Does Freedom Require Radical Transparency or Radical Privacy?

Last updated 8 months ago

As a society we seem to have double standards when it comes to privacy. We would like to know everything about everyone else while simultaneously ensuring nobody knows anything about us. We want the right to demand others forget us, but we want to remember everything we can about everyone else.

Knowledge is Power

Knowledge is power, especially against someone without equal access to knowledge. Therefore, in our natural pursuit of personal power we desire to simultaneously increase our own privacy while gathering as much information about others as we can. This self-inflicted hypocrisy is reflected in our governments which seek to maximize their knowledge about everyone while keeping everyone else in the dark.

Ultimately it is our desire for privacy and the right to be forgotten that turn us against one another. We are taught to distrust our neighbor but to trust a power hungry bureaucracy. We demand governments use their universal knowledge to track down criminals, but the power we give them is turned against us when they make everyone a criminal.

Governments use their knowledge of every detail of our lives to track us, tax us, and intimidate us into complying with their arbitrary and abusive laws. It is only natural that peaceful freedom loving individuals would like to have complete privacy from the government. We believe this privacy would limit the government’s power to tax, regulate, and otherwise oppress people whom we hope it will know nothing about. Meanwhile, governments of the world are doing everything they can to make privacy-from-government illegal. Simultaneously they are working to make privacy from each other mandatory.

This is a transparent divide and conquer strategy on behalf of governments. When we know nothing about our fellow man except that which the government tells us and the government knows everything about everyone, then we are truly enslaved. The government uses privacy and secrecy as the foundation of its misinformation and propaganda campaigns. It is only through secrecy that the government can manipulate how the masses see the truth and therefore control all of society.

In a very real sense, privacy is the enemy of truth. Secrets and the lies we tell to keep them, are the plot and root of suffering in almost every movie. It is the truth that will set us free and the secrets that enslave us. If we want to decentralize power, then we must decentralize secrets by spreading truth through radical transparency.

Two ways to Fight for Freedom

Going forward, freedom loving people have two options in the fight against this self-inflicted tyranny:

  1. Resist - overcome through opposition

  2. Aikido - use adversary's momentum to achieve our objective

We resist by attempting to build stronger privacy solutions for ourselves and compel greater transparency on others. This method of fighting only works in favor of the stronger party. It is the strategy the government is using against us.

Aikido empowers the weaker party by turning the attacker's energy against themselves. Rather than block a punch, you grab their arm and pull it toward you, throwing your opponent off balance while taking no damage yourself. Properly executed your stronger opponent ends up on the ground pinned using joint locks and pressure points all without requiring any significant strength on your part.

In an information war, the Aikido move is complete transparency.Demanding governments be transparent when governments already know almost everything we are ultimately demanding everything be transparent. Asking others to voluntarily not spy on us is asking them to act against their own self interest.

If others already know everything, then our transparency will give them no additional benefit. What transparency will do is increase the knowledge of everyone else and therefore reduce information asymmetry while enabling communities to self police without violence.

We can beg others to not collect data on us, or to forget our past, but ultimately that is something that cannot be stopped without requiring policing (which requires others to collect data on us).

The Inefficiency of Secrecy

Secrecy is so difficult that experts can't even keep a couple bytes of information secret when hundreds of millions of dollars of cryptocurrency are on the line. You could say that secrecy is a high-energy state that requires constant energy input into defense and is therefore unstable, meanwhile transparency is a low-energy state that requires no energy input and therefore very stable. A society built on transparency will be much stronger and cheaper to sustain than one built on secrecy.

The Illusion of Privacy

The idea of our entire lives being open and exposed is so terrifying that we cannot accept the truth. We believe blockchains keep our financial situation private, when in reality trivial data analysis reveals all. We believe no one knows who we are while browsing the internet, but each of us has a digital fingerprint based upon our browsing habits and choices of technology that transparently reveals more to faceless companies than we know about ourselves. Eventually machine learning will empower governments to sift through the mountains of information they have been gathering over the past 20 years and reveal things that we once thought were secret.

It is comforting to pretend that we are blending in with the crowd and hope that there is just too much information to make sense of it all. The cognitive dissonance of those of us who should know better does not serve us. The illusion of privacy is perhaps just as dangerous as confusing cover and concealment in a gunfight.

Privacy and secrets are like a magic genie that we can never put back in the bottle. More often than not it is just a matter of time until the genie escapes and everything that we once thought was private and secure is now public.

Assume everything is Public

The safest course of action is to assume that everything is public before you act so that you can minimize the damage that your actions may cause you. Acting under presumption of secrecy is always a gamble, a bet that the reward for your secrecy is greater than the risk-discounted cost of being exposed.

As technology advances the probability of being exposed and the cost of exposure are increasing, therefore the cost of keeping secrets is growing exponentially. For many things, the cost of keeping a secret is becoming more expensive than simply making it public from the start. Personal-identifying information, which governments require them to keep, is a liability and cost center for most companies.

