Look up “Post-libertarian” in the dictionary

…and this is what you see: the Adam Smith Institute, the very think tank that invented Thatcherism, supporting a policy of a Greek party named SYRIZA – the name being an acronym for “Coalition of the Radical Left” – to link Greek debt obligations to nominal GDP growth.

Bravo to my colleagues at the ASI. I agree wholeheartedly with this policy recommendation, for reasons the Institute first articulated in 2011 during the height of the global financial crisis.

(Postscript: for a definition of post-libertarian, head here.)

A little sass goes a long way, Europe

It is hardly too strong to say that the Constitution was made to guard the people against the dangers of good intentions. There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters.

-Daniel Webster

The Tor Project (quite understandably under the circumstances) wasn’t willing to put anyone forward to discuss the matter of surveillance vs privacy in a debate on Euronews with Rob Wainwright – smoothest law enforcer in the world, and also the Director of the European Police Office, better known as Europol, who is currently trying to convince the European Parliament to grant police forces more power.

This offends me.

So, presented with the opportunity of a senior government official, I got a little cute, which is always a good idea. To the question:

You must appreciate, Preston Byrne, the problems the police are facing in this area? 

I replied:

I do. But I also appreciate the jurisprudence that most European and western countries have followed for the last 200 years. Which requires judicial supervision of these processes.

When a relative unknown such as myself is the only option to make this – in my view essential – point because a (major, globally-important) project like Tor is unwilling to stand up to a police force that is possibly investigating them with aforementioned extrajudicial powers, there’s a problem with the people’s relationship with the state. A big one, that – for the benefit of everybody – needs to be fixed. It won’t get fixed unless a consensus emerges for (a) law reform and (b) adequate budget provisioning for police retraining so they can work with advanced technology in the context of a more traditional policing model. Absent that, the police will have little choice but to continue to rely on the crutch of mass surveillance to make up the difference.

Preserving liberty is worth some additional budget. 

I know your typical natural-born European isn’t overly keen on standing up to authority, but when it comes to civil liberties, a little sass goes a long way. And American liberals do irreverent lip better than almost anyone else (n.b., I also hold an EU passport, so when I say “we” in the recording I mean “Europeans” – although America has a surveillance problem as well). Check out the programme and the highlights reel below.

When you’re done, read Hannah Arendt

What’s wrong with libertarianism: an explanation of post-libertarianism

(EDIT, 5 FEB 2015: For an example of how awesomely “post-libertarianism” works in practice, check out this superb suggestion from the Adam Smith Institute (of which I’m a fellow) here.)

Thanks to the ASI’s Sam Bowman and Ben Southwood, and the Liberty League’s Anton Howes, for bringing this excellent article by Jeffrey Friedman to my attention:

Libertarians… should understand better than anyone the importance of subverting one’s own natural intellectual complacency with the constant reminder that one might be wrong. The only remedy for the sloppiness that has plagued libertarian scholarship is to become one’s own harshest critic. This means thinking deeply and skeptically about one’s politics and its premises and, if one has libertarian sympathies, directing one’s scholarship not at vindicating them, but at finding out if they are mistaken.

To transcend libertarianism, in short, is to view its underlying concerns as stimuli to research that may, or may not, produce libertarian conclusions. In this sense there is no reason that non-libertarians might not make better post-libertarians than libertarians themselves. But for libertarians, the benefits of transcendence are greater. Only if one divorces oneself from all attachment to libertarian ideology does it become possible to dispel the gnawing fear that the facts will not bear out one’s predetermined conclusions.

This – the perpetual obligation to defend a position before one has the necessary information to assess its accuracy – is a terrible burden to bear. The consequentialist libertarian, having made the leap from skeptic to prophet, comes to identify himself with his political convictions. So he lives, or should live, in fear that the next social problem or environmental threat or economic crisis will be the one that finally shows those convictions to be inadequate.

This is the psychological problem for which orthodox libertarianism is a palliative. Once consequentialism is overlaid with “philosophy,” one should, in principle, have no fear: libertarianism is right, come what may. But among conscientious libertarians the fear persists beneath the surface; as Boaz understands, the consequences of libertarianism remain important to libertarians, even when they try to bury such concerns beneath layers of ideological sediment.

-Jeffrey Friedman, “What’s Wrong with Libertarianism,” 1997

Note that “Formalizing and Securing Relationships on Public Networks” was also published in 1997. Consider whether it’s time the practice of crypto caught up with the intellectual tradition it claims as its guidepost.

Until next time, Mr. Cameron

From the Guardian:

(Cameron’s proposal went down) poorly. Security expert Graham Cluley said Cameron was in“cloud cuckoo land”, and tech start-ups said they would have to abandon the UK if his suggestions came to pass… (hint: that’s Eris Industries they’re talking about)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Downing Street scrambled to back-pedal the comments. Guy Levin, the head of tech lobbying group Coadec, said he’d been told by Number 10 “that [the Prime Minister’s] comments are not about banning encryption.” Instead, he was told the remarks were about application of two existing laws, the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (Dripa) and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa), “and finding a way to work with [internet companies] to deliver on them.”

As I put it on Radio 5 (an approximation of my remarks from memory as I’m typing this in a conference hall):

With all due respect to (David Cameron’s supporters, they’re) drinking the government’s kool-aid. The government claims that 25% to 40% of the requests for data they’ve made over the last year (under recent communications intercept legislation) have resulted in lives being saved. Considering they made 30,000 requests, this means that they saved 15,000 lives (note: I know this is 50%, it was an approximation and I was chatting on the fly) meaning that somehow this surveillance has magically reduced the United Kingdom’s murder rate by 2,000%. Which is clearly absurd. 

I’m also a fellow of the Adam Smith Institute. Their mission (and, vicariously, mine): “to fight for freedom, to defend it where necessary, and to extend it where possible.” Much in the same way this marmot is attempting to liberate some root vegetables.

Math for the win. The UK’s historic murder count is about 630 per annum, give or take. (30,000 x 0.4) = 12,000 = (630 x 19.04). So, a 1,904% reduction, assuming both the maximum figure the government quoted and the minimum figure for life saved per intercept (one). This is clearly bullshit. Murder continues to tick over at a reliable 630ish incidents per year; the government’s statements on the matter simply cannot be true unless society has become an order of magnitude (and then some) more violent without anybody noticing. 

If I might venture a further thought, it means very few (if any) lives are being saved by the extensive security apparatus to which we are all subject.

I continued:

They don’t need this surveillance. It’s completely unjustified. They’re making up statistics and pulling them out of thin air. The fact remains that if this is passed there will be a mass exodus of tech companies from the UK. We will move somewhere else, carry on doing what we’re doing in exactly the same way we do today, British people will continue having access to it, and we won’t give a damn what the UK (government) thinks, because we’ll be headquartered somewhere else outside of the country.

If there were any indication that the terrorists in France, or indeed those in 9/11, had used encryption to carry out their attacks, which they did not, maybe I’d agree (with David Cameron’s) position. The fact is that encryption protects ordinary people, not criminals and terrorists. It should remain entirely free and legal.

Considering we’re about building truly private and secure communications and transactional systems, rest assured we’ll be happy to give you a hard time about any further legislation on this matter. 

In a very friendly-cuddly-marmot sort of way, naturally.