Computer Architectures for Protection of Personal Informatic Property
First Monday

Computer Architectures for Protection of Personal Informatic Property: Putting Pirates, Pigs, and Rapists in Perspective

Propertarian philosophy has so far focused on protecting that which we produce for others, perhaps for a price. It has failed to protect that which we may have no intention to give to others at any price. The former is well known as Intellectual Property (IP), while the latter is something I call Humanistic Property (HP). In the Goffman sense, IP is that which we "give" throught intentional creative action (e.g. the fruit of our labour), while HP is that which we "give off" (our "heart and soul") simply by being human. Analogous to the visceral, and obviously exaggerated metaphor of the Pirate (one who takes that which is meant to be given but merely denies profit), I put forth a metaphor for what I argue to be those committing a far greater transgression: Pigs, being those who steal HP. Furthermore, I include a third class, which I call Rapists, as being those who inseminate us with unwated informatic material. I argue that it is mainly the Pigs and Rapists we should be focusing our technical and leglislative efforts at controlling, rather than the Pirates.


Introduction: A Manifesto Against the Ineffectual Notion of Privacy
Pirates versus Pigs and Rapists
How Pigs and Rapists Control Us
A Computer Architecture for Preventing Informatic Theft, Trafficking, and Rape: Taming the Monster With a Little Piece of Itself
Rape is a Form of Theft

Introduction: A Manifesto Against the Ineffectual Notion of Privacy

I begin with an informal first person account of why I think privacy is an ineffectual paradigm, and argue for replacing it with something more powerful that carries with it the full weight of a stronger form of law and ethics. I then move on to formalize this notion in a more theoretical way.

Surveillance is the Theft of the Soul

Many hotel owners, restaurant owners, and various others are thieves. What they steal is not your car or your wallet, but, rather, your soul. Very much like intellectual property thieves, what they steal is information rather than material objects.

What they are stealing is Humanistic Property. Humanistic Property is that which we give without conscious thought or effort, and differs from Intellectual Property which is what we consciously produce for the purpose of disclose to other people.

I think it is useful to distinguish between copyright and the right to self ownership. Copyright protects the copying of work that a person has intended to give to the world; it merely protects from loss of capital. The infringer is simply not paying for work that is for sale. But I would say that representatives of the Surveillance Superhighway (SS) steal in a much more profound way. Perpetrators of the SS capture a likeness or situation that was never put forth as a commodity. Representatives of the SS have stolen something that was not for sale. I draw upon an analogy here, between a shoplifter/softlifter (analogous to the copyright violator) and a thief who steals your family heirlooms (analogous to the perpetrators of the SS). The former has stolen from you something that you have willingly put up for sale, merely depriving you of some of your profits, while the latter has stolen from you something that you might not have been willing to sell at any price. While there are no doubt shopkeepers who value their goods more than their family heirlooms, and similarly there are no doubt those who value their works of art, and literature more than their own physical likeness, one must account for the possibility that there could be people who attach a high value to their likeness, and to the way that it is acquired, controlled, and distributed through what I would call 'likeness piracy'.

Theft of Humanistic Property is the greater of two evils. Those who steal commodities (that is, property meant to be sold) are merely taking something that the owner already intended to part with. Those who steal Humanistic Property have stolen something that the owner did not intend to give away, at any price.

Video surveillance is often used as a crime deterrence tool to prevent theft of material objects. However, it is these very video surveillance cameras that are the cause of theft of a different sort, theft of Humanistic Property.

How would you feel if a friend invited your family to stay over for a couple of days but had surveillance cameras in the guest bedrooms to make sure you didn't steal anything? Or if a friend invited you over for dinner and you found that he had installed a video surveillance camera over the dining room table to watch you because he thought you might try to steal the silverware? Would you trust someone who doesn't trust you?

Whether you're staying at a hotel or eating at a fine home-style restaurant, you are renting space to call your own. When you take clients to a restaurant you pay partly for the use of the space and a nice environment in which to wine and dine your business associates. Rented space has associated with it a reasonable expectation of "privacy". I prefer to call it a reasonable expectation of freedom from the theft of Humanistic Property.

Pervasive video surveillance seems to have become the hottest new trend, hotter than stolen cars and pawnshop televisions.

