Why Libertarians actually care about online privacyBaltimore Post-Examiner

Why Libertarians actually care about online privacy

Libertarians, we are told, are waging an epic battle on behalf of Americans to protect our cherished right to privacy. The combatants are so familiar that they’ve become a political cliché. On one hand, there is the tyrannical Orwellian government, embodied by the NSA and other malevolent intelligence agencies; on the other, our band of heroic freedom fighting nerds with their totally unstoppable coding skills.

This isn’t just what Libertarians say about themselves. Nearly our entire media has adopted this narrative, from Fox News on the right to liberal outlets like The Nation. It’s a nearly irresistible story, riffing on our beloved Rebels vs. The Establishment archetypes and promising a rare instance of left-right consensus.

And yet it just isn’t true.

Libertarians aren’t acting out of any kind of principled concern for the privacy of Americans – if that were true, they’d focus on the greatest threat to our privacy: corporate power. Instead, the Libertarian privacy agenda is two-fold: to destroy democratic government and to steal media.

The real threat to privacy

Yes: illegal government surveillance is a problem. No one disagrees about this.

But just how big of a problem is it compared to the constant, massive surveillance apparatus of modern capitalism? Every moment, torrents of your personal data are pouring into corporate databases. This information is used to refine your credit rating, adjust prices for goods and services, brief potential employers, tailor dating opportunities, define your reputation, determine insurance rates, inform your medical treatment – in short, to influence nearly every aspect of your day-to-day life. And it’s all in private hands, unaccountable to democratic oversight and control, and almost always used to make someone else wealthier with no regard for your own interests.

Libertarians will insist that you can defend your privacy by using the right technology and making the right consumer choices. But today, the burdens of vigilance, abstinence from economic/cultural life, and technological/legal literacy have become so disproportionately onerous that no one can reasonably expect individuals to bear them just to protect their basic human dignity and autonomy.

Any Libertarian who actually cared about privacy would spend the overwhelming majority of their time developing better tools to protect individuals from corporate surveillance, or educating consumers about their choices and rights, or building businesses that respect their consumers. Instead, their energy is disproportionately focused on an exceedingly small component of the problem – the government – and the reason is exceedingly obvious.

Policing private property

Listen to a Libertarian talk about internet privacy, and they’ll invariably return to rhetoric about protecting political autonomy and dissent against tyranny.

The “mere existence of a mass surveillance apparatus, regardless of how it is used, is in itself sufficient to stifle dissent,” Glenn Greenwald writes.

It’s a noble position – and one that’s extremely curious, since Libertarian privacy advocates do not in fact face anything remotely resembling government opposition. These are not religious radicals who will go to jail if the state uncovers their plan to bomb an abortion clinic or hijack an airplane. They aren’t cartel operatives trying to dodge a wiretap from the cops. They aren’t even college leftists planning to block traffic or disrupt a Congressional hearing.

If you’re at all acquainted with a typical Libertarian – white, male, suburban and middle class – or with the history of popular internet privacy activism, you know exactly what this is about: file sharing.

Except for a handful of paranoid nerds and cryptography enthusiasts, few people paid any kind of attention to government internet surveillance until services like Napster popularized the mass theft of movies, media, and games. That’s when the Libertarian demographic started to take a significant interest in privacy strategies: finding obscure file-sharing networks, adopting alternative technologies like Bittorrent, and working through anonymizers like Tor. And that’s when popular privacy concerns assumed a decisively political dimension, evolving from early critiques of litigation and enforcement strategies from ISPs and copyright holders to today’s government-oriented opposition.

For leftists, all of this is completely understandable. Of course people want to be able to seize private property from rich and powerful corporations! Everyone knows that they’re being overcharged by the entertainment industry, and they have few misgivings about balancing the ledger by downloading albums or pirated movies.

The problem is that Libertarians have hijacked everyone’s scorn for private property to advance their own radical, anti-government agenda. Americans are fine with the government enforcing laws and even using minimal, legal surveillance to do so – we just don’t think that this should include protecting Capitalism for the rich. And file-stealing Libertarians agree! They should just be honest about it.

The left-right compromise

This understanding of Libertarian activism may seem to undermine hopes for a left-right coalition on the issue, but in fact it creates the possibility for genuine compromise.

If Libertarians are genuinely concerned about privacy, they should join the left in fighting the greatest privacy threat to Americans today: corporate surveillance. There’s plenty that they can do without compromising their principles. They can start business competitors that don’t gather data. They can work on technology that will keep consumers competitive in the arms race of privacy solutions vs. surveillance tools. They can contribute to consumer education. None of this will be as effective as good ol’ government regulation, but it’s still infinitely more useful than bothering with the NSA.

And if Libertarians want to take free media from rich and powerful entertainment companies, they should join their comrades on the radical left in calling for the abolition of private property. This isn’t even a compromise – it’s just the left asking Libertarians to make their ideology consistent with their actions.

At the very least, Libertarians should be honest about their tactics and priorities when calling for opposition to the NSA. If they don’t want to join the left, they should admit that they’re fine with Google and Facebook peering into the personal lives of their users. And they should admit that they’re selective in their defense of private property, championing it to get out of taxes and government regulation, but abandoning it if they can steal episodes of their favorite anime. These positions may be ridiculous and transparently self-serving…but at least they’re sincere.





About the author

Carl Beijer

Carl Beijer is a writer who focuses on the Left, linguistics, and international affairs. Contact the author.
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114 Comments

  1. sean601 says:

    So Carl Woodward and Alison Sharpe are either the same person or a couple/team. Since I’ve pointed out that the two are linked on twitter, Carl’s twitter account has been deleted.

    Reply
  2. FactsNotFallacies says:

    So I take it the author is implying that the NSA – which actively tries to weaken the security of encryption systems and attack protected data – is on par with companies that are simply keeping track of sales.

    The left has a term for something like this:

    False equivalency.

    Reply
    • Alison Sharpes says:

      That’s because you’re deliberately ignoring where he addresses that point in the article.

