“Can” versus “Should”

Economist coverThe latest issue of The Economist has an interesting leader called “The end of the cash era”. One of the themes picked up by the article is the power of anonymity, the anonymity inherent in cash. Elsewhere in the article, the writer speaks of the current tendency to trade privacy for some form of implied convenience.

Those of you who have heard me speak at conferences would already be familiar with some of my views on privacy, particularly the difference between eastern and western conceptions and views.

What intrigues me about the article is its coda. I quote:

As Adam Smith would no doubt have observed, just because the state can pry into electronic cash does not mean it should.

I think this is important, and at the heart of many digital debates, including DRM and Identity: Can versus Should.

Region coding on DVDs is a classic example of someone doing something incredibly stupid because they could. Illegal capture of clickstreams is another.

When I first read Lawrence Lessig’s Code, my biggest takeaway was the potential loss of liberty.

We have to be careful. Careful to ensure that the individual, the “customer” of the state, has his rights protected. That information about intentions and behaviour and preference and attitude and expenditure patterns and earnings and and and, are all protected. Otherwise governments will do their equivalent of region coding. Because they can. Not because they should. In fact, because they shouldn’t.

More later.

5 thoughts on ““Can” versus “Should””

  1. Privacy can reasonably be traded, only anonymity is valuable.

    I’m delighted that my bank can, on occasion, ring me up and check that my last purchase was actually made by me. If they wish to sell aggregated information about my spending patterns, merged with thousands of others, ok.

    It’s when I buy a porn magazine with cash in my local newsagent that I risk my privacy, because someone who actually knows me may gossip. My identity can be damaged, because a nosy neighbour made a correlation.

    Connections matter, not silo data.

  2. Connections do matter. Yet we have to avoid some of the scaremongering that can take place as a result of such statements. I recall seeing some really stupid articles on the Semantic Web as a result of such scaremongering.

    Whether it is identity or digital rights or purchasing patterns, I think there are two simple principles:

    Preference and behavioural information belongs to the individual unless explicitly agreed otherwise

    This principle can be broken as and when there is just cause, where someone, be it a bank or state or whatever, needs to intervene because there is prima facie reason to do so…..in order to protect the first principle for all.

    The challenge is to ensure that people don’t misuse the second principle. Whether for ID cards or for music ownership, the principle remains the same.

  3. I agree…I have blogged myself that I think this area – privacy / trust – will be one of eth big battlegrounds over the next few years.

    The abuse of social media is still largeley unremarked, but I suspect this will change.

  4. Imagine a world where three features were mandated by law into every browser/ ISP/ spyware / online- transaction and it was a felony not to comply

    Feature 1) A small window that told you exactly who your machine was streaming data to in real-time
    Feature 2) A LARGE FONT disclaimer that said something like “Yahoo / The NSA / Who ever is collecting your personal data NOW. Stop Y/N?”everytime this happened.
    Feature 3) A cache that contained a record of every data collection that had occurred.
    My privacy concerns would be somewhat eased because I would at least know if my privacy was being violated.
    Yes, I’m willing to trade some data for convenience
    Yes, I understand about the security concerns
    But I do want to know if my data is being shared and by whom
    and I believe the security concerns could still be addressed.
    Sorry long post – hope the health is better
    DD

Let me know what you think