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Right or no right, privacy invasion is still increasingly creepy, especially when the power balance between creeper and creepee is in total tilt mode

When I was 10 or 11, the 16-year-old boy next door would sit pressed up against the fence between our properties, listening to my friends and me talk. During backyard campouts our conversations often turned to sex, as we shared misinformation and bad jokes in hopes of understanding that mysterious adult something we were beginning to feel in our bodies.

Though we whispered, evidently we didn’t whisper quietly enough because Roger would sit there on the other side of the fence for hours, doing we did not know what, though it involved occasional grunts and groans. Even when we were talking more innocuous little-girl talk, there was Roger with his ear pressed against the splintery redwood.

Everybody, including our parents I’m sure, knew Roger was lurking and listening (though Roger himself was apparently under the impression he was being super-stealthy).

No one ever called the police or confronted Roger or his parents because everybody understood that — creepy though his hobby was — he was within his legal rights.

As it turned out, there were other, related reasons somebody should have called the cops on Roger. But the little girls involved in those incidents said not a word to any adult for fear of either not being believed or being believed but also being blamed.

His fence-hugging, though perfectly legal and not actionable in a free country, was a sign of the darker things.

In Roger’s case, the fates took care of the matter shortly thereafter by delivering him a debilitating autoimmune disease, no outside punishment needed. It was one of the few times in all my years that I’ve actually witnessed such satisfying karmic payback. Maybe the disease was caused by redwood toxins from all those splinters his ears must have been pierced with. Who knows? But my adolescent self found it sweet.


Yesterday’s post about Google Street View creeping and peeping and gathering heaven knows what data on my otherwise obscure road raised some interesting discussion about whether or not a right to privacy exists.

Some people I respect took the position that there are no such things as privacy rights because (I condense and paraphrase) enforcing such rights would require prior restraint on others for non-violent activities.

Other people I respect took the position that all this poking and prodding into our lives by everybody from Google to the NSA (but I repeat myself), from Doubleclick to the TSA is disgusting, invasive, anti-freedom, nearly impossible to combat, and just plain rude (thanks, Pat). Oh yes, privacy is a right, they said. And one that … erm, Hannibal Lecter would have known how to enforce.

As usual, I’m glad to leave theories up in the ivory tower. All I know is that being left the hell alone is an essential of freedom and that anybody — or any corporate body — that feels driven to snoop, poke, prod, eavesdrop, and get an earful of electronic splinters by inserting him, her, or itself into the lives of harmless others is as creepy as Roger-over-the-fence.

And like Roger, these professional peepers and creepers may be within their legal rights, but they are nevertheless up to no damn good, and the public aspect of their snoopery is just the annoying-but-bland face on something deeper, darker, and truly evil.


One thing — not the only thing, but one very big thing — that makes our forced participation in Google Street View, NSA wiretapping, etc. evil is the drastic imbalance of power between the snoopers and the snoopees, the creepers and we the people who are being creeped upon and creeped out.

A few random examples:

* The NSA snoops on anybody it wants without consequences, but try snooping on the NSA and see what you get (I’m talking to you, Mssrs Snowden and Greenwald).

* We’re watched by surveillance cameras on every street corner, but try filming a cop with your cellphone camera and whoo, boy!

* Business executives and government officials demand our social security numbers, home addresses, and other sensitive information as the price of dealing with them. But do they give us their personal information in return? Hardly. People have been prosecuted for getting that.

* Google grabs any information it wishes (and is technologically capable of gathering) from us without our consent or an offer to share the profits it makes off us. But how much information does Google “allow” us to have about it?

* TSA agents can rub their hands of blue on our labia, breasts, or testicles. But lay one tiny finger on any part of their sacred selves, even a shoulder, and … federal crime!

* Google, local law enforcement, satellite mapping companies and anybody else who wants to take cameras to our houses, cars, and backyards. No warrants, no permissions required. We’re sometimes “allowed” to look at those pictures. But try to take your own photo of a government-owned bridge, office building, gasworks, reservoir, or whatever and you’re likely to be reported, manhandled, and even charged with “terrorism.”

Do I really have to go on?

What we have here is Roger on the other side of the fence. Prurient. Deviant. Disrespectful of privacy. Crude. Dumb. Insatiable. And uber-uber-uber creepy.

But it’s a version of Roger that has mutated. A version of Roger that makes the old science-fictional 50-foot tall woman look cockroach-sized by comparison. It’s Roger writ so large that we can’t even see his hideously ugly dimensions, even as we hear him grunting and groaning at us.

And if this giant techno-Roger has his way, we never will perceive just how large and ugly he is.

Techno-Roger possesses the technological tools, the political power, the money, the thuggery, and just about everything else he needs to enforce his “right” to spy on us against our right to try to live our lives unmolested.