      Reply
      • FactsNotFallacies says:

        Which would be?

        Reply
        • Alison Sharpes says:

          Paragraph beginning “But just how big of a problem is it compared to the constant, massive surveillance apparatus of modern capitalism?”

          Reply
          • FactsNotFallacies says:

            A question is not an argument. I’m interested in what you think was so compelling about the piece in making the case that the private sector somehow has a more dangerous surveillance apparatus than the NSA.

          • Alison Sharpes says:

            The paragraph beginning with that question. As I said.

          • FactsNotFallacies says:

            “This information is used to refine your credit rating, adjust prices for goods and services, brief potential employers, tailor dating opportunities, define your reputation, determine insurance rates, inform your medical treatment – in short, to influence nearly every aspect of your day-to-day life.”

            Accurate credit, pricing, hiring info, dating arrangements, reputation, insurance rates, and medical treatments are a BAD thing?

            And yet this is somehow as bad as attacking network security. Go figure.

          • Alison Sharpes says:

            Hmm, comparing the best case outcomes of corporate surveillance to worst case outcomes of government surveillance. This reads like a super-rigorous argument that I’m eager to debunk.

          • FactsNotFallacies says:

            “Hmm, comparing the best case outcomes of corporate surveillance…”

            They’re the examples given the article. If there’s more to the picture he missed then let’s hear it.

            “…to worst case outcomes of government surveillance.”

            Not the “worst” outcomes, the actual outcomes which only became public after someone found a safe haven to make them public.

          • Alison Sharpes says:

            No, you interpolated the word “accurate” for one, and it’s obvious why.

            That kind of dishonesty is tedious and you have yet to get away with it, so please give it a rest.

            “which only became public after someone found a safe haven to make them public”

            lol

          • FactsNotFallacies says:

            “No, you interpolated the word “accurate” for one, and it’s obvious why.”

            If it’s common practice for companies to gather data in those areas for other reasons, I’d love to see documentation of this.

            “lol”

            You’re right. Snowden or any other NSA whistle blower have nothing to fear. Sedition is just a thing for big data employees who tell us what we already know.

          • Alison Sharpes says:

            Just because a corporation sets out to gather accurate information it does not follow that the information will be accurate. And this is, in any case, an extremely bizarre line of defense. Would you defend government spying as justified so long as the information gathered is accurate?

            Regarding Snowden, I am laughing at you because you are claiming that the NSA spying only became public after Snowden. Anyone who actually understands the issues surrounding government surveillance has been aware of the NSA’s programs for quite some time.

          • FactsNotFallacies says:

            “Just because a corporation sets out to gather accurate information it does not follow that the information will be accurate.”

            It’s information that already exists. So it’s not a question of accuracy but rather what they use and how.

            “Would you defend government spying as justified so long as the information gathered is accurate?”

            Apples to oranges. The type of data, means of acquiring it, and what is actually being done with it varies widely between businesses and the NSA.

            “Regarding Snowden, I am laughing at you because you are claiming that the NSA spying only became public after Snowden.”

            Size and scope was only a matter of speculation prior to the Snowden revelations.

            “Anyone who actually understands the issues surrounding government surveillance has been aware of the NSA’s programs for quite some time.”

            See the above point. Any security engineer or someone from the ACLU or EFF who has followed this issue will tell you the same thing.

          • Alison Sharpes says:

            Incorrect. Anyone who has actually followed this is well aware that we had specific, concrete information about the NSA’s surveillance programs well before Snowden, and that the a significant majority of “revelations” have just been predictable/trivial implementation details and leaks of actual data.

            Your other counterpoints are ridiculous. Of course it matter whether or not the data corporations collect is accurate. And while the NSA and big corporations do different things with their data, that does not bear on the point about accuracy.

          • FactsNotFallacies says:

            Alright, show me some prior sources with information as detailed as what he provided.

            “Your other counterpoints are ridiculous. Of course it matter whether or not the data corporations collect is accurate.”

            I never said it wasn’t. You appear to be making a semantic misunderstanding. What I said was that the main issues at hand are what data they choose to collect and how they decide to act on that information.

          • FactsNotFallacies says:

            Yep, a 1983 book will tell us all the up to date details about programs like PRISM, TAO, and many others that didn’t even exist at the time.

            And don’t even get me started with HTTPS 🙂

          • Alison Sharpes says:

            As I said, predictable/trivial implementation details. It is not a game-changer to learn that a surveillance agency that uses dragnet collection and automated analysis techniques will adapt them in the obvious ways facilitated by new technologies. The particulars may be extremely fascinating to STEM nerds but they’re neither relevant nor important to anyone who cares about the political and socioeconomic dimensions of the program.

            Incidentally, plenty has been published since then, even by Bamford himself, and if you knew this you wouldn’t have just leaned your argument on pretending that all of our pre-Snowden info is from 1983.

          • FactsNotFallacies says:

            “The particulars may be extremely fascinating to STEM nerds but they’re neither relevant nor important to anyone who cares about the political and socioeconomic dimensions of the program.”

            Right, the general public didn’t care at all…

            And it’s not like there’s a whole community of people who rely on that information to make decisions about how to best protect communications.

            I for one was relieved to hear that encryption itself really can work, it’s really end-to-end security we need to worry about.

            “Incidentally, plenty has been published since then, even by Bamford himself, and if you knew this you wouldn’t have just leaned your argument on pretending that all of our pre-Snowden info is from 1983.”

            I never said it was. I’m just pointing out that the specifics of many programs we were never supposed to know about didn’t come to light until the Snowden leaks.

  3. bacchys says:

    This article would be painful if it weren’t so hilarious. Greenwald is a libertarian? Libertarians can only believe what they say they believe if they do what the author thinks they should?

    Reply
    • Alison Sharpes says:

      Of course Greenwald is a Libertarian.

