BROADBAND BREAKFAST INSIGHT: We remember reading The Transparent Society 20 years ago, back in the days when Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy said, "You have no privacy; get over it." Brin's book was remarkably prescient in providing a pathway for how to live with the ever-decreasing private space occasioned by technological progress. Here, in an interview by AEI's Jim Pethokoukis, Brin returns to his theme.
When you wrote the book in the 90s the concern was cameras everywhere — cameras on street corners, cameras on early drones, that we would have this video surveillance society.
Yeah, and I had just lived in London, so I saw it starting. I was constantly being invited to these gatherings where these so-called cypher-punks are declaring that freedom will be saved forever if we just use secret codes. And they’re still out there. They are still saying all we need is encryption and everything will be wonderful. And what I point out is that these guys know absolutely no human history. Going back to Hammurabi 4,000 years ago, there have been cat-and-mouse games between secret police and resistance heroes fighting for liberty. And of the dozen methods used by secret police for 4,000 years, secret codes might hamper the secret police in three of those dozen methods; so they aren’t even thinking about the big context.
Nor do they think about what it is that got us our freedom. How is it that we got the freedom that is enabling us to do all this shouting about freedom? It turns out that 99 percent of the methodologies that actually gave us freedom and some privacy is to look back at power. It is not hiding from power. Hiding never worked and it never will.
So making power as transparent as what they would make our lives?
Exactly. And that is exactly what we’ve increasingly done for the last 250 years, and we’re increasing that. 2013 was the best year for civil liberties in the United States in this century so far. And the news media barely covered it at all because it didn’t fit into the narrative of gloom.
@JimPethokoukis, the Dewitt Wallace Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, conducted the interview