I think that's a false dichotomy (was: Attacks on encrypted communicxatiopn rising in Europe)

jnxx at posteo.net jnxx at posteo.net
Sat Sep 3 20:37:40 CEST 2016

On Tue, 23 Aug 2016 22:26:17 -0400
"Robert J. Hansen" <rjh at sixdemonbag.org> wrote:

> Some serious questions --
> 	1.  Are you a privacy absolutist?

Robert, I have a counter-question:

Do you think that privacy is a fundamental human right?

Also, it seems to me a bit that the discussion following up your
post partly confounds two rather different cases: Disabling
private communication for all citizens versus not investigating
at all if somebody is evidently committing serious crimes.

I think this is a false dichotomy. 

Human rights are, in essence, unconditional. Take, for example,
Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights [1]:
"Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of
person.". I think this is pretty clear.  Of course, is somebody
has committed a crime, he can end up in prison, according to the
laws. But before that, everyone has the right to walk free.

Now take article 12: "No one shall be subjected to arbitrary
interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence,
nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the
right to the protection of the law against such interference or

I think this is pretty clear as well, and for me it is obvious
that any private digital communication fits the notion of
"correspondence" in that article.

Of course, if somebody is committing serious crimes, such as
murdering people or abusing children, he cannot protect his acts
by this rights, for the simple reason that he is already
severely harming the rights of others.  But the mere
*possibility* that some people commit crimes does not form a
valid reason to strip all other human beings of their rights.

I am not sure what your position is ... Do you agree with this or

Also, I want to point to three further aspects which
might help the discussion:

First, if somebody is actually committing a crime such as child
abuse or murder, in this digital age he will not leave only
traces but a formidable broad dirt track of his activities. It
is actually near impossible to hide most activities completely.
For example, it is rather difficult to delete digital media
completely from any normal computer. For a targeted forensic
investigation, almost always there will be enough traces.
Actually, we rather have the inverse problem, as existent
massive collections of data such as cellphone location data and
its combination and fusion with other data can easily be used in
extremely invasive ways. It would, for example, be pretty easy
to construct a database of politicians or influential business
people which probably pursue extramarital affairs from such data.

Second, I think it is urgently necessary to understand the right
to privacy as a collective protection, just in the same way as
the right of secrecy of the ballot. The reason is that privacy
is part of the rights that protect a balance of power between
the majority of people and state institutions.  The right to
privacy is important in the collective sphere, as necessary to
maintain collective freedom. What is currently happening in
Turkey illustrates, I think, the issue well enough. 

I even think that much of the discussion about digital privacy
will have less effect on crime prosecution and is dominantly
concerned about negotiating the future of that power balance.
(With many sides involved... I think some parties might even
resort to troll online forums to influence opinions according to
their interests).

Thirdly, I would like to point out that the declaration of human
rights has a historical context, in that it was intended as a
defense against totalitarianism. I think it is a clear alarm
signal if these rights are questioned.



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