09 August 2012

Privacy, efficiency and the police state

Watch this video to understand why citizens need to be far more vigilant in protecting their privacy, as technology now makes it much easier for governments to track you and trace your activities.



Then consider a political battle to require that voters show "state-issued" ID before they can vote in the US. This policy, ironically, is NOT aimed at providing more information on citizens to the government but at increasing the cost of voting, to make it harder for poor citizens to vote.

But both of these examples touch on an interesting topic: how much should the government know about us? In the US, there's a long-standing policy of minimizing government knowledge of citizens that's based on:
  1. Paranoia that the State will track us and harm us.
  2. An historical dislike of a strong central government
  3. Religious beliefs that identification numbers signal a return of the anti-Christ (!)
The real facts contradict each of these fears:
  1. The US government already tracks us -- not for our "safety" as much as their control. Recall those articles on the size of the "secrecy-industrial complex" and read Seeing like a State.
  2. The US federal government is not as "strong" as European governments, but those governments often have stronger privacy laws and protections.
  3. The Bible (and other religious books) are works of man, neither truth nor prophesy.
I've often heard the story of how the Dutch system of registration and identification made it easy for the occupying Nazis to track down and kill Jews during World War II, but that story does not apply to the US for several reasons:
  • Nobody has invaded the US in over 200 years.
  • The government is tracking us already. What we need is protection from THOSE practices.
  • Laws (for privacy or banning identification) do not work with incompetent or corrupt politicians.
  • We already have way too much information available and vulnerable to abuse. Just follow the news on password and privacy breaches at various websites.
This situation leads me to conclude that
  1. Privacy should be a form of property that we control. Neither the government nor business has the right to our information without our explicit permission.
  2. National identification numbers are STILL a good idea, as they make it easier to open bank account, register for welfare, vote, etc.
  3. The penalties for abuse of privacy should be huge: millions of $, jail time, etc.
Bottom Line: We are people, but we need to be able to interact with strangers. State-issued national identification makes legitimate interactions easier, but it also facilitates abuse. We can only prevent that with institutions that put citizens' rights ahead of the incursions of the State.

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