Legislation can set a safe minimum for privacy, but people who feel uncomfortable with this level—and who have sufficient resources—have always been able to buy more privacy for themselves. Not unexpectedly, it's often people who have more than average amounts of money who feel the need for more than average privacy. Thus, the idea of buying privacy has a certain egalitarian appeal: those who need it can usually afford it.
In the twenty-first century, cryptography—the scrambling of data so it can't be deciphered by anyone other than its owner or its intended recipient—will be one of the primary tools people with money use to buy privacy.
Just as there are many degrees of privacy, there are also many different kinds of cryptography. Some cryptography protects information that is in transit, but not information that has reached its destination. Other kinds of cryptography protect stored information. Still other uses of cryptography protect the details of financial transactions, or the identities of participants in electronic communities.
One interesting tool for controlling privacy is a system called Freedom, developed by Zero-Knowledge Systems, a Canadian corporation. The Freedom system is designed to let people anonymously browse the Internet, exchange email, and participate on the Internet's Usenet. The system's operation depends on special-purpose server computers that are scattered around the world. Whenever a person wants to send a message to the Internet, ...