Comments on: from the how-to-give-away-your-privacy-and-help-me department Blog, news, books Mon, 16 Oct 2017 04:05:00 +0000 hourly 1 By: LK Wed, 01 Oct 2008 08:06:03 +0000 If this was a post saying “Use this link to help me get a free iPod” (as you see many referral links) I would be confused. But the fact that it is for such a program, antithetical to the concepts of freedom and equality our constitution is based on, and from a leader at the forefront of such issues is outright shocking and disappointing.

Tear down your idols.

By: Paulo Mon, 29 Sep 2008 19:35:07 +0000 “One of the most brilliant tech minds and most generous humanitarians … No criticism is necessary here. Some of you need to rethink your position. This is Lawrence Lessig.”

So the Pope is infallible.

Does this make you the Inquisition?

By: Kris Sun, 28 Sep 2008 02:39:50 +0000 LL – one of the most brilliant tech minds and most generous humanitarians – made a blog post referring his readers to something he found useful. Thinking practically, he included his referral code.

No criticism is necessary here. Some of you need to rethink your position. This is Lawrence Lessig.

By: pikkumatti Fri, 26 Sep 2008 20:25:30 +0000 Perhaps the bigger point here is that this points out the folly of the Prof.’s “Money is Corrupting” thesis.

It is obvious that the Prof. is not corrupted by the CLEAR friends discount. He enjoys the service for good reason, and that good reason caused him to tell the rest of us.

We all (well, many of us) work for a living. Many of us are fortunate to work in a field in which we believe in the value of the goods or services that we provide — if not, we’d be on the road to insanity or cynicism. And, yes, we are paid for our work, generally because we have skill and experience in what we do. Necessarily corrupting? No. We work in what we believe in, and others find value in that.

To discount the opinions of those who work in a particular field merely because they are paid (oh, the horror) is to exclude from the discussion those who have the most expertise and most knowledge on the topic. I’m not talking about actual “corruption” (i.e., taking a position that one doesn’t believe in order to be paid). All I’m saying is that those who have devoted their vocation to a field, for a living, are the best ones to talk to about that field.

Worse yet, to exclude those in the industry from valid comment is to leave the playing field open only to those who have some other agenda. (See Global Warming.)

This brouhaha is a micro-example. The Prof. actually uses the service, and as such is in the best position to tell us about it — certainly more so than those who do not use the service (and, most likely, do not understand it). Yet his experience is theoretically discounted, by some according to the Principle, because of $10. Leaving us (according to the Principle) to rely only on those who do not have experience with service, and who have some other agenda (else they would be indifferent on the topic).

I’d rethink the “NC Principle”, Prof.

By: Seth Finkelstein Thu, 25 Sep 2008 08:34:46 +0000 [Third time, trying to get past the spam-trap]

You walked into the bogospheric minefield of minor monetization. Indeed, I agree with you, in a sense, commentors fussing over a few buck af llnk for someone in your position is the very essence of sweating the small stuff. Nonetheless, the overall issue itself is still a very touchy matter. See my _Guardian_ column about this:

Regarding the civil-libertarian issues with respect to CLEAR, well, I’ll let someone else take the hit of arguing about that :-( .

By: Guy Yedwab Thu, 25 Sep 2008 03:48:11 +0000 I don’t happen to believe that Professor Lessig did something “wrong.” The stakes involved are too low for anything to have been wrong. Whatever miniscule profits the corporation may make from Lessig, and whatever miniscule savings he may make in return are far below actually concerning. After all, he was rather frank in admitting “(and here’s the real reason I’m advertising this here)” and I do believe that disclosure does make a difference–one of the things that gives me faith in NBC is that whenever they mention General Electric, it is either preceded or followed by the phrase “NBC’s parent company.”

But. Professor Lessig talked, in his anti-corruption videos and talks, about the image of trust. He said that if a Congressman accepts money from lobbyists or political action groups, it erodes the image of trust, and makes it less trustworthy. If I opened Consumer Reports and saw a good rating for the Clear Service, and a side-note from the editor that putting in a specific code will get him money, that will probably be the last Consumer Reports I will ever read. In fact, I don’t read reviews from magazines that make the majority of their advertising money from the industry they’re reviewing (like video game magazines).

The reaction in this comments section is a perfect illustration of the damaging of the trust. I have a personal belief, taking into account where Professor Lessig has been and what I’ve seen him do, but at the same time, the next time he talks about a service or product, I am not going to take it quite as seriously.

It’s not a huge deal. We’re not talking “Telecoms giving our phone information to the government” privacy issues, and we’re not talking about the Department of the Interior’s crazy sex-oil scandal. But it is still important to note.

