Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive


Forgot your password?
Privacy Censorship

Reconciling Information Privacy and Liberty? 871

thetan asks: "F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote that 'The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.' However, for many outsiders, it's hard to understand how cliques reconcile seemingly contrarian views. For example, many US Republicans are against abortion but in favour of the death penalty (no doubt they have their reasons). Amongst the Slashdot commentariat, one often hears that information wants to be free, almost as a catchcry of the open source, copyfight and related info-libertarian movements. OTOH, these same Slashdot readers stridently guard their privacy, so presumably information about their shopping preferences or websurfing does not 'want to be free'. How does the intelligent and functional Slashdot crowd reconcile the liberty of other people's information with the privacy of their own?"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Reconciling Information Privacy and Liberty?

Comments Filter:
  • Libre, *not* gratis. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TripMaster Monkey ( 862126 ) * on Thursday August 04, 2005 @03:41PM (#13243425)
    ...the intelligent and functional Slashdot crowd...

    Bwah ha ha ha...are you enjoying your stay in our dimension? When are you due back in BizzaroWorld? ^_^

    Seriously, though, I don't think any intellectually honest Slashdotter out there would assert that the vaunted 'information wants to be free' catch phrase should be interpreted as 'free as in beer'. Information is most certainly not free...if it was, many of us would be out of a job. This being the Information Age, information is the prime economic mover, and therefore, most slashdotters are understandably upset when their own personal information is mined by corporations and passed around as currency. This leads to a very real devaluation of our personal worth, as the intrusiveness of companies serves to reduce our quality of life.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 04, 2005 @03:45PM (#13243483)
      "Free as in beer" is gratis. Beer is not libre.

      Anyway, information hates it when you anthropomorphize it.

      The "catchcry" is fundamentally flawed, because information doesn't want anything. People want information.

      Information - knowledge - is directly related to power. Those that know are in control. The phrase, then, stems from the socialist inklings in the hearts of the Good People (TM). This is to say that people who have interest in others tend to share - or at least want to share - information with them. Now, before you go off flaming me, not being a Socialist (captialized) doesn't make you bad. We all express this in different ways.

      Also, somewhat offtopic, but:

      The abortion/death penalty "conundrum" is really simple.
      Being pro-life is about saving innocent lives.
      The death penalty is about ending guilty ones.

      Plenty of hairy details and opinions to go with those, though.

      • "Free as in beer" is gratis. Beer is not libre.

        That's precisely why I said "Libre, *not* gratis."
      • stems from the socialist inklings in the hearts of the Good People (TM). This is to say that people who have interest in others tend to share - or at least want to share - information with them. Now, before you go off flaming me, not being a Socialist (captialized) doesn't make you bad.

        I believe the word you are looking for here is "charitable". Socialism is more concerned with forcing others to be charitable, which is yet another of those "contradictory ideas" we're discussing.

        It's perfectly possible to b
      • Contradictory? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 04, 2005 @05:00PM (#13244448)
        Supporting the death penalty, yet opposing abortion, is contradictory, eh?

        Ok, what about opposing the death penalty, yet supporting abortion? Isn't that JUST as contradictory in exactly the same way?

        The justifications on both sides sound the same too:

        "Adults who have shown that they only care about killing others have EARNED the death penalty, whereas an unborn child is innocent and has earned no such punishment."

        Or, on the other hand

        "An adult has an established identity, and as such killing him is always wrong, whereas a fetus has no identity, and as such is just extra tissue for disposal."

        Neither view is actually contradictory in the mind of the person who holds it, because they see adults and unborn children as being separate cases to be governed by separate rules.

        I am more interested in genuinely contradictory views such as "It is perfectly acceptable for a female interviewer to be granted access to the men's locker room, but it is outright wrong for a male interviewer to be granted access to the women's locker room. The men who don't want women watching them shower are just being silly, whereas the women who don't want men watching them shower are being quite reasonable."

        • The shower example is no more or less contradictory than the execution example. Mutatis mutandis, the two shower cases are reconciled by positing a compelling differentiating factor, for example, observing that the number of men who rape women is much larger than the number of women who rape men, so having a single chick in the men's shower is much safer....ummm... nevermind.
      • by Marcus Porcius Cato ( 905228 ) on Thursday August 04, 2005 @05:13PM (#13244594)
        The problem is deeper than gratis vs libre, because most people misunderstand libre.

        Liberty is not license. It doesn't mean you can do whatever you want. It doesn't mean a lack of rules.

        Liberty needs rules. Information might want to be libre, but that doesn't mean you can take whatever information you want from whomever you want and do whatever you want with it. Your liberty (and liberty is ALWAYS both personal and individual) is limited, as Jefferson said, by the bounds of other people's equal rights. Law is there to enforce those boundaries.

        Without some set of rules keeping other people from choosing to violate others' rights you have anarchy, which has very little to do with liberty.

        The ideal is to want rule of law and not of man. To have a playing field where the rules are understood, and enforced equally on everyone, and are there to protect people's liberty; instead of a system of arbitary power where individuals (private, corporate, or state) can arbitarily change the rules, arbitarily enforce them, and do so for their own benefit.

