1993-04-23 - A parable

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From: pmetzger@lehman.com (Perry E. Metzger)
To: extropians@gnu.ai.mit.edu
Message Hash: a337304f1174c56ab0a05d932bae7a19e6d26d0ace7962e92fafdb1076926c9a
Message ID: <9304232230.AA11266@snark.shearson.com>
Reply To: N/A
UTC Datetime: 1993-04-23 22:31:07 UTC
Raw Date: Fri, 23 Apr 93 15:31:07 PDT

Raw message

From: pmetzger@lehman.com (Perry E. Metzger)
Date: Fri, 23 Apr 93 15:31:07 PDT
To: extropians@gnu.ai.mit.edu
Subject: A parable
Message-ID: <9304232230.AA11266@snark.shearson.com>
MIME-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: text/plain

I just posted this to the net.


Newsgroups: alt.privacy.clipper,sci.crypt
Subject: A Parable.
References: <1993Apr20.013747.4122@cs.sfu.ca> <1993Apr21.210353.15305@microsoft.com>
Distribution: usa
Organization: Partnership for an America Free Drug

scottmi@microsoft.com (Scott Miller (TechCom)) writes:
>Stikes me that all this concern over the government's ability
>to eavesdrop is a little overblown... what can't they do today?
>My understanding is that they already can tap, listen, get access
>exc. to our phone lines, bank records, etc. etc again.

Well, they can't listen in on much of mine, since I already use
cryptography for much of my electronic mail, and will start using it
for my telephony as soon as practical.

However, allow me to tell a parable.

There was once a far away land called Ruritania, and in Ruritania
there was a strange phenonmenon -- all the trees that grew in
Ruritainia were transparent. Now, in the days when people had lived in
mud huts, this had not been a problem, but now high-tech wood
technology had been developed, and in the new age of wood, everyone in
Ruritania found that their homes were all 100% see through. Now, until
this point, no one ever thought of allowing the police to spy on
someone's home, but the new technology made this tempting. This being
a civilized country, however, warrants were required to use binoculars
and watch someone in their home. The police, taking advantage of this,
would get warrants to use binoculars and peer in to see what was going
on. Occassionally, they would use binoculars without a warrant, but
everyone pretended that this didn't happen.

One day, a smart man invented paint -- and if you painted your house,
suddenly the police couldn't watch all your actions at will. Things
would go back to the way they were in the old age -- completely

Indignant, the state decided to try to require that all homes have
video cameras installed in every nook and cranny. "After all", they
said, "with this new development crime could run rampant. Installing
video cameras doesn't mean that the police get any new capability --
they are just keeping the old one."

A wise man pointed out that citizens were not obligated to make the
lives of the police easy, that the police had survived all through the
mud hut age without being able to watch the citizens at will, and that
Ruritania was a civilized country where not everything that was
expedient was permitted. For instance, in a neighboring country, it
had been discovered that torture was an extremely effective way to
solve crimes. Ruritania had banned this practice in spite of its
expedience. Indeed, "why have warrants at all", he asked, "if we are
interested only in expedience?"

A famous paint technologist, Dorothy Quisling, intervened however. She
noted that people might take photographs of children masturbating
should the new paint technology be widely deployed without safeguards,
and the law was passed.

Soon it was discovered that some citizens would cover their mouths
while speaking to each other, thus preventing the police from reading
their lips through the video cameras. This had to be prevented, the
police said. After all, it was preventing them from conducting their
lawful surveilance. The wise man pointed out that the police had never
before been allowed to listen in on people's homes, but Dorothy
Quisling pointed out that people might use this new invention of
covering their mouths with veils to discuss the kidnapping and
mutilation of children. No one in the legislature wanted to be accused
of being in favor of mutilating children, but then again, no one
wanted to interfere in people's rights to wear what they liked, so a
compromise was reached whereby all homes were installed with
microphones in each room to accompany the video cameras. The wise man
lamented few if any child mutilations had ever been solved by the old
lip reading technology, but it was too late -- the microphones were
installed everwhere.

However, it was discovered that this was insufficient to prevent
citizens from hiding information from the authorities, because some of
them would cleverly speak in languages that the police could not
understand. A new law was proposed to force all citizens to speak at
all times only in Ruritanian, and, for good measure, to require that
they speak clearly and distinctly near the microphones. "After all",
Dorothy Quisling pointed out, "they might be using the opportunity to
speak in private to mask terrorist activities!"  Terrorism struck
terror into everyone's hearts, and they rejoiced at the brulliance of
this new law.

Meanwhile, the wise man talked one evening to his friends on how all
of this was making a sham of the constitution of Ruritania, of which
all Ruritanians were proud. "Why", he asked, "are we obligated to
sacrifice all our freedom and privacy to make the lives of the police
easier? There isn't any real evidence that this makes any big dent in
crime anyway! All it does is make our privacy forfeit to the state!"

However, the wise man made the mistake of saying this, as the law
required, in Ruritanian, clearly and distinctly, and near a
microphone.  Soon, the newly formed Ruritanian Secret Police arrived
and took him off, and got him to confess by torturing him. Torture
was, after all, far more efficient than the old methods, and had been
recently instituted to stop the recent wave of people thinking obscene
thoughts about tomatoes, which Dorothy Quisling noted was one of the
major problems of the new age of plenty and joy.