Let's ignore, for a moment, the issue of privacy in the workplace. Many are aware of the famous case where Sheraton Hotel installed covert video surveillance in their employee changerooms [1]. We all know how organizations often assume: "If you work here, we own you, and we can do what we like with you." So I'm not even going to open up that ugly can of worms. Instead, I'm going to talk about a much clearer case: I'm going to talk about leisure time, the time we're told we have to ourselves.

I'm not talking about an abstract concept called "privacy". After all, many officials seem to believe privacy is just a myth, and has no place in our utilitarian world. Many lawmakers seem to be more concerned with keeping the trains running on time and keeping crime low than with abstract humanistic concepts like privacy. I'm talking here about something a lot more concrete than violation of "privacy" - I'm talking about Theft!

Recently I was at a restaurant describing some of my proprietary inventions and business plans to a prospective business partner, and we eventually noticed that they had surveillance cameras throughout the restaurant, overlooking some of the tables, including ours. It appeared that our top-secret patent drawings and business plans were now available to the restaurant owner.

We became angry, and asked the clerk what right he had to take our picture without our permission. He told us "I only work here. My Manager installed the cameras." I could easily see through his Nuremberg nonsense, that is "I am only following orders." Giving him the benefit of the doubt I asked if I could speak to the Manager. He told me that the Manager wasn't in, but gave me the name of the Manager. After numerous calls, waiting on hold, and leaving messages that were never returned, I eventually got hold of the Manager who told me that the surveillance directive came from head office. When I finally contacted an official at head office, I was told that the insurance companies require video surveillance.

At another restuarant I raised a similar objection. I explained that I had met with a business client and that we had reviewed proprietary patent drawings and other company confidential matters. I asked the clerk for the name of the person in charge of the restaurant, and the clerk pointed at an individual standing by the bar. I explained this situation and asked this person for a point of contact, for a business card. The individual refused to identify himself, refused to tell me his name, or any official point of contact at the restuarant. He also refused to tell me the street address number of the building we were standing in.

So the next time I complained about surveillance cameras, and the clerk asked me the usual "why are you so paranoid" (and suggested that only criminals are afraid of cameras), I took a different approach. I happened to be packing a pocket camera, so I gave the clerk an opportunity to define himself by his own standards."

After pulling out my 36-shooter, and emptying the remaining rounds from my film magazine, onto his face and his hand that was eagerly reaching out toward my lens, he was much more cooperative in finding me a manager to shoot instead of him.

Instead of being given a possibly fake phone number of a possibly non-existant manager, or being told to come back on Tuesday morning at 9:00am to wait for a couple of hours before having the privilege to talk to the Manager, I found that a Manager appeared almost instantly for me to shoot.

You see, the clerk would rather get me a Manager to shoot than be shot himself. And when I shot the Manager, I informed this Manager that it was not I who wanted to take pictures of him, but that my Manager required me to document any and all theft of intellectual property (that is, my patent drawings and business plans that had been seen by his camera).

This made the whole matter very interesting because now we have two people (he and I) taking pictures of each other without each other's permission. Both of us claim that we don't want to shoot at each other, but that our companies require us to do so.

I found that this was a great way to make sure my complaint went up the ladder to the very top, very quickly. I no longer found that my calls were unanswered, or that my telephone messages were unreturned. I very quickly had the opportunity to shoot to the very top. It was suddenly like a "Roger and Me" documentary with various "Rogers" flushed out of the closet to be interviewed by me. So next time you're trying to crawl up the ladder to the person responsible, pack a camera, and go on a picture shooting spree.

Pirates versus Pigs and Rapists

Humanistic Property (HP) is the personal informatic property that is not the fruits of our intentional labour. HP is that which we generate simply through our natural existence doing other things, rather than the property arising through effort directed at creation of a "Work". HP includes, for example, our own physical likeness, knowledge of which door we passed through to enter our home, and records of how much milk we consumed or how many condoms we purchased over the past year.

Vague, and often ineffectual notions of privacy come to mind, but I am deliberately departing from using privacy terminology in this paper for two reasons:

  • Respect for privacy is often weak at best. A notion like "violation of privacy" is not nearly as strong or visceral as a notion like Theft; and,
  • The exact meaning of privacy is clouded in the sense that the word "privacy" and related concepts have a variety of different definitions.

