Saturday, June 15, 2013

My personal thoughts on privacy

All this hysteria about the NSA spying made me ponder my own personal thoughts about privacy. For me, the most annoying part of this technological era is the spam emails and phone calls I get due to the fact that my private contact information is so widely shared. I'm pretty vigilant about not giving that information out (yes, even if it means losing out on a discount at Target) and I unsubscribe regularly. But overall its an annoyance more than any real threat.

I'm pretty addicted to online shopping - mostly because I HATE the alternative of shopping by foot. So I can live with the fact that sites I've visited generate ads on blogs I read. I figure this kind of information has to be paid for somehow, doesn't it?

And like many of you, I live a supremely boring life. I can't even imagine anyone wanting information about that. And if they get it - they better have stocked up on coffee to keep them awake.

But there are two issues that remain for me in all this. We know that government (state and local even more than national) has a real penchant for profiling when they're looking for the "bad guys." When that gets attached to things like race or religion, I'll get missed. But a lot of innocent people won't. So the place it seems to me that we need to be vigilant is on the issue of what criteria law enforcement is using to profile.

The other issue - not directly related to privacy - is the one that could really scare me. Interestingly enough, its about the one Greenwald "scoop" that has gotten zero attention...cyber-attacks. The reason no one paid attention to it is that there was one giant "Duh" that reverberated around the world when he documented what the Obama administration is doing. As almost every part of our daily lives has become dependent on functioning computer internet activity, its clear that the civilized world would come to a halt if that was disrupted for a significant period of time. YIKES!

But the backdrop to all of this is really more about a HUGE cultural change on the issue of privacy. As we all know, the WWII folks are sometimes called the "silent generation." That's because there was an overall belief that you kept things to yourself and went about your own business. That is clearly no longer the norm. As I've posted before, Al Giordano nailed this one over 3 years ago. He called it the New Exhibitionism.
The democratization of public or semi-public exhibitionism has thrown traditional concerns about “personal privacy” out the window. Who needs the CIA anymore when everybody is out there blurting the kinds of secrets it used to take surveillance to discover? Privacy didn’t disappear because Big Brother took it away. We gave it away! Freely! It fell aside to a greater impulse: the need to expose ourselves in public, to have an audience, and to keep it...

The rest of us might yearn for days gone by when privacy existed, but the impulse to expose ourselves has simply proved a stronger human instinct. To every man and woman, a stage, and an audience: Welcome to the New Exhibitionism!
As someone who has claimed a tiny piece of that stage on the assumption that a couple of people might be interested in my political musings, I have to embrace the label of exhibitionist. There's no immunity for me on that one.

In the span of about 50 years, we've gone from a cultural expectation of silence to one of exhibitionism. Any discussion of privacy needs to take that huge shift into account.


  1. Giving up privacy should be a personal choice. It should not be taken without your permission. I choose to give my personal information to the store I at which I shop. I did not make the choice to have the government collect my phone calls.

    1. In some ways that's my last point. These days we're "choosing" to be exhibitionists. That means that the whole conversation about what privacy means has changed.

    2. It's a bit naive to think that giving up your information to the store you shop at is limited only to the store you shop at. They resell/share that information with many other partners who then resell/share it with many others. Once you release your data to one vendor you are effectively releasing it to all vendors. That's part of the deal when it comes to working with our modern, connected world.

      Frankly, it boggles my mind why people are so much more paranoid about the government getting access to that info than they are about private corporations.

      Short version: you never had the power to consent to who gets to look at your data once you release it in the wild.

    3. I didn't mention it in this piece, but this is also why I "chose" to not sign online petitions. I think they're pretty ineffective political tools. But beyond that - they are used more to develop fundraising contact lists than to actually advocate for a cause. Your email address is worth a lot of $ from the highest bidder.

  2. I just can't get riled up about the government hoovering up millions of anonymous phone data to try to find a pattern or connections that could stop another terrorist attack. Especially since it has proven to be so effective.

    The profiling is the key, I agree. Going after Muslims just because they're Muslims; stopping and frisking black men just because they are black men; pulling over Latinos just because they are Latinos: that is disturbing and needs to stop. Seems to me that the anonymity of these phone numbers is the opposite of profiling. There is no way to look at a list of phone numbers and know which belong to Muslims or any other targeted group. I'm not sure I can make the connection between profiling done by law enforcement and privacy, though. Is that White privilege? I don't know.

    I'm fairly private by nature and not naturally exhibitionist online. I use a screen name and rarely give out identifying details about myself. I dislike that Target uses facial recognition software and RFID chips in their shopping carts to track my shopping habits in real time, but that's really just an annoyance based on personal preference. I employ filters wherever I can. If we want to function in this society, we have to give up a certain amount of our privacy to do it. We're lucky that most of the time most of us get to choose. But then I'm not a target.

    1. Great comment, but especially excellent point about how using phone #'s is antithetical to profiling.