Thursday, June 15, 2006

should they watch us?

"If you aren't doing anything wrong, what do you have to hide?"

Wired News: The Eternal Value of Privacy -- Bruce Schneier

Bush wants to allow NSA rights to perform wiretaps without subpoenas (Link), and a lot of people have a problem with the pro-wiretap argument above.  In his article, Schneier argues that there are good reasons to dislike these arbitrary wiretaps without being a criminal.

Further discussion on this article takes place in its comments, and on other blogs as well.  I found the discussion in the comments at Concurring Opinions quite interesting. (The article itself is well thought out).

"... I have three secrets. But I wander the yard in my nightgown and I don't care if the government listens to me gripe about my daughter in law. You could hear it, too, if you want.

I suppose I'm sort of unique in that my life is an open book, but still, why would the government care to look in my window? They're looking for specific stuff and if they think I'm that interesting, more power to them. You're probably not that interesting, either.

There's a bunch of "french engineers" however, down the street, who come and go, and sometimes they are different "french engineers." I'm thinking terrorists. I'd down with tapping their phones.

Posted by: annegb at May 24, 2006 11:40 AM"

Concurring Opinions: Is there a Good Response to the "Nothing to Hide" Argument?

The problem I have with the wiretapping is the automated or seemingly arbitrary "violation" detection.  Like the problems discussed with the no-fly list errors, similar things can easily happen with wiretaps.  I see this as more severe than, yet similar to the speed-trap cameras.  Some areas have automatic cameras that take photos of your car when you're speeding, then send it to the police.  You later get a ticket in the mail.  It's all automated -- and that's my gripe.  I usually don't exceed the speed limit (too much), but when I do there is usually a good reason.  Sometimes people need the more trivial laws overlooked to make life more tolerable.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying people should get away with murder, but we don't want to be living in a police state -- a society where law dictates everyone's behavior instead of protecting safety and liberty of its subjects.

One part of Schneier's article that hits home talks about how just the possibility can change how we live:

How many of us have paused during conversation in the past four-and-a-half years, suddenly aware that we might be eavesdropped on? [...] Maybe the topic was terrorism, or politics, or Islam. We stop suddenly, momentarily afraid that our words might be taken out of context, [...] But our demeanor has changed, and our words are subtly altered.

Back to the camera issue -- what if something is miscalibrated?  What else could they be doing with the camera?  Perhaps my state has a seatbelt law -- they might use similar cameras to take photos of my car and fine me if I'm not wearing a seatbelt.  What if the camera catches me on the cell phone? How far can they look in my car to find something wrong?  I'm sure if my life was scrutinized carefully, anyone could find something illegal. 

Wiretapping extends into peoples homes, which are traditionally considered off-limits to law enforcement unless they have a just cause (and subpoena) to peek.  Maybe I like to serve wine to my 16-year-old son with dinner.  Maybe I like to soak in my back-yard hot-tub naked.  These are liberties that I enjoy -- simple things like this make our country great -- and it could change if we let them scrutinize everything we do, finding out how each of us is a criminal.

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