Via his Reddit AMA today...
"We should remember that governments don't often reform themselves.
One of the arguments in a book I read recently (Bruce Schneier, "Data
and Goliath"), is that perfect enforcement of the law sounds like a good
thing, but that may not always be the case. The end of crime sounds
pretty compelling, right, so how can that be?
"Well, when we look back on history, the progress of Western
civilization and human rights is actually founded on the violation of
law. America was of course born out of a violent revolution that was an
outrageous treason against the crown and established order of the day.
History shows that the righting of historical wrongs is often born from
acts of unrepentant criminality. Slavery. The protection of persecuted
"But even on less extremist topics, we can find similar examples. How about the prohibition of alcohol? Gay marriage? Marijuana?
"Where would we be today if the government, enjoying powers of perfect
surveillance and enforcement, had -- entirely within the law -- rounded
up, imprisoned, and shamed all of these lawbreakers?
"Ultimately, if people lose their willingness to recognize that there
are times in our history when legality becomes distinct from morality,
we aren't just ceding control of our rights to government, but our
"How does this relate to politics? Well, I suspect that governments
today are more concerned with the loss of their ability to control and
regulate the behavior of their citizens than they are with their
"How do we make that work for us? We can devise means, through the
application and sophistication of science, to remind governments that if
they will not be responsible stewards of our rights, we the people will
implement systems that provide for a means of not just enforcing our
rights, but removing from governments the ability to interfere with those rights."
He goes on to endorse natural rights...
"You can see the beginnings of this dynamic today in the statements of
government officials complaining about the adoption of encryption by
major technology providers. The idea here isn't to fling ourselves into
anarchy and do away with government, but to remind the government that
there must always be a balance of power between the governing and the
governed, and that as the progress of science increasingly empowers
communities and individuals, there will be more and more areas of our
lives where -- if government insists on behaving poorly and with a
callous disregard for the citizen -- we can find ways to reduce or
remove their powers on a new -- and permanent -- basis.
"Our rights are not granted by governments. They are inherent to our
nature. But it's entirely the opposite for governments: their privileges
are precisely equal to only those which we suffer them to enjoy.
"We haven't had to think about that much in the last few decades
because quality of life has been increasing across almost all measures
in a significant way, and that has led to a comfortable complacency. But
here and there throughout history, we'll occasionally come across these
periods where governments think more about what they "can" do rather
than what they "should" do, and what is lawful will become increasingly
distinct from what is moral.
"In such times, we'd do well to remember that at the end of the day,
the law doesn't defend us; we defend the law. And when it becomes
contrary to our morals, we have both the right and the responsibility to
rebalance it toward just ends."
Some people don't see the point in debating the origins of rights in the academic sense. Do they come from God? Government? Nature? Votes? But there is a huge lesson here. The idea that rights are an essential part of our nature can motivate people to do extraordinary things in defiance of authority. For the Sinn Fein, convincing the Irish that their meager rights were not bestowed by the British Crown were an essential factor in motivating them to battle to restore them. For Edward Snowden, such an idea seems to have underscored his headline-grabbing act of defiance. For if rights do not emerge from legislative sessions, then those rights cannot be legitimately struck down by those sessions, only suppressed. Something to keep in mind.