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May 23, 2002
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Does privacy have a place in society anymore? Or is it incompatible with a crowded and technologically-advanced world? If we must submit to constant surveillance, who should we trust to watch?
posted by rushmc (21 comments total)

 
Does privacy have a place in society anymore?

I think I'm going to play it safe and use UPS or Fedex for important letters from now on. I'm saddened but not surprised that so many representatives (even though it failed) voted in favor of a bill which allows mail opening.

"Solution to what?" Brin asks rhetorically. "The cypherpunks and other encryption junkies contend that freedom will be guaranteed by providing the little guy with masks he can wear. Freedom does not work that way. The one prerequisite of freedom is the ability of the common person to deny masks to the rich, the powerful or a bureaucratic elite."

That doesn't sound like a very solid definition of freedom to me. I prefer calling it: the ability to act according to your own plan (apologies to Hayek). The loss of privacy, in my opinion, limits that ability.

A society with a government spy (camera) on every corner is not private, free, or safe.

And what the hell does Brin mean by accountability? Who is going to be accountable? The government, with their millions of cameras and armies of bureaucrats watching those cameras? Certainly not. Imagine the immense power something like that would give to a government. There is no way to hold such power in check, or keep it 'accountable' (see Government, U.S. for examples). How soon is it before the cameras move from the public streets into people's homes? Brin seems to think that it's a foregone conclusion. Scary.

It's funny that he says people today have a privacy fetish, when in fact the goal of privacy is in part to keep others from living out their fetishes.

One more thing. As long as people are in a free society, privacy is a choice. We choose not to be private with friends and family, and we choose to keep our lives private from strangers. To some extent, aren't close, private relationships the foundation of any society worth living in? Some people have different comfort levels, and today this can be seen being worked out on the web, different people expressing different levels of privacy. So far, it's working. It won't work when our society is given an all seeing eye with which the mob can condemn whoever they so choose.
posted by insomnyuk at 10:19 AM on May 23, 2002


privacy has a place because there are some activities that are embarrassing or people don't want to see.

there are also activities that people disagree with, which is the reason we have privacy and the freedom of speech. express what you want without retaliation, and live how you want to live without retaliation.

and it's also not that having an all-seeing-eye is a bad thing, if it was used for "good" purposes...we don't have problems until things go BAD....and EVERYTHING goes rotten given enough time.

there are also illegal activities that are accepted as normal (speeding, minor tax fraud, pot use) and really only need to be illegal if excessive....but it's just not right to make it illegal only SOMETIMES, so the best solution is to give people privacy, and we're all the better for it.

i believe in an open society anyway....i believe in personal privacy, but any and all government and commercial activities should be open. no need to spy on somebody and then keep your spies secret if the need to spy is obviated. worried about hated-corporation-of-the-week doing something illegal? worry no more!

anyway, privacy has a place. just cause technology allows cops to see into my house doesn't mean they should
posted by taumeson at 10:26 AM on May 23, 2002


Does privacy have a place in society anymore?

No. In fact, I predict America will turn into a full-blown police-state within the next 5-10 years, and as far as civil liberties go, the American people will beg the government to take them away in favor of safety and protection.
posted by crunchland at 10:29 AM on May 23, 2002


I find myself more and more becoming concerned with privacy. Yet, my email, name and usual handle are all over the place. I routinely do a google search to try and see how many matches there are. Yet I am in a bind: I want limited amounts of my information to be highly distributed so my name, contact and website was accessible to those who need to contact me. But this same freedom allows spambots to pick up my info and correlate it with other information [the supermarket card you signed up for, library cards, dmv, etc]. At some point the connection is made that Mr. Foo and mfoo are the same person with foo@bar.com address. This infuriates me. Companies track and sell my data like I am cattle. Our personal data are slaves to the system. But it is ok, because the free market dictates this should be done. And everyone who pips up about this and asks why ar pink-commie bastards who help the terrorists win.

"that incoming or outgoing mail can be searched at the border "without a search warrant."

Holy shit. What about search a seizure protected by the IV Amendment. You know:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.
Remember that congresscritters? What always floors me is who votes for these issues. Lets do a tally:

Republicans 251 ayes 4 noes
Democrats 110 ayes 97 noes

What I don't get is that one of the fundamental issue of the republican party is smaller government, less government intrusion, and local rule. How does this jive with the way they voted? If I was snarky I would call them hypocrites, but let me just say they are misguided. BTW, I am a card carrying libertarian...so I think the Dems are as misguided as well.

Oh yeah, thanks Fritz [D-Disney] for that awesome privacy bill that protects absolutely none of my privacy.
posted by plemeljr at 10:36 AM on May 23, 2002


how did you even find out about this... ?

is there a news story on this anywhere on the web other than wired?
posted by muppetboy at 11:04 AM on May 23, 2002


What I don't get is that one of the fundamental issue of the republican party is smaller government, less government intrusion, and local rule. How does this jive with the way they voted?

