Our children aren’t inheriting the liberties of our parents: The importance of “Analog Equivalent Rights”

Posted on Apr 28, 2016 by Rick Falkvinge

The civil liberties of our parents are not being passed down to our children. Somehow, liberties are being interpreted to only apply to analog technology, despite this limitation being nowhere in the books. This is a disastrous erosion of the fundamental liberties our ancestors fought, bled, and died to give us.

This week, there was news of a new law passed in the US House of Representatives – the lower legislative chamber in the United States – passing a bill to require a search warrant for the government to search and seize people’s e-mail. In other words, the government would need a search warrant to obtain people’s private correspondence if it happened to be transmitted electronically, which practically all correspondence is today.

This law is bizarre. It should never have passed, because it shouldn’t be any kind of necessary. When you look at the original law giving privacy protection to people’s private correspondence, can you find any passage that says “do note that this law only applies to private correspondence when it’s sent on paper”? Of course you don’t. It was assumed, since it was the only way to correspond at the time the law was written, and besides, the focus of that law was where it was supposed to be: on protecting the privacy of correspondence, not on protecting a piece of paper as such.

What twisted interpretation of the law decided that the laws detailing our civil liberties only apply in the old world’s analog environments? Who decided that the paper, and not the correspondence, was the protected part?

Here’s a non-exhaustive list of protections our parents had, and our children don’t, because of such interpretations of our liberties:

  • The right to send anything to anybody anonymously. Anonymous letters were a staple diet of our parents, physical letters which were manually dropped into a physical mailbox, and these were frequently used to send evidence of abuse of power to newspapers. Today, if you argue that our children should have that same right, the copyright industry will go ballistic and scream they can’t make a profit if anybody can send anything to anybody else anonymously (and politicians have interpreted the old laws accordingly). As if we ever determined our civil liberties from who can make a profit and who can’t? As a result of the copyright industry killing this liberty, the freedom of press has also been substantially weakened, and protection of sources all but eliminated.
  • The right to keep private details. In many jurisdictions, a paper diary has extensive protection against search and seizure – far higher than private (paper) letters, which already have signification protection. In contrast, a mobile phone – which contains far more sensitive private details than a diary, since it also contains the things you just thought of, not what you consciously wrote down – has no protection at all; it is considered the legal equivalent of a worktool, like a hammer or a wrench, for the purpose of search and seizure.
  • The right to read what you want without surveillance. The notion that authorities can track not just what newspapers we read, but what articles in those newspapers, for how long, and in what order, and what we searched for more information about afterward – or whom we contacted afterward — that notion would have been absolutely horrifying to our parents. When did we lose the basic liberty of looking for information without the prospect of being held to account for it? (Case in point: Wikipedia articles about terror groups saw a 30% drop in readers when it became known that the NSA monitors what people read online; the self-censorship is real.)

The list goes on, and is terrifying. (The 1950s dystopic Big-Brother novels were wrong in one important aspect: yes, the government has access to camera feeds from our homes, but we installed those cameras ourselves with the idea of communicating with our loved ones.)

This why liberties must be thought of in terms of Analog Equivalent Rights: if this were an analog environment, what rights would our parents have had? The people born in the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s? Those same rights must apply also in the digital environment of our children.

For at the end of the day, it was never the piece of paper that was protected, but the private correspondence scribbled onto it.

Until this is realized by lawmakers, privacy remains your own responsibility.

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  1. Alantar

    Oh, lawmakers UNDERSTAND it, all right – they just don’t care.

    4 years ago