        Information wants to be free because it is easy to move it around. But in the interest of protecting the rights of all people (you and those in the RIAA as well) there have to be rules protecting the ownership of information. Otherwise there is no libre, only anarchy.

        Is selling your personal data to some shady group wrong? Yes. Is getting copyrighted music of a P2P system without paying for it wrong? Yes, and for exactly the same reasons. Without ownership there are no rights, and disrespecting ownership is disrespecting libre.

        As for the death penalty/abortion thing, it comes down to 2 basic disagreements over world view. First: is a fetus a human being? Second, the left believes in "thou shalt not kill" while the right believes in "thou shalt not murder." There's a world of difference in there, because one side believes that all violence and all killing is wrong. The other believes that violence, even up to lethal levels, is often a very beneficial thing. It is the misuse of it that is wrong.
      • Absent any preventive measures, anyone can access any information they can physically aprehend. Thus the natural state of information is to be free for anyone to use. Only when people try to limit the spread of information does it become non free, and even then, like water, if there is a crack in your container it will leak out.

        Hope that explains the analogy.

        As for information being free and privacy, privacy is a stopgap measure to protect those with less access to information and less ability to act on tha
        • If there were no imbalance, there would be no need for privacy. If anyone actually used information in a way the majority considered immoral, then everyone would know about it an could stop the abuse. There would be no need for privacy in financial transactions because everyone would know if you stole.

          You assume the presence of a societal pressure that would keep people from doing wrong if it was generally known. This is almost completely absent from today's society, at least in the Western world.

          The drug

      • I believe that life begins when the father and mother of the eventual child first begin the copulation process that later includes fertilization of the egg by the sperm. "Conception" is as arbitrary a cutoff point to allow the destruction of that forming life, as is "birth". The soul of the child is born as soon as the souls of the parents come together. Therefore, not only must abortion be prohibited, but contraception, even pre-conception (like "the Pill", condoms, etc). In fact, "coitus interruptus" is m
    • by Kelson ( 129150 ) * on Thursday August 04, 2005 @03:54PM (#13243604) Homepage Journal

      Of course, "Information wants to be free" originally was about gratis. The second, forgotten half of the phrase was "Information also wants to be expensive." It was meant to describe the conflict between the ever-easier, ever-cheaper methods to store and transmit information, and the ever-increasing value placed upon information by those who create and/or use it.

      Information Wants To Be Free. Information also wants to be expensive. Information wants to be free because it has become so cheap to distribute, copy, and recombine---too cheap to meter. It wants to be expensive because it can be immeasurably valuable to the recipient. That tension will not go away. It leads to endless wrenching debate about price, copyright, 'intellectual property', the moral rightness of casual distribution, because each round of new devices makes the tension worse, not better. -- Stewart Brand []
    • most slashdotters are understandably upset when their own personal information is mined by corporations and passed around as currency

      While the mining of personal info bothers me, what really gets my nuts in a knot is the endless profit streams being generated from the endless re-selling of my data to "affiliates", "business partners", etc. I could probably comfortably retire on the amount of money made buying, selling, and re-selling my personal info, but do I see a penny of it? Do I even see it occur?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 04, 2005 @03:41PM (#13243426)
    As seen in Wikipedia:Slashdot [], circa 2010:

    The fateful event took place on August 4th, 2005, when veteran Slashdot editor "Cliff" unknowingly set off the greatest flamewar of all time.

    A discussion of Abortion, the Death Penalty, freedom of information, privacy rights, Republicans/Democrats, the sitting president, and an earlier article on Evolution and Intelligent Design proved too much for the website. Comments surged into the thousands within minutes, Slashdot's webserver farm burst into flames, and the resulting conflagration took out 23% of the global Internet (source: Netcraft) before WWW Firefighters could put it out. Hundreds of brave posters and cowardly AC's alike were consumed in the initial blast.

    --picture insert: CowboyNeal rushing back into the burning building to save the polls--

    You will be missed, Slashdot. Truly, you were an American icon.
    • by eobanb ( 823187 ) on Thursday August 04, 2005 @04:01PM (#13243688) Homepage
      Disclaimer: I'm a hardcore liberal. But I can't stand it when liberals make the "how can Republicans want the death penalty, but not abortion." It's easy. Unborn children haven't committed crimes. Criminals have. Personally I still don't want the death penalty for a different reason, because there is a clear racial and financial bias going on in the American legal system; however, I still hate it, and feel embarassed when, my friends try to use this idiotic argument of "Republicans are contradicting themselves!" when my friends are arguing for abortion or against the death penalty.
  • by Ckwop ( 707653 ) * <> on Thursday August 04, 2005 @03:41PM (#13243432) Homepage

    Not all information is created equal. The information that "wants to be free" is information that adds meaningfully to the sum of human knowledge. Whether that's an algorithm to quickly sort large amounts of information, a law of physics, or a new economic model.. these types of information want to be free.

    Information that "doesn't want to be free" is the kind that doesn't give anything meaningful to humanity at large or the kind that bring me to some harm if released. If the information in question doesn't pass this test then it's okay to keep it secret. What porn I bought yesterday is not really of interest to anybody except me and therefore, under my model, this information is best kept secret. Other secret information, like passwords, credit-card numbers and social security number are outright danger to me if they are released to the public.

