Schneier shreds the Transparent Society

Paul Raven @ 10-03-2008

CCTV-warning-sign Regular readers will know I’m fond of citing David Brin’s Transparent Society concept as a potential solution to the escalating level of surveillance in our cultures. [image by takomabibelot]

However, it looks like I may have to reconsider the idea in light of an essay from security maven Bruce Schneier. The problem is that mutual disclosure doesn’t take into account the amount of power you have before a transaction begins:

“An example will make this clearer. You’re stopped by a police officer, who demands to see identification. Divulging your identity will give the officer enormous power over you: He or she can search police databases using the information on your ID; he or she can create a police record attached to your name; he or she can put you on this or that secret terrorist watch list. Asking to see the officer’s ID in return gives you no comparable power over him or her. The power imbalance is too great, and mutual disclosure does not make it OK.

You can think of your existing power as the exponent in an equation that determines the value, to you, of more information. The more power you have, the more additional power you derive from the new data.”

That said, Schneier is still definitely on-side with an increase in “watching of the watchers” – our ability to keep tabs on those who keep tabs on us is the difference between control and liberty. I just hope that, in light of the UK police’s increasingly Orwellian PR efforts, we haven’t already gone too far in trading freedom for supposed security.

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One Response to “Schneier shreds the Transparent Society”

  1. Gabriel Kent says:

    sure an officer may have more rights to modify certain data in certain DBs however as long as all have access to this data I see no issue. Consider, the officer is such for a reason. The point is you can see when you are in the terrorist DB and who put you there. You get enough injustice the people will know and can organize around that for a change. the no fly list is an apt example. no one knows they are on it until they find out they can’t fly. transparency would allow people to know and act faster…together.