      And yes, Libertarians are only acting consistently with their beliefs if they either 1) stop file-sharing or 2) abandon their defense of private property. This is true not because Woodward said so, but because of basic logic.

      Reply
      • FactsNotFallacies says:

        Was that a serious comment?

        Reply
        • Alison Sharpes says:

          you’re a boring troll

          Reply
          • FactsNotFallacies says:

            No really, are you actually unaware of the Libertarian case against copyright or are you simply choosing to misrepresent views you don’t like?

          • Alison Sharpes says:

            No really, you’re a boring troll.

            You can prove me wrong by bringing some substance to your criticism. But we both know that you won’t 🙂

          • FactsNotFallacies says:

            Lots of people (myself included) have brought in at least as much accurate substance as you and the author of this piece have, though I suspect your means of response is to keep moving the goal posts.

            Let’s start with why it makes no sense for Libertarians to support copyright by looking at what actual Libertarians have to say on the topic:

            http://www.freenation.org/a/f31l1.html

            https://mises.org/library/case-against-ip-concise-guide

            http://levine.sscnet.ucla.edu/general/intellectual/againstfinal.htm

          • Alison Sharpes says:

            No, you have almost exclusively been posting endless, substanceless variations on “you’re wrong”.

            This is the closest you’ve come, but link-dumping proves nothing. It takes 2 seconds for anyone to Google “intellectual property libertarians” or whatever and see a diversity of opinion. Posting three of them does not amount to establishing a representative survey of Libertarian opinion.

            Regardless I at least feel no need to fight this battle. If Libertarians are finally deciding to agree with the left about property law that’s a step forward.

          • FactsNotFallacies says:

            Yeah I know there’s a diversity of opinion, and I’m linking to reasons why the Libertarian case against intellectual property has more merit.

            You can’t be free market and pro-copyright; the latter is a government mandate on how other people can use their existing physical resources – for instance, what they may store on their hard drive.

            Conservatives especially have a LOT of explaining to do here but that’s a story for another day.

      • bacchys says:

        Greenwald isn’t a libertarian. Just because he’s a strong supporter of civil rights and doesn’t like either major party, that doesn’t make him a libertarian.

        Your “basic logic” is nonsense. It’s you- and Woodward- deciding you know what others’ beliefs require. That’s not logic, but it does smack of arrogance.

        Reply
  4. James Foster says:

    Carl’s a commie, but this time he’s right…I’m tired of so many businesses collecting so much information about me…you can’t take your business elsewhere anymore because EVERYONE does it…government isn’t the solution here but we need to find a solution.

    And these kids who call themselves Libertarians but then steal music are just thieves, plain and simple. My son tried to install Tor on our computer and pretended like it was about privacy, but he just wanted to steal. Real Libertarians would support the government defending private property, not try to find ways to get away with it…

    Reply
    • sean601 says:

      He says 1 right thing in an article full of misstatements and lies. I’d suggest finding someone else who makes a similar point to the one you agree with. Also you do realize that Tor and similar software can be used to address your 1st complaint.

      Reply
    • James_R says:

      Intellectual property is not the same as private property. If your son illegally downloads a song online; the musician is no better or no worse off than before the download. It doesn’t harm the integrity of the song just because more people have it now.

      Reply
      • Alison Sharpes says:

        Incorrect, the musician has lost potential profits.

        Reply
        • James_R says:

          You never had a claim on “potential” profits.

          Reply
        • FactsNotFallacies says:

          The song itself still plays fine. They do not have the right to dictate what other people can do with their own property (e.g. store a pattern of zeros and ones that happens to be an mp3 of the song).

          Surprised someone from the left is making the sort of argument that you’re making. Principled OWS members know the distinction and rightfully act accordingly.

          Reply
          • Alison Sharpes says:

            I’m arguing from the perspective of an ideologically consistent Libertarian, not from my own position. Obviously I think ideologically consistent Libertarianism is ridiculous.

            The claim that musicians “do not have the right to dictate what other people can do with their own property” assumes that intellectual property is not a form of property. That is an interesting claim, but whatever its merits it cannot, as you are trying to do, be used to support the claim that intellectual property is not a form of property. You are assuming the very argument you have set out to defend.

          • FactsNotFallacies says:

            It’s been quite clear that you’re arguing from a perspective that you’re not familiar with at all. Maybe take a look at the ideological turing test perhaps?

            “…assumes that intellectual property is not a form of property.”

            Logically speaking it isn’t. Practically speaking it shouldn’t be.

            “You are assuming the very argument you have set out to defend.”

            The hypocrisy of this statement speaks for itself.

          • Alison Sharpes says:

            More lazyness. Not actually hypocritical statement.

            And in what sense could its hypocrisy even hypothetically speak for itself? Nothing about that statement somehow proves that I’m being hypocritical. To establish that you’d have to point to some instance where I made the same error I’ve accused you of. You are simply claiming that I made this error without argument because you are too lazy to demonstrate it.

            Moreover, even if it were a hypocritical statement, and even if the hypocrisy of that statement somehow spoke for itself, that does not somehow salvage your position. You assumed the argument you set out to prove. This is true regardless of any error I may or may not have made myself. Tu quoque-ing me doesn’t change that.

            Truly the “I’m rubber, you’re glue” of responses. You got caught in a dumb piece of circular reasoning and you’re trying to wriggle out from it with a canned, irrelevant zinger. Own it.

          • FactsNotFallacies says:

            You are assuming that intellectual property is a thing while accusing me of making assumptions. Not much else I need to say on this point.

          • Alison Sharpes says:

            No I’m not. I’m assuming that intellectual property can be stolen, whether or not we characterize it as a “thing”.

            Interesting how you had to defend your accusation of a hypocrisy that allegedly spoke for itself. Now you’re suggesting that there’s not much more you need to write. Can you at least follow through on that?

          • FactsNotFallacies says:

            “I’m assuming that…”

            There’s really no further comment necessary. You’ve just admitted my point.