    We have to be careful what line we tread. In the US, companies like choicepoint are collecting huge amounts of data and yet even though the data is about us, it does not belong to us. This causes huge problems for us because Choicepoint doesn't really care if this data gets out. What skin is it off Choicepoints back? Will it lose sales? These data collection companies need to CARE about keeping our data SAFE. The only way to do that is make them liable for incredible sums of money if that data ends up in the wrong hands.

    Privacy is under attack and we need to defend it. A 150 years ago, I could walk out in to a field and have a private conversation and be sure it was private. These days, there could be lazer microphones and bugs. A 150 years ago, I could disappear on a horse for a couple of months and nobody would know where I am. These days they can find you with your mobile phone and CCTV. A 150 years ago you could build a house and not care about somebody using spy-satelites to check for building code violations.

    Privacy and Liberty are not at odds, they are one in the same. Being free is about people not knowing everything about you. People often retort by saying "I have nothing to hide, so I don't care if they collect the data". Yes, I'm sure the Jews had nothing to hide from the government in 1920s. Only ten years later, their census data was being used to round them up and murder them. Privacy is important not for the reasons we can readily think of but for all the reasons we can't think of.


    • by BaudKarma ( 868193 ) on Thursday August 04, 2005 @03:45PM (#13243480) Journal
      On the contrary, I'm deeply interested in what porn you bought yesterday.

      Or to be more exact, I'm amazed that people still pay for porn.
      • by Anonymous Coward
        At first I thought that you, as a porn pirater, are a free rider. If no-one paid for porn, then it wouldn't get made. But then I thought about the problem some more. That's right, I thought more about porn.

        If no-one paid for porn, the only porn that would get made would be made by people who would do it for free: exhibitionists. Exhibitionists come in all shapes and sizes. I assume that I wouldn't want to watch the vast majority of this kind of porn because most of the girls would be of questionable ho
    • by Sanity ( 1431 ) * on Thursday August 04, 2005 @03:46PM (#13243509) Homepage Journal
      Information that "doesn't want to be free" is the kind that doesn't give anything meaningful to humanity at large or the kind that bring me to some harm if released.
      What if it gives something meaningful to humanity, but it will also bring someone to some harm if released - the Windows source code, for example, or even Diebold's source code and internal emails?

      I think you are oversimplifying. Tools which help to share information do not distinguish between "good" and "bad" information, they either share information freely, or they don't.

      • by TGK ( 262438 ) on Thursday August 04, 2005 @04:18PM (#13243911) Homepage Journal
        Ultimately the difference in what should and should not be opened to public scrutiny comes down to where the information originates. Corporate information should be open to the public because corporations exist only through the legal protections of Government, which exists only at the consent of the governed.

        There are only two places this line blurs - when a person interacts with a corporation and when a person acts like a corporation.

        In the first, while a corporation may choose to collect data on its customers, that data should never be for sale or distribution. Carelessness with or misuse of that data should meet with harsh consequences.

        In the second, a person is engaging in public actions (such as the creation of intellectual properties) -- in such a case the information should be opened to public scrutiny.

        These are my opinions. They are based around the fundamental assumption that, despite present legal structures, a corporation is not the same thing as an individual. Individuals have natural rights, and the right of a corporation to exist is something granted by a government. The two are not equal and thus the information they produce should also be unequal.

    • Take no offense, but you haven't convinced me of the difference.

      Let's pretend I'm some sort of marketing company. There's little doubt in my mind that knowing exactly what you buy puts me in a better position to predict what you're interested in. There's also little doubt in my mind that this would allow me to target you more succesfully with the right brochures and product information and avoid sending you stuff you're not interested in. If we assume I'm sending you stuff through the mail, we've just save
    • But much of your "private" information could be used to conduct statistical studies that might "contribute to the sum of human knowledge" in all sorts of ways.

      Information is information. Period. If you want something to be a secret, keep it secret. If you want to share information, but impose certain conditions on its use, you are entering a trust relationship where you assume that the recipient of your information will use it only as you wish. If they break the "contract" on their use of the information yo

    • How do you know the difference?

      After all, what porn you bought yesterday is of immense value to sociologists studying human behavior. I would think that would meet the requirement of 'adding meaningfully to the sum of human knowledge'. Same goes for your TV viewing habits and almost any other thing that wants to be tracked.

      I imagine similiar thought could be applied to almost anything. Trying to deliniate between the two simply seems like an exercise in rationlization. You want the information that benefits
    • Not all information is created equal. The information that "wants to be free" is information that adds meaningfully to the sum of human knowledge.

      What about freely distributing music, movies etc? It's harder to tell whether they contribute meaningfully to human knowledge.

      My opinion is that, for example, once a CD is released, it's "out there" in public and should be Free. It's not a secret, like a password. Anything that's not a secret should be Free.

      My reasoning is that, for example, musicians want

    • by Frater 219 ( 1455 ) on Thursday August 04, 2005 @04:02PM (#13243705) Journal
      "Information wants to be free" was not originally a rallying cry to advocate the freedom of information. Rather, it was a statement along the lines of "Water wants to flow downhill" -- an observation; a statement of what is, rather than what should be.

