1994-02-28 - “Natural Rights” and the Surveillance State

Header Data

From: tcmay@netcom.com (Timothy C. May)
To: cypherpunks@toad.com
Message Hash: 014989031bd00eaf681ab257db0cee53c41bf23342840c0c34db83789243dd49
Message ID: <199402281812.KAA04666@mail.netcom.com>
Reply To: <9402281337.AA04279@vail.tivoli.com>
UTC Datetime: 1994-02-28 18:12:08 UTC
Raw Date: Mon, 28 Feb 94 10:12:08 PST

Raw message

From: tcmay@netcom.com (Timothy C. May)
Date: Mon, 28 Feb 94 10:12:08 PST
To: cypherpunks@toad.com
Subject: "Natural Rights" and the Surveillance State
In-Reply-To: <9402281337.AA04279@vail.tivoli.com>
Message-ID: <199402281812.KAA04666@mail.netcom.com>
MIME-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: text/plain

Mike McNally wrote:

> "LYLE, DAVID R." writes:
>  > Don't get me wrong.  I am all for private communications.  I'm very
>  > much against restricting the public's access to encryption
>  > technology. What gets me is when everyone runs around saying "this
>  > is a right". 
> Well, I'd say that the right to use whatever means available to shield
> communication from eavedropping is as natural as any other.  It's not
> a "right" to be free from attempts to eavesdrop, however.
> If the FBI tries to tap my phone, then laws may (or may not) be
> violated but no natural rights have.  If, however, I am prosecuted for
> attempting to encase my information in a cryptographic strongbox
> without providing the FBI the key, then I indeed see that as a
> transgression against my natural rights as a person.

Personally, these days I stay away from calling some things "natural
rights" and other things _not_ natural rights. Why, for example, would
the FBI tapping my phone be any less a violation of my natural rights
than if they entered my house and bugged it? Would placing video
cameras in my bedroom (proposed by Dorothy Denning in her "Video
Escrow Act of 1996") violate my "rights"?

By Mike's arguments, I fear, it would be acceptable for the government
to ring our houses with microphones, to place telephoto lenses on
cameras and aim them through our windows, to intercept all of our
phone and modem calls, and to compile extensive dossiers on our
purchases and habits. Big Brother with a vengeance.

(I'm not saying Mike supports these ideas. But by saying these things
do not violate any of his "natural rights," as he appears to be saying
above, then this opens the door for a complete surveillance state.)

If we concede that the government is _not_ violating our "rights" by
wiretapping and monitoring us, then how can we object when the
surveillance state arrives?

I prefer the more radical step of attempting to defang the government
by taking aways its economic and political power. Undermine the
surveillance state in all ways. (And sometimes that may involve
arguing for "rights" to not be wiretapped, surveilled by the
government, and whatnot.)

However, I partly agree with Mike if by "no natural rights" he means,
for example, that I am not "violating" someone else's natural rights,
by compiling a dossier on them, or by writing down what I overheard in
a coffee house. People have to protect their own security, by being
discreet when discretion is needed, by paying with cash when they fear
records are being kept of their purchases, and by using encryption in
communications that may be intercepted. They cannot just scream that
their "rights" are being violated when their names are entered into my
e-mail database (a crime in the U.K., under the Data Protection Act!).

Rights are a slippery slope.

--Tim May

Timothy C. May         | Crypto Anarchy: encryption, digital money,  
tcmay@netcom.com       | anonymous networks, digital pseudonyms, zero
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