The Future = Now x Acceleration

The Unintended Consequence of a Lack of Privacy

with 3 comments

I enjoy this series of lectures and videos for this class if, for no other reason, it usually highlights what I see as an increasing difference in the reactions of younger students versus those that have been around for while and seen a few things. More and more often younger members of the class tend to shrug while the rest express surprise and alarm.

Victoria’s and Robert’s blog postings highlight this difference for me in a striking manner. Victoria meets this information with heartbreak for the loss of a society she thought she knew. (Me too.)  Robert’s assertion that if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear is more and more common. For me, the fallacy lies in the assumption that the people making the assessment have your best interests at heart. (They often don’t.) But at the same time, I’m not ready to bid farewell to country I thought I knew, too. The surprise and alarm that many people express when they reach this set of readings tells me that there is still an expectation of personal privacy somewhere out there.

Sometimes I am surprised. Seema’s strong disagreement that we need privacy took me aback when I read that. Of course she makes a good point that the population at large is not engaged in rooting out terrorists. The best example of that was the Stazi in East Germany — an organization that took informing on one’s neighbor to a high art form. Of course the modern descendant of that system is alive and not so well:

In Syria.

Akeem states that he does not automatically assume that someone is monitoring his every move online. That he anticipates a certain degree of privacy because what he is doing is so mundane as to be not worth a random stranger’s attention. I think that is what most people believe Including Angie and Kaitlyn.

If, like Kaitlyn, you had never heard of the NSA or were only tangentially aware of it, their vast and sweeping authority is pretty breathtaking. Even for a jaded former reporter such as myself. (And I’ve seen a thing or two.) Check out its Kids Page!

Ryan and Kelli both agree that they have nothing to hide, but Kelli has a similar reaction to Kaitlyn and Ryan is a bit more blasé.

Rachel, like most of us seems cautiously on the fence about the issue while Laura seems happy that we have this surveillance capability to use internationally. (I am too. It’s just when the Eye of Sauron spins around I start to get nervous.) Interesting that when Samuel Morse demonstrated wired telegraphy to a skeptical Congress, the first message sent was, “What hath God wrought?”

The chief executive officer of Sun Microsystems was famously quoted by Wired magazine in January 1999 bringing the privacy party to close.

“You have zero privacy anyway,” Scott McNealy told a group of reporters and analysts Monday night at an event to launch his company’s new Jini technology.

“Get over it.”

– Wired, Jan. 26, 1999

I’m not ready to get over it.

It is interesting to note that although there are privacy laws regarding different aspects of public life In the United States, privacy is not mentioned anywhere

in any form in either the Constitution or Bill of Rights. In fact, privacy as a concept was not even realized in the law until 1904 when New York State passed a law that protected what we call now a “right of publicity.”

By contrast, the European Union has personal privacy written into it’s constitution. Every European citizen is guaranteed that the kind of wholesale data collection that the NSA is engaged in here is prohibited in Europe (at least as it relates to Europeans.)

What do I worry about?

I don’t fear that the government is looking over my shoulder every minute just waiting to pounce. But I am concerned about what they call “mission creep.” I think about the compounded effects of years upon decades of well-meaning government officials planning laudable goals for justifiable ends. Sure this inconvenience today solves a short-term problem, but then it becomes part of the fabric of the way things are just done. Those instances of institutional inertia are hard to reverse.

For an example of what I am talking about above, thing about the current state budget and pension mess. For 45 years, the Illinois legislature purposely underfunded the pension fund, diverting money that would have gone into it to be used for other things. Sure, they got the money to do something they wanted the state to do without raising taxes. Everybody wins, right?

Sure. As long as there were more baby-boomers paying into the system than there were retirees. But now, the baby boomers are retiring and there are fewer of us to pay for more of them. And the retirees have the audacity to live longer now. We’re not all dying a 68 like we used to.

The legislators would have you believe that the retirees are “greedy” and their “sweetheart deal” is bankrupting the state when it was the legislators own actions (inaction) that placed the state in the position it now finds itself. That is, also if you call taking a significant pay cut and then living on that for the rest of your life a “sweetheart deal.”

My point is that, in the above example, the rules of the game are being reframed 45 years later to place blame where it is not deserved. No one knows what the outcome of having this vast treasure trove of un-mined data sitting somewhere seemingly forever will be.

How will our snarky emails be reframed 40 years from now?


Written by digitalanalogues

June 25, 2012 at 5:22 PM

3 Responses

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  1. I like your comparison of the generational views on privacy. There is certainly a difference, and I see it in my kids, often reminding them to not put so much information out there. I too still want to keep my privacy, as futile as that may be, yet appreciate the NSA’s ability to see everything only for the collective deterrence benefit with other countries. I don’t think there will ever be both privacy and surveillance, they can’t coexist; mission creep is always a possiblity when there is information to be had.


    June 25, 2012 at 7:06 PM

  2. Ouch! I have to agree, though it ages me 🙂 I listen in disbelief sometimes to my nieces and nephews as they accept with a shrug of their shoulders what I think is a grave infringement on our rights as free citizens! It’s amazing what each generation thinks is a priority. I guess I have to allow them the freedom to choose their own issues!

    victoria brinson

    June 26, 2012 at 6:42 PM

  3. The Crypto-Kids picture look sinister to me even if it is cropped the way it is. When I did crypto, it was neither fun nor exciting. I would love to explain more to anyone who is interested. (I just had to comment of the picture. That is all.)


    July 3, 2012 at 5:14 PM

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