      In what sense does information want to be free? In the sense that it is frequently very difficult to keep it bottled up! To keep water from flowing downhill we build water towers, dams, levees, and so forth -- we expend a great deal of effort to resist water's tendency to flow downhill. The same is true of many kinds of information.

      If we wish to keep a piece of information private, we have to expend resources to protect it. This is as true if "we" are private citizens, or a government agency. Governments have to exert a lot of effort to deter people from leaking secrets -- for instance, in punishing people who do so; or denying access to reporters who publish "embarrassing" stories. This takes effort.

      The same is true of personal information. As we go about our lives, particularly online, we effectively radiate all kinds of identifying facts about ourselves -- HTTP cookies, usernames, email addresses, browsing and shopping preferences, and so on. If we want to bottle up this information and keep it private -- or obfuscate it so that nobody can build up a profile of us -- we have to make some effort to do so.

      When we say "information wants to be free" in an advocacy sense, what we may frequently mean is that for some classes of information, the cost of keeping them bottled up is too high -- economically, socially, or personally. For instance, one cost of keeping the facts about the rape of underage Iraqi girls at Abu Ghraib bottled up, is that many people place an erroneous trust in the U.S. Army that its soldiers will not rape underage girls. This erroneous cost is a social evil caused by information being kept unfree.

    • you know, in at least half of the world you could go away and no one could ever find you, not with satellite, cctv or any other means. Really, the earth is alot bigger than you think. You'd have alot less security and safety, but a whole lotta privacy.
    • You raise an excellent argument but I fear that it creates the opposite of what you want. Credit information is far more valuable (to humanity and civilization) than are the latest music files by Brittany Spears.

      If you study banking in China you find that one of the big problems over there is a lack of credit information systems. Its easy for someone to get a loan, skip the payments, go get another loan at another bank, skip the payments, and repeat as needed. In such a system honest people pay the pr
  • Prejudices (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bigwavejas ( 678602 ) * on Thursday August 04, 2005 @03:42PM (#13243435) Journal
    I've noticed if one posts anything on Slashdot going "against the grain" of popularity (differing views on War in Iraq, Linux or Apple for example) The mods immediately presume your post is either a "Troll" or "Flamebait". People often have a hard time setting aside their personal beliefs and tend to view things in a biased manner. The unfortunate outcome of this is they end up burying otherwise interesting viewpoints.
    • 've noticed if one posts anything on Slashdot going "against the grain" of popularity (differing views on War in Iraq, Linux or Apple for example) The mods immediately presume your post is either a "Troll" or "Flamebait". People often have a hard time setting aside their personal beliefs and tend to view things in a biased manner. The unfortunate outcome of this is they end up burying otherwise interesting viewpoints.

      I have to agree with bigwavejas. Troll" on /. == Satire. Oh, I wish there was a way to ex

    • Re:Prejudices (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jdigriz ( 676802 )
      Discussions of "bias" are most commonly used when the complainant has no serious factual or well-reasoned rebuttal to defeat the opposing side's positions. If bias were in fact warping things to the point that serious contrarian evidence is being ignored that could utterly demolish the argument, it should be trivial to simply make those points and win the debate. Instead people choose to attack the messengers rather than the message, since they can't win via rational argument using rigorous standards of e
    • Relativism (Score:5, Insightful)

      by dustmite ( 667870 ) on Thursday August 04, 2005 @04:41PM (#13244233)

      You are basically pushing the incorrect notion that "all opinions are equal", that all opinions should be treated with equal respect and never challenged, and that it is "biased" and "prejudiced" or even "offensive" to diss someone else's opinion if you believe it is wrong. This is Political Correctness run amok. People are NOT entitled to ignore facts and hold incorrect views, and they should be flamed if what they are saying is, in fact, incorrect, and does not take into cognisance all the facts.

      For example, the astroturfers on /. keep pushing the (incorrect) idea that it represents a bias to seemingly apply "different standards" to different companies, based on the false implied premise that companies are like races, "all essentially equal and thus an unfair bias not to treat them equally" --- but this is nonsense because companies are not like races, companies really are very different from one another, and so it makes perfect sense to treat them differently. Many people here actually have a knowledge of what different companies have done over the years. It is not "biased" to thus dislike and distrust companies that really have behaved unethically for twenty odd years.

      Likewise, the "differing views" you mention on the War on Iraq almost always ignore most of the facts that also happen to be kept out of the mainstream media. Nobody is entitled to hold particular views on a war if those views deliberately ignore significant facts.

      OK true, "Troll" and "Flamebait" are the wrong moderations, sure, but that's only because there is no "-1 Ignorant" rating.

      I'm tired of this "don't offend anyone" BS. People who speak rubbish should be flamed and offended.

