The End of Privacy


The notes below come from the following book:

Whitaker, Reg. The End of Privacy: How Total Surveillance Is Becoming a Reality. NY: New Press, 1990.
This book is filled with ideas and examples which cannot be duplicated here. I recommend you get the book and read it in its entirety.


"...The very fact that information is freely available is generally proof of its relatively low value as commodity.

"Cyberspace will be a treasure trove of information for those who already have treasuries to spend. For the rest of us, the promise of the Internet may too often mean an overstuffed, cluttered, anarchically disorganized jumble of infotrash, so worthless that it has been discarded to lie along the sidewalks of the information highway for the casual use of anyone who cares to pick up the odd item... Even the INTERnet as we now know it may be increasingly displaced by private INTRAnets. Intranets are extensions of local networks that use the same Web technology as Internet users, but are limited to authorized internal use... In the late 1990s, Intranets have become so popular that installations of servers limited to internal use have outpaced external Web servers. This points to a future architecture of the Web in which the information "commons" is increasingly hedged by enclosures into which ordinary commoners cannot gain entry except by membership or by paying for the privelege" (72).


"In the networked economy, molecularly structured work groups are formed and reformed to meet (and anticipate) particular challenges... All these features imply FLEXIBILITY, a term that has taken on a certain notoriety as implying and rationalizing, unemployment and large-scale disruptions of settled patterns of life...

"Flexibility demands constant adjustment to change, and this in turn implies a state of permanent insecurity, an insecurity that is endemic, pervasive, and inescapable.

"Here we confront a central paradox in the network society. Although the form demands and rewards flexibility and innovation, the insecurity engendered by its effects promotes a very different kind of behavior: risk-aversion. The volatility and unpredictability inherent in networks create an urgent organizational imperative to seek at least tolerable degrees of stability and predictability. The paradox is acute" (74-5).


"...in fact, the new information technologies do enable and empower people. So did earlier information technologies. The printing press undermined the Papacy and assisted the spread of the Protestant Reformation and encouraged individualism, the emergence of an urban bourgeoisie and the rise of scientific humanism" (101).


"The U.S. government in particular, given its hegemonic role as the world's only remaining superpower and closest thing to a global policeman, is especially hostile to public-key encryption...

"The same FBI, it might be noted, has also insisted on technology standards in new telephone equipment that will permit the agency to continue to wiretap at will" (109).

"The Electronic Privacy Information Center, a Washington-based research group, found in a survey of 243 governments that the United States is virtually the only democratic industrialized nation seeking domestic regulation of strong encryption" (110).


"There has, in fact, been a degree of public panic about the threat posed by the Internet to morals and safety, especially with regard to pornography and hate propaganda... The intensity of the panic can perhaps be attributed to the convergence of two factors. First, the introduction of new and dramatically different media of communication has always precipitated waves of social anxiety. The early movie industry was denounced in many quarters as subversive of morals.

"Second, Internet technology has coincided with heightened social and cultural tensions in many Western societies along ethnic, racial, and gender divisions" (111).

"As is so often the case in such panics, the medium gets confused with the message... The difference with the Internet is that other media are inherently more amenable to control and regulation, or even prohibition, by local governments... Cyberspace transcends borders. A website might be put together in one location but, once on the Web, it moves like quicksilver. A rather trivial example: certain countries, like Canada and France, have banned publication of political poll results for a prescribed period of time preceding a national election. National elections were held in both these countries in 1997, and in both election websites were set up that, among other things, communicated poll results. When the cut-off time arrived that effectively prevented newspapers and radio and TV stations from reporting polls, some of these websites simply jumped to so-called mirror sites located in other countries, thereby removing themselves from national jurisdiction, even though they remained just as accessible to nationals as they had been before jumping" (112-13).


"There is something inherently invidious about intensive surveillance of people in the public sector while wealth and power in the private sector are given less intrusive scrutiny. Because democratic politicians are accountable to the voters, their private lives are held by many to be public property...

"[We are in] an era in which states are seen to be in retreat before the advance of a globalizing private sector" (155).

"In fact it is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish the "real" world of politics from the "fantasy" world...

"...there is less and less TV time for boring policy wonks who want to talk about poverty, health care, and environmental protection [instead of rumors, love affairs, and scandals]" (156).


