Surveillance, privacy rights, and the 4th Amendment

"Why do you care if we watch you if you have nothing to hide?" This is a tough question to answer, but it's not even clear if this is the right question, or a fair one.

Privacy rights are not mentioned in the Constitution, but it's hard not to take that as the gist of the 4th Amendment:

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

I think it has something to do with not setting up an antagonistic relationship between the state and the individual. There is a tacit agreement that perfect enforcement of the law is not always desirable. This is, at least in part, the point of Orwell's _1984_. Enforcement should require effort on the part of the state. (This is why I don't like cameras at intersections and why the public would never allow speed monitors on cars (which would automatically deduct cash from your bank account when you cross the speed limit).)

It's not that I think that speeding laws are bad, or even that I shouldn't follow the law. It's just that I am human and I know that means I will make mistakes. The requirement that another fallable human being must be there to pursue 'justice' is a good one - there is a certain balance. It also means that I don't have to live up to a machine's (impossible) standards.

(Interestingly, I would be more in favor of speed-limited cars than automatic fines. At least you're not given the rope to hang yourself with. It would be draconian and wrong, but automatic fines are sneakily evil. It's the state saying "we know you will mess up, and when you do we will profit from your weakness.")

The wiki article on privacy is a good one, but it doesn't specifically address the annoying pro-invasion-of-privacy argument above. The closest it comes is when it says that "information is power, and so information can be used to dominate the individual." But it's not clear in what way.

I need to think some more about this. Ah, here is another article, written in 1890, that is quite lucid. I find it interesting that the technology of concern of that period was the photograph and the newspaper!

No comments: