The Privacy Conundrum

Column by Paul Bonneau.

Exclusive to STR

Michael Rozeff made a very lengthy blog post bemoaning the loss of privacy, here.

I sometimes wonder when people go to such lengths to get their point across. Could it be that the arm-waving indicates the position is not really all that well thought out, or that it is internally inconsistent? Aren’t simple truths, well, simple?

I should say that I certainly respect Rozeff and all he has done for liberty, but I think he has gotten a bit off the track here.

The first thing I wonder, is whether it’s that privacy is supposed to protect us, or that we are supposed to protect privacy? Or both? (Rozeff does not seem to want to make up his mind on this point.) And, if we are supposed to protect privacy, then how? By writing our Congresscritter? No doubt the government will vigorously prosecute those members of government who become a bit too vigilant! Just kidding . . . .

His only prescription appears to be, “We need the strongest possible ideas in defense of privacy.” Yeah, that’ll help.

Rozeff asserts, “Privacy is a necessity.” Why? The human race got on just fine for tens of thousands of years with essentially none. In small towns, there ain’t a lot, but think how little privacy there was in small hunting and gathering societies.

He claims, “Everyone has many things they want to keep private.” Well, perhaps, although what I’ve seen on Facebook and the idiot box makes me think that some people are quite prepared to bare all. But let’s agree there may be a few things. The remedy is to not put them out for all to see. The remedy may also be, for those things you want private because you are ashamed of them, to either stop doing those things, or get rid of your shame. Come out of the closet.

I remember back in the ‘50s when (apparently) the CIA et al took great care to prevent the hiring of homosexuals into their agencies, since such people were easy targets for blackmail and being “turned” by opposing spy agencies. Do they even bother with that any more? Did privacy really help gays back then, or was it merely a crutch, allowing them to stay in the closet longer than they should have?

Surveillance sounds scary until you realize that a human being has to sort through all the camera and microphone output, 99.999% of which is completely uninteresting. Maybe the point of surveillance is not so much to find out stuff about us, as to make us fear? And that it is successfully working to this end with Rozeff and others?

He writes, “Everyone has something to fear from government officials. Anyone can become the subject of an unwarranted case made against them for some legal matter, simply because there are so many stupid laws on the books that most of us know nothing about. Millions upon millions of people break laws that are unjust or needlessly penalize them, if only to survive, smooth out life's rough spots, lower a tax burden, buy a cigarette in a low-tax state, import something beyond the limit, have sex, drive above the speed limit, roll through a stop sign, or enjoy a drug.”

Here we get to the crux of the matter. Rozeff is still wanting to live and survive within a framework of society controlled and run by government thuggery, in a time when the thuggery is becoming more and more blatant and intolerable. Well, it can’t be done--or at any rate, we will soon find it impossible. There are no more formal, legal limits to what they do (if ever there were). We are approaching a political singularity.

This reminds me of the moaning by some gun owners that the government wants gun registration and will try any backdoor way to get it, in order to later confiscate all the guns. In fact, that too is a privacy issue--the government knowing who has the guns. But the government knowing is not really the problem, is it? The real problem is the willingness of some people to hand the guns over when the knock on the door happens. The real problem is the willingness of some people to be arrested and crammed into the state “justice system” sausage-maker.

What would you do?

I think Robert Heinlein had a clearer understanding. He wrote, "I am free, no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them; if I find them too obnoxious, I break them. I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do." He also wrote about what might come about as a result of breaking those laws: "The price of freedom is the willingness to do sudden battle, anywhere, anytime, and with utter recklessness."

Let’s not forget Mencken: “All I ask is freedom. When it is denied, as it always is, I take it anyhow.”

Privacy is a fairly modern invention, I think. It’s nice to have, but begging government for it or being distressed when they trample it is a complete waste of time. It is responding in fear, which is what the rulers want.

Buy some ammo, go out in the boonies somewhere with your battle rifle, and put in time getting some “recoil therapy.” That’s the best remedy for privacy angst.

