At What Point Is Privacy Worth Giving Up

…we’d have Philip K. Dick’s “Minority Report”.


Nukes, firearms… “An armed society is a polite society. Manners are good when one may have to back up his acts with his life.”


I didn’t mean to start a political discussion, other than to give a few examples to show how privacy is not always a good thing, using crime and national security only as examples. The actual politics in this case are not so relevant. It’s a question of an implementation of ethics and not what is actual ethical or legal.

The point is that when done correctly, a smart phone can easily be (for all practical purposes) uncrackable by even governments (another example of high resourcing not helping much to do the cracking). Strong encryption and a full wipe after 5 failed attempts keeps police out and has the federal government asking for Apple’s help even when stakes are high and funding is relatively unlimited.

So when Purism starts releasing phones that can be configured by anyone, to facilitate sophisticated computer/communications assisted crimes and threats to National Security while keeping perpetrators safe from any even being identified (much less held responsible), do we call for someone (anyone), whether government or other, to be capable of having some kind of back door keys? If so, who? If we apply simple high-ideal philosophies like not “trading safety for security”, we ignore simple common sense thinking that calls for some kind of order in any human social system. This is why we have governments and police. But in the very arena of thought and communications that quickly extend in to real-world actions, do we want to allow any kind of policing (thus the question of back-doors to our smart phones)? Using surveillance over a broad population to detect any potential crime seems more like an illegal search. But what do you do when known bad guys have the capability to operate against the best interests of society and no one is capable of obtaining evidence against them or stopping them because of their use of extremely portable, unhackable, encrypted smart phones that can be programmed to access almost any network, create credible spoofs and that have hardware kill switches, all while maintaining perfect privacy for themselves? A whole criminal enterprise can all fit on one smart phone and can be protected by an uncrackable password, while being connected to a vast network of similarly connected other criminals.

Even if I give you all the hypotheticals you ask for. The easiest thing to point out is that talking about the crime is not a crime, the crime itself is. Removing the communication doesn’t mitigate the rest of the evidence. If you can’t spy on communication you get the other evidence you would need anyway to prove the crime happened and what evidence there is to prove who did it.

Also if there multiple conspirators and you “get” one or more of them you can attempt to coerce them into sharing the communication with you. Some methods of coercion are generally legal (plea deals) while others are viewed in a lesser light ($5 hammer). Point is, technology doesn’t exist in a vacuum so that context needs to be accounted for.


We would force the government to focus on the areas where thought does actually extend to the real world. If that never happens then in many circumstances there is no possibility of a negative impact. (For example, I may be planning a bombing with my co-conspirator but at some point I am going to have to buy the ingredients for the bomb, or buy a pre-made bomb off and then there are observable facts in the real world for the government to focus on.)

Don’t forget that there are many countries where there is no such thing.

The fundamental flaw with this, as it applies to the world today, is that if Purism as a US company puts in a backdoor for the US government then other countries ought to disallow the use of Purism devices, in which case other countries will have their own devices which may well have a backdoor for their own government but which will be safe to use to commit crimes in the US. The backdoor would be completely ineffective for state-based national security issues (where the other government may even authorise a phone with no backdoor at all).

Any backdoor claws at the fabric of trust.

A backdoor is not effective in an open platform since a) the backdoor can be seen and b) the backdoor can be removed (or tampered with) by a sufficiently motivated and sophisticated end user (guaranteed in the case of a state-based national security issue).

Whatever the cost of unhackable devices, you also have to weigh that against the cost of hackable devices.

Do I want? NO.


A rubber hose is apparently the preferred method. :slight_smile:

Each coin has 2 sides. Any progress has always been used by decent people and criminals alike. This will not be prevented even if all research and development is outlawed. Because then, this research and development will be done by criminal syndicates. The only surefire way to escape from criminal progress is to completely destroy humanity. In addition, you should not forget that good intentions paved the way to hell. It’s not a metaphor - it’s a story. It has been repeated many times in the past. And no one should check it again.


Today I am frankly more worried by the surveillance carried out by big tech than anything else. Big business (and big tech in particular) are a threat against democracy. The failiure by goverments to enforce anti-trust laws have led to a situation where more and more economic power (and political power) is concentrated to what more and more is becoming an oligopoly that behaves like it is above the law.


Let’s say that a criminal organization of some sort has found a way to operate such that their data is stored in a computer not connected to the internet and communications are sent via snail mail. No one outside a select few knows the location of the computer and it’s illegal to read someone else’s mail. The people that know where the computer is won’t give it up because they’d plead the fifth. What is some in that situation? Edit: I don’t know what I was trying to say in that last sentence, autocorrect screwed me.

I suppose the answer would be “a search warrant.” That would indeed follow the legal process, but do you trust the judges these days to justly hand out search warrants? I’m the US, the one institution that’s supposed to be free from bias, the supreme court, has its positions fought over by both parties because of partisanship.

