poly: secrecy & freedom

From: Richard Schroeppel <rcs@cs.arizona.edu>
Date: Fri May 22 1998 - 07:14:26 PDT

David Brin writes
> You guys keep repeating these theoretical propositions as if they are self
    evident, without coming up with an iota of historical proof to back em up.
    Sure, it *sounds* logical that secrecy should protect freedom. But it just
    ain't true. No government ever knew more about its people than ours does,
    and no people were ever so free. How does that data point fit on your

Three extreme examples:

The residents of the Western Hemisphere were better off prior to being
"discovered" by Columbus. I have no information about their state of
freedom prior to 1492, but their descendants were mostly dead by 1942.
I claim that the Europeans' lack of information (Western Hemisphere
"secrecy") was a liberty-related benefit to the West. Very broadly,
the thieving Europeans discovered another groups' assets and plundered

In December 1941, the US made use of race information from the 1940 census
to round up the Japanese-Americans. (I have a vague recollection that
the census director resigned because of the breach of confidentiality,
but my knowledge of the history is spotty.)
[Other governments were more extreme.]
[Whether race can be considered private in practice seems iffy.]

Recently, the reading habits of Ms. Lewinsky have come under Mr. Starr's
microscope. I don't believe she has benefited thereby. Even if all our
book purchases were public knowledge, her transactions would still harm her
by being brought to public attention.

I claim that a large component of our freedom is traceable to our wealth--
I'm free to hop on a plane to London, and my grandfather wasn't. This is
unrelated to our govts information colection policies.
My grandfather was free to purchase any medicine that he thought useful;
I must get permission from a govt licensed agent. Is this an example
of my increased freedom?

Trying to measure freedom is tough, but I question whether we are in fact
freer than our parents or grandparents. If you somehow divide out for
economic factors, the increased time we work and taxes we pay, and the
extra freedom of smaller households, I think our parents had more freedom.

Rich Schroeppel rcs@cs.arizona.edu
Received on Fri May 22 14:16:10 1998

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