Most people take it for granted — because they have heard it so many times from politicians and pundits — that they must trade some privacy for security in this dangerous world. The challenge, we’re told, is to find the right “balance.” Let’s examine this.
On its face the idea seems reasonable. I can imagine hiring a firm to look after some aspect of my security. To do its job the firm may need some information about me that I don’t readily give out. It’s up to me to decide whether I like the trade-off. Nothing wrong there. In a freed market, firms would compete for my business, and competition would pressure firms to ask only for information required for their services. As a result, a minimum amount of information would be requested. If I thought even that was too much, I would be free to choose to look after my security myself. If I did business with a firm that violated our contract — say, it disclosed my information in a way that violated the terms — I would have recourse. At the very least I could terminate the relationship and strike up another or none at all.
In other words, in the freed market I would find the right “balance” for myself, and you would do the same. One size wouldn’t be deemed to fit all. The market would cater to people with a range of security/privacy concerns, striking the “balance” differently for different people. That’s as it should be.
Actually, we can say that there would be no trade-off between privacy and security at all, because the information would be voluntarily disclosed by each individual on mutually acceptable terms and the disclosure would not be perceived as an invasion of privacy. Under those circumstances, it wouldn’t be right to call what the firm does an “intrusion.”
But even if one sees this as a trade-off, that sort of situation is not what Barack Obama, Rep. Mike Rogers, Rep. Peter King, and their ilk mean when they tell us that “we” need to find the right balance between security and privacy.