privacy in public places

Hal Finney hal at
Fri Aug 29 13:32:18 EDT 2008

It is hard to argue with Perry's point that privacy in public is an
endangered species at best. Suggesting that one confine one's illegal
actions to the virtual world is not a particularly appealing response.

Robin Hanson considered the problem in this article from back in the
1990s, a response to the heyday of the Cypherpunks:

He argued that virtual privacy would not be an adequate substitute for
the loss of physical privacy, that people would not be willing to make
the sacrifices necessary for a fully anonymous (or pseudonymous) online

It's possible nevertheless that online substitutes for many questionable
physical activities may arise. People don't need to shop at adult
bookstores any more, porn being widely available online. Instructions on
making or growing your own drugs can also be found. Not everything we do
in the physical world can yet be virtualized but perhaps with increased
recognition of the problem, more substitutes will become available.

You don't have to buy into the Cypherpunk picture of a set of fully
protected "nyms" using Chaumian credentials to transfer attributes,
in order to benefit still from the relatively large degree of anonymity
and privacy available online.

It may also be helpful to focus more directly on specific harms and
specific limitations rather than the rather vague and general issue of
privacy and its intangible benefits. Scientific American has a number
of articles on this topic in its most recent issue.

(Also includes a nice article by Anna Lysyanskaya on cryptographic
credentials BTW. Her work with Jan Camenisch on this topic remains state
of the art for those who still retain hope for the technology. TPM DAA
is based on CL signatures and ironically may become the first widely
fielded use of anonymous credentials.)

Hal Finney

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