          • Alison Sharpes says:

            So there IS more you had to say! It’s almost as if these arguments aren’t as self-evident as you want them to be! 😀

            If your point is merely that arguments begin with assumptions, great work. I am indeed making assumptions in that sense.

            However, my specific criticism was that you were not merely making assumptions, but that you were assuming the very thing you set out to prove. I have not done that. My position that intellectual property can be stolen does not rely on the claim that intellectual property can be stolen. Since it is not circular, it is open to falsification. That is the crucial difference between my assumptions and yours.

          • FactsNotFallacies says:

            Okay so we’re starting to get on the same page here. Good.

            “However, my specific criticism was that you were not merely making assumptions, but that you were assuming the very thing you set out to prove.”

            In that case, your criticism is incorrect. I have described how “intellectual property” does not meet the common criteria we used to define property and relies on more assumptions than those used to justify copying files. Those were not a priori arguments in the previous comments.

            “I have not done that.”

            The list goes on, starting from assuming things about Libertarian perspectives on copyright that aren’t true, to claiming that copying is the practical equivalent to theft.

            “My position that intellectual property can be stolen does not rely on the claim that intellectual property can be stolen. Since it is not circular, it is open to falsification.”

            Put it in a syllogism.

            “That is the crucial difference between my assumptions and yours.”

            See the above point. I started with definitions and deduced my conclusions from there.

    • FactsNotFallacies says:

      Copyright is theft. Storing zeros and ones on your hard drive is not.

      Reply
      • Alison Sharpes says:

        I guess you can win any argument by idiosyncratically redefining everything!

        Reply
        • FactsNotFallacies says:

          As you appear to be trying to demonstrate in all your replies.

          Libertarians actually understand the distinction between something that is depleted and something that is merely copied.

          As many who have linked to this article are firmly aware, both the author and his defenders (I’m assuming you’re not the only one but what have you) don’t know the difference.

          Reply
          • Alison Sharpes says:

            Libertarians are also too lazy to argue why that distinction should be germane to definitions of theft.

            So instead, they just embed that distinction in their idiosyncratic definitions and hope that their critics will accept it without argument.

            Sorry, not gonna happen.

          • FactsNotFallacies says:

            No, justifications are made as I noted in the links above.

            It’s simply a question of whether or not you have the capacity to wrap your mind around it.

            Lay people are perfectly capable of seeing the difference between digital media and physical goods. The distinction is critical because the former is not depleted when copied.

          • Alison Sharpes says:

            You’re confused. You don’t get credit for arguments that other people took the time to make. And you don’t get credit for posting those arguments after I criticized you for your lazyness.

            Agreed, lay people can distinguish between digital media and social goods. And that distinction is critical insofar as one is not depleted when copied. Not sure why you think you’ve established anything about theft, though. You’re dodging that point, again.

          • FactsNotFallacies says:

            “You don’t get credit for arguments that other people took the time to make.”

            Your original claim is that there’s no Libertarian case against copyright. Now you’ve shifted the goalposts to a different issue altogether that I never took a position on.

            “And you don’t get credit for posting those arguments after I criticized you for your lazyness.”

            No further comment necessary on this one, the last word in that sentence speaks for itself.

            “Not sure why you think you’ve established anything about theft, though. You’re dodging that point, again.”

            I haven’t. Theft is the deprivation of property, period. Someone who has an original file that has been copied still has a functional file nonetheless. This should be very clear.

          • Alison Sharpes says:

            You’ve scored an extremely important point. I am clearly guilty of a rhetorical generalization. I claimed that Libertarians are too lazy to argue their points, when in fact what I should have said is that the Libertarians in this thread are too lazy to argue their points. I was not careful in that accusation since it is not particularly important to my argument. Alas.

            So let me clarify. You (along with most other Libertarians in this thread) have been embarrassingly lazy in this thread.

            Theft is not “the deprivation of property, period.” There are all kinds of situations wherein people are deprived of their property (taxation, natural disasters, barter) that do no qualify as theft. What makes theft “theft” is that people have been deprived of control of their property without their consent.

          • FactsNotFallacies says:

            Close but no cigar.

            There’s no reason not to cite arguments counter to your point that I would’ve ended up paraphrasing anyway. That would be reinventing the wheel and you would respond by insisting I must be an exception to the rule on what Libertarians actually think about copyright. The goal posts would keep shifting – as they already are.

            “kinds of situations wherein people are deprived of their property (taxation, natural disasters, barter) that do no qualify as theft.”

            I don’t even know where to begin with this…

            Taxation is theft that is justified on political/consequential grounds, among other things.

            Natural disasters (as much as they really do rob people of their livelihood) are not “people.” I don’t mean to point out the obvious, but we’re talking about actions between individuals here.

            Barter is trade some property for another. Not the same thing as theft.

            “What makes theft “theft” is that people have been deprived of control of their property without their consent.”

            Okay, so copyright is theft by that definition while piracy is not. Copyright robs people of the ability to use their own property (what they can store on their hard drive) while piracy doesn’t prevent someone from being able to use a file functionally. It still opens/plays.

          • Alison Sharpes says:

            No one is forcing you to reinvent the wheel in this comment thread. You are welcome to not say anything at all and let these supposedly relevant and legitimate texts speak for themselves.

            However, the fact that you are still responding is evidence enough that you realize this is not sufficient. So either make your case or don’t.

            Your claim that “taxation is theft” is evidence enough that you are dealing in idiosyncratic definitions that are at odds with the conventional way that law, politics, and philosophy have always talked about these things. I will let that point speak for itself, and unlike you, I actually will let that point speak for itself.

          • FactsNotFallacies says:

            “No one is forcing you to reinvent the wheel in this comment thread.”

            Let’s break this down:

            -You initially made false assumptions about what *you* thought consistent Libertarians were supposed to think on intellectual property. Since you would’ve insisted I’m somehow an exception to the rule, I linked to widely-cited arguments by Libertarians against intellectual property.

