“Nowadays to be intelligible is to be found out.” — Oscar WildeIn the wacky world of American politics, if you as an employer have a religious objection to paying for your employees’ contraceptives, it is you who is contemptuous of religious freedom.As the New York Times editorial board lectured a judge who thinks otherwise, “the […]
Socialism is the big lie of the 20th century. While it promised prosperity, equality, and security, it delivered poverty, misery, and tyranny. Equality was achieved only in the sense that everyone was equal in his or her misery.In the same way that a Ponzi scheme or chain letter initially succeeds but eventually collapses, socialism may […]
Six months ago, I stepped out from the shadows of the United States Government’s National Security Agency to stand in front of a journalist’s camera. I shared with the world evidence proving some governments are building a worldwide surveillance system to secretly track how we live, who we talk to, and what we say. I […]
I opened a new bottle of probiotics this morning, and it had one of those circular seals on the top. You know, the one that reads, “Sealed for your protection.”And that seal got me thinking… how much protection do we need? How much security is enough?How much homogenization, pasteurization, disinfection, national security, etc…. do we […]
Last spring, Barack Obama told the graduating class of Ohio State University:“Unfortunately, you’ve grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s at the root of all our problems… They’ll warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices. Because […]
In the Huffington Post last week, Glenn Greenwald, Slate contributor Ryan Gallagher, and Ryan Grim had an investigative piece reporting that the NSA had been tracking the online porn-viewing habits of several Muslim leaders whom it viewed as radicals. A top-secret document shows that the agency was considering exposing these firebrands’ Internet dalliances as a […]
Americans are still trying to get a handle on the full extent of the government’s domestic spying activities, including the recent revelation that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been collecting and storing the email address books of ordinary Americans using online messaging services. Many users of such services are looking to tech executives for […]
A few months ago at a demonstration against the president of Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway, a Canadian citizen made the following claim: “We don’t have guns, we are not Americans, we are civilized.” A few days before, in early July, a train of the company had run away and exploded in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing […]
From the Tongue-In-Cheek Department of Laissez Faire Books…Washington, D.C. — Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, announced that her committee will hold a “major review into all intelligence-collection programs.” This surprising declaration followed the revelation, through documents leaked by government whistle-blower Edward Snowden, that the NSA has been listening to the […]
From the Tongue-in-Cheek Department of Laissez Faire Books…Washington, D.C. – The complex negotiations aimed at bringing a long-term solution to the federal government’s expenditure and debt problem have produced an unconventional proposal. “Although the solution only focuses on a tiny fraction of government expenditures,” declared President Barack Obama, “it is a step in the right […]
I’ve just spent a harrowing weekend reflecting on Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, the pamphlet that came out in January 1776 and turned the public toward seeking independence from Britain. I say harrowing because the distance between the ideals found in this pamphlet and those of today’s America is so vast as to be nearly unrecognizable.The […]
It was a wild ride last week in the world of the Deep Web, that section of the Internet that requires special tools to access. The feds took down the site called Silk Road and claim to have arrested its founder and administrator. The news streams were filled with lurid tales of derring-do in this […]
Want to know just how invasive the state is going to get in the United States?Well, take a look across the pond.In terms of the large, invasive state, we English are way ahead of you guys. We’re a good 50 or more years further down the road to serfdom.Nineteenth-century Britain was about as glorious a […]
A tense drama unfolded this week with the virtual shutdown of vital government agencies: the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the National Labor Relations Board, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, as well as many other such federal agencies. Without them, the Founding Fathers could not have imagined the republic.Even if fewer […]
Three months after Edward Snowden’s leaks began to reveal the extent of the U.S.’ mass surveillance program, “serious people” are beginning to make the case that it’s time for the outrage and indignation to subside and give way to a “national conversation” about the future of surveillance. So has the moment come for us to […]
A sixth-grader has been suspended for drawing an inappropriate picture. The drawing did not include any gun, but showed a checkpoint backed up by a SWAT team carrying flower pots while an unarmed drone hovered above.The suspended girl, whose name is kept secret at the request of her family, said she “just wanted to draw […]
The second part of this two-part article reveals an untold part of the story about how they were stopped last time. And shows how, if not again stopped, how it could lead to a fundamental loss of civil rights and freedom on the Internet.The offending legislation was barreling down the track, seemingly — even in […]
Two years ago, Hollywood, no kidding, masterminded a plot to, in effect, steal the Internet (by criminalizing certain conduct, booby trapping the Web in ways that few non-mega-corporations could cope with). There are signs, as perceptively flagged by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, that the perps are back at it. We should care.This two-part article reveals […]