For the purpose of this paper, privacy, particularly as it pertains to protection of HP, will be very clearly and precisely distinguished from violation of a person's solitude (e.g. a person's peace and quiet, or a person's "right to be left alone"). I choose to consider privacy to be that which may be violated by input devices (measurement instruments/sensors such as cameras, microphones, etc.) while solitude to be that which may be violated by output devices (e.g. video displays, loudspeakers, etc.).

It should be noted that my choice of definition of privacy is different from the commonly used "right to be left alone" definition of privacy. The "right to be left alone" definition is broader than my definition in the sense that the "right to be left alone" definition expands privacy to includes solitude. This "right to be left alone" definition conflates these two very different concepts, thereby blurring an important distinction between privacy (as I am defining it here) and solitude. Thus an annoying advertisement, harrassing phone calls, and junk mail, which violate the right to be left alone, also violate what I shall refer to as solitude, but do not directly violate what I call privacy. Tapping a person's telephone violates what I call privacy but not what I call solitude.

Moreover, the "right to be left alone" definition of privacy suffers from a second weakness, namely that a group of people, not just an individual loner, can and should be able to be free of external disturbance. Thus a community should have the "right to be left together", as a group, and still not suffer the adverse effects of external unwanted forces. Thus I will use the term "informatic rape" (or just "rape" for short in the same way that "software piracy" is often abbreviated to just "piracy"), to denote violation of an incoming informatic channel.

In summary:

  • Theft denotes violation by way of an outgoing informatic channel, e.g. tapping a person or group's telephone conversations or capturing information about what they have purchased; and,
  • Rape denotes violation by way of an incoming informatic channel, e.g. by way of unsolicited telephone calls or junk mail.

Often this informatic rape is done based on intelligence gathering obtained by way of informatic theft. Thus theft and rape are often inextricably intertwined. However, it is useful to think of them as separate entities, so that the process of violating a person's "right to be left alone" or a group's "right to be left together" can be better understood.

How Pigs and Rapists Control Us

Often, in order to best violate a person's "right to be left alone", Pigs and Rapists either work together. Often an individual (or group) is (are) both Pigs and Rapists, in the sense that it is the same person or organization that steals Humanistic Property (HP) and then uses this theft to plan an attack for insemination of usolicited information (such as a telephone solicitation or junk mail). The unsolicited insemination (Rape) is then followed by further theft of HP in order to determine the success of the Rape, and this Theft is indeed used to fine-tune the Rape to optimize its control of the victim. Thus we have a feedback system in which Theft is followed by Rape, which is followed by Theft (to measure the success of the Rape), which is again followed by a refined Rape.

This feedback relationship between Theft and Rape can be better understood in terms of basic control theory (a well-developed branch of modern electrical engineering). In control theory, a system or process is controlled not just by sending it a control signal, but also by observing a behavior of the system, and by adjusting the control signal to make the system's behavior match a desired behavior. In control theory, a system is said to be observable when we can measure it (e.g. the measurement space is the observables), and is said to be controllable when we can influence its behaviour. Thus the following equivalence class may be constructed:

  • A system is controllable = Rape is possible
  • A system is observable = Theft is possible

We can better understand Rape and Theft by examining the following diagram:

This figure is a block diagram depicting person, P, controlled by feedback loop comprising the three steps of external controllability: Theft of humanistic property, followed by Traficking in said stolen property, followed by informatic Rape. The person, P, is said to be observable when such Theft is possible, and controllable when such Rape is possible. Note also that desired behaviour is subtracted from the actual behaviour to obtain a behavioural "error" signal which is used by the controlling entity C to generate customized spam (Rape) targeted at behavioural modification.

In order to close the control system loop around a particular victim (e.g. to make the individual victim both controllable as well as observable), Pigs and Rapists will typically commit the following violations:

  • Steal personal information from the victim. This theft involves the violation of acquisitional privacy.
  • Traffick in this stolen information. This trafficking involves the violation of disseminational privacy. I make a distinction here: theft of HP violates acquisitional privacy, whereas trafficking in this stolen information violates disseminational privacy.
  • Rape ("spam") the victim through unwanted informatic insemination. This Rape (spamming) involves the violation of the victim's solitude, peace, or "right to be left alone".

