Privacy Isn’t Dead. It’s Profitable.
Posted June 17, 2021
“Government is not reason. It is not eloquence. It is a force, like fire: a dangerous servant and a terrible master.”
“Well, I’ve got nothing to hide, so why should I care?”
We’ve all heard this argument before in some form.
It’s typically touted by those who seem to think privacy is not just dead -- but also highly overrated.
If you’re one of them, feel free to ditch your clothing, pull every bathroom door off of its hinges at home, take the locks off of their doors, give away all of your passwords to whoever wants them, and live in privacy-less bliss.
While some forms of privacy are, indeed, comatose with the rise of street cams, facial recognition, satellites…
Privacy is still a fundamental form of defense.
As David Friedman points out in an article titled, The Case For Privacy:
“Defensive weapons can be used for bad purposes; an impenetrable shield would be very useful for a bank robber. But it would be even more useful for the bank teller. Robbing banks would be harder in a world where everyone had the shield than in a world where nobody did.”
Privacy gives individuals control over their lives. This is more likely than the alternative (no privacy) to lead to a freer, safer world.
Privacy protects us from government and institutional overreach. The world is run by people and people are imperfect, corruptible, and constantly make mistakes. Their imperfections are amplified when put into positions of power. Privacy gives us the power of recourse in the event of intrusion.
Privacy isn’t Dead. It’s Profitable.
As Evan Selinger, author of Re-Engineering Humanity points out, privacy isn’t a thing, it’s a negotiation.
Fortunately, we’re not without some pretty strong bargaining chips.
In 2016, Dennis D. Hirsch rightly pointed out in a San Francisco Chronicle article that privacy isn’t dead, it’s profitable.
Since then, privacy tools keep getting better. Open-source, privacy-focused hardware and software, such as the phones and laptops created by Purism, are gaining massive popularity.
Furthermore, most netizens around the world know how to use a VPN, one of the simplest ways to protect your browsing history and route around censorship.
Most Apple customers cheered the company’s high-profile refusal to help the FBI break into one of their customer’s iPhones. Same with Microsoft and its refusal to provide the DOJ with a suspected criminal’s emails housed on an Irish server.
Sure, behind closed doors something else might be happening entirely, but it doesn’t change the fact that privacy is popular.
Global consulting firm Deloitte advised companies to “view data privacy and security not just as a risk management issue, but as a potential source of competitive advantage.”
There’s money to be made in respecting and protecting the privacy of individuals. Fortunately, the Universe is on our side in this endeavor.
“The Universe Favors Encryption”
Back in 2013, the true power of bitcoin only began sinking in after I read two books, neither of which said anything at all about bitcoin.
1.] Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet by Julian Assange
2.] The Sovereign Individual by James Dale Davidson and Lord William Rees-Mogg
Assange brought home for me the true power of encryption. Encryption is applied mathematics. Mathematics is built into the structure of the Universe. The fact that encryption is possible is not a given. It’s one of the marvels and quirks of the Universe. For whatever reason, probably more profound than we can currently comprehend, “the Universe believes in encryption.”
In the introduction to Cypherpunks, Assange wrote:
We discovered something. Our one hope against total domination. A hope that with courage, insight, and solidarity we could use to resist. A strange property of the physical universe that we live in. The universe believes in encryption. It is easier to encrypt information than it is to decrypt it.
As Paul Rosenberg of Freeman’s Perspective has pointed out:
It is roughly 2100 (2 to the 100th power) times harder to decrypt a message than it is to encrypt it (unless you have the key).
“So,” Rosenberg writes, “when people like Satoshi Nakamoto, creator of Bitcoin, talk about an arms race between cypherpunks and old-world power, don’t simply assume that the old way will win. (You should also know that post-quantum encryption already exists and is being incorporated into leading-edge systems.).”
The Logic of Violence
In The Sovereign Individual, the authors explain how microprocessing and cryptography change the logic of violence. Ultimately, the information age “reduces returns to violence and creates for the first time a competitive market for the protection services for which governments charged monopoly prices in the industrial period.”
Cryptographic systems like bitcoin change the logic of violence. Violence and force become instantly less profitable in the face of a decentralized swarm of cryptographic keys.
“When the logic of violence changes,” the authors write, “society changes. Violence is the ultimate boundary force on behavior; thus, if you can understand how the logic of violence will change, you can usefully predict where people will be dropping or picking up the equivalent of one-hundred-dollar bills in the future.”
Already, individuals are increasingly no longer obliged to live in high tax jurisdictions to earn high incomes. Furthermore, increasingly, especially with the rise of crypto and DeFi, one can make and spend wealth anywhere. Governments that charge too much drive away their best customers. Places like NYC and San Francisco are figuring this out the hard way, while places like Miami and Nashville reap the benefits.
And, again, Rosenberg:
“The good news of our time – the transformative news of our time – is this: Cryptography displaces violence. However much cryptography we use, real change will require that much less violence. And there is a very good reason for this: Cryptography is impervious to weapons.
“Cryptography, after all, is simply math, and you can’t put a bullet through a math problem. Well-applied cryptography, then, is immune to the usual applications of power. And so, whatever we cloak in cryptography can push through barriers erected by old, grasping regimes. And the barriers crypto blows through are precisely those involving violence.”
Though, certainly, we have plenty of problems up ahead, especially given, as mentioned, the rise of facial recognition technology, satellite surveillance, and the like…
But don’t fall entirely to “privacy fatalism.”
Privacy is not a “thing.” It is a relationship. It is a negotiation. And there’s still plenty you can do to protect it.
We’ll dive into a few actionable ways tomorrow.
Managing editor, Laissez Faire Today