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

Header Data

From: m5@vail.tivoli.com (Mike McNally)
To: cypherpunks@toad.com
Message Hash: 4a8d5d3969565611dc4510181b44598f7bcd31e6361a43aa3d75a818626da141
Message ID: <9402281925.AA05301@vail.tivoli.com>
Reply To: <199402281812.KAA04666@mail.netcom.com>
UTC Datetime: 1994-02-28 19:25:18 UTC
Raw Date: Mon, 28 Feb 94 11:25:18 PST

Raw message

From: m5@vail.tivoli.com (Mike McNally)
Date: Mon, 28 Feb 94 11:25:18 PST
To: cypherpunks@toad.com
Subject: "Natural Rights" and the Surveillance State
In-Reply-To: <199402281812.KAA04666@mail.netcom.com>
Message-ID: <9402281925.AA05301@vail.tivoli.com>
MIME-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: text/plain

Timothy C. May writes:
 > 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?

Because in the "bugging your house" scenario, we have an implication
of property crime (breaking and entering).

Would you claim a right to privacy when talking to a friend over a
beer at Seabright?  I don't think so.

 > Would placing video
 > cameras in my bedroom (proposed by Dorothy Denning in her "Video
 > Escrow Act of 1996") violate my "rights"?

Indeed (poor Ms. Denning; I nominate her for Most Outstanding
Ad-Hominem Target of the 90's :-) it would be a violation.  However,
what would you think about someone who, from their own property
nearby, could hear various interesting and suggestive noises that
happen to penetrate the walls of your bedroom and radiate out into the
atmosphere?  Are your rights violated simply because the person pays
attention to the stimulation of his eardrums?

 > 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.

While I wouldn't be at all fond of such a scenario, I find myself on a
slope if I claim that somewhere in there between completely
non-intrusive police and police as described above there's a
cross-over to a violation of my rights.  If, however, the police force
also declared that I must have large curtainless windows all over my
house, and I must not add insulation to walls to the point that
interior conversations could not be heard outside the house, then I
would say clearly that my right to affect my privacy by any means
available would be violated.

 > (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.)

I just differentiate between "what I want the government to do/not do"
and "what are my rights as a person".

 > 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?

It's not the case that the only argument against the government doing
something is that it violates a basic human right (though sometimes it
seems that way...)

 > I prefer the more radical step of attempting to defang the government
 > by taking aways its economic and political power.

That's fine.  I wholeheartedly support this.

 > (And sometimes that may involve arguing for "rights" to not be
 > wiretapped, surveilled by the government, and whatnot.)

I guess I worry that such arguments may weaken (cheapen?) the concept
of "natural rights", much as the whole "right to adequate health care"
debate has.

 > Rights are a slippery slope.

Clearly.  Thus, it's dangerous to work from the premise that definding
a natural right is the only reason to ask for government restraint.
I'd like to restrain the government simply because I'm definitely not
satisfied that I get my money's worth!

| GOOD TIME FOR MOVIE - GOING ||| Mike McNally <m5@tivoli.com>       |
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