This "observability controllability" theory is closely related to behavioural psychology which concerns itself primarily with measurable (observable) data, and for the most part excludes consideration of the inner mental state of the person under control.

Relation between Control Theory and Behaviorism

Behavioral psychology brings to mind the notion of treating the human like a dog or a machine, to be controlled through reward and punishment. Within this framework, a person is treated like a machine or organism that responds to "stimuli" from the environment.

John B. Watson, a psychologist in the United States, was the "father" of behavioural psychology as a purely objective (experimental) branch of science.

B.F. Skinner pioneered the idea of behaviour modification through reward and punishment, e.g. modifying observable behaviour, instead of thoughts and feelings. Skinner's "operant conditioning" relied on the ability to observe the subject and apply reward and punishment based on observed behaviour. Thus skinner's approach was a closed-loop control of sorts, much like the Control Theory metaphor outlined above.

French philosopher Michel Foucault provides a good critical analysis in his classic work Surveiller et Punir: Naissance de la Prison (Paris: Gallimard, 1975). Foucault describes our society's basis on surveillance and torture, however mild or subtle. He documents how punishment has become weaker but more pervasive as time evolved, and this theory is extended by the author to include the notion of micropunishments and microcrimes [2]. Fortunately, behavioural psychology has recently come under a much-needed criticism, as has evolutionary psychology [3].

On the Use of Extreme Analogies

It has been argued that Intellectual Property is already protected excessively [4]. Proponents of Intellectual Property have used the word "piracy" to describe making "unauthorized" copies of informational "wares". This metaphor suggests that villains who attack an ocean-going vessel and kill all those on board are equal in the degree of their crimes to those who make "unauthorized" copies of information "wares". Many, such as Mitch Kapor, co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), have criticized this equivalence between copying floppy disks and "software piracy" as the software industry's propaganda [5].

Thus the use of terms like "steal" and "traffick" are no less extreme when applied to humanistic property (our heart and soul) than to intellectual property (our blood and sweat).

A Computer Architecture for Preventing Informatic Theft, Trafficking, and Rape: Taming the Monster With a Little Piece of Itself

If we can find a way to break open the Steal-Trafick-Rape feedback loop, we may find a way to subvert the hegemony of the controller.

The proposed architecure is that of wearable cybernetics based on the author's WearComp invention of the 1970s, originally intended as a wearable electronic photographer's assistant.

As with many great problems, often the problem contains the seeds of its own solution. Just as computers collect data about individuals, they have more recently been used to liberate individuals both with strong crypto and an ability to create grassroots organizations that spread out across cyberspace.

Accordingly, wearable cybernetics, and in particular Humanistic Intelligence is an attempt at taming the monster with a little piece of itself. By becoming a computer (and in fact a cyborg manifestation of inside-out surveillance), the hope is that the individual can stand up to the combined corporate and governmental forces of suppression of the individual spirit.

While legislation is one possible solution to this problem, laws are changing so quickly that technology is having a hard time catching up. As Big Business effectively lobbies government to help it violate our privacy, what is needed is a more individually controlled way of protecting ourselves, rather than relying on government initiatives. For example, by wearing special sunglasses, in which there is implemented a visual filter, it is possible to filter out the offensive advertising [6].

Rape is a Form of Theft

I have already argued that if we regard the unauthorized taking of IP as theft, then we should certainly regard the taking of unauthorized HP as theft. Thus we ought to be able to bring the full weight and force of the legal protection that has grown to protect IP to bear on those who steal HP, notwithstanding the pure utilitarianist argument of maximization of production.

This is a useful construct in terms of presenting the argument to one who only understands (or chooses to only understand or acknowledge) propertarianist philosophy. Indeed, many of the Pigs are large organizations who have a considerable amount of IP at stake. Thus forcing them to recognize and acknowledge HP, by presenting, as a concept, it to them, on terms that fit within their possibly narrow view of reality, is an important step forward to creating an articulable basis upon which to argue for its protection. Clearly HP is of value. Theft of HP benefits those who steal and traffick in it.

A similar argument for Informatic Rape will also help clarify its importance to even those who refuse to acknowledge an abstract concept like Informatic Rape. Thus the purpose of this section is to present real world "spam" (unauthorized informatic insemination) as a form of theft.