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Paul Bonneau's picture
Columns on STR: 106


Thunderbolt's picture

Paul: You make some excellent points. I certainly share the angst of losing privacy, assuming that we ever had any. We are tested and collated from grade school onward. Now, the enemy has invaded every conceivable sphere of surveillance. I am expecting Bitcoin to destroy governments throughout the world. They will scarcely see it coming. As David B. King said, "Starve the Beast." I hope that the techies will develop an alternative internet that the enemy cannot control or destroy. Tor is a good start. I like Mullvad and Cryptohippie. If people can trade freely with an alternative currency which only increases in value, then the paradigm shift is assured. I am still hoping that STR, LRC, Prison Planet, The Online Freedom Academy, and others, will survive the coming attacks, to educate the next generation, which is very comfortable with computers.

Paul's picture

I agree with these points. I actually do use offshore VPN servers, and encryption, and use linux rather than Windows. In a sense I do it for privacy, but even more important, I do it to make life as difficult as possible for the snoops. I don't spend my time worrying about it like Rozeff does. If they can break my measures, oh well. I hope they spend a lot of man hours they cannot afford, doing it.

I also agree the techies may at least help breaking the empire (mostly it will have killed itself through debt, of course). There is an anonymous book out there, "The Lodging of Wayfaring Men" that envisioned this possibility.

Glock27's picture

Chers Paul
Frist I must get my 2cents worth in here. Snoopers. There are not snoopers. They are myths created by some troll. Where in the hell is the government going to get that kind of money to pay for all those people to sit down and look at and read all the useless s**t that goes over the internet. Yes there are snoopers Ah! I contradict myself. Maybe. There are snoopers but I have to believe they are only snooping on maybe .5 of 1 percent. Snoopers is also a news media hype to get everyone believing everyone is being watched. I am 100% convinced that you cannot believe that the government has any interest in you, Schees VPN servers, encrypton, linux. I still do not believe you are really that concerned and paronoid about the gov. You are too F*****g smart for that.

Alex R. Knight III's picture

Excellent posts, Paul and Thunderbolt.  :-)

Glock27's picture

Recoil practice. Yes! I am a gun whinner and I do as much practice and prepping regardless of what's flushed down the toilet. Gun ownership is very important, not so much as against the government but the road warriors that will come. Tear it down and they will come.

Jim Davies's picture

There was a counterpoint to Mike Rozeff's article on LRC (I've not been able to locate it again) which pointed out that Murray Rothbard stressed a property rights basis for understanding privacy.
That makes a lot of sense to me. Property rights are derived from the self-ownership axiom, so are not open to dispute; Rothbard argued that privacy rights don't exist as such, because merely appearing in public, for example, automatically surrenders a whole lot of privacy. However if the snoop spies on you by trespassing on property you own, then he's in violation.
So if the Duchess of Cambridge takes her clothes off and a telephoto lens can reveal all from a tripod outside her land, no privacy has been lost. If the photographer had trodden on her land for a better view, however, it would.
A telephone call is private property, because the caller is paying to connect to one particular respondent. A post on STR however is not (except that it belongs to our longsuffering Editor) because anyone who visits the site is invited to read it. 
Government tramples on all such ideas, of course, regardless; but I think it good to try to keep the mind straight. And for that reason I must disagree with your "Yeah, that’ll help" in response to Rozeff's “We need the strongest possible ideas in defense of privacy.” On the contrary, well reasoned ideas are precisely what will help most. Guns are fine, but ideas are far more powerful.

Paul's picture

"So if the Duchess of Cambridge takes her clothes off and a telephoto lens can reveal all from a tripod outside her land, no privacy has been lost. If the photographer had trodden on her land for a better view, however, it would."

So, you're on the border of her property. You step forward a foot with your camera, you are violating her "right"? Step back a foot, and you are not? Finding property rights in a phone conversation is even more tenuous.

These are the kind of distinctions that make conventional libertarianism sound silly. Of course it just begs the question what is going to be done to protect this "right". The state has just the thing for you. Oh, yeah, binding arbitration is the supposed non-state remedy. Let's get 15 well-paid people intervening in this "problem", that will help.

