Information Disparity

Critics of capitalism often bring up information disparity. They claim that the consumer is at a significant disadvantage because they possess less information than the capitalists. I would give more validity to their point if their proposed solutions didn’t generally involve increasing information disparity. But these critics have a tendency of offering more government power, usually under the euphemism of oversight, as the solution to the information disparity problem. The fault with that solution is that there is an even greater amount of information disparity between governments and their subjects:

The growing covert culture is evident across the country. The New York Police Department has fought in court to hide the details of its fleet of unmarked X-ray vans that can see through buildings and cars. The FBI amassed a facial identification database that now includes 117 million individuals and used it for years without publishing a privacy assessment required by law, the U.S. House Oversight Committee reported in March.

“The transparency is still radically insufficient,” said Rachel Levinson-Waldman, senior counsel at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, who has studied police technology.

Levinson-Waldman said much of the change is driven by influential private companies that develop and market ever-more-powerful technology.

In Burnsville, Police Chief Eric Gieseke presides over a department that was among the first in the nation to deploy body cameras. The department’s servers now hold more than 93,000 videos. Almost of them are off-limits to the public, because of a separate 2016 state law that determined that the threat to personal privacy outweighed the benefits of seeing everything a police officer sees.

The State exists on information disparity. It wants to know everything about you while telling you nothing about itself. This is why information about new government surveillance technology and programs generally come to light through leaks, not through disclosure by the government. It is also why the government fights any attempt to reveal further information after knowledge of what it’s doing becomes public.

Body cameras are an excellent illustration of this point. More people have been demanding that police wear body cameras because they believe body cameras will keep both the police and the people they interact with more honest. However, the laws surrounding how body camera footage is handled is trending towards allowing the footage to be used to prosecute people but not being available to the public. In this way body cameras have become yet another source of information disparity. Law enforcers can use the data to prosecute the people but the people cannot use the data to hold enforcers accountable.

Information disparity cannot be solved by increasing it. Any solution to the problem of information disparity that involves government will only exacerbate the problem.