Theft of Processing Resources: Breaking into the Humanistic Computer (The Human Brain)

Consider a typical computer connected to a network. Traditionally a computer system was ordinarily operated by way of a local video display and keyboard. However, increasingly, computational assets are accessed remotely by way of a network connection, allowing them to be accessed and used remotely by their owners, or by others who are authorized to use these computational services. In addition to those who are authorized to use these resources, there will be others who attempt to use a computer system with "authorization".

Many regard the unauthorized use of computational resources as "theft". In other words, the definition of theft has been expanded to include the obtaining of goods or services without payment, including the unauthorized use of computational services.

The bypassing of security systems on a computer is often called "breaking into" the computer, even if nothing is broken in the process. This terminology follows from an analogy to breaking and entering into a private home, as in burglary. Thus an individual who invents a clever way to run programs on a computer without the consent of the owner of the computer is often said to be "breaking into" the computer, and "stealing" computer resources.

In addition to "stealing" computer resources, individuals may also try to send unsolicited e-mail to users of the computer, or use the computer as a gateway for sending unsolicited e-mail to users of other computers. Moreover, many computer systems use a window manager for display of various windows on a local video display. One such windowing system is called "X-Windows", or "X11". A GNUX (GNULinux) variant of such a windowing system is called XF86 (XFree86). Under these windowing systems, a user of a computer grants permission to certain hosts to display windows on its video display, using the "xhosts +" command. This command allows anyone from the given host to display any window on the video display. Obviously this creates certain security loopholes, within the broader concept of security recently adopted by many computer professionals (e.g. that dispaly of unsolicited material to users be considered a security breach).

The human brain is regarded by many as a computer. Those who don't consider it a computer at least acknowledge the similarity of the human brain to computers. Unfortunately the human brain is not very secure from exploits. It has many ports that are unblocked. For example, the eyes, which are said to be the "window to the soul", do not have any window shades that might keep out unsolicited commercial notices.

Thus real-world spam, in the form of various billboards and the like, often appear within the field of view of the human visual system. Most people have developed an ability to ignore excessive visual input, particularly through adaptation.

This ability to block out extraneous input material is a natural security system we have developed. This natural security system is comprised of both our idealogical value systems, as well as straightforward visual processing directed at filtering out visual spam. Unfortunately, for those who are not able to develop such visual information processing capability, the mental stress of a world infested with spam can be quite overwhelming. For example, individuals who went blind at early childhood and later had their sight restored, are often driven crazy by the gift of sight, and are, in many cases, unable to develop the mental capacity to process visual information in complicated scenes. These examples serve to illustrate the high degree of mental processing effort it takes to process visual information, and the fact that those who increase the visual processing requirement by producing spam create an environment that is very taxing on the human visual system.

Indeed, although our human visual system develops to filter out spam, crackers producing spam continue to develop new security exploits, and methods of bypassing the human brain's naturally evolved security system. Security exploits include creating spam with false motion artifacts, or spam that misrepresents itself.

Here is an example of a Humanistic security exploit by way of spam that is inserted into a page on the World Wide Web:

Although this example comes from cyberspace rather than the real world, it is indicative of some of the approaches also taken by real world spam. This particular exploit is a banner ad that is created to appear like a window. It grabs the attention of a computer user because of the way it is designed, looking very much like a window produced by the computer's own operating system. The window has many of the features of a real window, such as a fake titlebar and buttons, one of which is given the appearance of an active or highlighted button.

The message "Warning" is placed before the user in the hope that, in the context of what masquerades as a window, it will bypass the user's mental security system, at least momentarily. The message "The Site ... Best Prices" tells us that something for sale. It is not at all a warning, as implied by the exclamation mark and triangular caution logo, but rather an advertisement.

In many ways this visual material is the cyberspace equivalent of yelling Fire! in a crowded theatre, in order to call attention to a product for sale.

Putting a Dollar Value on Theft

The above analogy, Rape as Theft, and the idea of forming an equivalence class between certain forms of advertising that break into our human security system, and the act of "breaking into" a computer system, set forth a new way of thinking about the problem of not just spam in cyberspace, but also of real-world visual detritus forced upon us without our consent.