By: pikkumatti Thu, 25 Sep 2008 03:26:40 +0000 There is exactly nothing wrong about what the Prof. did here. He found a good service for himself, and he wants to tell others about. And there is a “friends” discount that comes with it, so why not?

The remarkable thing about this post is not that the Prof. did this.

The remarkable thing is that he feels somehow guilty about it, and that most of the commenters take him to task for having bought this service (accusing him of hypocrisy, etc.). Y’all need to take a step back and get some perspective — sheesh.

By: Seth Finkelstein Thu, 25 Sep 2008 01:28:22 +0000 [Repost because of spam-trap]

You walked into the bogospheric minefield of minor monetization. Indeed, I agree with you, in a sense, commentors fussing over a few buck af llnk for someone in your position is the very essence of sweating the small stuff. Nonetheless, the overall issue itself is still a very touchy matter. See my _Guardian_ column about this:

Regarding the civil-libertarian issues with respect to CLEAR, well, I’ll let someone else take the hit of arguing about that :-( .

By: Seth Finkelstein Thu, 25 Sep 2008 01:14:22 +0000 You walked into the bogospheric minefield of minor monetization. Indeed, I agree with you, in a sense, commentors fussing over a few buck affiliate link for someone in your position is the very essence of sweating the small stuff. Nonetheless, the overall issue itself is still a very touchy matter. See my _Guardian_ column about this:

As for the civil-libertarian issues with CLEAR, well, I’ll let someone else take the hit of arguing about that :-( .

By: elise Thu, 25 Sep 2008 00:54:54 +0000 i am enrolled in a similar program here in the UK called IRIS. IRIS, however, is run by the government and completely free. it is open to permanent residents, as well as citizens.

do i like them having biometric data of mine? not particularly.

however, it has taken me anywhere from 1-2 hours to get through the non-EU (i’m American) immigration line alone at airports here in the past. that’s after two flights and 11+ hours of travel in a jet-lagged state. in contrast, when i came back from the States earlier this summer, it took me less than 1 minute with IRIS and there was no line (would’ve taken less time, but i was looking in the wrong place, initially).

the only thing i lament is that IRIS stations can break down. the last time i flew into Heathrow (terminal 1), it was out-of-order and i had to wait in the immigration line like everyone else.

By: James Thu, 25 Sep 2008 00:43:05 +0000 Professor Lessig,

I disagree with your conclusion that this was not a product placement. The company cleverly enabled anyone to place their products for profit. You took them up on their offer. Sure, they didn’t seek you out personally, but they didn’t have to. It’s one thing to recommend a product; I read Amazon quite frequently because I appreciate customer reviews and recommendations.

It’s another thing entirely to receive compensation for recommending a product. Even if you actually like the product, being (potentially) paid to promote it destroys the pretense of independence.

I am only compelled to comment because this is a reminder that even the intellectually mighty are drawn to cash in on their status for baubles, trinkets, and minor discounts. Napoleon would be proud. In my opinion, removing the link resolves the entire situation.

By: lessig Thu, 25 Sep 2008 00:18:46 +0000 Thanks for the comments. Some replies.

(1) on the corruption of me: Obviously, I am most sensitive to the concern that this post is somehow a corruption of my principles, or the blog or something like that. This concern is expressed a bit above, but more in emails sent to me in response to the post.

I’d be keen to hear reactions to this, as no doubt, in this defensive posture, there’s lots I’m likely to be blind to. But I don’t (@matt) see this post as inconsistent with my positions about corruption. Here’s why:

First, my disclosure statement says I won’t give policy advice or policy recommendations for money. But my blog is not testimony, and the post was not recommending something about public policy. Certainly, it was describing why I thought it might be worth it for some to participate in this program. But that’s not to change public policy, even if it might change the private policy of some people.

Second, I don’t think this is “product placement” or a company buying access to anything. This is an important point that I realize wasn’t at all clear: CLEAR didn’t ask me to do anything on by blog. And neither CLEAR nor anyone else can or has ever bought access to the blog. (I don’t, e.g,, run ads.) Rather, this is my describing a service, and why it might make sense for some. Yes, of course, if someone acts on this information and uses the referral code, I benefit. But as many pointed out, this isn’t a ton of money. My motivation for including the referral link was to hack the “refer a friend” program.

(Is this “charity” @Logical Extremes? Only of we’ve lost all sense of the meaning of that important concept. Charity requires sacrifice. I would presume anyone acting on this would do it because it benefits them (too).)

