The Morality of Spying, Surveillance and Reconnaissance in a Voluntaryist Stateless Society


Over the years, libertarian philosophers have invested a lot of thought into the practical functionality of a Voluntaryist Stateless Society. Using the core tenants of Libertarianism, these thinkers have postulated mechanisms that may arise out of the spontaneous order of the free market. Systems of justice and peacekeeping, such as Dispute Resolution Organizations, have been suggested. Also, a network of contracts and strong adherence to private property rights is widely considered to be a major mechanism by which a Voluntaryist society would organize.

In the spirit of hypothesizing on how different mechanisms would arise, I began to wonder about the moral restrictions of spying, surveillance and reconnaissance and how it would practically function. There are great lengths of literature by many libertarian philosophers on invasion defense forces and privatized police, but nothing specifically on this subject. So, I decided to analyze it myself. I am by no means a so-called “professional” libertarian philosopher and am giving these thoughts from an “average guy” perspective. Also, if there have been such works by notable figures, specifically on this subject, I will be more than happy to add citations from their work into this article.

Within this article, I will attempt to frame the morality, as it pertains to core tenants of Libertarianism, of spying, surveillance and reconnaissance within an established Voluntaryist Stateless Society. I will discuss the practical applications of those systems as utilized by citizens within the society on each other and the application of those systems from outside societal influences, stateless or otherwise.

The Voluntaryist Stateless Society in discussion will have an assumed economic model of capitalism and will be referred to as “Ancapistan”. Furthermore, I will use the terms “boundaries” and “borders” pragmatically as it pertains to the topics of this discussion. I realize that the residents of Ancapistan would only recognize where an individual’s property ends and another begins as any “boundary” or “border” that truly exists.

Adherence to the Non-Aggression Principle and Property Rights

The first and number one question that comes to mind when speaking of spying, surveillance and reconnaissance is whether or not those actions violate the Non-Aggression Principle. The NAP simply states that aggression is immoral and that force is only acceptable in the defense of one’s self and property. Is gathering intelligence an act of aggression? I would say in most cases, no, especially when private property rights are being maintained and there is no coercion involved. However, I would argue that the deliberate defeat of a mechanism specifically in place to protect privacy is not automatically an act of aggression, but could be a violation of property rights after a deeper analysis, which would then be considered a violation of the NAP.

For a clear cut example, let’s say I am your neighbor and I am working in my yard. If you come to your window naked with the curtains opened, the blinds up and I see you through the window, I did not violate the NAP and I now know what you look like naked. However, if you did have your curtains drawn, your blinds down and I then threw a brick through your window and drew the blinds and curtains myself, that would obviously be an aggressive, albeit not so subtle, act of spying.

Consider a not so clear cut case, the same neighbors have a privacy fence separating their back yards and Mrs. Libertarian is sunbathing topless. If the neighbor gets on his roof to do repairs and happens to see over the fence at Mrs. Libertarian, I would not say that he violated the NAP. If the neighbor got on a ladder with the expressed purpose of defeating the privacy fence, looking over and seeing Mrs. Libertarian, that is a little more of a grey area. However, would say he still did not violate the NAP. Mrs. Libertarian’s fence was not damaged in the process and the neighbor did not trespass, thus her private property rights have been maintained.

All in all, I believe it is the responsibility of the individual, in clear adherence with self-ownership, to construct safeguards that are not easily defeated. In the instance of Mrs. Libertarian sunbathing topless, if she wants to have 100% complete privacy, maybe she should invest in a tanning bed. In that case, the neighbor would almost certainly have to violate private property to get a peek.

Questions such as these also inevitably lead to the digital world as well. Cyber warfare is quickly becoming a mechanism to which states saber rattle and escalate conflicts with one another. Considering the broad definition of “hacking” – is breaking into a computer system, for the sole purpose of spying, surveillance and/or reconnaissance, a violation of the NAP? Gaining access to a system, especially while defeating deliberate mechanisms to thwart such infringements, would be considered a form of trespassing, therefore violating the NAP. In contrast, if a person has an unsecured Wi-Fi connection and someone gains access to your systems, then I would not consider that a violation of the NAP.

A great discussion on this topic can be found on A poll was taken asking if hacking was a violation of the NAP and a discussion ensued in the comment section. 67% believed it was, while another 21.5% believed it was a violation only when money is stolen or data was damaged.