  • by djh101010 ( 656795 ) * on Thursday August 04, 2005 @03:42PM (#13243439) Homepage Journal
    I thought this was "news for nerds", not "political drivel in article descriptions".
  • by 1ucius ( 697592 ) on Thursday August 04, 2005 @03:42PM (#13243440)
    Easy. I only want other peoples' information to be free.
  • I find a giant dose of hypocrisy works just fine.
  • by ENOENT ( 25325 ) on Thursday August 04, 2005 @03:42PM (#13243450) Homepage Journal
    Thank you, Cliff.

  • by Sanity ( 1431 ) * on Thursday August 04, 2005 @03:43PM (#13243459) Homepage Journal
    David Brin's Transparent Society [], where everyone, including our government, is under equal scrutiny, is probably the only way forward for those who believe that information wants to be free.
  • by yellowbkpk ( 890493 ) * on Thursday August 04, 2005 @03:44PM (#13243474)
    I think the key is that there's a very big difference between the information that "wants to be free" like algorithms, software, Cisco vulnerabilities, etc. and information like your globally-unqiue database key (SSN in the US). In one case there's you have information that has no particular relevance to any one person, but could benefit society as a whole in some way. The other case is information that identifies one person and doesn't necessarily help society in any way.

    At least for the slashdot comparison, the submitter is comparing apples to oranges.
    • I think that's an oversimplification. Society is the people that make it up and the world around them. There's a lot of information about you and I that we don't want everyone to know, but would help companies better target us and be beneficial to parts of society (their workers, plus the environment).

      For instance, if the local grocery store was capable of printing customized flyers (it'll happen) and knows you just bought a 24 pack of toilet paper, it could exclude that from the items offered to you. If it
      • But it's still vastly different. In one case information is benefiting the human population of society, while in your example the information is benefiting the corporation.

        Sure, they *might* save some paper, but why would they print less if they could print more (targeted) ads?
    • Your medical records indicate that you are $[incredibly bad contagious disease] positive.

      If it would be beneficial to society at large to be aware of your disease, so that they could choose to not associate with you and to exclude you from certain events, places, activities, and so on. For the good of society at large, of course.

      Is your medical information public or private ?

  • The submitter is describing a well known psychological pheomenon known as Cognitive dissonance, which occurs when someone believs in two contradictory ideas. Wikipedia has a good article on teh subject [].
  • not to take a side (Score:3, Insightful)

    by danheskett ( 178529 ) <> on Thursday August 04, 2005 @03:46PM (#13243498)
    Not to take a side, but it's not hard to see the GOP argument here.

    Fetus, embryo, pre-born child = innocent.
    Capital criminal = guilty.

    The general line of thinking is that if you violate or nearly violate someelse's right to life your own life is forfeit as a penalty.

    It's not exactly rocket science.

    Merits aside, really, it's not a mystery!
    • by oosid ( 627873 )
      So then anyone who participated in a war, and is in anyway responsible for the loss of an innocent life, is guilty and their life should be forfeit as a penalty? For example. We are at war in Iraq. They did not attack us. Thousands of innocent men women and children have been killed as a result of (mostly pro-life right wingers) American support. Does that mean that we forfeit our lives. Do you forfiet yours? Or do you have another great argument to justify the killing that fits your worldview.
      Bottom line:
    • Semantic arguments (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Pentomino ( 129125 )
      It is more accurate to say that, while the opinions themselves are not contradictory, the arguments are. The argument usually centers around the inviolable sanctity of life. This assumption means that it's better for a child to be born under bad circumstances, than to have died before he knew what hit him, because the world gets another sacred life. However, the death penalty involves snuffing out a sacred life, so we're down two sacref lives instead of just one.

      A more rational pro-life argument is that
  • Personal information pertains only to you. Science pertains to everyone.

  • Good fucking grief (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Otter ( 3800 ) on Thursday August 04, 2005 @03:48PM (#13243520) Journal
    1) You don't know what "clique" means.

    2) You don't know what "information wants to be free" means.

    3) Opposing abortion and supporting the death penalty is not contradictory. Neither is the opposite position.

    4) Slashbots simultaneously demand regulation and libertarianism because they're idiots.
  • It's obviously stupid to actually believe that, information doesn't "want" anything. What it actually means is that information tends to gravitate towards wide dissemination. It's commenting on the inevitability for information to become public. We can put effort in to try and stop that, but it's ultimately futile.

    Pointing out the flaws of DRM schemes with "information wants to be free" doesn't mean that you necessarily think information should be free, merely that it's the natural state of things.

  • by FunWithHeadlines ( 644929 ) on Thursday August 04, 2005 @03:50PM (#13243539) Homepage
    Because life rarely gives us simple black-and-white issues. It's far more likely to be shades of gray. For example, we believe in free speech, but not to the extent that it can cause serious harm to somebody (yelling fire in the theater as the most common example). We learn balance, and circumstances.

    Let's take your two examples: I'm not right-wing (nor am I left-wing for that matter), so I can only guess how they reconcile the seemingly contradicting abortion-no/death penalty-yes issues. It's probably a shade of gray like this: Every newly-formed life deserves a chance to live. But a criminal who does something so heinous that he forfeits his right to live among society should be put to death. Not a contradiction, but a recognition of differing circumstances.

