I have nothing to hide
Power in a Post Scarcity Society
Caleb James Delisle (cjd)
copyedited by ansuz
Nothing To Hide (NTH) is perhaps the most popular response to criticisms of mass surveillence, cropping up over and over despite the patient explanations of privacy advocates. The logical failure of NTH is that it depends upon the unassailable benevolence of The Watchers, but in this fallacy lies its psychological power. Despite our conscious understanding that power corrupts, the mind simply doesn't want to consider that those with the guns, the money and the endless array of cameras might actually be the bad guys. Insidiously, every show of totalitarian control strengthens this subconscious fear and makes the populus believe that they support their government, though their emotional stability will suffer.
There is, however, a new version of Nothing To Hide. It is turning up on Facebook, and Github, and indeed in this very community. You, and I, and most of our generation are doing something that our parents and grandparents would not have ever imagined. I spent most of my teenage years accutely aware of the permanence of data on the internet. I was always first to encrypt things. To this day I do not own a telephone, and when people began publishing facebook photos of themselves smoking weed, I imagined the tense job interviews which would follow.
What I didn't account for was the change of social norms which would be brought about by this onslaught of sharing. Five thousand years of human culture has led us to expect privacy as a right and accept modesty as an obligation, but change is in the air. A little thought experiment of mine has lead me to surmise that the shift will be so absolute that we will one day regard the private individual with the same pity we have for the illiterate.
Suppose you're interested in buying something...
...perhaps cryptocurrency, and you have the option of dealing with an anonymous person or an identified person. The desire to know your merchant is clear in the millions of dollars transferred across coin exchanges operated by public people, compared to the lackluster handful of anonymous exchanges. Clearly where trust is needed, anonymity has no place.
But what of privacy?
Lets imagine a future world where there is a chip which can be placed inside of your head. After the operation, everything you see, everything you hear, and everything you feel is uploaded to some common storage facility, accessable to all the world. Now that I've set the stage for the typical dyastopian science fiction story, I'll throw the curveball.
Installation of this chip is entirely optional, there is no king or president coercing you to do it. You can be completely private and anonymous if you so choose. Lets even imagine there are cities where the people have voted to disable all chips and there are radio towers which broadcast a NO FILMING HERE message which disables any camera or microphone in the vicinity.
Who would you trust?
On one side, you have a person whose life is more or less opaque. They have their right to privacy and they certainly exercise it.
On the other side you have a person whose life is an open book. You know what they love, what they fear, what they look like when they're having sex, and where they spend their money.
Most importantly, algorithms can show how likely they are to violate your trust.
With whom would you conduct your business?
Certainly a few people would stand in solidarity with the modest, but most will follow their rational-self-interest and deal with the Open Lifer. Who would you vote for in your up-coming election? As an elected leader, it's certainly more difficult to sell out if analytics engines go onto high alert every time you come into physical proximity of a lobbyist.
If an Open Lifer is even marginally more competitive in the eyes of a Closed Lifer, they will be vastly more competitive in the eyes of another Open Lifer. Imagine the ease with which deals will be closed when each party has a full lifetime history of the counterparty.
A large group of people who can trade amongst themselves at low cost is what defines an economy. Where understanding and reputation outperforms litigation and contract, the Open Lifer Economy will outperform all economies of private individuals. Where the Open Lifer Economy outperforms economies of private individuals, the wealth of the world will transfer into the hands of the naked, the web kids, the facebook kids, the bitcoin kids, the kids who never learned to be jaded and cynical.
The Watchers, the people who obsessively protect their own privacy while subverting that of everyone else, will find themselves cut out. Ironically those who have worked the hardest to build the post privacy society will find it has no place for them.