(And @disappointed, I’m sorry. Coward that I am, fear not, I won’t be experimenting like this again. But there are 1575 posts on my blog. .6% doesn’t yet feel like becoming a corporate shill.)

(2) on the privacy issue: I do agree it is a fair criticism if I am pushing a service that is (or should be) contrary to my values. But here’s where @Bertil Hatt has it just right. I am uncertain about how one should think about this sort of program. And I was hoping, in blogging about it, that something interesting might come from the inevitable controversy.

First, I’m not sure I agree with people who have “no problem” with priority lines at airports. I think I have lots of problems with them, at least — and here’s the crucial factual question I don’t know the answer to — if airports don’t charge airlines a surcharge for them. If airlines subsidize security lines to pay more (than they otherwise would) to support priority lines, then that’s fine. But (though I benefit from these all the time, given my frequent flyer status), if there’s not a subsidy paid by the airlines (again, above what would otherwise have been paid), then I think I’m against these.

Why? Because while I think “priority” treatment makes tons of sense, in most cases, one should have to pay for it. (Most: parents with kids, or the handicapped raise different concerns.) If it is worth it for some to get through security more quickly than others, then let them cover the cost (plus some) of the extra-efficient security that’s involved. Obviously, that raises a risk that the other lines are slower (and those against network neutrality will have lots of fun drawing non-apt links to this non-analogy), and that risk is an important one. But if time is money, then when you get more time, you should pay some money.

That’s what strikes me as possibly good about the CLEAR service. If — and again, here’s a key factual assumption I’m making but could be wrong — CLEAR is a for profit business, then I assume they’re paying for the privilege of operating in airports. And I assume that payment is helping to subsidize the cost of security. So any priority one gets because of CLEAR, one gets according to principles that I think are important.

Second, but what about the privacy implications? I don’t get @Logical Extreme’s concern about immutable characteristics. Sure, I can’t change my fingerprint (easily) and nor my iris scan. But I use the fingerprint to authenticate me, and that data I give away for free all the time (every time I pick something up).

@Brad isn’t as troubled with the biometric part, which gives me some more confidence about that. He’s very troubled about the background check part, since it’s not necessary to the security interest.

That’s a great point, though I’m not sure where it is best placed. Given all the ways pointed out in the post for someone to get the benefits without the background check, the problem is ripe when a background check to fly is required. Already one might think with Gilmore that an ID to fly is a problem. But uncertain about the slippery slope from “I’m opting into a background check” to “everyone will be forced into a background check,” I find it hard to get exercised about it.

In any case, out of respect for the visitors here, I’ll remove the code, and decline any benefit. And thank everyone for the comments.

And as it would happen: After spending much of the night wrestling with these comments rather than sleeping, I had to get up at the crack of dawn to catch a flight. I got to the airport and realized I had forgotten my computer. Today, the CLEAR pass was well worth it.

By: Adrian Lopez Wed, 24 Sep 2008 23:40:42 +0000 I wonder whether you have to pay back the free month back if the person to sign up through your referral turns out to be a terrorist. That’s a joke, of course, but there’s a point behind it:

This kind of think makes us less secure, not more. As security expert Bruce Schneier points out in

CLEAR [...] sounds great, but it’s actually two ideas rolled into one: one clever and one very stupid.

The clever idea is allowing people to pay for better service. Clear has been in operation at the Orlando International Airport since July 2005, and members have passed through security checkpoints faster simply because they are segregated from less experienced fliers who don’t know the drill.


But the stupid idea is the background check. When first conceived, traveler programs focused on prescreening. Pre-approved travelers would pass through security checkpoints with less screening, and resources would be focused on everyone else. Sounds reasonable, but it would leave us all less safe.


The truth is that whenever you create two paths through security — a high-security path and a low-security path — you have to assume that the bad guys will find a way to exploit the low-security path. It may be counterintuitive, but we are all safer if the people chosen for more thorough screening are truly random and not based on an error-filled database or a cursory background check.

By: Bertil Hatt Tue, 23 Sep 2008 20:33:56 +0000 Well, I see three aspects to this post:

* The first one is Pr. Lessig starting a debate about the program Clear, which is very much in line with this blog, and the answers are rather unanimously against the program, and (to me who never took commercial planes in the US) poor in arguments to explain why this is a problem. Unless I missed that Stallman, or anyone notoriously non-Salafist, has been kicked out of the program, identifying frequent flyers, certifying their intent by a background check is the most efficient way to process the 1% of travellers who do 20% of travel (i.e. those who made everyone else wait 20 min. more at the gate because they had to queue too). The price is about right for that check, and a combination of biometrics, ID and a database does not appear excessive. You can challenge the efficiency of biometrics, or whether frequent flyers or the TSA should pay for it — but I’d argue the current solution appears the safest feasible one, with proper incentives.