It has now been nearly two centuries since French political scientist Alexis de Tocqueville visited America and compared American democracy to the French variety. The Martian asked his Earth correspondent to redo the comparison.The typical Frenchman thinks that Paris is the center of the universe, life without a baguette is not worth living, France is […]
I was at the Canadian border, headed toward the freedom that exists a few feet beyond the last security check. I was gently waved down a side corridor.Ninety minutes later, I was let go, but not before something truly alarming happened. I’m pretty sure that the Canadian government captured a mirrored version of my smartphone […]
Fort Meade, MD – The United States, the least unfree country on Earth, is fighting a major invasion of the Blueshirts.The most visible Blueshirts constitute a 50,000-plus army that occupies all the airports in America. Recognizable by their blue shirts and their inquisitive eyes and hands, they search and humiliate all Americans trying to leave […]
Sometimes, the news of the day causes me to say, “Huh?” The New York Times revelations last month about NSA programs and activities to enhance the agency’s ability to spy on ordinary citizens prompts today’s “Huh?” Who knew that our every phone call, Internet post and tweet is being recorded by the government?I have operated […]
U.S. and British intelligence agencies have successfully cracked much of the online encryption relied upon by hundreds of millions of people to protect the privacy of their personal data, online transactions and emails, according to top-secret documents revealed by former contractor Edward Snowden.The files show that the National Security Agency and its UK counterpart GCHQ […]
Oh, how the media love a good strike. Look at these fast-food workers and peasants standing up to the owners of capital! They aren’t going to take the oppression anymore. The suits in the boardrooms had better shape up and stop hoarding all that money. They need to give it up to the men and […]
Like all great historical ideas, the project of licensing journalists so that they may benefit from the First Amendment was born in a very modest place. In fact, it began in the most modest of all places: the brain of Dianne Feinstein, U.S. senator from California.The new law, which was just adopted by Congress and […]
The position that there need be a state is too often taken for granted.The main body of Sartwell’s book Against the State is dedicated to destroying the arguments for a state from the likes of Hobbes, Rousseau and Hegel. In fact, one thing that becomes crystal clear in reading Sartwell’s book is how bad the […]
Crispin Sartwell is someone you should know. He is doing important work in recovering forgotten greats in America’s anti-authoritarian tradition. Among other works, he’s put forward a lean and powerful book titled Against the State.In what follows, you’ll see why he’s my favorite living philosopher. Sartwell will take you on an intellectual tour de force […]
“I Lived. I Died. Now Mind Your Own Business.” That’s how I want my tombstone to read.
What do I have to hide? Everything! Which is to say, every piece of personal information someone demands to know is something I don’t want to tell because no one has the right to demand access to my life.
The right to privacy rests largely on a presumption of innocence. It assumes that — in the absence of evidence of wrongdoing — an individual has a right to shut his front door and tell other people (including government) to mind their own business.
Today this assumption has been twisted inside out so that a desire for privacy means you have something to hide. You are expected to prove your innocence by revealing every financial transaction, by filling in pages of government paperwork, by allowing state agents to frisk your person and property when you board a plane or enter a public building. These invasions rest upon the presumption of guilt.
Privacy is also is the single most effective means of preserving freedom against an encroaching state. The act of closing your front door expresses the key distinction between the private and public spheres.
The private sphere consists of the areas of life over which you, as a peaceful human being, exert absolute authority and into which the government or any other uninvited party cannot properly intrude. Traditionally, the home or family is viewed as the private sphere. But it also includes the food you eat, your sex life, the books you read, your opinions of life.
The public sphere consists of the civic duties you owe to others. In a free society, these duties include paying your bills, respecting the equal rights of all, and living up to contracts. In the current society, a set of designed duties require you to pay ruinous taxes, to restrain your own rights, and abide by a mushrooming mass of laws.
The Austrian economist Murray N. Rothbard expressed what he considered to be the central political issue confronting mankind when he wrote, “My own basic perspective on the history of man…is to place central importance on the great conflict which is eternally waged between Liberty and Power.”
Historically, privacy has stood on the side of Liberty as a bulwark between the individual and government, between freedom and social control.
Imagine a world in which you do not report your income; there are no government forms or census data; registration of everything from birth to marriage is optional; no permission is needed to open a business or travel abroad. Imagine a world in which personal data is private.
How could the tax man collect money without knowing your income or address? How could the military draft your children into war without knowing where to find them at home or at school? How could the censor punish your reading habits when no record exists of which books you buy? The machinery of the state is paralyzed without information about who you are.
