Hey Hadley, interesting stuff, and definitely pertinent, is there also a third way perhaps (although one that overlaps with some of what you posit yourself in option two), perhaps titled ‘The Perception Problem’ which is that we work to utilise messaging and social connective technologies in supporting communities to get more comfortable with uncertainty and risk, and that we don’t assume that we can, or ever will be able to design either the panopticon, or completely escape from it either. Or at least we become better at exploring the positive / negative tradeoffs that would result from these different policies.
I’m not convinced too many letters were really ever steamed in the past, and even if they were I think that idea misses the point, that they certainly weren't steamed open as prevalently or indiscriminately / easily as online communications can be are today. At least people would have been more aware of such activity or interception of their correspondence as a result of the tangibility of that approach, tangibility being something that web technologies and government policy both seem to struggle with, almost as much as ‘a sense of security’.
My perception is that there were definitely more dark corners where people could plot in times gone by, in spite of the recent troubling events, we undoubtedly live now in far safer, and politically and communicatively more democratic and transparent times now, at least in this country, and at least as things presently stand. Government, can definitely take the credit for much of that, and policy just as much as tech. can be attributed as the tools that we’ve used as a society to achieving that, but I’d hate to see this latest ‘crisis’ used as another excuse by government to impinge civil liberties, without at least much more transparent debate and discussion, than say that that occurred around the time of the Snooper’s Charter etc. At what point do we also decide that policy, or technology are the wrong tools to solve this problem, and what liberties and privacy are we prepared to trade to eliminate ever more marginal progress in eliminating these threats?
Perhaps we all, individually and at a community level need to develop a greater resilience in the face of ‘threats’ and develop ways of using tech to build and support individual and societal resilience in the face of uncertainty / tragedy, rather than expecting ‘the government to sort it’, — cultivating our own public spaces, or even dark corners to discuss such matters and develop collective solutions to them, rather than ceding that responsibility to ever more omnipotent government or ever more invisible or intangible technology. I’m also not sure that an open system or a world where the government could read all our messages would solve the problem, misinformation, white noise and counter-intelligence not being new problems… and certainly modern day media seems as guilty at amplifying the perceived threat of marginal / extremist voices, as it does as holding elected government to account. I’m also not sure how many people, myself included understand end-to-end encryption, or would be prepared to.
I realise that this probably doesn’t address, or even help that much the more specific and technical aspects of what you refer to here or that the WC3 are clearly debating / working on, and I’m also aware that far greater minds than mine devote themselves to debating both the social and technological aspects of this problem, but I can’t help but feel that accepting that this is an unsolvable problem, and moving on to look critically at how we can use the tools of technology, and of policy to create a society or an environment where we can live more comfortably with uncertainty / injustice is as important as trying to create an environment where we eliminate it or hold it to account.