As a disclaimer, I had my background checked several times tacitly (some of my friends have safety-related jobs) and once openly: I was part of a charity that teach to people in jail (some former members had planed evasions). They is nothing degrading or shameful in that: preventing people to abuse their role is the best Police can do, observing people that could be dangerous is the only efficient way to prevent attacks — far more then X-Raying everyone.

One commenter made a strange comment: I don’t understand the point of being searched several times if you hold the card. Someone on a watch list should either have the opportunity either to get cleared or to be reimbursed (More on that further down). Not offering the same possibility to people outside the program could lead to a challenge: Clear would have the wrong incentives in most design — and it drives me to the second point:

A recent post on Wired Security Matters explain the real problem: the way the checking is done is wrong, and should focus on finding the actual attempts, punish them harshly, and not let go most of the presumed infringer with no consequences.

The real problem is with the over-all system, not with an entrepreneur who, after years of madness, as decided to avoid the worst to people who suffered the most often from it. Whether one should let a cursed situation rot until is explodes, or try to resolve it little by little was a heated debate among socialists: call me mellow, I’m not in favour or revolution.

* Another important point is a debate about this program being elitist, having tiers in security policy and whether we should all be equal in front of TSA’s clumsiness and lack of tack. That is a question of principle: Should we have special, lush, tax services for the very wealthy; special security featur to protect their confidentiality? Should Police protect celebrities, and be nicer to richer people? However shocking to many of your readers and the entire Scandinavia, this has always been the case, and rightfully so if you ask me: I don’t think civil servants should be less smiling to poor people, or that lobbying is a good thing, at all — but wealthier people do far more good, and it is a fine policy not to bother them doing so. That is (and this is where the limit should be) only acceptable if this does not impair the rest of us: emptying the queues is good for everyone, so that’s fine; lobby-enforced tax brakes aren’t; preventing billionnaires’ tax forms to end up among the public helps elevate the debate in the press, and we all need that; protecting bimbos up to the point where they thing they are invincible enough to drink drive is not fine.

Allowing lobbyist to fly faster to Washington is not fine — but I’m ready to take the bet they are far more CEOs who are saving private-jet fuels, and lecturers like Pr. Lessig who benefit from Clear, so I support the idea, although I won’t be a client anytime soon.

* The third is odd to me, gross to many: why would you be “advertising this” on your blog? I’m assuming the people with whom you discuss your posts are your academic friends and teaching colleagues, who travel almost as much — but you are too biased and don’t realize that a majority of your readers are actually depended on their advisor’s generosity to travel once a year, if at all. I see your private circle of recommendation mixing unevenly with your public circle of admirers, and social marketing done clumsily with blogers. I’m surprised Pr. Lessig, you would not realise how offensive this could have seemed — and I’m surprised your fans are so partisan that they cannot imagine that, you, their moral compass, would disagree with their instinct.

Internet is merging things that are better left separate (private and public life) and keeping apart the distinct ideas that, I think, should be interacting instead of growing into a Red-vs.-Blue harmful balkanisation.

By: Kristian Z Tue, 23 Sep 2008 15:20:54 +0000 Very weird. This is like Chomsky singing “Bomb bomb Iran” with Richard Stallman recording it on a Microsoft Zune.

By: deincognito Tue, 23 Sep 2008 12:15:07 +0000 Anyone´s privacy has a price ;-p

This time is different from providing your privacy for free services, but in any case you are lowing the bar.

Hope you enjoy your 25 saved hours with your kids


By: deincognito Tue, 23 Sep 2008 12:12:50 +0000 Anyone´s privacy has a privacy ;-p

It is not the same providing your privacy for free services, but in any case you are lowing the bar.

Hope you enjoy as much as possible your 25 hours with your kids.


By: Terrified Passenger Tue, 23 Sep 2008 07:43:34 +0000 Alas, the TSA informs me that Clear would do precisely nothing for me, because it only gets you to the head of the line faster; you still have the same chance to get the dreaded SSSS or the even worse confusion of names with someone on the watch list. That’s right, the background check does nothing to ease that process.

