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David Brin tries to convince us in his book "The Transparent Society," ISBN:0738201448, that a loss of privacy is unavoidable. At the same time, he cautions us against the most obvious defense: Encryption. In a world of masks and shrouds, a world where data can be collected and correlated by illegal and expensive means, privacy will be a priviledge of the powerful. Privacy for the rest of the population will be an illusion. On the other hand, more openness, more criticism, more light in the dark would improve accountability.

Therefore, Brin proposes, transparency should be reciprocal. Let everybody be empowered to observe, to collect data, and to publish it. Let us strive for laws that enforce as much openness as possible. Make people accountable for their actions and their words.

When everybody is surveilling everybody, we will be living in glasshouses. Brin speculates that this will make us more polite and more forgiving. Eventhough we might not agree with everything we see, we won't be the first to throw stones. People in glass houses don't throw stones. This is a return to the golden rule: Do not do unto others what you would not have done to yourself. This is made possible by enabling everybody to look back. The act of observing and data collecting can itself be observed. And just as staring is frowned upon, an invading someone's privacy will be an embarassing act. Social norms will -- maybe -- regulate this behaviour.

This requires a noisy, critical, verbose, suspicious and curious society. An OpenSociety.

A potential problem lies in the uneven distribution of observation means. If an open community is visible from the outside, such as an online diaries are readable by anybody, not just by your friends, then outsiders may take advantage of this lack of privacy. As the outsiders are not living in glasshouses, they might start throwing stones.

One possible defense against attacks from outsiders considers community participation a credential by itself. Either the outsider reveals similar credentials, essentially revealing the glasshouse he himself is living in, or he denies having similar credentials. It all hinges on the question, wether belonging to a particular community is a credential or not. Choose your community wisely. You will be held accountable for it.

SiteMap / AllPages / Out / / Last change: 2001-05-01