Ancapistan’s Defense and the Crucial Role Spying, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Would Play

Spying, surveillance and reconnaissance would play an immensely crucial role in Ancapistan’s private defense forces, especially if state actors still exist beyond its “borders”. Reconnaissance and intelligence gathering on the activities of violent and coercive power structures perched outside of the boundaries is what I would consider a “no-brainer” when it comes to establishing Ancapistan. Before taking a deeper analysis on the morality of specific instances, an issue must be addressed.

That issue is of “airspace”. Rothbard states in Law, Property Rights, and Air Pollution, that under common law, “every landowner owns all the airspace above him upward indefinitely” but that “a literal application of the rule would in effect outlaw all aviation, as well as rockets and satellites.” He goes on to state “The best judicial theory is the “zone,” which asserts that only the lower part of the airspace above one’s land is owned; this zone is the limit of the owner’s “effective possession.””

Based off Rothbard’s interpretation of “airspace”, I would find no moral conflict with any modern applications of high altitude reconnaissance flights or satellite surveillance systems over outside state actors’ territory. In fact, I would consider these programs to be essential to the safety and security of Ancapistan. Surely, if Ancapistan were established tomorrow and surrounded by outside state actors, it would be threatened with the initiation of force. Knowing exactly what the coercive power monopolies plan to do will provide the greatest defensive preparation and highest chances of defending the lives and property of Ancapistan’s residents.

Espionage is another tactic that would most likely be utilized as well. Several moral questions are raised when considering sending personnel into other territories outside Ancapistan. Is sending someone to that territory considered trespassing? Also, does the NAP apply to these outside state actors, as territorially monopolistic entity? To answer those questions, one must establish whether private property exists within that territory. If that answer is no, then the automatic answer to those two questions is no as well. Residents of Ancapistan would not recognize the use of coercion and force to organize society into a “state”; therefore I would highly doubt Ancapistan’s residents would recognize crossing an imaginary line, into what the state claims is its territory, would constitute any moral violation, much less the NAP.

However, if the outside territories were held privately, partially as a percentage of the territory or not, I would say it is very important to be careful not to violate those rights. Ancapistan would be the example for the rest of the world. Just because these privately held lands happen to reside within the boundaries of “the state” does not mean Ancapistan could violate those private property rights. Spies should use the “public” lands and infrastructure to achieve the objective, they should not use privately held lands and infrastructure unless given consent.


Now that it has been argued that, in most cases, intelligence gathering techniques are moral, we must discuss the fact that these same tactics would be used against the residents of Ancapistan by outside state actors as well. However, as stated above, it is the responsibility of the individual to safeguard against these measures. Just as Mrs. Libertarian should use a tanning bed, instead of her back yard, if she never wants to be seen sunbathing naked; the same logic must be applied elsewhere.

In the specific case of high altitude reconnaissance flights and satellite surveillance systems, countermeasures such as signal jamming, signal encryption, cloaking and concealment must be utilized. These measures would not damage property and would make it increasingly difficult to gather the data sought after. The same goes for the digital world with firewalls, code and data encryption and other software to thwart such actions. With the creative and competitive nature of a truly free market, Ancapistan’s resident would have access to protection technology far beyond those developed by the outside world.

All in All, It’s a Good Thing

Looking at spying, surveillance and reconnaissance as a whole, I believe it should be a tool used often. If Ancapistan were to be established tomorrow, litigation and dispute resolutions would play a vital role in the society. A large part of that system would be intelligence, gathered morally, to prove, disprove or resolve a dispute. For example, in the Russian Federation, dash cams have become a staple of society due to high rates of insurance fraud. As a result, people have installed dash cams in their cars and less and less fraud is being perpetrated. As an added bonus, the world gets some very interesting YouTube videos in the process (car crashes, meteor strikes and all the other wild things that happen in Russia)!

With this article, I want to initiate a discussion, answer any existing questions, and/or raise new questions about the practical and moral use of spying, surveillance and reconnaissance in a Voluntaryist Stateless Society. Also, I hope that this article will serve as a tool to counter and rebut arguments against Libertarian philosophy when it comes to its pragmatism.

About Author

Jordan "The Slavic Libertarian" is a is a writer for Along with being a blogger, vlogger and twitter personality, Jordan is the co-founder and director of a non-Profit charity. Please follow him on twitter @SlavLibertarian