002 report:

A popular response is: "If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear."

By that reasoning, of course, we shouldn't mind if the police were free to come into our homes at any time just to look around, if all our telephone conversations were monitored, if all our mail were read, if all the protections developed over centuries were swept away. It's only a difference of degree from the intrusions already being implemented or considered.

The truth is that we all do have something to hide, not because it's criminal or even shameful, but simply because it's private. We carefully calibrate what we reveal about ourselves to others. Most of us are only willing to have a few things known about us by a stranger, more by an acquaintance, and the most by a very close friend or a romantic partner. The right not to be known against our will - indeed, the right to be anonymous except when we choose to identify ourselves - is at the very core of human dignity, autonomy and freedom.

If we allow the state to sweep away the normal walls of privacy that protect the details of our lives, we will consign ourselves psychologically to living in a fishbowl. Even if we suffered no other specific harm as a result, that alone would profoundly change how we feel. Anyone who has lived in a totalitarian society can attest that what often felt most oppressive was precisely the lack of privacy.

But there also will be tangible, specific harm.

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