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Privacy in the Internet Age: An Idea Whose Time has Come

Privacy in the Internet Age: An Idea Whose Time has Come

We didn't love freedom enough. - Solzhenitsyn

How many more times have we seen the work “privacy” in the past couple years, as compared with any time before?

Each time, the two perpetual voices answer:

“We need privacy and we’re losing it and we’re not fighting enough to keep it.”

“Why do you need privacy anyway? Are you doing something wrong?”

Like many largescale cultural phenomena, privacy is something that just hasn’t seen its day because it was never a significant consideration for a majority of the population.

Invasion of privacy is different today. It's easy to enter and control the private spheres of others to profound extents. Anyone can do it en masse. In the past invading privacy (spying) was conducted instance by instance, with each one requiring a lot of work and sophisticated, large technology and people to operate it. Instances of spying were serious but rare enough that only the politically active worried about it. Similarly, record keeping of private information was instance-based and not easy to spread, and usually any item of privacy was given directly by an individual to some authority.

While privacy has been increasingly breeched largescale since the web began, since 2010 the universal adoption of insecure smartphones and computer operating systems, combined with insecure social media and browsers, has transformed the landscape to a point where invasion of privacy now affects everyone.

At this point, it is only a matter of time before horror stories of information misuse scare the public into action. The same things about this tech that a small percentage has known forever are the things that are avoided by the majority because they simply haven't faced the harm.

Recently, the Cambridge Analytica scandal erupted, and the ACTIVE public response was stronger than any previous big tech scandal. The WannaCry event a year ago also evinced a lot of netizens becoming increasingly aware of security, but not like the current Facebook event. Smaller stories over the past couple of years were even smaller in effect: including the Air BNB video cameras and spyware in children's dolls.

In this all is a common lesson for early-understanders. Although voicing your understanding while the majority is still ignorant will get you nothing but argument, criticism, mocking and maybe distrust, eventually the majority will be unavoidably confronted with information about harms involved and will adopt the same position.

For privacy, this means that when people argue, "Why do you need privacy anyway if you’re not doing anything wrong?” they don't actually mean it. Of course, everyone, when they understand what privacy is, values privacy. It's just that most people don't have an understanding of what privacy is in 2018.

That is why they aren't really insane for installing in their homes, cars, and everywhere else listening and tracking devices that record their lives 24-hours-a-day, while they counsel their child on how they should act after they've done something wrong, while they make business deals, while they help their unfortunate friends out, while they go to bed with their spouses.

An explanation of the value of privacy is long and complicated, though (although not anything beyond a regular person's understanding for those with the time and energy). I won't repeat the important points, but a great summary is Gavison's "Privacy and the Limits of Law."

http://courses.ischool.berkeley.edu/i205/s10/readings/week11/gavison-privacy.pdf

I will just add a few points that aren't mentioned there:

Fraud and blackmail

We don't know how many decisions are made that affect us, influenced by blackmail because authorities have information on politicians, CEOs of important businesses, diplomats, witnesses, etc.

Creation, innovation and works

While most people don't require a huge private sphere for these, they do enjoy the things created by people who do require them. All important creators (writers, musicians, artists, film makers, inventors, developers) require privacy to be free, experience, think, try things out, and develop new works without anyone knowing of their failures or progress. Without privacy, these things will simply not be done - love, creation, and giving replaced by what we might guess would be destructive frustration and hate.

Free discussion, exploration, exploration, experience

These things all require that a person's actions, sayings, etc, are not watched and recorded to be later exploited, in or out of context, to damage a person.

Real bonds

Family, friends, and strangers who need help or advice are relationships that require privacy, so that individuals can make decisions and actions irrespective of the ignorantly blind State. When a child commits a crime, when a friend is wrongfully accused, when an innocent business is being shut down because of a malicious official, when a person seeks refuge or counsel after committing a non-violent "crime," such as, until recently, using marijuana or being homosexual, when a girl needs an abortion, when an innocent person is released after spending an unjust jail sentence and tries to get a job with a criminal record, and countless other things that are the most important actions in our lives, loss of privacy means people cannot make their own decisions, watched by the State, and these human relationships must break down. The State attempts by force to take the role of family and guide, but it will never care about individuals, and it can never take the place of the people in your life.

Actual choice

Loss of privacy and personal rights means a shift from a decision, when confronted by a friend, between yourselves and the State to a decision between yourself and the State. While you may be loyal and willing to support your friend or family, what good is that if you lose yourself? And thereby the State, in removing privacy, makes every decision you make in support of others, a decision you make for or against itself, to your jeopardy.

Solitude

Without an inalienable, un-choseable (can’t give it up no matter what) right to privacy, there is no escape from the eyes of others. It is 24/7, lifetime monitoring.

Breachability

So far, and probably forever, there is no way to secure information. States, hospitals, businesses and any other agency that collects sensitive, personal information cannot keep it safe, particularly as long as they keep it on a computer. In the absense of privacy protections, any and all information is collected and stored forever, and is never secure – at any moment, it could be hacked or leaked or otherwise publicized, after which there is no privacy available.

The rights of others

Any doubt about the absolute rights to privacy (that others do not have the right to access your private space, period) is support for others to access your private space and do what with it they will.

Exacerbation, progression

Removals of rights protections tend to place power over individuals in the hands of authorities of the State (out of the hands of individuals themselves). This increases the amount of people working for the State, while abuses by State agents and workers increase, since people with these positions have greater control and power over their own and others privacy, security, and rights. Overall, it tends towards ever-worsening social conditions. One could argue the best days of the Soviet Union were the first few days, when there were only a few government officials.

When privacy is null, political and value opinions are known to all, so those that favor the authority figures that know about them (a government, for example) are supported, while those that oppose an authority or its doings are disincetivized or punished by that authority. It’s one thing to say that if everyone’s votes couldn’t be private, we’d simply have the same system, but public, but another thing when in actual life those displeasing votes are seen by people who have work, legal, or other power leverages/control over those voters.

Work waste

In a society that has many laws and regulations, every breach or possible breach requires a lot of work to process. When non-meaningful (or beneficial) breaches are made in a society that has privacy, society is not encumbered (unless and until an actual problem arises). In a society with no privacy (or reduced privacy), more breaches and possible breaches present, and since each requires the work of processing and treating it, productive energy is sapped by the State, tending towards a system serviced by people rather than vice versa.

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  pageloads since August 19 2017