Thursday, May 13, 2004

Assembly and the Wire Tap

Humans have a built in need for sovereignty over their person. This is possibly derived from the way we evolved as pack animals and our need to climb the hierarchy. We call it Freedom in our political system. Philosophy and Theology call it free will.

In order to feel sovereignty over my person, I require privacy. I want to be able to do what I want within the walls of my home, away from the prying eyes of anyone who might judge me. And I want it to be simple. I want the fact that I close a shutter to be a signal to others that they are not allowed to look inside, even accidentally through a crack or keyhole.

I want a simple popup notice on my computer to inform people that it is my private property and they are not legally entitled to look at anything on it without my permission. I want this to apply even if they surreptitiously gain access to my passwords. And if they look, I want the option to have them punished.

And I consider privacy to be a basic right -- a human right derived of a biological need, not one that can be abridged by any court or action. I'm not alone -- lots of people want privacy. Lots of people want complete and utter privacy. People want it so much so, that they've derived this right from one of the amendments to the US Constitution. In some cases this has become quite controversial: One has led to a perennial public debate (about which I don't give a damn one way or the other as it happens.)

Hell, I even want privacy in my home so strong that I can set up an illegal operation, like say a pot farm, in my basement with absolute surety that the only way I'll be exposed is if I let the information out. (Which would surely happen if I did something stupid like sell it or tell someone.) Maybe I want to set up a particle collider to create a pocket universe over which I rule as a God. And that's my right too. Many people (especially law enforcement folk and nosey busybodies who should mind their own damned business) think this is a justification to reduce privacy rights. They're wrong.

I also want complete and utter privacy in my conversations with other people on the phone. I want to be able to pick up a phone and call someone without any thought at all, and know that it is a point-to-point communication. And if it is not, I want a little indicator on my phone to light up telling me that the far end has a second line picked up or that the far end has a really good speaker phone that I can't hear the echo in.

Unfortunately, the bad guys won this one outright. They argue that privacy cannot exist in this medium. They also argue by some severely tortured logic that they have a right to tap your calls if they think you're a bad guy (they're the bad guys because they're nosey bastards).

But there is hope! The way I see it, a phone call is an assembly of two people, possibly for political purposes. And while the founding fathers hadn't a clue that there would some day be a telephone network, I'm sure they would agree that having a phone call or a conference call is in essence the same thing as getting together to have a meeting.

Well if you have a meeting, you can see who is there. You have full disclosure. And you can post guards to catch eavesdroppers. If I even think that the NSA might tap into my meeting, it changes what I feel free to say. That's a Bad Thing.

If some twisty bastard (lawyer) can think up a way to warp an amendment against unwarranted searches into the right to abort a baby (again, I don't give a shit one way or the other), surely he can think up a way to strengthen the right to have a phone call.

As it happens, we have the technology right now to circumvent wire taps built into every digital phone. A simple firmware change to the DSP could implement guaranteed end-to-end military grade encryption and it would even work with a conference call. Selling these phones would enable the public to tell the Justice Department to shove CALEA right up its ass and would give us back our right to Assemble Freely.

Would it make police work harder? Sure. They'd have to go back to co-opting one of the parties in the conversation and do undercover work rather than sift through digitized recordings. Would it make it more dangerous? Probably.

Does this matter?


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