Our challenge is that we overestimate our ability to protect our privacy/secrets while underestimating those who seek to discover our secrets and the cost of having our secrets revealed.

Paradox of Privacy

If we invented a technology that was able to keep all of our financial transactions private, that would keep our identities secret from everyone, and that could compel the entire internet to destroy/forget everything they know about us then we will have reached cypherpunk nirvana. If everyone in the world would adopt such a technology then some people believe we would be free.

This freedom would come at the price of empowering bad actors to steal, extort, and hold people ransom. It would enable bad actors to escape from their criminal record and continue to defraud others. It would decrease the default level of trust in every business transaction and increase the cost of due diligence. It would force each of us to find ways to circumvent the privacy of others in order to secure our own interests. In other words, this privacy technology would reinforce the need for the status quo. It would empower those with the best spy networks or who profit the most from privacy (criminals) and disempower everyone else.

In this scenario we would be completely dependent upon government to use their surveillance to track down and capture bad actors. Meanwhile, corrupt governments would use this technology to launder money, accept bribes, and fund clandestine operations around the world. Extreme privacy maximizes our dependence on government and entirely eliminates the potential for community self governance.

Secrecy is the enemy of truth and freedom and the tool of oppression.

Transparent Government

Transparent community self-governance is the solution to leveling the playing field for all. Through transparency a bright light is shone on the bad actions carried out by public and private criminals alike. If every account on the blockchain was tied to a public identity, with bonded reputation, and a social network of relationships which secure the accounts then and only then will we end the theft of crypto-currency by private criminals and the need for government intervention.

Imagine for a moment that the government raids your house and gets access to your private keys (or throws you in prison until you reveal them). A hardware wallet unlocked by $5 wrench will never be as secure as a global social network designed to protect your rights.

A bad actor would have nowhere to transfer your money because they would also be subject to transparent social pressure and the decentralized courts. The theft of funds by either extortion or hacking would be almost entirely blocked.

We do not overcome organized crime by building stronger individual defenses, we can only overcome organized crime by building stronger social defenses. We cannot eliminate the need for government policing while continuing to hide as much information from each other as possible. Organized crime loses all power when the masses support one another and actively ignore demands that violate their human rights and dignity. Eliminating organized crime is only possible with a community that practices extreme transparency and is completely impossible with a community that practices extreme secrecy.

Nonviolence and truth are inseparable and presuppose one another - Mahatma Gandhi.

Non-violence, (and therefore truth and transparency), is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man - Gandhi

Moral High Ground

Transparency is the foundation necessary to secure the moral high ground. Absent transparency, governments use their control over information to obscure reality and slander whoever is necessary in order to justify their actions. It is only through secrecy and lies that governments can maintain the illusion of the moral high ground.

Adopting a plan of radical transparency is as scary as committing to a non-violent revolution against tyranny. People who have done nothing wrong will get hurt and some may die. As Gandhi said, nonviolence requires a certain faith in the goodness of man, but so does faith in government or anarchy. Those who have no faith in man are insane to imbue government run by men with moral authority over the use of violence.

Those who get hurt will be the martyrs who expose government brutality and rally the masses behind the innocent while undermining the perceived authority of violent governments. When the community comes to the aid of those who are hurt, then, and only then, will governments lose their power. This is only possible with transparency.

The Blockchain Revolution

Public blockchains are an exercise in transparency and freedom of speech. Their very foundation is a completely transparent public record of all financial transactions. Through this foundation of transparency a decentralized global community has bootstrapped a currency and value system which is freeing mankind from the capital controls and unaccountable printing presses of the war machines powered by fiat money.

If we can successfully take away the printing press, then we will end major wars. No democratic nation can simultaneously tax its citizens and maintain public support for a war of aggression without the printing press.

What we have done with money we must also do with Identity, Dispute Resolution, and Social Insurance. It is through more transparency that we will decentralize their power and increase the opportunity for peace and prosperity.

Governments are beginning to attack cryptocurrency on the basis of Know Your Customer and Anti-Money Laundering laws. With these laws they are setting up barriers to entry and re-establishing the information asymmetry which underwrites their power. The cryptocurrency community has demonstrated that it is unable to police itself or stop theft, extortion, and bribery. It is our inability to police ourself that the governments of the world are using to take the moral high ground and justify increasingly aggressive regulation that could potentially ban crypto.

Rather than stand together, we are allowing the governments of the world to attack individuals. Most of our technological solutions are focused on enabling us to hide from government rather than helping those who are unable to hide. There is a saying that you can run, but you cannot hide. That statement is more true than ever when it comes to government.

We cannot put the genie of the information age back in the bottle without giving up the magic of modern society. Our best defense is to go on the offense and introduce voluntary mutual transparency so radical that even organized crime cannot hide.

The future of governance is on a transparent blockchain.