The Bishop of Nowhere and Everywhere

"For another take on how new information technologies are spurring new forms of resistance, we might look at the oldest continuous hierarchical authority structure in the world, the Roman Catholic Church. No other organization comes even remotely close to the Catholic Church for longevity; originating at the time of the Roman Empire, the church flourished throughout the feudal epoch and continues through the end of the second millenium undiminished, and indeed more widespread than ever. In two thousand years, the hierarchy has learned a thing or two about maintaining its authority. Confronted with turbulen and troublesome priests, the Vatican learned long ago that there were techniques more effective than outright repression. One was appointment to a non-existent diocese of "Partenia" notionally located in the Atlas Mountains in the midst of the Sahara Desert of North Africa. Partenia was literally nowhere, a diocese without a church and without any faithful, in short, a useful figment of the hierarchy's imagination into which bothersome clerics could be consigned, to vanish without trace but without the nuisance of an inquisition and punishment. And so it was used for centuries, until Bishop Jacques Gaillot in 1995.

"Gaillot is the former bishop of Evreux, France, and a cleric of pronouncedly left-wing views which diverge from Papal doctrine on many points. Instead of keeping his views private, Gaillot publicly expressed solidarity with groups and causes from which the Church had officially maintained its distance. The Pope appointed Gaillot bishop of Partenia, and no doubt expected that he had heard the last of him. It had worked for centuries, but apparently no longer in the age of cyberspace. Jacques Gaillot simply set up Partenia as a website on the Internet. The diocese of nowhere now found a home in the medium that is nowhere--and everywhere. A diocese in the bleak mountains of the Sahara was in the past as silent as the desert sands, but a virtual diocese in cyberspace gives the bishop a voice that can be heard everywhere, and a faithful that can be gathered from all corners of the earth" (170-171).


Global Criminals and the Future of the State

"There are eerie parallels between criminal activities and the global economy. Mafias [and terrorists] are organized in networks that ignore borders and national jurisdictions, just as transnational corporations tend to operate...

"The "global criminal economy," embodied in money laundering, has, in Manuel Castell's words, become a "significant and troubling component of global financial flows and stock markets," but "the impact of crime on state institutions and politics is even greater"" (178).

"...states are made even more necessary than ever, precisely because of the threat. In the face of pervasive transborder threats, which we might call the dark side of globalization, "legitimate" private interests are relatively helpless without the assistance of states and their extensive policing, security, and intelligence apparatuses, expertise, and enforcement powers" (179).

"...Hobbes did much to lay the foundations of the modern notion of the state as the seat of superlative, unchallengeable power and authority. Squaring this theorization of state sovereignty with an emergent free market is not that difficult. For contractual relations to replace the older feudal relations, contracts had to be enforced; as Hobbes lucidly and convincingly argued, the unregulated market alone could not guarantee fulfillment of contractual obligations, or even security of property. Left to its own devices in the "state of nature" without government, the market is a war of all against all, where life is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." The way out of this dilemma is the social contract..." (180).

Why should transnational corporations assume the huge expense of global security? "Why not instead urge their respective states to cooperate closely on their behalf in policing the emergent global economy, so that they can get on with their primary business, making money? That is precisely what transnational corporations are doing at the end of the twentieth century..." (181).

"This is not to say that states will continue to look like states have looked in the past. Already states are recreating themselves along less overarching and more flexible lines. States, which of course are not all equal, with many weak and few strong, may become more specialized entities, retaining function for which they possess a comparative advantage over the private sector, while dropping others altogether or assigning them to the private sector...

"One area in which states do have a comparative advantage over corporations is in the exercise of coercion. The technologies of surveillance and repression may be developed in the private sector for profit, but they will be deployed and exercised more by states, and by state networks" (182).

"...a global surveillance regime.. is required because the networked world contains deep elements of instability and contradiction. It is required because non-state actors such as terrorists threaten the stability of the international state system, not to speak of business and investment" (183).

"Big Brother is needed once again, but--and this point must be underlined emphatically--only as a functionally specialized consultant, not to run the show itself" (184).

"Take the problem of money laundering, which is a key to unlocking many of the activities of the dark side of globalization. Transnational corporations and states alike are threatened by this process that utilizes the new technologies and networking forms to finance criminal [and terrorist] activities and to corrupt both governmental and corporate figures. Tracing the money laundering networks is the task of Intelligence, laying charges is the task of police. Neither can be done by national units working in isolation against these transborder activities. The technological means to combat this threat does exist. There is no theoretical limit on the surveillance capacity of contemporary technologies to track financial transactions wherever they occur... The technology is not the problem--international cooperation on a global scale is" (185).


Colby Glass, MLIS