Information has always empowered the state. On his infamous 1864 march through Georgia, General William Tecumseh Sherman used county maps with information about livestock and crops in order to loot and pillage more efficiently.
After the 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor, the American military used census data to locate Japanese-Americans and herd them into detention camps. The IRS has routinely compared the names on foreign government lists to those on its own in order to locate ‘hidden’ assets.
The difference today is the higher efficiency of data collection due to technology. Most people’s employment, financial, medical, military, educational, housing, marital, telephone, travel, internet, automobile, and family records are now stored or easily accessed by government.
It is no coincidence that statist governments are renowned for wiretapping, surveillance, identification papers, informants, secret police and censorship. The control of information throughout society is akin to the control of blood flow through a body; it is vital to functioning.
And, so, today’s governments are intent on completely identifying everyone, like a miser taking inventory of his possessions. This has always been the case. In 1889, in a speech before the International Penitentiary Congress, France’s prison director Louis Herbette advocated fingerprinting in order “to fix the human personality, to give to each human being an identity, an individuality which can be depended upon with certainty, lasting, unchangeable, always recognisable and easily adduced…”
The difference today is technology…and the active co-operation of businesses like Facebook and Google, who curry government favor by catering to all requests for information. Technology converts the collection of data into an art form.
At this point it is useful to take a ‘time out’ to assert that the collection of data and issuance of documents can be a valid function of a free society. Quite apart from facilitating social control, identifying (IDing) people can function as a free market mechanism of authentication. It authenticates those who should have access to bank accounts, property titles, or inheritance; it certifies people as being skilled, for example as a thoracic surgeon. But this authentication does not involve exploring their bank accounts, sexual preferences, reading habits, travel plans, and political beliefs.
In asserting its superior claim over any free-market function of identifying people, the state does not outlaw competition; the state merely renders the free-market function irrelevant. The state makes its ID a de facto condition for functioning well in daily life.
The state and its documentation have become the only way for a person to “prove” his or her identity and, thus, to access the basic rights and ‘niceties’ of life. The “unidentified” human being cannot board a plane or train, nor drive a car. He cannot open a bank account, cash a check, take a job, attend school, get married, rent a video (let alone an apartment), or buy a house. The unidentified person is a second-class citizen to whom the government closes off much of life and almost all opportunity to advance through labor, education or entrepreneurship.
Meanwhile, those who are “identified” by the state are vulnerable to having their bank accounts frozen, their access to healthcare denied, credit cards canceled, wages garnished, records subpoenaed. To become known to the state is to become vulnerable to a myriad of invasions that come from the government knowing exactly where and how to find you.
Those who resist being inventoried present a problem for the state. The first line of statist attack is to accuse them of being “suspicious” — that is, of having criminal or shameful reasons for refusing to answer questions.
“If you have nothing to hide …” the remark begins; it always ends with a demand for compliance. Invoking privacy has gone from being the exercise of a right to an indication of guilt.
This is a sleight of hand by which privacy is redefined as “concealment” or “secrecy”; of course, it is neither. It is merely a request for the personal to remain personal. As well as enabling freedom, privacy is part of a healthy, self-reflecting life.
Consider one example: Since childhood I’ve kept a diary into which I pour my hopes, my doubts, my disappointments and desires. When I read them, I can still viscerally feel who I was at ten years old, and this makes me understand who I am today. I don’t share these diaries, not because I am ashamed of them, but because they are personal. They are for me alone, for my eyes, my reflection — and not for anyone else.
Everyone has areas of utter privacy to protect. Some people wear lockets containing photos of deceased relatives; others daydream about a forbidden love; still other people lock the door while luxuriating in a hot bubble bath; or, perhaps, they write a love letter that is meant for one other set of eyes only. These acts are a line drawn between the private and public sphere; they constitute a boundary over which no other human being can rightfully cross without invitation.
If a neighbor reads takes it upon himself to read letters in your mailbox or copies down the details of deposits in a bankbook he has ‘encountered’ in your desk drawer, you would feel violated and enraged by the invasion. What is wrong for your neighbor to do is also wrong for a government agent to do because there is only one standard of morality. Theft is theft, invasion is invasion. You have the right to slam the door on the face of anyone who says differently. A peaceful human being owes no debt to any other person.
Hold the state up to the same standard as your neighbors…because there are no double standards of right and wrong. Privacy is a right, not an admission of guilt. Your identity properly belongs to you…not to the state.