Brian Holmes on 4 Feb 2001 01:58:23 -0000

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<nettime> Privacy Anyone?


I was struck by the concerns of your post, some of which I think I share,
and I am curious to know the reasoning behind the way you equate borders,
loss of privacy, and the ability to block someone out ("The creation of
borders is dependent on the loss of privacy, for you cannot block someone
out unless you have some information about who they are"). I may not
understand correctly, but it seems to me there is a contradiction in the
way you end your post:
"The attempt to create frontiers on the Net (and this time not wild-west
ones) is directly, although not exclusively, related to privacy. The
discourse on the creation of borders takes many forms: national
sovereignty, security, law, taxation, etc. But it can be reduced, in a very
basic form, to the balance between the right to privacy and all the above
mentioned issues. Check out, for example, the new European/international
Cybercrime Law.

If one wants to maintain a border-free internet then dismissing privacy
concerns is definitely the wrong approach."

The reason I wonder about this has to do with the very problem that has
motivated the debate in this whole thread: Nortel's information-gathering
software. There is a paradox here: How could any right to privacy be
instituted and maintained if it were not possible to gather information
about Nortel and use it to "block" the company from commercializing its
software and/or services? To be concerned about Nortel is to want to put a
block on their software, no? But given that a corporation has "rights" in
the neoliberal order, the same rights as any other actor in the
marketplace/world, what can justify putting a border around it?

This question does not mean I am particularly in favor of, say, the
unqualified assertion of national sovereignty in the realm of internet
communications (as some assumed after an earlier post of mine) or that I am
not concerned about the abuses of privacy in the recent international
Cybercrime Law. But I am very much in favor of finding a way to block the
actions of corporations like Nortel which aim at commodifying our privacy,
not by bordering our actions in any way of course, but by turning them in
the "lifetime value" that can be extracted out of a known, monitored,
predictable and stimulable consumer.

And then there is a second matter, very different from the first, where it
really is a question of getting blocked by a state power, a la Kafka. I
think it's better not to confuse the two, state and corporate power, but
let me say I am also very much in favor of ways to keep nations or
supernational entities from mining my personal data and using it against me
on ideological grounds.

In other words, I want certain statutory borders around _myself_ and the
sphere of my interrelations with others. I want certain rights more
powerful than those of the corporations and the states.

How do you suppose that we can erect _those_ borders and effect those
blocks? Because after all, it's going to have to be some kind of "we" that
gets the ball rolling, no individual is going to beat the gov'ts and big

I am sure that only some kind of legitimate institution can block Nortel
and its like, when that institution has at its disposal some kind of
constraining force (a force which itself, of course, may become dangerous
to my privacy: ex. the CIA).

I am also sure that if we continue to live in a world of internet
communications and transnational economic exchanges, then that
privacy-protecting institution must ultimately become global in scope.

If (but only if) we agreed on that, then the next question would obviously
be one of strategy: What is the best way to go about getting an
effective-but-not-too-dangerous global (gasp) regulatory institution? I
think, in this case as in so many others, the strategy is complex: it
usually involves contesting the legitimacy of existing global regulatory
structures (most of which favor big business and the police/military
apparatus of states), then bringing the issue back to national
institutions where often (but not always) more democratic/egalitarian
procedures are inscribed into, then going back to transform the
transnational level with the force of a judgement made on the national
level. _Or doing the reverse_, in the case where the
democratic/egalitarian potential of the global institution is stronger.

In either case, some kinds of "borders" are going to have to be accepted,
and worked with (or around). The balance indeed becomes the issue. Which
is just part of what of what Polanyi called "freedom in a complex

best, Brian Holmes

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