FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Phony Trade-Off Between Privacy and Security

by SHELDON RICHMAN

Most people take it for granted — because they’ve heard it so many times from politicians and pundits — that they must trade some privacy for security in this dangerous world. The challenge, we’re told, is to find the right “balance.” Let’s examine this.

On its face the idea seems reasonable. I can imagine hiring a firm to look after some aspect of my security. To do its job the firm may need some information about me that I don’t readily give out. It’s up to me to decide if I like the trade-off. Nothing wrong there. In a freed market, firms would compete for my business, and competition would pressure firms to ask only for information required for  their services. As a result, a minimum amount of information would be requested. If I thought even that was too much, I would be free to choose to look after my security myself. If I did business with a firm that violated the terms of our contract, I would have recourse. At the very least I could terminate the relationship and strike up another or none at all.

In other words, in the freed market I would find the right “balance” for myself, and you would do the same. One size wouldn’t be deemed to fit all. The market would cater to people with a range of security/privacy concerns, striking the “balance” differently for different people. That’s as it should be.

Actually, we can say that there would be no trade-off between privacy and security at all, because the information would be voluntarily disclosed by each individual on mutually acceptable terms. Under those circumstances, it wouldn’t be right to call what the firm does an “intrusion.”

But that sort of situation is not what Barack Obama, Mike Rogers, Peter King, and their ilk mean when they tell us that “we” need to find the right balance between security and privacy. They mean they will dictate to us what the alleged balance will be. We will have no real say in the matter, and they can be counted on to find the balance on the “security” side of the spectrum as suits their interests. That’s how these things work. (See “NSA broke privacy rules thousands of times per year, audit finds.”) Unlike in a freed market, what the government does is intrusive, because it is done without our consent and often without our knowledge. (I hope no one will say that voting or continuing to live in the United States constitutes consent to invasions of privacy.)

Of course, our rulers can’t really set things to the security side of the spectrum because the game is rigged. When we give up privacy — or, rather, when our rulers take it — we don’t get security in return; we get a more intrusive state, which means we get more insecurity. Roderick Long made a similar point on his blog, The Austro-Athenian Empire:

In the wake of the recent NSA revelations, there’s increased talk about the need to “balance” freedom against security. I even see people recycling Larry Niven’s law that freedom + security = a constant.

Nonsense. What we want is not to be attacked or coercively interfered with — by anyone, be they our own government, other nations’ governments, or private actors. Would you call that freedom? or would you call it security?

You can’t trade off freedom against security because they’re exactly the same thing.

Likewise, where the state is concerned, you can’t trade off privacy against security becausethey’re exactly the same thing. Anyone who reads dystopian novels knows that government access to personal information about people serves to inhibit and control them. That’s insecurity.

Now it will no doubt be said that while in one respect we are more insecure when “our” government spies on us (the scare quotes are to indicate that I think the U.S. government is an occupying power), in return we gain security against threats from others, say, al-Qaeda. But I see no prima facie case for favoring official domestic threats over freelance foreign threats. I’m reminded of what Mel Gibson’s character, Benjamin Martin, says in The Patriot: “Would you tell me please, Mr. Howard, why should I trade one tyrant three thousand miles away for three thousand tyrants one mile away? An elected legislature can trample a man’s rights as easily as a king can.”

Some foreigners might want to come here and kill Americans, but the U.S. government has been no slouch in that department. How many Americans who were sent by “their” government to fight in foreign wars never came back? How many came back with their lives shattered? The number dwarfs the number of casualties from terrorism.

Throw in the fact that some foreigners want to kill Americans only because Obama’s government (like George W. Bush’s and others before it) is killing them, and the phony nature of this alleged protection is clear.

Obama & Co. say they welcome a public debate about calibrating the trade-off between security and privacy. No, they don’t. They wouldn’t even be going through the motions had it not been for the heroic whistleblower Edward Snowden, whom they are determined to lock away for life — if they catch him. A true debate is the last thing they want. What they want is a simulated debate in order to quiet public concern about spying.

As Conor Friedersdorf of the Atlantic points out, Obama’s new directive creating the Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies is charged with “accounting for other policy considerations, such as the risk of unauthorized disclosure and our need to maintain the public trust.” Unlike his public statement, the official directive says nothing about preventing violations of privacy and related abuses.

Friedersdorf comments,

What happened to those goals? The closest the Monday directive comes to them is an instruction to remember “our need to maintain the public trust” as one of many policy considerations.

