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[political, off-topic] bureaucrats and technocrats vs. network operators

  • From: smd
  • Date: Mon May 01 10:22:58 2000

I realize this is nearly wholly off-topic, however it is
sometimes worth considering _why_ so many governments are
so keen on making our lives more difficult by attempting
to control the use of cryptographic technology, and to
force operators to make ugly architectural compromises in
order to comply with "wiretap" laws.

Nearly every modern government is a flavour of bureaucracy
or technocracy, notwithstanding the differences in how the
top ranks of government came into power or how or if they
can be removed from it.

Both technocracies and bureaucracies are fundamentally
illiberal.  They are based on the premise that the people
in government are either better thinkers with better
training, or simply have better access to official
information, than those that they govern; therefore they
have the right to countermand the individual decisions
taken by individual citizens, because the technocrats and
bureaucrats KNOW BETTER.

This is not particularly strange; monarchists, theocrats
and Leninist-type socialists have a penchant for telling
people how to live their lives, because of divine right,
because it is required by divine rules, or for the good of
the people.

The commonality is that the people who are better than
you, or better informed than you, fundamentally believe
that they are doing the right thing, and that any
complaining provoked by their decisions is wrong because,
quite simply, you aren't as smart or as well informed as
the are.  If you were, you would take the same decisions.

Enter the Internet.  This is a tool which places at nearly
everyone's fingertips the ability to access nearly as much
stored knowledge and information on nearly any topic as
one could imagine.  Moreover, it is a tool which allows
for the nearly-instant global propagation of new knowledge
and information as it arises.

Let's return to the bureaucrat who honestly believes he or
she (it's usually he, I'm afraid) is in the best position
to make decisions on behalf of the people he helps govern,
because he has access to information that nobody outside
of the bureaucracy has.  He has two fears: firstly, that
the bureaucracy ultimately will fail to supply him with
sufficient information to make the correct governmental
decision, and secondly, that people outside the
bureaucracy will have equal access to information as the
people inside, and that individuals will misguidedly
attempt to work around the careful consideration of any
issue that a bureaucracy's vast resources usually allows for.

Likewise, the technocrat, who formulates rules because he
(it's usually a he) has specialised knowledge that nobody
else has.  Technocrats usually run environmental agencies,
food-safety evaluation offices, economics ministries, and
the like.  One might consider them "government scientists"
of a sort, however the specialised knowledge might not be
exclusively scientific (think of diplomats, for example).
Our technocrat shares one of the bureaucrat's fears: that
the specialised knowledge will be so available through the
Internet that other people will attempt to make their own
decisions based on it, and that without proper training,
this information will be misapplied, and people will make
faulty decisions that may cause harm.

Enter their responses to the Internet:

      1/ make sure that a bureaucracy is supplied with ALL
         information so that it can make correct decisions
         for the benefit of those governed

	 hidden information -- whether because it's
	 encrypted or because it's merely hard to access -- 
         may contain critical knowledge that may save lives,
	 prevent monopolistic behaviour by companies, or
	 avert the exploitation of minors

	 it is always better for the bureaucracy to have
	 ALL knowledge as soon as possible, so that it can
	 rigorously analyse and consider it.  this type of
	 studying admittedly takes some time, and given
	 the explosion of information in the Internet, it
	 is wise to have access to copies of all the
	 messages that traverse the Internet, rather than
	 slowing things down by imposing restraints upon
	 the bureaucracy (such as a judicial warrant

	 the process of gathering up copies of ALL
	 Internet messages is rather expensive without the
	 cooperation of ISPs and the like.   we must
	 convince them that their help is essential so
	 that the bureaucracy can continue to make the best-
	 possible, best-informed decision for the good of
	 those they govern.

      2/ it is very clear that a supply of specialised
         information without specialised training can lead
         people to make poor, unscientific decisions.

	 this is witnessed very clearly in the genetically
	 modified food controversy, where the supply of
	 scientific and technical data to non-specialists
	 such as the media and individuals, has led people
	 to avoid g.m. foodstuffs, when embracing
	 g.m. technology is clearly the most logical thing
	 to do.

	 because of the total failure of the technocracy
	 in this case and cases like it, it is in the
	 interests of everyone to equip the government
	 with means to counter the "spin" vested interests
	 put on disclosed information, or perhaps to
	 withhold the information altogether.

	 in particular, when a critical decision made for
	 good of everyone might become controversial
	 because of initial negative reactions by less
	 intelligent, less informed people, it may be a
	 wise idea to temporarily weaken these
	 individuals' ordinary civil rights, in order to
	 protect society from the negative effects of not
	 implementing a well-thought-out policy emanating
	 from government specialists.

We have seen an unfortunately large amount of reactions #1 and #2

Government faces one final major challenge posed by the
growth of the Internet: the best and brightest technical
and administrative minds are no longer automatically
choosing a career inside government.  It is growing clear
that unless something is done, there will not be the base
of talent in government to allow the best possible decisions to be made.

Finally, it is worth bearing in mind that:

	 -- any group of people who honestly believe that
            they are the best people to rule, because they
            have uniquely strong administrative talents or
            specialised training/knowledge, will tend to
            be dismissive of other people's technical or
            administrative opinions

	 -- any such group of people are also very concerned
            whenever someone who is clearly more
            knowledgeable than they are does not work with
            the bureaucracy/technocracy to help them make
            decisions that will better the lives of
            everyone that they govern

	    "non-players" are therefore a sad waste of
	    talent that would optimise government
	    decision-making, or are perhaps dangerous, if
	    they reject carefully-considered government
	    policy without having considered all of the
	    factors studied by the professionals in the

It is worth bearing in mind the radical liberal sentiment
expressed by Sir Rhys Hopkin-Morris, as quoted by Samuel
	[My] thoughts turn back to a dinner I attended in
        1954 with virtually the whole of the Parliamentary
        Liberal Party. Reduced to a mere six MPs and
        supported by only 2.6% of the voters, the Liberals
        and their cause were, according to all expert
        opinion, destined for extinction. Yet the senior
        at the table, Sir Rhys Hopkin-Morris, stated his
        political creed with clarity and conviction.

	"No one", he said, "is to tell anyone else what is good
        for him." He rejected the claim to such authority,
        whether asserted on "the aristocratic principle"
        or on behalf of "the community".  

This is my mantra for today's 1st of May celebrations.

Forgive the political nature of the posting.  Now I will
go across the street to a park filled with thousands of
1st of May celebrators enjoying spectacular summer weather.
My agenda: grab a falafel off the Red Front's illiberal vegan barbecue, 
and have some beer with a few not-very-revolutionary local anarchists.


- --
Sean Doran <[email protected]>
Copenhagen, Denmark