Thursday, July 10, 2008

Police and Privacy

This is a good op/ed piece in the Houston Chronicle about better neighborhoods having better police enforcement.

Under a truly free market system, all policing would be handled by private entities, and the poor would suffer from little to no policing. Indeed, there used to be private militias. I think most Americans agree, though, that safety should be universal, and police forces should equally protect everyone. There are certainly economic arguments to be made to this effect as well, particularly concerning the necessity of private property. If wealthier areas would like more or better police enforcement, maybe they could push for higher taxes to pay for better police wages or more officers for all. That's essentially what we do with national security, isn't it?

EDIT: Another article about the lack of police officers and how it affects other parts of an economy.

An article in PC Mag about the anonymity (or lack thereof) of internet activity.

Of course, this is an issue outside the realm of PC Mag, as people are afraid of losing their privacy. Allow me to play the devil's advocate: what are people trying to hide? In an age of the freedom of information, we learn that a more informed citizen is a more powerful citizen (and, you can substitute "citizen" for "consumer" or any other type of person). What are people doing that will harm them if their secret is revealed?

Let us assume a world in which we have no (or minimal) privacy. Let's call this a Free Information World. Everyone would have access to your phone number, your address, your name, your current location, what television shows you like, and so on. You wouldn't be afraid of stalkers. Why is that? Everyone would be able to identify a stalker pretty easily. If your current location was always known, the resident of a house would know when you were at his window. Stalking would be much more difficult. Criminal activity in general would be more difficult--which means that there would be fewer criminals, and less to be afraid of. This, of course, requires world-wide freedom of information. The system would work if it was limited to a country only if immigrants and foreign visitors were also tracked.

This Free Information World possess some practical problems with money. We wouldn't want people to be able to access your bank accounts, regardless of whether or not people knew how much money you had (it's not like you can be physically robbed, if your current location is known, and the source of "new" money is known, and so on). We'd need some high-tech DNA sampling identification system (or maybe just an ID card that stays around with you, assuming its current location is always known as well, in the event the card is lost or mistakenly picked up by someone else, or whatever).

But, your money, like all of your possessions, could be considered a private property issue in the sense that everything you own must be protected, and inaccessible by others unless you give it to them (blackmail is also more difficult, and naughty secrets are harder to keep in this world). As long as these private property issues can be resolved, this world should be a functioning society.

The only other issue I can possibly imagine is prejudice. If people know your medical history, they may be less likely to want a long-lasting relationship with you. If they know your financial history, they may be less inclined to spend time with someone outside of his socioeconomic class. I answer: you would know ahead of time what people's prejudices were. Do you want to associate with a prejudiced person? Associating with someone is a mutual thing. Also, if you knew every one's problems, then you'd likely be more understanding with people in different situations. Sure, that person may have some issue you don't like, but are you so perfect? Everyone has their issues.

Regardless, this hypothetical world is also probably futuristic enough that maybe there'd be less prejudice in the world anyways. I can hope, right?

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