    On to 'information wants to be free.' That refers to knowledge that can benefit humanity, whether it's sharing of source code so that other coders can learn and improve, or sharing of knowledge so that everyone can benefit from the wisdom of the group. However, we do not want to give up our personal privacy because harm can come to us if that happens. Stalkers, criminals, cranks, whoever wants to harm us for either personal gain or vendettas, can do so if they know our name and SSN and so on. Not to mention spammers. See? It's once again not a contradiction but a recognition of differing circumstances.

    • Because life rarely gives us simple black-and-white issues

      Life is outrageously black and white. It's just that that deliniation occurs at a level way deeper than most people want to go, so they take the easy way out and call it gray for sake of not having to make the difficult decisions.

      With regard to your example of free speech, I am no more free to speak than you, and you are no less free to speak than me, and visa-versa. Consquently my freedom ends where your's begins, and the same with you. Keep
  • Well, in the previous article about IBM, I mentioned that technology is forcing us in a direction of less technology. David Brin wrote an essay called Transparent Society []. Very interesting stuff.
  • Simply put, the information that "wants to be free" is general information going from multiple points (say, the Internet) to a single point (say, a /. User). The private information, on the other hand, is the information of a single point (same said /. user) going to multiple points (the BlackHatters). While they are both information, personal information, by definition, is personal; whilst broad information is general.
  • by John Miles ( 108215 ) on Thursday August 04, 2005 @03:52PM (#13243579) Homepage Journal
    It's perfectly possible for someone to oppose abortion and support the death penalty, although I'm not sure how it would fit into the Christian ethic espoused by Republicans of late in the US. I, personally, oppose both, but not for the usual reasons.

    Since I'm not religious, I believe that there is no inherent right to human life -- or anything else -- because no one has demonstrated the presence of a universal authority who could bestow that right. We are each granted "the right to life," such as it is, by our society. There are things you can do, such as committing a capital crime, that represent a voluntary renunciation of that right.

    An unborn child, conversely, has done nothing to give up whatever right to live that society can confer.

    I am troubled by abortion rights -- even in the absence of religious motivation -- because I can't answer the question, "When is it no longer OK to kill a baby?" At the moment of viability outside the mother's body? No; that fails as a test because technology will eventually make in vitro incubation a reality. At the moment of conception? Yeah, that would be fine, except for the point I just made. At the moment of discernible brain activity? Same problem. At the moment of birth? Only a barbarian would be OK with that. At the onset of conscious awareness? That happens after birth.

    The reason why I oppose capital punishment is purely pragmatic -- I don't trust the government or the judicial system to get much of anything else right, so why should I trust these proven-fallible institutions with a decision that by definintion can't be reversed?
    • by hacker ( 14635 ) <> on Thursday August 04, 2005 @04:25PM (#13244006)
      I am troubled by abortion rights -- even in the absence of religious motivation -- because I can't answer the question, "When is it no longer OK to kill a baby?" At the moment of viability outside the mother's body? No; that fails as a test because technology will eventually make in vitro incubation a reality. At the moment of conception? Yeah, that would be fine, except for the point I just made. At the moment of discernible brain activity? Same problem. At the moment of birth? Only a barbarian would be OK with that. At the onset of conscious awareness? That happens after birth.

      Many scientists make this very clear (and my wife is a research biologist, so we talk about this quite often):

      There is a very distinct, provable, cellular and molecular difference between "Life" and "Human Life" in the normal process of cellular growth between a sperm and an egg. There is a very predictable period where that cell-that-is-dividing, can be told to become something other than a fetus. This is "Life". The cell is growing, dividing, becoming something larger than what it started as.

      Beyond that point, where the cell has decided to continue to grow into a fetus and can no longer be repurposed as a non-fetal cell, it becomes "Human Life".

      We seem to have no problem taking out cancerous tumors from our bodies, and those are also cells which are dividing and being nourished by the human bloodstream (technically, they are cells which are programmed to die, and ignore that signal, while new cells are put into place to replace them, hence the "tumor"). Why is killing one set of human cells wrong, and killing others ok? Who makes that decision? The state? The government? Where does it stop?

      Personally, I see people deciding who should live and who should die all the time, without a single care for the larger body of humanity that will be affected (as well as their own life as a result of that crime), from all facets; economic, social and political.

      I too am completely unreligious, and have my own beliefs about life, the world and the number 42.

  • Information has levels. Personal information is the finest level of granularity as it is associated with only one individual and only that individual usually has access to it.

    The more he shares this, the less granular it is.

    True information longs to be free but does the individual long to free that informaton?
  • by prgrmr ( 568806 ) on Thursday August 04, 2005 @03:53PM (#13243589) Journal
    For example, many US Republicans are against abortion but in favour of the death penalty (no doubt they have their reasons)

    The reasoning is generally based on accountability and culpability. A feutus is neither, while presumably an adult facing the death penalty is both. The larger problems with the death penalty isn't the taking of a life, but that the process is so potentially flawed for a miriad of reasons that the life in question may in fact not be culpable at all.

    Please note that I'm not advocating, just clarify what was a needlessly murky aside which could have very appropriately removed by a more astute editor.

