Why I’m still a privacy activist: Even though we’re pretty much screwed

Whenever I tell someone I’m a privacy activist, one of the more common responses I get is, “Privacy is dead, move on already.” To that, I say, yes it is, and no I won’t.

If you’ve ever seen the film Se7en, perhaps you remember the last words spoken in the film by Morgan Freeman’s character. ” Ernest Hemingway once wrote, ‘The world is a fine place and worth fighting for.’ I agree with the second part.” Similarly, if you told me that privacy exists and is worth fighting for, I would agree with the second part.

Why privacy is dead

This is privacy alright.

Not only is privacy dead/dieing, the government and corporations at this point are pretty much beating a dead horse. I think not enough people realize just to what extent we really do lack privacy these days. For that reason, I’m going to list the ways I can think of off the top of my head and provide a few links. For the record, this list is far from all-inclusive:

1) Project Echelon

2) The Patriot Act

3) Various Google Invasions

4) Facebook Invasions

5) Skype Invasions

6) The Post Office (Mostly online, but they can track your offline activities provided they inform you of it first. Also, if you refuse you can’t use their service)

7) GPS in cars and phones.

8) Government cameras on every street

9) Real life to online face recognition technology

The text is a little garbled, so here is what is says: "If you fear you'll die due to a suspicious activity on the trains or platforms, planted by some suspicious person who looks just like those suspicious-looking terrorists in the Post, then chances are your paranoia will take over and you'll start seeing things. The news and the MTA are drilling fear into your head nonstop, and this could activate prejudices you didn't even know you had. So be vigilant - of yourself.

10) Acceptance of and praise for reality television

11) The TSA

12) “If you see something, say something” I mean hello, Red Scare Much?

13) Verichip, who recently changed their name to PositiveID due to public outcry


15) Hell, DARPA even has remote-controlled spy cockroaches and spy moths

Because, hey, why not right? We’ve used up all the other avenues to spy on people.

16) Coming soon, Google glasses!

17) Also coming soon, CISPA

By the way, if you want to find out if local law enforcement is tracking your cell phone or not, click here.

The most baffling thing is, assuming you don’t use any of these technologies, (Which would be an insanely hard thing to do, considering many organizations only do business or accept job applications online now), or work with any of these organizations, if you have a friend who does, you’re still getting spied on. I don’t have to be a Facebook user to have pictures of me on Facebook. Even worse, some technologies spy on you without you even having to do anything at all. (Google earth, government cameras). All you have to do is walk outside.

So yes, I think it’s safe to assume that yes, privacy is dead. In fact, it’s beyond dead, but that’s no excuse. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be fighting for it, and here’s why:

Why privacy is worth fighting for

Hello, remember me? Yup, I'm still around...

For those of you who know your Bill of Rights, you know that privacy is not specifically named as a right in the constitution. Those who protect it use the Ninth Amendment to do so. Basically, our forefathers were concerned that the government would take away rights that weren’t specifically listed in the constitution, so they wrote the Ninth Amendment as a catch-all in case they missed anything. In my humble opinion, they were right to do so, and if I were there in that time, I would have suggested a privacy Amendment all on its own. Of course, technology had not advanced to a point during that time where privacy would really be an issue. Now it is.

The reason privacy is so important is because it falls under what I like to call “enforcer” rights. In other words, they exist to help ensure the government does not run all over all of our other rights. In my opinion, the other enforcer right is the Second Amendment, although you could probably count the First and Fourth Amendments a little too.

In the end, enforcer rights have one primary function: They keep the government afraid of its citizens. Without this fear, the government has nothing to stop it from doing whatever it wants to the people. Without enforcer rights, a government agent could walk in your house, rape your spouse, eat your dinner, and basically behave like a criminal to you. Have a problem with that? It’s your word against theirs, and if you say anything, they can kill you.

The only reason this doesn’t happen is that we still have enforcer rights. You can still have a gun to shoot at someone if they intrude into your house. You still have some privacy, so the alleged agent doesn’t know things like exactly when you’ll be home or they don’t have psychological profile info on you to predict how you would react to a break-in. You still have the right to protest about such an incident or speak up about what happens so others can prevent it. You still have a right to a trial of jury of your peers rather than a jury of other agents who do the same thing.

How privacy works as an “enforcer right”

Aaaaaand checkmate.

So why does privacy work? How does privacy keep a government afraid of its people? Let’s use an analogy.

Say I’m playing chess with you. Say you are better than me at chess. You have been playing longer and have better techniques and strategy. Now let’s say I wanted to even the playing field. So let’s say I invent a device that tells me everything you’re going to do before you do it. I not only know what you’re about to do, but what you will do 20 moves down the road. Who do you think will win that game of chess?

The reason privacy is so important is that if someone has all the information on you, that person or organization can effectively control you. “That’s good,” you might think, “that means all crime will be controlled.” Well yes, all crime except the crime done by the “controlling agent.” Those people can do whatever the hell they please with no accountability. Plus, the controlling agent also gets to redefine “crime” in any way they see fit, such as “protesting”, so I hope you don’t plan on disagreeing with the government on any issue any time soon.