            Telling me to paraphrase the same argument would achieve nothing, especially given the fact that doing so would fail to address your original claim about what Libertarians (plural) often think on this issue.

            “However, the fact that you are still responding is evidence enough that you realize this is not sufficient. So either make your case or don’t.”

            Right back at you.

            “Your claim that “taxation is theft” is evidence enough that you are dealing in idiosyncratic definitions that are at odds with the conventional way that law, politics, and philosophy have always talked about these things.”

            You’re assuming that your views are conventional. No consensus exists on issues this complex. Do you want to argue over whether or not taxes can be classified as theft or are you still focused on whether or not copying data is the same thing as theft?

            “I will let that point speak for itself, and unlike you, I actually will let that point speak for itself.”

            Testing that claim in 3, 2, 1…

  5. Ken Schaefer says:

    Okay, I’ll play your silly little game. I debunk the first point, just for fun.

    Libertarians care less about corporate privacy violations than Governmental ones because the government can imprison and kill you. Google cannot.

    And those who say that mocking is enough are right. If you were thinking clearly, the obviousness of the emptiness of the author’s arguments would be glaring.

    Reply
    • Alison Sharpes says:

      That doesn’t even begin to debunk Woodward’s point.

      A potential consequence is not the same as a likely consequence or a relevant consequence. On one hand, there is the infinitesimally remote possibility that the government could kill or imprison you. On the other, there is the reality, which Woodward points out at length, that corporate surveillance already impacts everyone’s lives, constantly.

      If you cared about privacy, you’d care a lot more about the real and imminent consequences of corporate spying than the hypothetical consequences of government spying.

      Your last comment is dumb for obvious reasons.

      Reply
      • sean601 says:

        HA!!!! “there is the infinitesimally remote possibility that the government could kill or imprison you.”

        Corporations getting people’s info to market to them worst thing ever, but governments who have imprisoned or killed millions of people, them we can trust. Fantastic! You are peach Alison, keep up the good humor.

        Alison if you and woody want to try play journalist, you should at least know a little history. governments don’t imprison people or kill them after spying on them? sure, If you don’t count, China, Russia, Venezuela, Cuba, El Salvador, Vietnam, North Korea, Pakistan, the Philippines, Croatia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq…..so yes other than the millions of people who have been imprisoned or killed by governments because of their opposition to the governments, you are 100% correct it is infinitesimally remote that they’ll kill or imprison you.

        Reply
        • Alison Sharpes says:

          Corporations don’t just use surveillance for marketing purposes, as Woodward explained. It’s telling that you deliberately ignored that point.

          It is lazy and utterly facile to attribute without argument millions of historical deaths to government spying in particular, and from there to leap to the conclusion that the US’s intelligence programs will necessarily lead to that outcome. Even in instances where those regimes had intrusive surveillance programs it does not follow that those programs were the necessary or sufficient condition for government repression.

          You are dealing in conjecture and hypotheticals: I am the one being specific. Invasive domestic surveillance has only been the proximate cause of a marginal number of arrests in the United States. You are exaggerating that problem, while downplaying the problems of corporate surveillance, because you do not in fact actually care about privacy.

          Reply
        • Carl Woodward says:

          I shouldn’t bother because Alison is doing a great job here, but I would like to weigh in with a single point.

          Obviously there are plenty of examples of oppressive governments. But in those cases of mass imprisonments and executions that always come up, intrusive surveillance is rarely a significant cause. On the contrary, what we usually see are trials without evidence (kangaroo courts), trials on charges that we do not think should qualify as crimes (subversive speech, failing to wear a veil in public), or no trial at all (extrajudicial executions).

          Even in some of the most notorious surveillance states, such as the Soviet Union, the evidence gathered by government spying was typically just a pretext for punishing people who were going to be punished no matter what – political opponents, agitators, nuisances and so on.

          There are relatively few examples of governments actually and successfully using surveillance itself as a tool to police the population – 4th century China, or Hussein era Iraq. Much more often it’s a tool of political intimidation, a point that even most of the more thoughtful Libertarian writers concede. If you want to warn about the dangers of government surveillance, that’s a much more plausible line of argument.

          Reply
          • James_R says:

            Carl, How do you think those defendants sitting before a kangaroo court in East Germany years ago ended up there? They met their dismal fates due in no small part to government surveillance. The fact that the surveillance tapes weren’t used as evidence and played before a jury doesn’t mean that government spying wasn’t the main factor behind their imprisonment. Without massive government intelligence gathering; many of those dissidents would never have found themselves brought up on trumped up charges in the first place.

          • Alison Sharpes says:

            You’re ignoring Carl’s point – such evidence “was typically just a pretext for punishing people who were going to be punished no matter what”.

            It’s really strange to bring up history’s worst tyrannies, point out how their intelligence and investigation programs violated due process — and then assume that, but for those violations, victims would have received fair trials and escaped persecution.

            The Stasi are a perfect example of this. The overwhelming majority of the evidence it gathered was voluntarily supplied by citizen informants. One of the great tragedies of this system was that it was *NOT* a legitimate intelligence operation — the information it gathered was extremely suspect, often fabricated, and used by a government that didn’t care about the truth and merely wanted pretexts to persecute political opponents.

            To pretend that modern US intelligence programs have any significant resemblance to the Stasi is to give *way* too much credit to the Stasi.

          • James_R says:

            I’m not ignoring Carl’s point at all. I’m saying he is flat-out wrong. Tyrannical regimes don’t typically target dissidents without first collecting intelligence and creating a case file on them utilizing phone taps, phone records and internet surveillance. Intrusive Government surveillance is a vital tool used by governments to increase their power and squash dissent. Just because a government doesn’t advertise their methods and parade their surveillance tactics before a courtroom doesn’t mean that they do not rely on these strategies.

          • FactsNotFallacies says:

            Yeah, it totally makes sense to put companies who are tracking sales in the same camp as an agency that actively tries to attack encrypted information to store it for long term use.

            Very on point.