The world is much simpler than this legalistic, state-supporting nonsense. The Duchess sends the Duke out with a shotgun. A little rock salt at good velocity applied to the photographer's derrier is all that is needed.

I'm still missing the actual mechanism how ideas are going to stop state thugs doing what they can get away with. It seems the only idea needed is people who won't put up with crap and are willing to translate that idea into action. Ideas without action are worthless.

I'm a great fan of Rothbard, but he got kinda religious-sounding when it came to "rights". Here is what property rights really boil down to:

Jim Davies's picture

Yes, Paul, the foot over or not over the property line is exactly the difference between violating a property right and not doing so. That you should confuse this rather basic principle with "state-supporting nonsense" is breathtaking.
In the first place the state prohibits all rights to property, by making its occupation contingent on the payment of an annual tax. Second, freedom - a free society - is indissolubly linked with justice, and a proper, free market justice system will necessarily deal with borders from time to time.  Once again, Paul, I have to wonder whether you have the slightest clear idea of what a free society is all about.
That impression is compounded by your puerile "solution" to the Duchess' recent embarassment: to send the Duke out with a shotgun to pepper the picturetaker's rump with rock salt.
You claim to be a "great fan of Rothbard."  If he were still with us and read that, I am pretty sure he would disown you.

Paul's picture

You clearly don't understand Rothbard at all. Rather than disowning me, he'd debate me, with a smile on his face.

"...freedom - a free society - is indissolubly linked with justice, and a proper, free market justice system will necessarily deal with borders from time to time."

As will a shotgun with rock salt. Both will take place in whatever society humans are capable of coming up with. I don't need "the new Soviet man" to get society to work, like you do. I accept humans with all their foibles, and don't seek perfection in something that can never be perfect.

Jim Davies's picture

Possibly you didn't misunderstand Rothbard as profoundly as you certainly misunderstand me, Paul: but I deeply resent your allegation that my vision for liberating society owes anything to a "new Soviet man."
Two grounds: (a) I (at least) do grasp that Communism is diametrically opposed to liberty, and (b) the system of education I helped design, far from requiring any change at all to human nature, helps lead students to realize and enjoy the human nature they already have.
The extent of your confusion is so huge, given that both these points have had ample exposure on the pages of STR, that I am drawn ever more confidently to the conclusion that it is deliberate. I have a very hard time believing that anyone could be so stupid and blind as to get there by accident.

Glock27's picture

You ever meet a criminal or mass murderer you can share ideas with over not shooting you but someone else?

Jim Davies's picture

There's another concern I have about your article, Paul: you wrote "But the government knowing is not really the problem, is it? The real problem is the willingness of some people to hand the guns over when the knock on the door happens. The real problem is the willingness of some people to be arrested and crammed into the state “justice system” sausage-maker."
Correct the impression by all means, but the one this gave me is that you favor resisting gun grabbers when they come from the government to grab guns. You deride both "handing them over" and submitting to arrest.
That caused me to wonder which of the overall objectives, reviewed in my recent 464 Lost Years, might be yours. The best fit may be "to earn a martyr's crown." Engaging a government hit squad in a firefight is a certain way to gain immediate entrance to libertarian heaven, albeit riddled with bullet holes and covered with blood as well as glory. But there's another possibility: that you have no such objective, but are rather a government agent provocateur, mentioned in its seventh paragraph.
Between those, I'm quite undecided.

Paul's picture

There are now two ways to detect government provocateurs. The first is to find the guy willing to initiate violence, advocating going out and blowing up things. The second is to find the guy making the first accusation that SOMEONE ELSE is a provocateur.

Still though, I thought you were distressed at ad hominems? Or is your distress only when someone else does it?

I suggest we drop this line of discussion right here and now. It's not going anywhere useful.

As to the rest of it, is there anything you will fight and die for, Jim? I truly want to know. My response will differ, depending on whether your answer is yes or no.