Is Techno-Roger within his legal rights? Sometimes yes. Sometimes no. But what does it matter? What’re you gonna do? Call the cops?

Our only hope lies in the fact that Techno-Roger, like the small, pudgy human Roger who played peeping Tom way back when, really is dumb. All corporate bodies are essentially stupid because, like some dinosaurs, their brains are too small to control their giant, sprawling selves. And surveillance-state bodies, in their desperate desire to know (and ultimately control) everything about everybody get dumber and dumber and dumber the more data they gather.

But it takes a long time for their own stupidity to destroy them. And in the meantime, of course, the imbalance of power wreaks all its havoc on us.

So privacy rights or no privacy rights, what’s going on is foul, evil, and outrageously destructive to liberty. It is the corporate state against the individual. It is us as targets and property, them as masters.

They will not get away with it in the long term. But in the short term we’re at the mercy of a vast pack of deviant peeping creepazoids who aren’t even fit to be neighbors, let alone controllers of all the world’s information.


  1. Jim Klein
    Jim Klein August 22, 2013 3:38 pm

    Nice post. As always, it’s the crux of the matter. But none of it is just theory; it’s the fundamental choice each of us makes, socially. For each person, “Do I want to live my life where I or my agents force others to behave as I believe right, or do I want others to live as they choose in order that I may do likewise?”

    That’s all. If that’s not what all of this is about, or if it’s just intellectual speculation, then it strikes me as a gargantuan waste of time. Maybe it is, but I can’t imagine why so many people would want to waste so much time.

  2. jed
    jed August 22, 2013 4:15 pm

    Some while back, I blogged about David Brin’s transparent society. Therre are far too many web hits now for me to find the article I wrote about back then, but plenty of hits for further reading on the subject. The possible future he describes is anathema to me, but we’re about halfway there, and yes, sometimes it does seem as if the best defense is a good offense. TPTB, however, will always consider themselves as being exempt, just as they now exempt themselves from all manner of laws and practices.There are a few glimmers here and there, e.g. when we see citizens winning court cases vs. the police for recording them.

    Privacy is mostly a modern phenomenon, I think. Certainly, the notion of it isn’t, but the realization of it is. Consider how easy it is to lose yourself in the sea of people in a large city, especially without face-recognition cameras all over the place. But large cities are a recent thing. Contrast that with living in a small town. There’s only one doctor, and everyone knows what his horse and buggy looks like, so at least the fact that he has visited your house is not going to be a private thing. That’s just one example. In a small town, you are more likely to be seen, known, and recognized as you go about your business. Reduce to even smaller units, such as tribal villages, and there’s even less privacy. Even the attempt to gain some privacy would be something that might be noticed and talked about. Even so, one could still achieve privacy by closing the doors and windows, or walking off into the boonies. With care, such things could be done without raising notice. The huge difference now is the incredible capacity we have for storing, analyzing, and transmitting data. I can’t think of any viable way to fight that, except that of going underground. But then you have the problem of obtaining healthcare when you need it, for example, and many other difficulties.

    But anything which is in public view is, by definition, not private. The difficulty we have in the modern era is in determining what is “in view”. That hike into the boonies to have a private conversation? Well, audio surveillance is much more capable now. But I don’t think that’s a good example, because, after all, there you are, outside, talking. Of more interest are the technologies which use infrared, and other very interesting technologies, to see and hear “through walls”. And this is where the “reasonable person” argument comes in. If a reasonable person were to have an expectation of privacy in a setting, then thou shalt not snoop, no matter what sort of RF, IR, or air pressure emanations you can resolve.

    The prior restraing argument doesn’t hold up. I suppose this was hashed out yesterday, but being overly literal with the ‘non violent’ argument is non-useful, IMHO. If I have erected barriers (physical or virtual) to protect my privacy (which is a property right, in that I own the data about myself), then it is a violation of my rights to attempt to defeat such barriers. Enforcing such a right is no different from enforcing any other right. You punish the infractions. I just don’t see any other way to look at it.

  3. Paul Bonneau
    Paul Bonneau August 22, 2013 5:52 pm

    Creepy? Yes. Unequal treatment? Yes. It will all be ironed out in the revolution. Also, all the traffic cams will have holes shot in them.

    I suspect that technology will evolve to allow all of us to carry cams all the time and have the video stream sent encrypted to some remote storage unit we control. Why would we want our own means of snooping what we are about? For self-defense. It eliminates any he-said-she-said arguments, in case we are involved with some questionable event. It would be the equivalent of carrying a gun every where we go. Cheap insurance.

    Nobody would HAVE to do that, but I believe it will become commonplace. We will have to evolve a whole new interpersonal protocol to deal with it. Welcome to the 21st century…

  4. Paul Bonneau
    Paul Bonneau August 22, 2013 6:04 pm

    BTW, NoScript tells me there are some google scripts running right here in Backwoods Home Magazine… assuming I’m interpreting it correctly…

  5. Jim Klein
    Jim Klein August 22, 2013 6:24 pm

    “You punish the infractions. I just don’t see any other way to look at it.”