          • Alison Sharpes says:

            Correct, for reasons explained in the article

          • FactsNotFallacies says:

            Right, ignore the relative costs of the two.

          • Alison Sharpes says:

            The article discusses that directly and at length.

          • FactsNotFallacies says:

            We noticed.

          • Alison Sharpes says:

            You noticed the article discusses that directly and at length, and yet are pretending he ignored it? Sounds like some good faith criticism here!

          • FactsNotFallacies says:

            I’ve looked high and low throughout the article and can’t find anything that compellingly suggests that the sort of data (and means of collecting it) that companies gather is anywhere near comparable to what agencies like the NSA collect.

            Anything mentioned in the piece that stuck out to you as otherwise?

          • Alison Sharpes says:

            Your original claim was that it didn’t “makes sense to put companies” who collected one form of data “in the same sense” as the NSA.

            Now you’re making an argument over whether the data itself “is anywhere near comparable”.

            These are two crucially different lines of criticism and there’s a reason you leapt from the former to the latter.

          • FactsNotFallacies says:

            Nope, they’re the same argument (same sense is a paraphrase of comparable). I encourage readers of this thread to read what I said so they can come to the same conclusion.

          • Alison Sharpes says:

            You’re confused. The crucial difference is not that you said “same sense” in one and “comparable” in the other.

            The crucial difference is that you began talking about the “companies” vs. the “agency” and whether or not we should “put them in the same camp”. My position is that we should, for reasons Woodward explains at length.

            Now you are asking whether the “data” is comparable. This is a question about the kind of data different institutions gather, not necessarily a question about the institutions themselves.

            These are two completely different lines of critique, as anyone can see.

          • FactsNotFallacies says:

            “My position is that we should, for reasons Woodward explains at length.”

            Which were poor reasons indeed. Putting businesses that collect sales info is not anywhere near as dangerous as an agency that activity tries to attack the security of information systems in order to somehow make us more secure (irony).

            “Now you are asking whether the “data” is comparable.”

            Same concept. One set of data is from sales the other is from actually attacking the privacy of communications – among other things.

            “These are two completely different lines of critique, as anyone can see.”

            I’ll let the merits of that claim speak for itself.

          • Alison Sharpes says:

            You keep repeating variations on this “I’ll let your point speak for itself” line as if your certitude establishes anything. Sorry, I’ve got some bad news.

            A basic point: Carl’s reasons explicitly mention how companies do not merely collect “sales info”, but you have repeated that characterization obsessively. There’s a reason you’re doing that.

          • FactsNotFallacies says:

            Okay, what examples given do you find to be more objectionable that the kind of information the NSA collects and how?

          • Alison Sharpes says:

            Again, you are asking me to compare the type of data being collected, as if that’s the beginning and the end of the argument. It’s obviously not. What is done with data often matters just as much as the data itself.

            Simple example, data about who your friends are collected by social networking sites seems innocuous enough. Most people are unaware that this data can and is mined to affect credit ratings. Woodward argues that the burdens of monitoring and adjusting for such issues have become too onerous and the consequences end up having a greater impact on peoples’ lives than the remote possibility of getting imprisoned because of NSA spying or whatever. He is correct.

          • FactsNotFallacies says:

            Yeah obviously. None of the examples Carl gave in the article are anywhere near as objectionable (if they even are) as that of the NSA’s practices. Accurate pricing, insurance rates, credit, dating match ups, healthcare treatments, hiring info, etc. aren’t at the top of my worries.

            “Simple example, data about who your friends are collected by social networking sites seems innocuous enough.”

            Yep, tyrannical things can be done if someone knows who I added as a friend or “followed” on social media – wink wink. Not that accurate credit ratings are a bad thing of course.

            The consequences of accurate info don’t surpass that of breached network security and nude photos (which NSA workers do pass around, not to mention spying on potential mates).

          • Alison Sharpes says:

            Inaccurate credit ratings are a significant and widespread problem that can have huge impacts on people’s lives, and basing them on social media surveillance is precisely the sort of insane crank methodology that causes these sorts of problems.

            also: *gasp* not nsa network security breaches

          • FactsNotFallacies says:

            “Inaccurate credit ratings are a significant and widespread problem that can have huge impacts on people’s lives, and basing them on social media surveillance is precisely the sort of insane crank methodology that causes these sorts of problems.”

            You’re already making assumptions about how the credit ratings themselves are formed and if they are accurate or not. If you have ideas for improving the way credit scores are formed, by all means let us know.

            “also: *gasp* not nsa network security breaches”

            Weakening network security in the name of national security sure makes sense doesn’t it?

          • Alison Sharpes says:

            I’m making no such assumptions. The problems with credit rating methodologies and accuracy are well known. There is an entire industry of services that allow you to monitor your credit rating, investigate the factors that went into it and challenge inaccurate information precisely because these problems exist. These are things that people tend to learn when they apply for their first car loan, if not earlier. It’s extremely bizarre and telling that you would try to contest it this — it reveals either stunning ignorance or an even more stunning refusal to accept factual information that conflicts with your beliefs.

            Your repeated invocation of weakened network security is hilarious because you are appealing to that as a problem with significant consequences for most Americans while completely dismissing credit rating issues. You are completely disconnected from the real challenges that people actually face, and simply working backwards from your own ideological priorities about what you want everyone to care about.

          • FactsNotFallacies says:

            “I’m making no such assumptions. The problems with credit rating methodologies and accuracy are well known.”

            Good thing more information is being taken into account to correct this.

            “There is an entire industry of services that allow you to monitor your credit rating, investigate the factors that went into it and challenge inaccurate information precisely because these problems exist.”

            Good, so any problems that do arise can be remedied after all. Great to know.

            “Your repeated invocation of weakened network security is hilarious because you are appealing to that as a problem with significant consequences for most Americans while completely dismissing credit rating issues.”

            See the above points. In case you haven’t been following current events, information security is kind of a big deal when you need to protect financial data among other things from malicious hackers.