    The web article linked in TFA is so blatantly biased and the author full of his own agenda that it makes for a poor basis for discussion, and ironically underscores the point illustrated by juxtaposing the Fitzgerald quote with the remainder of the topic at hand.
  • A CDR of the Shopping habbits of 10 million people is private data.
    Secret facts about a new planet kept secret on a server [] is information.

    One wants to be free, the other does not.

    This is not keeping two opposing ideas in your head at the same time; this is being able to distinguish between two ideas that only apear to be the same on the surface, due to the form that they take.
  • Lets get real: Information does not want to be free. Information does not want anything. Information is just information.

    The only basis we could have for moralizing as we do about information is of a consequentialist bent. Saying "Information wants to be free" really means that, In general, the best consequences obtain if information is free. With this as a premise, the burden of proof when we talk about "information ethics" then falls on those who would restrict it.

    Now, this shifting of the burden of proof
  • by Concern ( 819622 ) on Thursday August 04, 2005 @03:55PM (#13243615) Journal
    First, as Orwell very correctly observed, the human mind is not the least bit troubled by self-contradiction. Logic is much more of a conceit or a learned skill than a human trait. Or as Swift said, human beings are just Rationis Capax. Well, it doesn't really surprise any observer of humanity that we're all so often blithely illogical even as we express pride at our reason and intelligence. It's just an all-too-familiar fact of life.

    The second thing is that people who are ungifted or unfamiliar with the subtleties of a situation very often mistake nuance for a self-contradiction. We've all watched politicians make our most cherished freedoms into evils to be ground under the bootheel of a five word slogan. The truth is that we reason modularly with symbols and representations that reduce the immediate and full impact of what they represent, and we communicate using the same imperfect tools.

    Slogans about information wanting to be free are symbols that make a far more specific case than they appear - because (forgive the half-hearted semiotics) of their context. Take them out of context and you are now merely playing dishonest rhetorical games. To clarify this as one example: "we" (not really, but lets say for the sake of the example) don't want "information to be free" - we want copyright to be limited (or at least its enforcement to take a backseat to civil liberties). And yes, we consider privacy to be one of those civil liberties.

    Remember, too, that common law, and indeed all of our human society, is not a mathematical model descended from the heavens. It's a permutation of our instictints and our necessities - strictly arbitrary and animal in nature.

    There are many "inconsistencies" around us that deserve our full attention. And I take it as a compliment that the story's attempt at producing one for the slashdot crowd's approach towards copyright and privacy amounts to a vapid, dishonest hat-trick. :D
  • I don't care who can find out what I am doing, if I can find out who is checking and for what purpose.

    In a completely open world, it shouldn't matter if you have my bank account and credit card numbers, because enough information should be available to verify that it really is me who is authorizing their use. The government may be able to track my movements and activities, but I should be able to track theirs, too.

    Sadly, all those people who value their supposed privacy maintain the status quo where onl

  • Point of view (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jkarlin ( 171967 ) on Thursday August 04, 2005 @03:58PM (#13243652) Homepage
    To paraphrase one of my favorite musicals, 1776 []
    "You should know that information always wants to be free when its in the 3rd person, such as 'Your Information'. It is only in the 1st person, 'My Information' that it wants to be unfree.
  • "How does the intelligent and functional Slashdot crowd reconcile the liberty of other people's information with the privacy of their own?"

    This is easy. I want what makes my life easier, and I want you to have what makes my life easier.

  • *Your* information wants to be free.

    Mine doesn't.

    Next question. :-)
  • Gee, the quality of articles (this one an "Ask Slashdot", I guess) is ever declining.

    The "paradoxes" the pos(t)er claims are completely bogus. Even as wrong-headed as the pro-death (penalty) Republicans are, their position is not a logical contradiction. Under their warped way of thinking, "an eye for an eye" and all that. That is, it's good to kill people who did something bad; but the innocent zygotes never did something bad (since, after all, they don't have brains, intelligence, or even motility for
  • "F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote that 'The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.'

    That's also a perfect description of women....

  • It's not that we think all information should be free, it's that we believe ideas should be free. Scientific, cultural, and even economic progress is built on the free flow and exchange of ideas. It is hard to make a good case for the perpetual monopolization of ideas or art, as the WTO "intellectual property" regime seeks to do. You can't make the case on scientific, cultural, economic, or moral grounds.

    Frankly, it's a matter of good public policy. Does it make good sense in the long run to deprive t

  • To explain this supposed hyprocracy (and feed the flamewar):

    For example, many US Republicans are against abortion but in favour of the death penalty (no doubt they have their reasons)

    I would say that a person receiving the death penalty had a choice in the matter, ie if you don't murder anyone, you don't get the dealth penalty (even if maybe 1% are really innocent). While a child is an innocent person 100% of the time.

    Why not use the example that Democrats are against the death penalty but for abort
  • The key to understanding how these groups believe in two seemingly contrary views is to understand how these views are not actually contrary at all. In doing so, you remove the hobbles from your own mind and can better comprehend another's perspective.