So in a perfect world, I’d agree with you. But as it is now, we’re a long way from that.


Big tech is merely an extension of government. Follow the money, see where the founding money came from, where future investments came from, etc. Every big tech company has received money from DARPA. Big tech is a mass surveillance system by design, meant to give the government plausible deniability.

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For the sake of consideration. So what? So what if the government couldn’t decrypt a phone for a mass shooter. Do they have other forms of surveillance?

Legality, morality, and ethics are inextricably intertwined as they ostensibly used to inform each other. Dangerous ground as we have found that sometimes they don’t. See: authoritarian regimes of all sorts. So I ask you this, so what?

Is it really a big deal that a government can’t access a handheld computer with a portable modem? Really?


@ all - coming from a Christian background the big G is the only one i would TRUST with my data :joy: - but HE’s like the NSA - doesn’t care if i approve or not - this isn’t a democracy it’s a divine-KINGDOM …

eternity is going to be a long time if we are to discuss privacy when the only REAL question NOW is … WHO do you TRUST to manage your privacy ? i’ve answered mine a long time ago what about you ?

from this-reality’s-perspective Snowden makes a good point - there is a really good reason why laws should exist that make sure that the government activities are kept at a bare minimum of efficiency … a very efficient government is a threat to individual liberty and is dangerously close to transforming into a DICTATORSHIP …


the first step was creating a sufficiently bureaucratic society with obedient-functional-idiots that are also literate enough to do every government whim on a daily basis. this is Dostoevsky’s specialty.

next was forcing everybody to carry an ID of sorts. the IP is the digital-equivalent of your ID in the 0 and 1 networked space.

like the AI WOPR said when asked : “if RIPLEY hadn’t stopped would you have nuked the world ?” > “yes ! humanity is finished ! that was a joke ! HA HA HA !”

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For as long as technology has existed, this dichotomy of use cases has prevailed: Innocent bystanders and criminals bent on compromise.

Whenever we build backdoors for “sake of beating the bad guys,” the bad guys (hackers or insiders abusing their privileges) always find and exploit those backdoors.

Did you know that millions of people access Facebook using Tor? Many people today live under a regime that can and does exploit invasive techniques to detect usage of basic things like social media. The advertised goal is detecting and stopping radicals from organizing, but all too often this translates into oppressing people that speak out against their own political leaders, jailing them for decades (or worse). In the Western world, we know all too well that governments will simply impose backdoor and other data requirements on our tech giants.

When is privacy worth giving up? My vote is never.


If I may offer another opinion (this one relating to criminal justice principles rather than ethics): Degrading everybody’s privacy for sake of fighting crimes is not the way to approach crime.

Several micro- and macro-level theories on crime and social deviance drive at improving social conditions within communities and with large-scale programs primarily focused on education and rehabilitation. None of these focus on combat against evolving technology or even deterrents (it’s a misconception that punishment deters crime). In the end, people choose to commit crime.

Additionally, they will do so via the path of least resistance. If criminals notice that Apple backdoors everything and constantly sics police on criminals, you’ll start seeing a lot more drug dealers running around with Android phones (granted, they may be already that way; I have no stats on that). If all tech giants do it, look out for smoke signals. Whatever it takes, it’ll happen unless a society attempts to fix crime and deviance at the roots.


by that statement what would happen if the authorities decided to jail every single person who has downloaded DRM-ed material online ? most people commit crime not because they are evil but because of how some people decided to compartmentalize things …

they would have to build very large prisons and feed everybody … or … perhaps the most obvious choice … set up a GLOBAL drag-net …

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Depending on what country you are in and the details of what the person did, copyright violation may not in fact be a crime.

Ignoring that, and assuming that all copyright violation is “crime” … how is it not still the case that people choose to violate copyright?

If the “crime” we are talking about is copyright violation then I think there will be widespread agreement that it is not worth giving up privacy / giving the government a backdoor into every computer. Based on the post, @StevenR seemed to be concerned about “criminal syndicates”, “illegal enterprises”, “nuclear weapons” and the axis of evil - not whether you downloaded GoT.


We don’t. If they use the technology to attack people, protect the people being attacked directly rather than focusing on the technology, which is a slippery slope.

Again, we don’t. Just because it’s illegal, doesn’t mean it should be, and if the criminal enterprises harm people, rather than doing victimless crimes, the people should be protected.

There is none. Backdoors are an unacceptable tradeoff for this purpose.

Nope, not at all.

It depends in what “abuse” is. If someone is holding someone against their will, save them. If someone is stealing personal property, the police should steal it back, and require reimbersements if the property is damaged. If someone is physically harming people, they should be quarentined.


Or is it just that government has become a subsidiary of big industries?


I think @StevenR meant: how do we prevent abuse by government of the backdoor?

If there isn’t a backdoor then that is a non-problem.