Openness and Privacy

I’m straying very close to … perhaps even over … the line that I’ve drawn for this web site with this article. It’s supposed to be exclusively for ZiCC people and this article starts with an incident in international current events. But before you burn me in the fires of hypocrisy, read the whole thing.

The news today (New York Times: Two Providers of Secure E-Mail Shut Down) concerns two email service bureaus who have both decided to adopt a tactic of scorched earth in the face of government demands that they turn over emails. According to the Times:

Mike Janke, Silent Circle’s chief executive, said in a telephone interview late Thursday that his company had destroyed its server. “Gone. Can’t get it back. Nobody can,” he said. “We thought it was better to take flak from customers than be forced to turn it over.”

The predictable response in the comments section was full of outrage over the government’s unconscionable invasions of privacy. One message claimed that the world George Orwell predicted in his novel 1984 had finally arrived.

As a card carrying liberal, I beg to disagree

Let’s start with 1984. Big Brother, the oppressive ruler in Orwell’s book, maintains absolute control by destroying information, not exposing it. The job of the hero of the book, Winston Smith, is to ferret out every scrap of information and eliminate it. The element that makes the people slaves is not lack of privacy, it’s unequal privacy. Big Brother has privacy. Winston Smith doesn’t.

Who can doubt that Nixon would have been brought low (as he richly deserved to be) without the invasion of the secrecy of his private office? The lies of the VietNam War were exposed by Daniel Ellsberg (“the Pentagon Papers”) and the incident was one of the factors that finally brought that disastrous war to a close. And, closer to today, the Cleveland kidnapper Castro was able to rob three young women of ten years of their lives BECAUSE he enjoyed personal privacy.

Our current administration (and the previous one too) claims that the unprecedented invasion of OUR privacy is necessary because we’re in the fight of our lives against a terrorist enemy that knows no bounds. I believe them.

Real Privacy

My liberal brothers-and-sisters-in-arms generally consider me to be a turncoat and a traitor because I refuse to condemn the administration’s invasions of our privacy. In the Book of John, Jesus said, “the truth will make you free.” I thoroughly agree. But Jesus brushes past the question, “Whose truth?” Unless we have complete access to everybody’s version of the truth, there is no hope of being able to decide. I’ve thought about this quite a bit and I have decided that our cause, the liberal cause, depends on relentless exposure of information, not making it easier to cover it up. We have no justification for excepting ourselves. As a computer professional, I have concluded that any thought or hope of real privacy disappeared when the first CD-ROM was invented. Like so many other things in this Brave New World (from Orwell’s bookend, Aldous Huxley), real privacy may simply be impossible now, if indeed it ever was possible. The emails that were on Silent Circle’s servers undoubtedly exist on other servers even though they’re encrypted. And encryption can be broken. We’re all naked now. Get used to it.

Bringing it on home

One of the most surprising things I have discovered is that the desire to be, and to remain, private, runs long and strong in ZiCC. As I have preached in a different article, even our local government officials have an intense desire to do the public business in private, even though the law clearly forbids it. (This is not a condemnation. It’s an explanation. I have nothing but the highest respect for ALL of the people I have worked with and have come to know.)

I started this website as an attempt to break through this barrier and get people talking to each other again in a public and accountable way. People talk to each other a lot now. At the post office. In private emails and phone calls. In closed offices. But nobody wants to stand up in public and talk to all of their neighbors at once.

But then, maybe I’ve got it all wrong. If you disagree, let us know.

This entry was posted in ZiCC Government and Administration on by .

About Dan Mabbutt

I was introduced to Zion Canyon as a teenager working for Utah Parks Company at Zion Lodge. (See my Zion Park Centennial writing contest winning essays "Zion Lodge Stories" here under "About ZiCC".) I bought land here as soon as I could and moved here after a career misspent in corporate data processing. Springdale and the Zion Canyon Community is special and this website is my contribution to the strength and unity of the community.

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