            “You are completely disconnected from the real challenges that people actually face, and simply working backwards from your own ideological priorities about what you want everyone to care about.”

            Hello pot, meet kettle.

          • Alison Sharpes says:

            Who claimed that credit rating problems can’t be remedied? The point is that remedying them is a burden. Services that allow you to monitor your credit rating more than once a year cost money. Getting information about how your credit score was determined typically costs even more money. Contesting that information, either through the industry or through the courts, also costs money. These things can also take up a significant amount of time, even if you hire professional help.

            Credit score errors are not somehow a non-problem simply because one can, at great expense, resolve them.

            And they are certainly a bigger problem than the remote possibility that you will be personally victimized by hackers, not simply just because of an information security breach, but specifically due to an information security breach caused by the federal government.

          • FactsNotFallacies says:

            “Who claimed that credit rating problems can’t be remedied? The point is that remedying them is a burden.”

            Which is still assuming that this is an issue that outweighs what the NSA does as a matter of policy.

            “Credit score errors are not somehow a non-problem simply because one can, at great expense, resolve them.”

            Alright, show me the evidence that the current data practices now being put to use are making this problem worse.

            “…specifically due to an information security breach caused by the federal government.”

            Fun fact: Government employees aren’t the only ones who can exploit network security flaws. Follow the news on security breaches and you’ll see what I mean.

          • Alison Sharpes says:

            No, the claim that it’s burdensome to fix credit card ratings assumes nothing of the sort. It doesn’t rely on any comparison with the NSA at all. The claim that it’s a burden relies on the fact that you have to pay money and invest time and usually involve various professionals to fix the problem. This is completely uncontroversial, and you have utterly failed to contest it, though you tried mightily.

            Respond to my challenge about the rarity of people facing financial problems because of government-caused data breaches – with actual data, rather than more lazy “watch the news” handwaving – and I’ll respond to your latest request for evidence.

            Because as it stands, these demands for evidence seem to have less to do with any legitimate grounds for suspicion on your part and more to do with trying to bore me into wandering off. You’ve already demonstrated considerable ignorance about credit card rating issues in general, and there’s no absolutely no reason for you to assume, given your unacquaintance with the topic, that the data collection practices are unproblematic. Let’s see you do a little work for a change and then I’ll consider playing along.

          • FactsNotFallacies says:

            “The claim that it’s a burden relies on the fact that you have to pay money and invest time and usually involve various professionals to fix the problem.”

            And I’m still waiting for evidence that this is so frequent a problem that it outweighs the NSA’s attempts to weaken internet security to somehow “improve” security.

            “This is completely uncontroversial, and you have utterly failed to contest it, though you tried mightily.”

            See the above point.

            “Respond to my challenge about the rarity of people facing financial problems because of government-caused data breaches – with actual data, rather than more lazy “watch the news” handwaving – and I’ll respond to your latest request for evidence.”

            Are you denying that the NSA (as well as the FBI) is trying to gain access to personal information by making the means of protecting it less secure?

            “You’ve already demonstrated considerable ignorance about credit card rating issues in general…”

            Okay, what have I missed here?

            “…there’s no absolutely no reason for you to assume, given your unacquaintance with the topic, that the data collection practices are unproblematic.”

            I’m saying there’s no evidence that they (to the extent that they happen) are just as bad as what government agencies regularly engage in. There’s a reason the general public is more concerned about NSA revelations than the obvious fact that Facebook has access to what you actually post on, well, Facebook.

          • sean601 says:

            Wow, Fact not Fallacies really handed Alison her lunch.

            By they way Alison, you never answered my question earlier about your connection to Woodward. You posted this “You asserted that they have been imprisoned or killed as a result of surveillance, and I contested that…”

            But before you posted that Carl Woodward posted this: “You asserted that they have been imprisoned or” However this was later changed to posted by “Guest”. So did you forget to log out of your boyfriend’s computer? Is Alison Sharpe a fake account that you post under to defend your awful articles because no one else defends them. This is evident by the fact that every comment made has talked about how terrible this article is except those by the author him/herself and his girlfriend/fake account. Or are you Alison, writing as Carl Woodward?

  6. sean601 says:

    aw man…I looked at Carl Woodward’s other articles and he really is this clueless. i hope the name Carl Woodward isn’t an amalgamation of Woodward and Bernstein as Carl Woodward is a far cry from being a real journalist.

    Reply
  7. sean601 says:

    Is this column a joke? please say it is. I don’t want my opinion of journalist to diminish any more.

    Reply
    • Alison Sharpes says:

      Wow, lots of empty posturing and ad hominem in the comments, zero substantive criticism. Very telling.

      Reply
      • sean601 says:

        oh Alison are you Carl Woodward or are you his girlfriend? Twitter links you two. And this column is comically third rate. For starters Carl Woodward has no idea what libertarians think. I can only assume his/your view of libertarians is not from reading things written by libertarians, but rather reading things other leftists have said about them pro-porting to express the libertarian view.

        Here for example “Libertarians aren’t acting out of any kind of principled concern for the privacy of Americans – if that were true, they’d focus on the greatest threat to our privacy: corporate power. Instead, the Libertarian privacy agenda is two-fold: to destroy democratic government and to steal media” This one sentence is so full of bad logic that it makes one’s head hurt. For starters he/you has assumed to know what libertarians think/want and you’ve missed the mark by a wide margin. Again, you should read what libertarians actually write, not what others tell about them. If you did so, you’d know that libertarians are against gov’t hand outs and special rules for corporations. But there is a difference between me choosing to use facebook and the privacy violations that come with it and the government, to whom I can’t opt out.

        Reply
        • Alison Sharpes says:

          Amazing how many words it took you to say “Woodward doesn’t understand Libertarians”.

          The one example you gave to substantiate this is easily dismissed: Carl doesn’t deny that “libertarians are against gov’t hand outs and special rules for corporations.” Nothing in his post contradicts that. Sorry.