A logical question to ask, is how can we come up with a practical means of determining the value of that which has been stolen. Such a metric might help us answer questions like: "Is a particular theft of our solitude a theft over $200?".

One possible metric is to consider the expenditure required to negate or effectively take away the problem. The "Wearable Computer" (WearComp) invention together with the Reality Mediator (the original application for which it was invented), suggest a means for an individual to negate or at least mitigate the effect of the Theft.

Let us suppose, for example, that a computer system comprised of a DEC Alpha mounted in a backpack, connected to the sunglasses of the visual filter, is required to analyze incoming light and modify the rays of light to filter out the advertisement, so that the wearer would be free of the visual detritus. This would allow us to put a dollar value on the Theft by way of measuring how much gasoline was consumed by the computer (powered by a small chainsaw motor running a mini-generator). If a stroll through the park required a teaspoon of gasoline to make the experience free of Theft, we could list the price of a teaspoon of gasoline in the Police Report detailing the Theft.

Moreover, there is the price of the computer. Filtering the visual perception of reality is very computational intensive, so we would have to consider the depreciation of the DEC Alpha if it were owned by the wearer, or of the rental cost if it were rented.

Additionally we would have to factor in the cost of the aggrevation, that is the general burdensome nature of the DEC Alpha, gasoline tank, motor, and generator, as well as the general irritation of having to wear this apparatus. We could calculate the approximate cost of this aggrevation by hiring some individuals to wear such an apparatus (or an equivalent size+weight backpack full of bricks). We could survey various individuals and determine how much we would have to pay them to wear this much burden daily. I suspect this latter cost would be the major cost, and would likely exceed the cost of buying gasoline to run the machine, and perhaps it would also exceed the cost of actually renting time on the machine.

Alternatively, the DEC Alpha could be located on the fourth floor of the Sandford Fleming Buidling's Humanistic Intelligence Lab, in Room 4206, and the wearer could simply send the video to this computer and receive back the processed results. In this way, the DEC Alpha could run on electricity instead of gasoline, which would save costs. However, we would need to factor in the cost in terms of bandwidth fees required to transmit 30 frames per second of visual information, process this remotely, and further the cost of sending the processed video back to the wearer.

Using this approach, I am certain that most billboards could be considered to produce a "Theft over $200" of our visual solitude.


Abstract and sometimes deliberately misunderstood concepts such as privacy and solitude have been re-situated into a propertarian context, so that violations are equivalent to Theft. This has allowed us to view them in a legal context at its fullest strength. In this way, those who would choose to simply not to comprehend these marginalized concepts will be forced to confront these issues head-on. While not necessarily providing a practical solution (clearly we can't all wear gasoline generators and supercomputers, existing behind dark sunglasses), this philosophy will hopefully allow us to look at Personal Informatic Property in a new light.

About the Author

Steve Mann, inventor of WearComp (wearable computer) and WearCam (eyetap camera and reality mediator), is currently a faculty member in the University of Toronto's Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.


This paper is based on the Keynote Address at the Marshall McLuhan Symposium on Culture and Technology, which was presented on 23 October 1998.


1. LynNell Hancock, Claudia Kalb, and William Underhill, 1995. "You don't have to smile," Newsweek (17 July), p. 52.

2. See Steve Mann, 1998. "Humanistic Intelligence: WearComp as a New Framework for Intelligent Signal Processing," Proceedings of the IEEE, volume 86, number 11 (November), pp. 2123-2151, and at

3. See for example Natalie Angier's analysis of psychologists (particularly evolutionary psychologists), in her book Woman: An Intimate Geography (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1999). Her use of the abbreviation "psycho" to refer to psychologists ("psychos" for plural), is perhaps indicative of a growing (and one could argue healthy) trend to call into question the goals of psychology, perticularly branches of psychology that reduce human dignity to the level of dogs, pigs, cattle, or machines.

4. See for example, Seth Shulman, 1999. Owning the Future. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1999.

5. See


Editorial history

Paper received 7 May 2000; accepted 5 June 2000.

Contents Index

Copyright ©2000, First Monday

Computer Architectures for Protection of Personal Informatic Property: Putting Pirates, Pigs, and Rapists in Perspective by Steve Mann
First Monday, volume 5, number 7 (July 2000),

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