The 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.