by David Sheldon
Quite often we hear people express the idea that “I don’t need privacy because I have nothing to hide!” Oddly though, we notice that such people usually do have draperies or blinds whereby they can shield the interior of their homes from public view!
At the most personal level we express our desire for privacy by choosing to wear clothing and by choosing to carry on our sexual activities behind closed doors. These choices, arguably, are based not in shame, as some have suggested, but in the desire to assert and maintain inter-personal boundaries. The choice, fundamentally, to say, “this is my body and I will decide when or if to share it with another.”
On another level, when people say “I have nothing to hide” do they want us to understand that they live very conventional lives – that their lifestyle, political opinions and much else is more or less the same as that of their neighbors? Or that they would never do anything in their personal lives that would antagonize an employer? Or an insurance company?
Perhaps they want us to understand that it doesn’t matter anymore – that social pressures to conform, employment pressures and insurance company discrimination are all things of the past?
Much of human history has been the struggle between the individual trying to obtain and defend the right to think and act independently from either a tribe, from the prejudices of a mob or from a repressive government. The ability of any ‘authority’ – whether it be a tribal council or the modern state – to oppress individuals has often been limited only by how much information the governing authority can manage to acquire about the actions and thoughts of its individual members. It is very difficult to control or suppress that which cannot first be observed.
In centuries past men who lived in rural areas or very small towns often found that local prejudices, bigotry and town gossips limited their freedom to entertain new ideas or new ways of thinking or acting. Such men often sought to expand their freedom by seeking the anonymity of life in a large city.
In the mid twentieth century the world saw more evil totalitarian governments, of both the left and right, than had ever been seen before. While these governments perpetrated many outrages their ability to do even more damage came up against one natural barrier – the fact that it was impossible to gather comprehensive information about the lives of all the people they sought to control and/or destroy.
Today freedom is threatened not only by bigotry and the repression of governments. The new threats come from both left and right. On the one hand we have the environmental extremists – who think the world must be depopulated and that human life as we have known it should be sacrificed in the name of keeping the world safe for some species most of us have never heard of.
On the other hand we have the desire of mega corporations to gain enough information about us to manipulate our consumption habits and direct our buying behavior. This is aggravated still further by the connivance of big business with big government to choose who shall be the winners and who the losers, who shall be rich and who shall be unemployed, get sick and die.
And what of terrorism? Events happened on 9/11 that have, to this day, not received a proper investigation or a rational explanation. Instead we have been fed a narrative – by our own government – a narrative that seems to have well served the interests of those persons and corporations that want to keep us in a perpetual state of war – a war that can never be over. A narrative too, which has well served the ambitions of those who want to suppress our civil liberties and our privacy. George Orwell got it right. He just got the date wrong!
In the wake of 9/11 John Poindexter, as National Security Advisor, pushed for a system he called “Total Information Awareness” which would have been the death of virtually all privacy in the United States. His proposal was roundly condemned and rejected by Congress.
But since then Facebook and Twitter are accomplishing, by our own willing participation, the kind of comprehensive information about all of us that John Poindexter could only dream of.
But is the “genie out of the bottle” as some would say? Is privacy still possible in the modern age? We will assert here that it is not computers that have undone us, but the failure of our laws to keep pace, caused, in part, by the rather enormous lobbying power of mega corporations, but also caused by our own failure to demand better from those who represent us!
Now we are confronted by yet another privacy invading technology that serves the interests of big business. In the related article on this website can be found the details of how this one could affect our lives. Now is the time to contact our legislators and our state regulatory bodies and demand an end to this nonsense – or at least an opt-out!