Jim Davies's picture

You're a good wordsmith, Paul, but here's what you've actually done:

1. Frequently, you've encouraged STReaders to own firearms. Excellent advice.

2. In your present article, you told us that privacy is no big deal and that specifically relating to guns, "the government knowing is not really the problem, is it?"

So far then, you advise that we arm ourselves but don't worry much if government knows about it. Then

3. You pour scorn on those who are "[willing] to hand the guns over when the knock on the door happens" and are "[willing] to be arrested and crammed into the state 'justice system' sausage-maker" when government turns up to confiscate those weapons. Thus, you counsel refusing to surrender the guns, and refusal to submit to arrest.

Net result: a countryside scattered with the bodies of those who take your advice.

I cannot tell whether you have done this under government orders. But your actions are perfectly consistent with those of an agent provocateur. It would be a neat scheme, to kill off in this way a whole set of people whose aim is to strike at the root of government.

You are a dangerous man, Paul Bonneau. Mr Editor, please take note.

Paul's picture

Ah, I noticed you neglected to answer my simple question, Jim. Again, is there anything you would fight and die for? After you answer it, I will take up your other points - even the absurd ones.

Jim Davies's picture

On the face of it as proven above, Paul, you are probably an agent of the government. I am therefore not interested in either your questions or your excuses.

Paul's picture

Jim, you are pretty comfortable with innuendo, as well as ad hominem, it seems.

According to Stephen Downes:
...argumentum ad hominem is a fallacy of "changing the subject". He continues, "Proof: Identify the attack and show that the character or circumstances of the person has nothing to do with the truth or falsity of the proposition being defended."

You earlier stated, " favor resisting gun grabbers when they come from the government to grab guns." I was attempting to develop an argument why this is a logical thing to do, by first asking you if there is anything you would fight or die for. Instead of answering a simple yes or no question, you changed the subject and then refused to answer. As noted by Downes, the government employment status of either of us has nothing to do with the argument in question; the argument is still a valid one even if one of us is a government employee.

Since you refuse, I will simply develop my argument in another article.

As to the rest of it, I earlier suggested it would be a good idea to stop these accusations. You clearly have not taken my suggestion. Personally I have had my doubts about you ever since your article making the case that all libertarians and anarchists should get on the government dole; in fact it was that article that caused me to write my first article for Strike-the-Root:

However, I kept my mouth shut about my opinion of you, since I prefer to address your arguments directly rather than indulge in ad hominems or get into a bout of name-calling.

Since you are not reticent about that sort of thing, I have a final suggestion. The both of us should present our cases to Rob, the site owner. Either privately or publicly, it doesn't matter to me. You can try to convince him, using your documentable history and mine, and the positions we take on articles, that I am a provocateur and you are not. I will do the reverse. And whichever one Rob finds less convincing, gets evicted from Strike-the-Root. Agreed?

Jim Davies's picture

Yes, willingly agreed.
Further, I give you an advantage: there are some reasons I could add to those already given, but I'll not bother; those in are ample.
Rob, please get this guy out of here.

Glock27's picture

I did not get that from Pauls article. Maybe we weren't reading the same one? But. Gun Grabber, LEO, Military or Guard I'll blow his F*****g head off if I can. They will take my firearms when I lay dead. "Lier, lier!" Nope! I am of the age I just don"t give a S**t. If need be I would stand by your side and shoot back should it come to that. I don't look for it because of the Constitution everyone here holds so grudgingly. It is not perfect because the F*****g legislators won't follow it.

Glock27's picture

Paul, Jim is not going to answer that. Maybe he has nothing he is willing to give his life for, maybe he does but that's a mute point. You must take up the other points-even the absurd ones. Why. Because everyone on this site deserves to know and assess for themselves. Failure to do so violates the principles and values of this site. If some one is wrong and you are absolutely sure they are then you must correct the ill fated information so that it does not spread rot throughout the whole community. Remember. You are dong it for us, not him.

With all due respect to both gentelmen.
Choose your weapons and carefully.