Forget whether abuses are happening, or whether privacy rights are in fact being protected. [Director of National Intelligence James] Clapper need only probe the perception of trust. Remember, this is a man with a demonstrated willingness to tell lies under oath when he decides doing so serves the greater good.

We should reject the phony debate, the phony trade-off, and the phony “balance” that will be struck. There is a fundamental conflict of interest between the American people and the U.S. government. The sooner we learn that, the safer we’ll be.

Sheldon Richman is vice president and editor at The Future of Freedom Foundation (www.fff.org) in Fairfax, Va. He can be reached through his blog, Free Association.

Sheldon Richman, author of America’s Counter-Revolution: The Constitution Revisited, keeps the blog Free Association and is a senior fellow and chair of the trustees of the Center for a Stateless Society, and a contributing editor at Antiwar.com.  He is also the Executive Editor of The Libertarian Institute.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

May 24, 2017
Paul Street
Beyond Neoliberal Identity Politics
Daniel Read
Powder Keg: Manchester Terror Attack Could Lead to Yet Another Resurgence in Nationalist Hate
Robert Fisk
When Peace is a Commodity: Trump in the Middle East
Kenneth Surin
The UK’s Epochal Election
Jeff Berg
Lessons From a Modern Greek Tragedy
Steve Cooper
A Concrete Agenda for Progressives
Michael McKinley
Australia-as-Concierge: the Need for a Change of Occupation
William Hawes
Where Are Your Minds? An Open Letter to Thomas de Maiziere and the CDU
Steve Early
“Corporate Free” Candidates Move Up
Fariborz Saremi
Presidential Elections in Iran and the Outcomes
Dan Bacher
The Dark Heart of California’s Water Politics
Alessandra Bajec
Never Ending Injustice for Pinar Selek
Rob Seimetz
Death By Demigod
Jesse Jackson
Venezuela Needs Helping Hand, Not a Hammer Blow 
Binoy Kampmark
Return to Realpolitik: Trump in Saudi Arabia
Vern Loomis
The NRA: the Dragon in Our Midst
May 23, 2017
John Wight
Manchester Attacks: What Price Hypocrisy?
Patrick Cockburn
A Gathering of Autocrats: Trump Puts US on Sunni Muslim Side of Bitter Sectarian War with Shias
Shamus Cooke
Can Trump Salvage His Presidency in Syria’s War?
Thomas S. Harrington
“Risk”: a Sad Comedown for Laura Poitras
Josh White
Towards the Corbyn Doctrine
Mike Whitney
Rosenstein and Mueller: the Regime Change Tag-Team
Jan Oberg
Trump in Riyadh: an Arab NATO Against Syria and Iran
Susan Babbitt
The Most Dangerous Spy You’ve Never Heard Of: Ana Belén Montes
Rannie Amiri
Al-Awamiya: City of Resistance
Dimitris Konstantakopoulos
The European Left and the Greek Tragedy
Laura Leigh
This Land is Your Land, Except If You’re a Wild Horse Advocate
Hervé Kempf
Macron, Old World President
Michael J. Sainato
Devos Takes Out Her Hatchet
L. Ali Khan
I’m a Human and I’m a Cartoon
May 22, 2017
Diana Johnstone
All Power to the Banks! The Winners-Take-All Regime of Emmanuel Macron
Robert Fisk
Hypocrisy and Condescension: Trump’s Speech to the Middle East
John Grant
Jeff Sessions, Jesus Christ and the Return of Reefer Madness
Nozomi Hayase
Trump and the Resurgence of Colonial Racism
Rev. William Alberts
The Normalizing of Authoritarianism in America
Frank Stricker
Getting Full Employment: the Fake Way and the Right Way 
Jamie Davidson
Red Terror: Anti-Corbynism and Double Standards
Binoy Kampmark
Julian Assange, Sweden, and Continuing Battles
Robert Jensen
Beyond Liberal Pieties: the Radical Challenge for Journalism
Patrick Cockburn
Trump’s Extravagant Saudi Trip Distracts from His Crisis at Home
Angie Beeman
Gig Economy or Odd Jobs: What May Seem Trendy to Privileged City Dwellers and Suburbanites is as Old as Poverty
Colin Todhunter
The Public Or The Agrochemical Industry: Who Does The European Chemicals Agency Serve?
Jerrod A. Laber
Somalia’s Worsening Drought: Blowback From US Policy
Michael J. Sainato
Police Claimed Black Man Who Died in Custody Was Faking It
Clancy Sigal
I’m a Trump Guy, So What?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail