The Right to Privacy: Not Really a Right, Nor Do We Have Privacy at the Moment Anyways

I’ve previously stated that I’m not sure that we have a constitutional right to privacy. This is not new; Robert Bork, among others, also maintained this view. I have various reasons for this, mostly pragmatic and literalistic.

As an example of the latter reason, I quote from a letter to the editor of

United States citizens have the right to express themselves without being subjected to reprisal. As such, nothing in the U.S. Constitution states that people cannot be monitored. What it does indicate is that the Federal and State governments will not interfere with the lawful communication and protests of the people, and these governments must protect these rights.

Not to say that I approve of the NSA monitoring US citizens without judicial order. The Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures, and the NSA runs foul of that, no matter what powers the executive branch thinks it may have. But, pragmatically, this is going to get harder and harder to stop. If I have something to say privately, I’ll say it using the best encryption I can get. Since this is a wonderfully entrepreneurial nation, I expect that the first person to make that encryption as unobtrusive and easy to use as possible will make a fair pile of Hamiltons.

You know how your dad used to spend several hours per week maintaining the lawn, or waxing the car? You’re going to have to spend several hours a week maintaining your privacy and identity.

January 18th, 2006 | Current, Identity, Next, Security | 5 comments

Questions on a Tuesday

I’m back, and ready to begin the 2006 blogging campaign. We’ll catch up with other things later. For now, I have some questions.

First Question.

What ever happened to distributed peer-based digital signatures and public keys using webs of trust? I am reading The Code Book, and today at lunch hit the chapter on the development of public-key crypto and the saga of Phil Zimmerman. I remember quite a fuss in the mid-90s about cypherpunks bootstrapping a decentralized trusted-key infrastructure. It seems quite relevant and do-able today. Has that project met demise and failed to get off?

Next question.

Has anybody done thinking on the epistemological criteria of encryption systems? Is there a formulation for knowledge wandering around which includes encryption? The history of crypto has seen a succession of knowledge-claims about the unbreakability of systems, and a matching set of persuasive counter-examples. Is there work in this area of philosophy? Additionally, what is the status of encrypted information? Is it knowledge, and what affect does the encryption state have on status?

Last question.

In day-to-day practice, I’ve supplanted my previous criteria for precise knowledge (being able to ask a good enough question that I can get a useful answer from someone knowledgeable) with the criteria “be able to formulate a Google search query which returns the desired information.” Is that wrong? What is the qualitative difference between the two?

Please answer below, or in trackbacks. I exist to be enlightened by someone other than myself.

January 3rd, 2006 | Computer, Information, Next, Philosophy, Science, Security, Technology | 3 comments