The Flinchum File
Thoughtful Economic Analysis and Existential Opinions

Slip Sliding Away?

02/26/2016

Liberty requires autonomy or independence of the individual.  One of the things I enjoy about New York City is the knowledge that I can glide through masses of other people unseen and unknown.  I don’t know them, and they don’t know me, and that’s okay.  The middle of crowds can be a very lonely place, but that can also be very enjoyable.  I am autonomous — a free-thinking, independent unit.

But, am I really autonomous if my identifiable information, such as name, address, SSN, and credit report, is taped to my back?  No, some things must remain private.  It’s important!

We’ve all heard Benjamin Franklin’s famous statement that “those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

So, is Apple right that some areas of our digital life need to remain free from government snooping — by any government?  Or, is the FBI right that this minor loss of privacy by a dead man is justified to “purchase a little temporary safety?”  Wouldn’t you gladly sacrifice your privacy to a thug with a knife at a little girl’s throat?

This is another one of those countless “slippery-slope” arguments.  That’s what specialized FISA type courts are for — not regular courts.  If a judge with specialized expertise in privacy issues orders a violation, then it is reasonable.  If some judge with expertise in domestic relations law orders a privacy violation, then it is unreasonable.

My concern is not the initial violation of privacy for “a little temporary safety.”  Privacy can indeed be protected over the long term.  My concern is the unauthorized use of that information.  This is another one of those countless cases where too much attention is paid to writing rules and too little attention is paid to punishing violators.  If my privacy is violated, a mere fine is not sufficient punishment!  Likewise, a minor jail term is not sufficient punishment!!

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