27 Aug 2008

We Need Privacy From the Government

All Posts No Comments

At LRC today I have an article explaining why the free market provides the efficient amount of privacy, while government is the true threat. An excerpt:

Even in a completely free society where everyone respected private property rights, it would still be the case that your doctor would know what medications you were taking, your ob-gyn (if you are a woman) would know whether you had had an abortion, your bank teller would have a pretty good idea of how much money you made (especially if you ran your own business and deposited written checks from your customers), and the teenager at Blockbuster would know if you rented naughty movies.

The reason consumers would tolerate these “invasions” of privacy is that the goods and services provided, would be much cheaper if the providers didn’t have to adopt costly screening measures. For example, it would certainly be possible for Blockbuster to set up its stores and checkout procedures, so that the kids working the cash register didn’t actually see which movies each customer rented. For example, the physical DVDs or cassettes could be bar-coded with no other identification on them. The customers would use a key to go find their desired title. So unless Rain Man were on duty, nobody would know if you rented Sister Act 2 every week. (Please tell me you don’t.)

Ultimately, in a free market competition would ensure that customers’ privacy was protected as much as possible, consistent with other desirable product features. In this sense we can say the market provides the “optimal” or “efficient” amount of privacy. If a bank had poor safeguards and its clients’ personal information repeatedly were stolen by hackers, it would eventually go out of business. Third-party agencies could provide consumers with ratings on privacy issues for various businesses.

In contrast, nobody gets to fire the FBI if they think its warrantless searches and wiretaps – not to mention all the tax dollars it receives – are too high a price to pay for the “services” it provides in, say, finding anthrax killer(s).

Comments are closed.