Sunday, September 15, 2013

Watching inside your house with infrared and reading your emails

A while back, on Claire Wolfe's blog, the discussion was about privacy.  I agreed with those who said that, while irritating, I (and my property) had no right to not be looked at or photographed while outdoors, or in public.

I added: "Now, if they use infrared (or anything else) to see inside my house, that’s another issue. It’s the difference between what I have in the open and clearly visible, and what I have concealed on my property." (link to full comment)
Then, Thomas Knapp said: "I have to disagree with Kent on infra-red. My ability to generate heat does not in any way create an obligation on the part of others not to look at the heat I generate."

I realized where he was coming from and decided I had been wrong initially.

But... I keep thinking about something else connected to this and it keeps nagging me... and I hope Thomas Knapp weighs in on this again.

What's the difference between being watched inside your home with an infrared camera, and having your emails, phone calls, and internet usage watched and analyzed?  It seems to me to be different manifestations of the same kind of behavior.  If it's OK to watch people inside their homes with infrared, then wouldn't it be OK to read their emails and other "private" communications?  And if it is wrong to read your neighbors' private emails, wouldn't it also be wrong to watch them inside their homes?

There seems to be a connection there.  If I am wrong about that, I would like to know why.



  1. Kent,

    I think we're incorrectly mixing up several concepts here.

    The first thing to get out of the way is WHO is doing this or that. The state is inherently a criminal organization. It is born of aggression, it is funded with aggression, its ends are aggressive, and if any of its means happen to not be aggressive, in and of themselves, that's not from intent but mere happenstance.

    In terms of analogy, while I have no problem with the consumption of alcohol as such, I oppose stocking schnapps in the guard barracks at Auschwitz, because I oppose the existence of Auschwitz and the employment of guards there. Likewise, I oppose the state's agents looking at you, with or without infrared goggles. It's not the infrared goggles that are the problem. It's the state.

    On the other hand, when people who are not criminals/aggressors do things that are not themselves criminal or aggressive, I don't find that morally objectionable even if I don't like the results.

    I don't have a "right to privacy" in the sense that others should be forbidden to see or know things if they are able to see or know those things through means that do not otherwise violate my rights.

    To the specific case of reading my emails:

    If someone finds a way to read my emails that does not involve violating anyone's rights (including mine), then I don't have any "right" to prevent them from reading those emails.

    Normally, however, for someone to read my emails, they would have to reach those emails by violating someone's property rights. They'd have to make unauthorized use of -- in other words, steal CPU time, bandwidth, etc. from -- my computer or of someone else's computer in the transmission chain.

    If I leave printouts of my emails lying on a park bench, or transmit those emails unencrypted over radio (including wi-fi), I have no right to expect that the guy who sits down on the park bench, or the guy who happens to be tuned to the frequency I'm transmitting them on, will ignore them or that he's acting criminally if he doesn't.

  2. Back in the days before email, when we all had to use actual paper and envelopes, criminals would sometimes steal mail and open it to see if they could find money, checks, social security numbers, etc. Obviously, that was a criminal act: Taking something that didn't belong to them without the permission of the owner.

    The government (local, state, and federal) was supposed to get a search warrant before opening up anyone's mail, supported by oath and affirmation that the suspect's mail would lead to criminal activity. For the government to collect and, possibly read, email from citizens not suspected of criminal activity and without a proper search warrant is obviously a Fourth Amendment violation. And one shouldn't have to encrypt his or her email, just as we didn't encrypt our snail mail.

    As to using infrared technology to look inside people's houses: That has been going on for decades to look for houses that are producing more heat than normal which was possibly a sign of a drug lab or marijuana growing operation. And, unfortunately, the courts have upheld those types of actions.

    If the government has the right to snoop on me and you with infrared technology why not have Congress just pass a law saying that all houses must be glass houses, even the bathrooms? It would make the government's job so much easier, right?

    All hail the Nation-State! (Dissenters will be shot.)

  3. Personally I find the topic a distraction. The fundamental problem isn't what people might know about other people; it's what they can do about it.

    As the first comment intimates, THAT'S the problem with Govco's a criminal enterprise. To me, it's similar to the "immigration problem." The problem isn't that immigrants flood in here; the problem is that it's an importation of a zillion more moochers.

    In a genuinely free society, I doubt many people would really care what the next guy is doing. They'd be too busy living their own lives.

  4. I think KN@PPSTER nailed it, for the most part.
    i have to take exception with the following, however.

    "Normally, however, for someone to read my emails, they would have to reach those emails by violating someone's property rights. They'd have to make unauthorized use of -- in other words, steal CPU time, bandwidth, etc. from -- my computer or of someone else's computer in the transmission chain."

    This factually untrue.
    The government, or anyone else with hardware-level network access, can grab packages off the wire without trespassing against anyone's property rights.
    The only answer to this situation, in light of the ongoing evisceration of the 1st, 4th, and 5th amendments is to utilize encryption.
    The software is free, and runs on any platform.
    If your emails are being read, it's only because you don't care enough to prevent it.

  5. I don't have a right to walk across the alley and peer into my neighbors window because their blinds are up.

    The government doesn't have a right to peer into my house without a warrant, according to the documents -- federal and state constitutions -- that are theoretically crafted to limit their power.

    They have no right to search my digital papers without a warrant crafted upon specific information, detailed in the aforementioned documents.

    I don't give a fuck about the technology. The principle remains the same. The technology doesn't change the principle.

    As a writer, I am pretty invested in the concept that words have meanings. Just because they make illegal laws -- and, yes, if they abridge fundamental rights, they are illegal -- allowing such actions, doesn't make them acceptable or right.

    And, their illegal laws do not change the principle. Violate, yes. Change, no.

    Best Regards...

  6. I just know I wouldn't feel right about doing it, so I wouldn't. Not either thing. Maybe that doesn't make it "wrong", but I know it's not nice.

  7. "I don't have a right to walk across the alley and peer into my neighbors window because their blinds are up."

    Unless you are trespassing on someone else's property, you have a right to look at anything you can see.