The Tyranny of Transparency

Vint Cerf, the "Internet's father," just caused a scandal by recalling, with hard-hitting words, the consequences of the dictatorship of transparency, given some of the current trends in the new social networking platforms. For him, the right to privacy may eventually prove to be a parenthesis in human history.

Despite the fact that reality is much more complex, as found for example in the studies of Paul Aries, the thesis is overall correct. Almost no one, among the first peoples, had privacy. Later, the right to privacy proved to be a preserve of the powerful, the priests, the suzerains and then the merchants and the bourgeois; till it went on to become the great claim of the middle class in the 20th century.

It is clear that, today, it is again disappearing.

This is, first, because voluntarily, we all increasingly put elements of our private life on display on social networks. In order to exist, and hoping to raise our profile. Similarly, hardly anyone is against the idea of providing information, statistical and identifiable data to appropriate governmental authorities and to insurance companies to be protected, taken care of, and insured.

Furthermore, the information thus provided to others are of great value and can be used without our knowledge or consent. This is the case with information left with telephone operators, on search engines and online shopping sites. It is the same for information on each of us that our acquaintances find useful to share with others, on their own blog, on social networks, or on dedicated websites, such as Lulu (, that have recently allowed American women to rate men they know or have known.

Tomorrow, these means of monitoring will be scaled up through the Internet of Things, which will allow the continuous monitoring of our relationships with goods; then through advances in medical diagnosis methods, in ongoing validation of professional or vocational skills and in police surveillance.

After tomorrow, some applications will open up access to all our personal data, such as via morphology detection software and a connection to all the databases on glasses.

This dictatorship of transparency will have far-reaching consequences: it will be increasingly difficult to hide from others what we think of them. Transparency and sincerity will go hand in hand. Each one strengthening the other. Individual freedom will no longer be not saying anything about yourself, but telling everything about others. The loves and personal views of each and everyone will be known. Few relationships, few secrets, few confessions will resist this dictatorship of transparency.

If we want to avoid this world, and what is untenable about it, undoubtedly it is urgent to establish a charter considering privacy as an essential element of the rights of persons, making it against the law for anyone making use of it without one's permission or that of the judicial authorities. Establishing a set of rules, at least European, setting up and pursuing possibilities for the « right to digital oblivion », that is to say the possibility for Internet users to have their data permanently deleted. This will not be sufficient. And we will return then to the democrats' most ancient challenges, concerned about State powers, from Thoreau to Tocqueville. And today, private entities must be added to States and they are far more invasive.

So, as they recommended, the best defense will be to unplug; the utmost luxury will be disconnection, isolation and anonymity. Clandestine involvement will be the privilege of the powerful and the criminals. And softwares allowing you to remain on the networks in stealth mode will be developed, using changing and random avatars.

From the new balance to be struck will the survival of democracy depend.