          Woodward addresses your last point directly in the paragraph beginning “Libertarians will insist”.

          Reply
          • sean601 says:

            Just because he says it doesn’t make it so. If I say Communist/Marxist don’t want equality and a fair shake for the working class, rather they want to eat Jewish babies, kill minorites and rule like kings. Well according to you the onus is on you to disprove my unsubstantiated allegation or what you believe.

          • Alison Sharpes says:

            Who said he’s right simply because he said something? Not me.

            The paragraph I pointed you to – beginning “Libertarians will insist” – may very well be wrong. But to establish that, you need to actually respond to it. You said that things like Facebook are voluntary, but he addressed that, so advance the argument you would need to explain how his response isn’t adequate.

            It’s not enough to simply reiterate your position as if it hasn’t been answered.

          • sean601 says:

            Ok, he’s wrong. He’s wrong because he dismisses the real threat of gov’t intrusion. I notice you also have chosen to ignore my reply earlier about that. He’s wrong because 100 million Americans don’t use social media, so people can and do keep up with the social & cultural aspects of their lives without social media. The burden he claims is far exaggerated. He’s wrong because these corporations are invading your life to sell you shit and that’s all they can do without help from the government. He’s wrong because he’s afraid of a corporate boogie man, while he dismisses the real threat and the real fact that governments have and do imprison and kill people by invading their privacy.

          • Alison Sharpes says:

            Look at what you just did.

            In order to make your argument work, you had to pretend that social media is the exclusive route of corporate surveillance. That’s obviously not true. The number of Americans who do not have associated information sitting in corporate databases somewhere is infinitesimal.

            I addressed your point about the government below:

            https://baltimorepostexaminer.com/libertarians-actually-care-online-privacy/2015/01/02#comment-1768600664

            Imprisonment and death are not actually likely outcomes of government surveillance. They are exceedingly rare outcomes. The consequences of corporate surveillance, on the other hand, impact us constantly, as Woodward explained quite well.

          • sean601 says:

            Wrong. I already mentioned that millions have been imprisoned or killed as a result of surveillance. No one has been imprisoned because corporations collect data about how often you buy pepsi. Comparing people who are political prisoners with Corporations knowing your buying habits in order to try to market to you is a joke.

          • Guest says:

            You asserted that they have been imprisoned or

          • Alison Sharpes says:

            You asserted that they have been imprisoned or killed as a result of surveillance, and I contested that. This argument moves forward by demonstrating how I am wrong, not by simply reiterating your position.

            SImilarly, you already made the claim about corporations not imprisoning people etcetera, and I responded to that as well. This argument moves forward by you addressing my response, not by repeating yourself.

            I shouldn’t have to keep explaining how to have a debate.

  8. Juan Pablo says:

    The author is a complete and total moron. There really is no charitable way to say it

    Reply
    • Alison Sharpes says:

      If he were you’d be able to rebut what he says here. But you can’t because he’s right.

      Reply
      • Juan Pablo says:

        Sweetie pie

        What profoundly erroneous logic

        You falsely assume that if I were able to rebut him, I would have. Since I didn’t, it necessarily follows I cannot rebut him AND THEREFORE he’s right

        So silly

        I don’t rebut flat earthers, global warming fanatics, Muslims, or holocaust deniers either.

        I just mock them.

        Now run along

        Reply
        • Alison Sharpes says:

          You’re hilariously confused and bad at reading.

          The basis for concluding that you have no response is “because he’s right”. It is an observation grounded in the strength of his argument, not in anything you did or failed to do.

          Your strained, embarrassing attempt bluster is consistent with this point.

          Reply
          • Juan Pablo says:

            Sweetie pie, you think he’s right. The bluster is by that partisan hack.
            You presumed I cannot rebut him. Perhaps in the echo chamber you live in (and the one between your ears), you read the hysterics of leftists and they appear right to you. Bless your heart. Those whose ability to reason is a bit more developed are able to read what he wrote and laugh and move on, content that the author has gone full retard (something obvious to everyone that can walk and chew gum at the same time).
            Now go make me a sammich

          • Aliosn Sharpes says:

            No, I *concluded* that you cannot rebut him. You think that I presumed that because you’re too dumb to understand the difference between a presumption and a conclusion. Sorry man, I know this is hard for you.

          • Juan Pablo says:

            A liberal concluded, absent debate, that someone made an argument that cannot be rebutted.
            (laughing hysterically)
            Run along, thinking is a big boys game

          • James Foster says:

            Give it a rest kid….you can’t refuse to debate and then complain when she says something “absent debate”….

            RINOs like you are why people listen to libs like Carl and Alison….you aren’t fooling anyone

          • Alison Sharpes says:

            Absent debate? Woodward is responding directly to extremely common Libertarian talking points throughout his piece.

            The debate’s there, you’re just too much of a coward to participate.

          • sean601 says:

            He/you aren’t responding to any talking points, you are responding to far leftist talking points about libertarians.

          • Alison Sharpes says:

            Nah, that’s not true. For example, he responds to the Libertarian point about market transactions being voluntary – and your proved that this is indeed a Libertarian point by making it yourself a few comments down.

          • xpatYankeeCurmudgeon says:

            “Listen to a Libertarian talk about internet privacy, and they’ll invariably return to rhetoric about protecting political autonomy and dissent against tyranny,” writes the author, who then goes on to quote – – – Glenn Greenwald.

            Woodward is just one more hack who deliberately misrepresents the libertarian position.

            Greenwald, in his own words, to the sentimental and confused Lefties at Daily Kos:

            But “libertarianism” has an actual meaning: it’s not just a slur to mean: anyone who criticizes President Obama but disagrees with Rush Limbaugh.
            Anyone who applies this label to me in light of my actual views and work is either very ignorant or very dishonest – or, most likely, both

            http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/01/30/1182442/-Glenn-Greenwald-Responds-to-Widespread-Lies-About-Him-on-Cato-Iraq-War-and-more

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