Brin’s “Existence,” the Fermi Paradox, and the Future of Privacy

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4 Responses

  1. Adam says:

    Thanks for calling attention to this!

    I’ve been somewhat frustrated by Brin’s claims that the way to deal with the proliferation of cameras is to embrace it and surveil the powerful. My frustration is that he fails to grapple with the issue that the powerful will apply their power to exempt themselves from both surveillance and consequence.

    But I’ll give Existence a shot.

  2. Brett Bellmore says:

    The powerful obviously have some limit to their power, or you wouldn’t see progressive taxation extracting most of the cost of government from a tiny fraction of the population. The key if we take Brin’s suggestion seriously, would be to push hard for the powerful to NOT be exempt from surveillance.

  3. Jim Maloney says:

    The oft-quoted “Knowledge is power” comes to mind (although I prefer the Spanish infinitive-based version, “Saber es poder”).

    Anyway, the best means of making yourself exempt from surveillance may derive simply from knowing how to make yourself exempt from surveillance. For example, back in April 2008, when GPS tracking was being used with increasing frequency in the absence of pre-Jones warrant requirements, I ran an article (“GPS: The Dark Side”) in an alumni mag (the last issue I edited) that concluded with a picture and description of a little plug-in jammer. Plugging into a cigarette lighter receptacle or other 12V source, it simply transmits a signal on the same frequency that GPS receivers monitor for the relatively weak satellite signals, drowning them out so the unit can’t figure out where it is. (If it doesn’t know where it is, it can’t transmit that info to anyone else.)

    Sure, the powerful will probably be able to make themselves exempt. But the clever can, too, and perhaps without drawing quite so much attention to themselves. It’s the mammals and the dinosaurs all over again…

  4. Ken Arromdee says:

    “The powerful obviously have some limit to their power, or you wouldn’t see progressive taxation extracting most of the cost of government from a tiny fraction of the population.”

    In this context, government should count as part of “the powerful” (though I have no idea if Brin counts it that way.)

    And another flaw is that even if the powerful don’t take measures to actively keep surveillance from applying to them, it may end up naturally not applying to them simply because they’re powerful. If a credit card company charges me a higher interest rate because I am a Star Trek fan and statistically, Star Trek fans have a higher chance of default, that’s bad. The fact that I can also find out what show the credit card company’s CEO is a fan of won’t help; the existing power relationship means that the privacy violation only harms me.