    The key to understanding how someone can favor the death penalty and be against abortion is to understand that there's a fundamental difference between unborn children and convicted murderers. Once you understand that concept, you can move on to the fact tha

  • Common Sense (Score:3, Insightful)

    by boatboy ( 549643 ) on Thursday August 04, 2005 @04:04PM (#13243731) Homepage
    As with so many debates, the real problem is the issue is being misstated, so that there appears to be a contradiction where there is none. "Information should be free" refers to knowledge about facts such as history, public policy, etc. It does not refer to my bank accounts or medical history. Same goes for abortion vs death penalty. The former has not commited a crime that suggests he may not be cabaple of living in society. You may still disagree with views on either, but to juxtapose the two issues for purposes of debate is ignorant.
  • for abortion and the death penalty, republicans believe they can deicde best

    for information, slashdotters believe they can decide best

    the way forward is for everyone to understand that some decisions don't always fit their preconceived notions about how the world should work

    and sometimes you need to change your theory to fit the evidence about what is "best"
  • It is not contradictory to believe that, generally speaking, information wants to be free and that your private life should be private.

    The companies that gather information on your private life do so to sell that information for a profit and they won't let consumers see that information. Thus, the privacy invasion cartel is not "letting information be free."
  • Just because my private information wants to be free doesn't mean that I want it to be free.

    I always took the "information wants to be free" statement to mean that knowledge spreads by itself, that nothing is more powerful than in idea whose time has come, that three people can keep a secret if two of them are dead. I never read it to mean "information should be free".

    If information is valuable, you do not need to spread it. It's when you want to keep it private that you must make an effort.

  • Ideas vs. Data (Score:4, Interesting)

    by araven ( 71003 ) on Thursday August 04, 2005 @04:42PM (#13244243)
    I've never liked the phrase "information wants to be free." I prefer "ideas want to be free." Art, music, theories, paradigms, processes, designs, schemas...those are the things that have the potential to grow and be useful only if shared. They get combined into larger and more complex ideas. They're hopelessly complicated to attribute, and nearly every new idea is composed of bits of old ideas. Assigning "ownership" to creative works, and particularly for long periods of time, simply prevents new ideas from occurring (or gets new-idea-creators sued into oblivion). Ideas should be free, as in air.

    Data, on the other hand, comes in a lot of forms. Some of those forms, like data collected in government-sponsored studies, should ALSO be free. Free because we've already paid for it. Free, as in beer. Other forms of data don't "want to be free," and personal information like medical records are surely one of those. Of course, there are some reasonable exceptions. Like aggregated disease statistics.

    With data, I think there is a balance. I'm a privacy fanatic, but I'd surely hate to see us in as big a mess with regulating the use of personal information as we have with copyright regulation. Good grief, can you imagine if we all acted like the RIAA, suing friends for telling other friends about our lousy bowling scores?

    Part of where the line is drawn for me (and the "fair use" doctrine relies heavily on this) is the use to which data is put. Since uses for others'personal information is almost entirely either prurient or commercial in nature, I strongly disfavor that sort of "sharing." It's not cognitive dissonance to dislike seeing people getting personal monetary or "prurient" gain from the uncompensated work of other people, but to be totally fine with non-selfish uses.

    Just because this can't be reduced to a short catch-phrase doesn't mean it's inconsistent. Life is complicated. Millions of people who would never STEAL anything under any circumstances instinctively realize that while downloading a song they haven't paid for isn't WRONG, but that downloading and using someone else's credit card number IS wrong. It should be obvious that this is complicated, but that reasonable rules can be derived.

  • by Fantastic Lad ( 198284 ) on Thursday August 04, 2005 @05:22PM (#13244701)
    Hypothetical Question. . .

    The Village is dying of thirst. By pure chance, a limitless wellspring is discovered. The man who discovered the spring is calculating and without pity, and he refuses to tell the village where the water source is unless the people pay his outrageous fee. The community suffers deeply.

    One night a clever Thief follows the man and discovers the location of the wellspring. The Thief hurries home and tells the community. Everybody proclaims him a Hero. The community is saved, and goes on to thrive and become happy and healthy.

    Sometimes the Thief is also the Hero.

    I would say that Ownership of information is far less important than the Intent of the owner.


  • by fbg111 ( 529550 ) on Thursday August 04, 2005 @05:31PM (#13244784)
    This whole article is nothing but a flamebait troll. Just like the mainstream media, it reduces complicated issues into aggravating soundbites designed for nothing but rowling its readers into generating a shitstorm of comments. The author/editors must be aiming this one at the Hall of Fame []. Can we please extend the mod system to article submissions as well, please?
  • by bitspotter ( 455598 ) on Thursday August 04, 2005 @05:44PM (#13244926) Journal
    More than one person posts on Slashdot.

    Some of these people think informaiton should be free. Another thinks completely differently, believing that holding some information privately is OK.

    The conflict is between different people with different opinions, not between one person with differing opinions.

    What's so unusual about that, and why is it people always think "typical slashdotters" always think alike?
    • I disagree. And this is coming from someone who has railed against people in the past for confusing slashdot readers with a single organism rather than a diverse group of people.

      However, like I said, I disagree with your take on this. I think the underlying question is interesting, many slashdot readers feel that information should be free, except their private information, which they want complete control over.

      That being said, like others have pointed out, the "mantra" of "information wants to be free" is

Air is water with holes in it.