Friday, November 27, 2015

Can you keep a secret?

There are always people who can defend what seems to me to be indefensible; reject what seems to me to be obviously desirable. 

I read recently of a technique to convince people whose political philosophy is opposed to yours to nonetheless support positions which you support – even if those positions are inimical to their own.  Basically, you frame the question in such a way that it echoes things that they already believe in.  For example, to convince a gun freak that registration of gun owners is a good thing, you might say that this is a method of eliminating the argument of anti-gun forces that nobody knows who owns guns, so they should all be removed from the general population’s control.  You frame this position as a way of pre-emptively weakening the opposing side.  

The people who promote this don’t seem to care if you actually believe what you say or not.  The goal is to win the argument.

What brought this to mind was an article I read on the question of strong encryption.  Several politicians think that encryption methods should have back-doors so that law enforcement can get access to the encrypted communications of terrorists and criminals.   

This section got my attention:
“People who protect liberty have to take care not to imply, much less acknowledge, that the draconian anti-liberty measures advocated by the surveillance state crowd are justified, tactically or morally, no matter what the circumstances. Someday a terrorist will be known to have used strong encryption, and the right response will be: “Yes, they did, and we still have to protect strong encryption, because weakening it will make things worse.”

That “and the right response will be” gets me, because I don’t think that you can say that in advance.  I think there will be times when encryption should remain inviolate, and there will be times when we will want law enforcement to be able to break it.  The problem is that we don’t know in advance.  The cops don’t like the idea of having to ask for access each time.  I don’t like the idea of the cops having unfettered access to secrets, because I distrust their integrity.  

People who use phrases like and the right response will be are not primarily interested in the objective  truth.  They just want to win the argument. In this case, I think we want both -- security, but trustworthy security. We want to be able to trust the cops, but their actions lead us to think that we need protection from them, too. 

I believe that the 'authorities' know much more about the real world than I do.  But what do you do when you don't trust them?

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