I very seldom take more than ten minutes to get to the head of the line at my home airport. But that’s where the ordeal begins. I always have SSSS on my boarding pass (and the airline’s online check-in systems always inform me that ticket counter checkin is required for my flight even as colleagues are checking into the same flight). Often the screener has to call a supervisor over to interview me (asking intrusive questions like political party and church membership) before letting me pass. Twice, I’ve had the screener insist on running my eyeglasses, walking cane and knee brace through the X-ray right at the start of the procedure, and then not returning them to me until the very end, leaving me effectively blind and crippled. In that condition, I had to face the intrusive search, questioning, and cursing (somehow, I always seem also to get screeners with the manners of Marine drill sergeants). Traipsing hither an yon (to the SSSS search area, to the puffer, to the “private room” (detention pound?) for questioning, all without being able to see or walk pain-free was horribly demeaning. Having my laptop screen smashed — a screener simply upended my backpack contents onto the counter and floor while a policeman stood over me with his hand on the butt of his sidearm warning me (with several obscene observations) not to make trouble — was terrifying. After a couple of experiences like this, I don’t go into airports any more. I’m afraid that the next reaction will be to shoot me on sight!

I’m appalled that you’d sponsor this system.

By: Damien Tue, 23 Sep 2008 04:55:37 +0000 Did someone steal Lessig’s account? Where did this post come from? This is complete corporate garbage.

By: Brad Templeton Tue, 23 Sep 2008 01:41:29 +0000 This is beyond the pale, Larry. I dabbled with competing in their contest to speed up airport security (my plans involved no privacy invasion) and thus learned various things about it.

First of all, right now what Clear buys you is a trip to the front of the security line, and some staff to help you put your stuff into bins. Yet to do this, they have you do a government background check, as well as provide the biometrics. The biometrics are not as big a deal as the idea of the background check.

Why? Well, you can also go to the front of the security line (or use a shorter line at least) in a lot of airports just by being in first class, or being a premium frequent flyer. Yet that requires no background check. So obviously just going to the front of the line doesn’t need anything like this.

Clear told me that the TSA had demanded these checks. In theory, it’s for a future technology. G.E. funded Clear (aka Verified ID Pass) so they could sell their fancy scanning machines that check your boots and coat for explosives without you having to take them off. So their goal is that people who have the pass get to use a different procedure.

So I challenged them about this. Why the need for a background check to use the faster machine? In particular, I asked if they or the TSA believed the faster machine process was not as secure, and thus could not be made available to people who had not been background checked.

The answer was no, the TSA was demanding their machine be just as secure. So again, no reason for this background check. The check is there for no security reason, it is simply a TSA plan to get people used to the idea of a background check and special identity verification as far as I can tell.

This is what you’re promoting. Larry, you’ve already done it for yourself, but pushing people to do it so you can get nine dollars? Well, there are a lot of things you can promote on your blog that will get you nice affiliate revenues, better than this I suspect.

I’m starting to wonder if your blog was hacked, since the irony of this — selling principles for a bit of cash — seems too strong.

BTW, my own experience of late has been that except at the very peak times, the main security line is really not that long, making the clear line not that valuable.

By: Disappointed Tue, 23 Sep 2008 00:16:04 +0000 Professor,

When you said your blog would change its focus from IP to corruption, few would have expected that this kind of home shopping network pitch would result. This isn’t from the how to give away your privacy department. It’s from the how a terrific blog became a corporate shill to save ten bucks department.

By: Karen Tue, 23 Sep 2008 00:13:03 +0000 Odd place for a product placement…

By: Ted Haeger Mon, 22 Sep 2008 23:51:46 +0000 I just learned about Clear last week while on a trip to NYC. Having heard the pitch from the airport Clear people, I completely agree with the first comment. The whole TSA approach really does amount to theater, and the Clear program does not solve a problem. How is it that a commercial product/service offering has been crafted from the need for increased security?

Regarding the scandalousness of shilling for the Clear program: Come on, LL. Don’t give your implied consent to such ridiculousness. You are a Free Culture bellwether to far too many people. Please don’t allow Clear’s multi-level marketing foolishness to compromise your integrity so easily.

By: Matt Mon, 22 Sep 2008 23:51:37 +0000 How do you feel that this promotion interacts with your non corruption principle?

By: Logical Extremes Mon, 22 Sep 2008 23:33:17 +0000 Scandalous, yes, it’s a $100/year charge I think, and you, a well-paid professional (and general supporter of civil liberties) are asking for charity for this of all things?

Personally, I find these programs repugnant. It’s elitist and also encourages people to accept loss of privacy, not to mention risk of breaches ( ) of biometric information that can never be changed. There are some principles that I believe are not worth giving up for convenience. But that’s just me.

I have no problem with the free and voluntary “Black Diamond” type lanes, but really why don’t we fight to get rid of all of the useless security theater. and improve the TSA screening processes in general, so everyone benefits?

This program solves the wrong problem.