In some ways, the tension that Schneier talks about is one of the fundamental problems of civilization: how can we protect ourselves from people we don’t know?
The idea of the rule of law is one invention, one technology, we developed to mitigate exactly the kinds of risks he talks about: risks from other people.
The surveillance state he describes is a different way to cope with the problem of trusting strangers. By constantly watching everyone, we don’t have to worry about trusting other people anymore: we’ll know if they’re lying to us, or mean us harm, because we’ll know exactly what they’ve been doing, always.
As an approach to society, it’s completely opposed to the idea of the rule of law. Law provides a framework for dispute resolution in the absence of certainty. But if everything is certain, what do we need the law for? Turned on its head, if the law doesn’t give us the sense that we can trust other people, the only way we can function is to watch everyone, always.
For me, the surveillance state is a consequence of a greater loss of faith in the rule of law in American society.
Every time we see a corporate leader get away with embezzling money, or an entire company settle out of court for a pittance, we lose faith in the law.
When it takes more than a year to recover the $1500 we spent on a new roof that’s leaky because the roofer was negligent, we lose faith in the law.
And when we see our friends threatened with jail just for sharing music with one another, we lose faith in the law.
One of the aims of democracy is to produce better laws, laws that everyone will follow.
But if you gerrymander your Congressional districts, you’ll get lawmakers that don’t have to respond to the needs of anyone save a tiny minority.
If lawmakers don’t have to respond to the majority, you’ll get patchwork laws that give something away to everyone and end up helping no one.
When that happens, the law stops working for the majority of people.
And when that happens, the people turn against the law.