[Air-l] Google is watching !

Thomas Koenig T.Koenig at lboro.ac.uk
Tue May 25 15:11:17 PDT 2004

At 16:40 25/05/2004, Charles Ess wrote:
>Perhaps I was overreading here - but both ET's statement and the following
>from Thomas Koenig seem to me to function precisely as accounts of what _is_
>the case in order to argue what _ought_ to be the case: (5/9/04)

I tried to outline my argument in detail in the last post already. I try to 
rephrase it again.

Empirical observation: "The Usenet and (most parts of the) www *are* 
public(ly available)."

Normative statement: "Anything that is uttered in public is fair game. 
Copyright laws apply, as do special provisions for a limited scope of 

Subsumption: "Usenet and (most parts of) the www are in principle fair game"

I do think that it is a good thing that the Usenet is public, but that is 
totally irrelevant for the argument made here. I would arrive at the same 
conclusion, if I would think that the Usenet should become private.

>That is, I've taken these to be part of your arguments against ethical
>obligations to protect privacy  - i.e., in the general form, "It is very
>difficult (if not impossible) to protect privacy online, therefore we ought
>not to worry about it."
>If I've misread the argument, then I'd be grateful for clarification.
>Specifically, if these statements are not being used in support of your
>arguments against ethical obligations to protect privacy - what is their
>logical function?

For the logical function, see above.

You are, however, right, that I sort of support the argument:

"It is very difficult (if not impossible) to protect privacy online, 
therefore we ought
not to worry about it." (where online means "Usenet/www", and "not to worry 
about it" means "advertize its public character")

Here is this argument in some more detail:  The right to privacy is *not* a 
right to unilaterally *declare* (or assume) just about anything as private. 
It is also not an absolute right that trumps anybody else's rights for 
*autonomy* or to torpedo discussions in the public sphere. In every legal 
system, the right to privacy and the right to participate in public 
discourse need to be reconciled. I should be able to have a private 
conversation, but not just anywhere I like it to have, as we need also 
space for the public sphere. Usenet and www are through their technical 
configuration *only* suited for the public sphere, and they are, in 
principle, an excellent means to have public discussions. There is ample 
room for private conversations at home, your local bar, through email, or 
even maybe with some forms of ICQ or IRC (that is, if you are lucky enough 
to be wealthy enough to have a home and you live in some sort of democratic 
country). Conversely, before the age of the internet, that was *no* venue 
to have effective public discussions, where virtually anybody with computer 
access could participate. That's, why I think that the Usenet not only *is* 
public, but also should *remain* public. That's a far stretch from arguing 
that anything that is should be.

For those, who think that the *mistaken* assumption that Usenet/www were 
private entitles you to privacy rights, a little example from the world 
outside CMC. A few weeks ago, a sports reporter on a popular British TV 
station made a remark that many considered (in my view, rightfully,) as 
racist. He made that remark, while he thought that his microphone was 
turned off, thus he clearly *intended* it to be a private outburst, not to 
be heard by anyone. Well, the mike was on and it got broadcast 
(http://observer.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,6903,1202686,00.html). The 
reporter had to resign from all of his duties. Would you have advocated 
that his perception of privacy should have exempted him from any 


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