Sitting at supper one evening many years ago in Metz, France, I asked a Canadian military acquaintance how he planned to vote in the upcoming Canadian federal election.
"Same way as last time", he replied rather curtly.
"Yes but how was that?" I ventured.
"For the retention of the secret ballot!" he growled.
I looked up sharply from my supper plate expecting some sign of humour, but found myself peering into the cold, almost belligerent stare of a man who had killed other men and survived attempts on his own.
He had nearly been killed flying Spitfires in Malta in 1942. He had faced the Viet Cong and been shot at again while a member of the Truce Commission in Viet Nam in 1956. Now (1962), he was the senior intelligence officer for the RCAF in Europe as the Berlin wall went up, the Cuban missile crisis was in full swing, and DeGaulle was being threatened with assassination by elements of his own military for pulling out of Algeria.
There were two legitimate monopolies in democratic society at that time: the armory, and the mint. They controlled the use of military weapons and the right to print money. Yet here was a soldier telling me he was willing to lay down his life, willing to die, to keep the keys to the gun locker in civilian hands!
The ultimate difference between democratic and totalitarian regimes.
Today, there is a third battle underway that is every bit as pitched and critical to human freedom as were the arsenal and the mint sixty years ago: control over citizen identity.
In the first part of this essay on human consent I mentioned a new development currently sweeping through the Identity and Authentication industry, known as 'claims-based-authentication'.
During the early days of the Internet, data engineers assumed that citizen information would have to reside in unimaginably huge, centralized databases. Since then, the very thought of such repositories containing all personal identifiers makes both citizens and enlightened politicians squirm uncomfortably.
We all now realize that government systems are no more qualified or trustworthy than commercial interests to hold all this data.
How can this be possible?
Through a kind of massively distributed, blockchain-based, cryptographic and peer-to-peer process called 'claims-based-authentication', a kind of third pillar of democratic governance inextricably rooted in the presumption of foundational anonymity.
The most disturbing aspect of the warrantless powers of surveillance that Dick Cheney and Barack Obama have given Homeland Security (DHS) and the National Security Agency (NSA) is the accompanying fallacy that privacy is only about avoiding embarrassment and hiding sins.
Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, just making that assertion, in itself, violates natural Law and betrays the United States Constitution.
Do you want a payment receipt at Disneyland in Florida to reveal to a ring of thieves that you are temporarily away from home in Dayton?
Do you want details in your municipal civic registration to hint to political hacks or partisan employers how you voted in the last election?
Should an advertiser be able to bribe a computer clerk at the local hospital to sell them your medical history when you prefer to wait another year before worrying your family about prostate or cervical tests?
These situations have nothing to do with feeling ashamed or hiding personal wrongdoing. Love others though you might as a good friends, this kind of information is nobody else's business if you prefer to keep it to yourself. Anyone who advocates risking its disclosure under a 'nothing-to-hide-if-you-have-a-clear-conscience' argument, is advocating twenty-first century civil war!
With luck, the ten year betrayal of civil liberties in both government and finance since 9/11 will be reversed during the next decade through the ever increasing choice of ordinary citizens to use cryptographic and peer-to-peer data management software.
We are on the verge of Identity being re-rooted in human consent and its attendant presumption of initial anonymity. Both will be embedded at the very core of modern communications technology.
... part 3 continues next month.