    Neither does anyone else, with but a handful of exceptions on the whole face of the planet. It’s even more to the crux than Claire’s topic. It’s the whole ball o’ wax, the reason the State has grown as it has, the reason we’ve been caught in the muck for thousands of years.

    The funny thing is, it’s the simplest fallacy of all…we teach young children that it’s a fallacy and then we teach them to live the fallacy. Formally, it’s the Fallacy of Tu Quoque–“You did it.” It’s also known as “Two Wrongs Make A Right.”

    It goes like this. “That man acted as a brute against me, so I shall act as a brute against him.” It’s such a profound error that it can’t be covered here. But just for starters, how could it make sense to motivate one’s actions based on the actions of another, and least of all the actions of the worst among us?

    It’s about retaliation, not defense. Defense is built on valuing one’s own life; retaliation is built on the Fallacy of Tu Quoque.

    Please don’t quibble. Your life is yours, not his, and your life is yours alone to choose. This is a FACT and all the arguments in the world won’t give you any FACTUAL basis to deny what I’m saying. They’re just a fancy way of saying, “Yeah, but…” because we’ve all been taught this fallacy as the foundation of our social ethics forever.

    When people finally understand that it’s just a childish fallacy writ large, then the Dawn will come. It won’t be tomorrow, but the way things are going, it might be sooner rather than later. One can hope, and hope springs eternal.

  6. Paul Bonneau
    Paul Bonneau August 22, 2013 7:02 pm

    ” It’s the whole ball o’ wax, the reason the State has grown as it has, the reason we’ve been caught in the muck for thousands of years.”

    So… the state has grown because of exceptions to principles (which are just memes inconsistently held by some people)?

    That I doubt. The state grows because some small fraction of humanity are psychopaths, and because of some unfortunately poor scaling of tendencies that almost all humans have that were positive back when societies were small, e.g.:

    Jim, you can philosophize all you want, but if you’re outside my home with an infrared camera, you are cruising for a punch in the nose. And in a free society, most people are going to say, “Jim deserved it.”

    The Dawn will never come. The human race is what it is. Some improvements are possible (particularly when the psychopaths are killed off) but there will be no ethereal society of philosophical beings. Not human beings anyway.

    It’s OK. I like human beings despite all their warts.

  7. Jim Klein
    Jim Klein August 22, 2013 7:17 pm

    Paul, I’m not sure why you wouldn’t honor my request not to quibble, but I guess that’s your business. Take it or leave it. Your assertion that billions of people engage in a system of enslavement because of “some small fraction” is silly on its face. And I’m quite aware of what “most people are going to say;” that was the first sentence of my comment after all.

  8. LarryA
    LarryA August 22, 2013 7:52 pm

    [Privacy is mostly a modern phenomenon, I think.]

    There’s not a lot of privacy in small towns today. Out in the west end of Kerr County there’s Hunt, an unincorporated town of a thousand or so. The Hunt ISD is instituting teacher carry* his year, and the superintendent says she intends to keep the ID of the two teachers elected secret. Good luck with that.

    For most of human history multiple-family dwellings were standard, as everyone living in the same rooms. (Medieval castles for instance, or anyplace where people lived behind protective walls.) There are parts of the world, even parts of the industrialized world, where that’s still common. (India, for instance.)

    Probably the biggest privacy invention in my lifetime is air conditioning, which allowed people to close their bedroom doors and provided white noise.

    * In case anyone missed it, the big news out of the education establishment (Like the Texas Parent Teacher Association and the Texas Association of School Boards) this September, is the acceptance of teachers carrying concealed handguns on school campuses. Large city districts seem to be going with cops in every school. Since Sandy Hook, the times they are a-changin’.

  9. Paul Bonneau
    Paul Bonneau August 22, 2013 8:31 pm

    Guess I don’t see any quibble here. Seems more like a fundamental disagreement of how to look at human beings and human relations.

    People are not robots. They are driven by lots of things, of which logic and philosophy are minor ones, especially where worldviews are concerned. Wishing they were otherwise is going to get you nowhere. They are capable of improvement, but mostly internally, not via external means.

    They do not “engage in a system of enslavement”. They live their lives, in the environment they are born into. Some well, others not so well. They don’t stick to principles (which are just rules of thumb for getting along) currently very well because they don’t suffer consequences for violating them, thanks to the ruling class. That will change when the empire dies and principles again become a means of survival.

    BTW the correct example of “Tu quoque” is, “That man acted as a brute against me, so his argument that people should be nice to each other is discredited.” Anyway since logic plays so small a part in human behavior, logical fallacies are in the same position.