Let’s go back to the extreme example of a hypothetical government agent coming in to rape somebody or do something equally atrocious. Let’s say you hear about it, and want to form a protest. Without privacy, the government can find out about your protest before it happens and shut you down. Without any privacy, you would probably be shut down before you could say a word.

Or let’s say you’re accused of a crime you didn’t commit. Sure, you have the “right to remain silent”, at the police station, but that’s pretty pointless when every word you’ve ever said, typed or whatever can be used against you. Had a bad day and said some less than pleasant things to a coworker? That’s okay, they don’t need a testimonial, they have it all recorded. And you can be sure that those in power will use the information that empowers them, and hide the information that dis-empowers them. So if say a high-ranking official did the crime, you’re pretty much getting convicted even if you don’t say a word. Enjoy your “right to remain silent”.

Anyway, I think you get the idea, now let’s talk about the stock arguments against privacy.

Stock arguments

There are certain arguments against privacy that I’ve seen crop up on the internet over and over ad nauseum, and frankly, most of them just don’t hold any water. So I want to tear into these arguments a little because they’ve been bothering me.

1) The only people who care about privacy are people who have something to hide.

First of all, this blatantly isn’t true. You can care about privacy without having anything to hide. There’s plenty of people out there who fight for the right to privacy just because they prefer to be left alone. There doesn’t even have to be a reason. Of course, there’s also the people who have no problem sacrificing their own privacy while still fighting for others’ rights.

Second of all, if you take it to an extreme, everybody has “something” to hide, they just haven’t thought things through. A police officer once remarked that if he followed someone around long enough, he could find something they were breaking the law on. Honestly, there are so many laws in the books, how could you not be breaking at least a blue law at virtually any point of time in the day?

Third are you comfortable with say, the whole world seeing you naked? Some may be, and others maybe not, but the point is, you can’t just blanket say “Only people who have something to hide should worry about privacy” when virtually everyone has something to hide.

Fourth, just because somebody has something to hide doesn’t necessarily make it bad. What if you just invented something new, but haven’t patented the idea yet? A successful snoop could steal the idea right out from under you. Working on a book? Someone could steal what you’re writing and print it for themselves. Marital troubles? Religious differences? Broadcasting that kind of stuff to the world can make trouble for individuals in their communities.

2) It’s not like anyone is forcing you to use these “invasive” technologies

That depends on your definition of “force”. There isn’t direct gun to the head forcing, no, but it’s more of a “soft lock”, which with all its subtlety, seems far more dangerous.

Basically, it works like this: First, a company comes out with a new technology. The majority of people get addicted to said technology, and then everybody else is just forced to go along for the ride. It happened when DVDs replaced VHS. Everybody who had VHS had to switch over, making all of their movies a waste of money. It’s happening again with Blue Ray now. It won’t be long before all movies are blue ray only, and people will have to buy blue ray players if they want to watch movies. (Or they could get something like NetFlix, but that’s beside the point).

Look at how things have happened with the internet. Many businesses will only accept job applications online now. Some jobs actually require a Facebook, and request social networking usernames and passwords. Yellow pages has virtually stopped printing their books, and who needs to buy a dictionary anymore when you can use dictionary.com? Typewriter ink ribbons are no longer being manufactured. If you don’t have the internet, or at the very least a computer, life is just going to get harder and harder for you, and that’s exactly the point.

You get to look like the Terminator, and Google gets to collect even more information about you. Everyone wins.

So let me make a little prediction with these Google glasses that nobody is forcing me to use. First, it will be very popular because it will be useful and convenient. Then, it will be impossible not for me to have one, because employers will only want to take the time to interview via Google glasses, or because they’ll stop manufacturing regular computers because the glasses are so much more convenient. I mean screw it all, I might as well just go Amish.

3) If you use even one technology that violates your privacy, you’re a hypocrite and nothing else you say matters.

Let me say this once, and only once:

If someone is persistent, then IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO PREVENT BEING SPIED ON.

Thank you. Now I am fighting for privacy not because I have it and want to keep it, but because I don’t have it, and I think we all deserve it. It’s difficult to not use some technology, and everybody has a different line. I’m getting spied on merely by using the internet, as I’m sure anyone who’s persistent enough could find my I.P. address. However, I could get the word out more by using Facebook, which I choose not to personally do for privacy reasons.

It doesn’t matter where you are in the scheme of things, privacy wise. What matters is that you do something, or else nothing gets better. Obviously, the more a person fights privacy, the more it helps, we should all understand that there’s only so much we can do. I don’t blame the people who use Facebook, for example, but I sure as hell don’t want to use it, and I don’t think that’s unreasonable. Except, of course for the fact that anybody who takes a picture of me with their cell can post it on Facebook and tag me. 😦

4) You can’t change anything, so you might as well go along with it

We can change things. There is still time. We still have some rights, but we need to start acting to reverse this, and we need to do it soon. People have more power than they realize.

Even if it is hopeless, we still have to fight this. All the rest of our rights depend on it.

Until next time, keep fighting for your rights.

    • Thank you, and I agree. It is scary stuff indeed.

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