Saturday, December 10, 2016

Privacy and Secrecy

Some "Novelist" in the NY Times writes about privacy and encryption. I am always amazed when some "writer" takes it upon themselves to opine on topics for which they seem in my opinion to have little if any understanding, at least so far as their presentation of the topic is concerned. But alas, it is the NY Times which has become the perpetual source of anti putative President paper of record. But let us put that aside. As the writer states:

I’ve never been able to fit the concepts of privacy, history and encryption together in a satisfying way, though it continues to seem that I should. Each concept has to do with information; each can be considered to concern the public and the private; and each involves aspects of society, and perhaps particularly digital society. But experience has taught me that all I can hope to do with these three concepts is demonstrate the problems that considering them together causes. Privacy confuses me, beyond my simplest understanding, which is that individuals prefer, to different degrees, that information about them not be freely available to others. I desire privacy myself, and I understand why other individuals want it. But when the entity desiring privacy is a state, a corporation or some other human institution, my understanding of privacy becomes confused. 

 Let's see. First three concepts; privacy, history, encryption. Kind of like; tomato, jumping, and elasticity. Not a single common thread but somehow he tries to get a nexus. I think I get it. Let us consider the seminal work on American privacy. Namely "THE RIGHT TO PRIVACY" by Warren and Brandeis (Originally published in 4 Harvard Law Review 193 (1890)) which states: 

If the invasion of privacy constitutes a legal injuria, the elements for demanding redress exist, since already the value of mental suffering, caused by an act wrongful in itself, is recognized as a basis for compensation. The right of one who has remained a private individual, to prevent his public portraiture, presents the simplest case for such extension; the right to protect one's self from pen portraiture, from a discussion by the press of one's private affairs, would be a more important and far-reaching one. If casual and unimportant statements in a letter, if handiwork, however inartistic and valueless, if possessions of all sorts are protected not only against reproduction, but against description and enumeration, how much more should the acts and sayings of a man in his social and domestic relations be guarded from ruthless publicity. If you may not reproduce a woman's face photographically without her consent, how much less should be tolerated the reproduction of her face, her form, and her actions, by graphic descriptions colored to suit a gross and depraved imagination. The right to privacy, limited as such right must necessarily be, has already found expression in the law of France.

To a degree privacy is a right to be left alone. It goes well beyond the Fourth Amendment. It is a right to live in one's own sphere,  not being attacked and examined by others. Now such a concept is extreme and even if such exists then one rejects it once one places oneself on say the Internet! 

History is what we try to garner about the past by records available, public and private. For example what did FDR think of Churchill, and did JFK almost get the US nuked because of his dalliances? Good for books, possibly for History. Both gotten from private records.

Then there is encryption. Namely the ability that anyone has to take some record of something which has been reduced to a discoverable entity, and protect its discovery, except by some authorized party by some secure encoding. Thus did JFK send secret love letters to his paramours and if so when and what do they say. If encrypted one may never know and thus the impact on the writer of History could be impaired. I think that is what this fellow is trying to say.

They are three distinct topics, like "Charlie" and "in the water". One is a name and the second is a condition. Perhaps.

But the use of news type to present this is questionable at best. The job of the Historian is to reassemble the past from a puzzle like collection of data. Some may be indecipherable, lost, or just wrong. Privacy is what a person has a right to until such time as they give that right away. The pity is that it is now so easy to relinquish that right before anyone even understands what it is.