Communion Of Dreams

Liberty vs. Control

(I’m still fighting a nasty bit of a sore throat and related poor health, so forgive me if this is a little more jumbled and unclear than what I usually post. But I wanted to address the topic, because it is, in many ways, at the heart of some of the issues I try and deal with in he overall scope of Communion of Dreams. That being the case, this post also contains major and minor spoilers about the novel; I will note warnings in advance of each within the text, for those who wish to avoid them.

– Jim D.)

Bruce Schneier has an excellent editorial up at Wired and over on his own blog about how the argument of ‘Security versus Privacy’ in dealing with the threat of terrorism is really better characterized as being about ‘Control versus Liberty’. I would definitely encourage you to read the whole thing, but here is a good passage which sums up what I want to address on the subject:

Since 9/11, approximately three things have potentially improved airline security: reinforcing the cockpit doors, passengers realizing they have to fight back and — possibly — sky marshals. Everything else — all the security measures that affect privacy — is just security theater and a waste of effort.

By the same token, many of the anti-privacy “security” measures we’re seeing — national ID cards, warrantless eavesdropping, massive data mining and so on — do little to improve, and in some cases harm, security. And government claims of their success are either wrong, or against fake threats.

The debate isn’t security versus privacy. It’s liberty versus control.

You can see it in comments by government officials: “Privacy no longer can mean anonymity,” says Donald Kerr, principal deputy director of national intelligence. “Instead, it should mean that government and businesses properly safeguard people’s private communications and financial information.” Did you catch that? You’re expected to give up control of your privacy to others, who — presumably — get to decide how much of it you deserve. That’s what loss of liberty looks like.

Exactly. In many ways, it is a question not of control itself, but *who* is in control. If I am in control of my own privacy, my own security, then I can decide on what limitations I am willing to live with, what trade-offs I will accept. But we do not have that control, according to our government – they do.

That is precisely what was behind this recent post – showing how governments think that they should be in control of our knowledge, as an argument of their power to provide security.

[Mild spoilers in next paragraph.]

This is one of the reasons I set up the whole ‘expert systems/AI’ of the book – so that each expert such as Seth would be dedicated to maintaining a wall in protection of the privacy of his/her client. He is the little ‘black box’ which interacts on behalf of a client in exchanging information/data/privacy with the rest of the world.

[Major spoilers in the next paragraph.]

And, in the larger picture, this is exactly why I set up the whole “embargo” around our solar system – some alien culture has decided, for whatever reason, that it needs to be in control of our knowledge about the outside (and here’s a hint – it also is in control of who knows about us). They have assumed to act on our behalf, without our knowledge or permission – and when Seth, the AI who has shown he is willing to act on behalf of Jon in the first part of the book, becomes in contact with that alien culture, he makes the decision to continue the embargo for at least a while, though with some changes. Up to the point where Seth does this, we are nothing but children – that a ‘child’ of mankind (an Artificial Intelligence of our creation) then steps in to assume this role carries with it not just an inversion of relationship, but also some legitimation of the decision. While I don’t address this specifically in the book, I can see how this might be a ‘standard protocol’ for contacting new, young civilizations – keep them isolated and pure until they develop an artificial intelligence which can make decisions on their behalf with regards to the larger galactic/universal culture. That procedure would make an awful lot of sense, if you stop and think about it.

Anyway, go read Schneier’s essay.

Jim Downey

(Ah, I see Cory Doctorow at BoingBoing has also posted on this – no surprise.)

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