    Human beings will refrain from annoying behavior (such as stalking or using infrared cameras) because because doing it comes with a cost or risk. If you need a principle to attach to this concept, how about “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you?” Or just “Be polite?” If that does not fit into NAP, oh well. The world will not come to an end.

  10. Ellendra
    Ellendra August 22, 2013 9:11 pm

    I’m forced to wonder how Roger would have reacted if you’d pinned a target on that fence and used to to practice your slingshot?

    I wonder weird things sometimes, don’t mind me.

  11. Gus S. Calabrese (@99guspuppet) troll
    Gus S. Calabrese (@99guspuppet) troll August 23, 2013 5:01 am

    I think I will support Jim Klein’s view……. I look forward to *somebody* living a free life. Even if I can’t see how we get there.

  12. The Infamous Oregon Lawhobbit
    The Infamous Oregon Lawhobbit August 23, 2013 7:40 am

    Claire, what you’re complaining about – to some degree – is the lack of reciprocity. If an organization wants to assert a “right” to snoop on others, then to the extent that it resists such snooping itself it’s being hypocritical. And hypocrisy triggers a natural allergic reaction in some people – including, I would say, yourself.

  13. Alan Fanning
    Alan Fanning August 23, 2013 11:34 am

    The Non-Aggression Principle is not the ONLY principle. If you believe in natural law either from the Creator or Mother Nature, you realize that privacy is part of those rights endowed to to us, just as life, liberty and property. The maintenance of the Google or NSA Blackmailer’s Database is an ongoing violation of our rights. The correct response now is resistance until both are gone.

    In a small town in the not too distant past, secrets were easy to maintain, because the snoops were known and limited by social norms to snoop from their kitchen windows or front porch.

    Along the line of resistance I saw that Torguard is offering their VPN service for all your internet traffic at half-price (use coupon code TGLIFETIME50)
    I’m signing up today.

  14. Water Lily
    Water Lily August 23, 2013 1:18 pm

    Great post. Spot on.

    Snooping is creepy and impolite. Some random thoughts:

    I’m a very private person, always have been. Maybe because I grew up in a big city in a small living space with little privacy, but I never liked people keeping tabs on me or knowing my business. I cannot stand when new people I meet seemingly interrogate me, and I tend to shut down when that happens. I’m not paranoid, just private.

    When I lived/worked in NYC, if I saw a reporter approach, I’d walk the other way, while my friends would run over to be interviewed.

    I have never liked my space invaded. I have never cared for rude, snoopy, nosy, gossipy people – even when they organize into a group and call themselves “the government.”

    I like the idea of turning the tables on them and spying on THEM.

    I daresay every politician and intelligence employee already has a file being kept on them, and they know it. The most paranoid folks are those that do the spying. My ex did a tour of duty in military intelligence during the Vietnam War. He was truly paranoid and obsessive, always thought someone was watching him or following him. (Yes, it is called KARMA, baby.)

    Maybe most of my ancestors didn’t have much privacy, I really don’t know. But I know that I like mine, and if this stuff keeps up, I may have to disconnect electronically at some point and become a Luddite just to stay relatively sane in our insane brave new world.

  15. jed
    jed August 23, 2013 3:41 pm

    Hehe, Claire. That’s a great shirt!

    I guess the notion that that which is paid for by tax dollars is owned by The People, and therefore cannot be the object of an intellectual property claim, is another of those little things that don’t matter to the big boys.

  16. Jim Klein
    Jim Klein August 23, 2013 6:34 pm

    “The Non-Aggression Principle is not the ONLY principle.”

    Well, sure…every person’s mind is chock full of zillions of principles. Contra what Paul wrote, we’re all philosophers all the time. That’s how we live…with our conceptual mind, duh.

    But you’re wrong in a SOCIAL context. The NAP is indeed the only principle that’s necessary. This is because another person can’t abridge your rights or your choices or your freedom to live except PHYSICALLY. They can influence you, persuade you, whatever…but it’s ONLY through physical action that they can DO anything about it.

    That would explain why those who do want to control your life are so heavily armed.

    Your “natural law” approach to societal organization fails. Besides the abundant evidence, there’s also the logic of it. Many people believe in a “natural right” to wealth, or happiness or health care or any number of other imaginations. Then it just becomes a mad dash as to which gang is going to enforce which “rights.”

    That’s not to deny “natural law.” It’s just to point out that in a SOCIAL context, it comes down to this. Either a person believes that other people should be physically ruled, or a person doesn’t. That’s all. You can look to your heart’s content, but you won’t find anything else there.

  17. Betsey
    Betsey August 24, 2013 6:29 pm

    And what is with these major stores ie. Kohl’s who are now scanning the back of drivers licenses? I will be eaten by elephants before I would ever let that happen. Privacy? Forget it.

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