You just described what it means to be a neo-conservative! They don't actually believe any of that stuff about freedom, they talk like they do, but just you watch when they're in power.

They only say they believe in smaller government because it can get them elected. They really aren't worse than the other politicians.

Oh yeah, and Ron Paul for President.
posted by insomnyuk at 11:06 AM on May 23, 2002


People have mixed feelings about privacy. There is intermittent clamor here on Metafilter to do away with the right to post anonymously and maintain one's privacy. Granted, some merely want a way to privately communicate with other members, but others are clearly uncomfortable with the very notion that someone might not wish to make themselves known and available publicly, implying that this is "suspicious" and that they must certainly have "something to hide." We hear the same argument from some in any discussion of email encryption, etc.

On the other hand, few would seriously embrace a society in which a television program could be produced and broadcast in which, using the latest technology, random couples were filmed coupling in what was previously the "privacy" of their own bedrooms. The show's producers, recognizing the unwitting subjects' right to be compensated (the legal right to compensation being clearly established and constantly defended, as a cornerstone of our capitalistic society), would send them a check for a standard amount agreed by the industry to be fair. But this, or something very like it, may be coming, despite the "Girls Gone Wild" girl's recent court victory.

Or, to remove some of the issues from the above example, what about a show, along the lines of Candid Camera, America's Funniest Home Videos, and the ilk, called "Nosepickers on Display!" Compiled from soon-to-be ubiquitous cameras in public venues (restaurants, public streets, sports stadiums, bars, atm machines, etc.), you and your neighbors are suddenly famous! (and, again, compensated for it monetarily.) Perhaps NBC or Fox air this show...or perhaps it is the first break-out internet show done on a shoestring. In either case, is it an invasion of privacy, or is any image of you that can be acquired fair game? We may not fuss too much about celebrities being stalked for topless photos to titillate us on the cover of the Enquirer, but will we when it is WE who are the stars?

And if they digitally edit your image to be extra-ridiculous, well, that's just part of the ratings game, no?
posted by rushmc at 11:13 AM on May 23, 2002


is there a news story on this anywhere on the web other than wired?

I haven't seen it anywhere else yet, but both Lycos and Drudge are linking to the Wired News article now.
posted by rushmc at 11:17 AM on May 23, 2002


I think I'm going to play it safe and use UPS or Fedex for important letters from now on. I'm saddened but not surprised that so many representatives (even though it failed) voted in favor of a bill which allows mail opening.

Just to clarify here, the measure PASSED. What failed was an amendment to remove the snooping measures from the bill. So it's on to the Senate now.
posted by rushmc at 11:24 AM on May 23, 2002


Thanks for the clarification, I misread it. This better fail in the Senate.
posted by insomnyuk at 11:53 AM on May 23, 2002


I don't think there is a "natural" right to privacy. It's about the definition of what privacy is:

a) the right not to be harrassed aka "leave me alone" ?
b) the right not to receive tons of useless commercial sollicitation, aka advertisement ?
c) something else ?

Personally I think it's far more important to stop the collection of such data for the purpose of transfering
the data to somebody other then the collector , for free or for a charge.

In other words, if you want to know everything about me, go ahead do your worst, but as soon as I discover that you've collected information about me I think I should have the right to stop you from telling others info about me, even if you do it for free.

Of course there should be NO right to collect information about other persons, because that would practically allow any government or private to put a cam on you 24h.
posted by elpapacito at 12:05 PM on May 23, 2002


Does privacy have a place in society anymore?

I can't believe we've gotten to the point where this is even a question. A year ago Carnivore was controversial -- now we've leapfrogged email scanning and jumped straight to allowing random searches of postal mail. One by one, we're giving up our rights in the name of safety. We shouldn't allow this for the same reason we don't allow random searches of vehicles and homes without warrants... maybe I'm being overly pessimistic but it seems like that's not far off in the future either. After all, it would help catch the Bad Guys, right? Privacy advocates must have something to hide, or else they wouldn't be concerned about it.
posted by ook at 12:57 PM on May 23, 2002


Information is power. Power corrupts. Therefore anybody you trust with your information has power over you and therefore is (or will become) corrupt and therefore not to be trusted. Loop...

In the US, at least, the answer to questions about "who gets to have power" have traditionally come down in favor of "everybody." That's the principle behind the second amendment, that's the principle behind universal suffrage, that's the principle behind just about everything in the whole system.

It is an interesting question, I suppose. What is it that you're so desperate to hide? The fact that you're buying hemoroid medication? That you like to get fucked in the ass by well-hung black guys? What's so embarrassing that the world can't know?

I'm not trying to say that "all privacy advocates must have something to hide" but clearly people who want to zealously guard privacy feel that there's some reason that nobody should know what they're doing.

What do you want to hide? And is it worth giving away that kind of power? Because there are cameras, there are databases, and the information will be collected. The only question that's really up for discussion here is who gets to look at it.
posted by hob at 7:58 PM on May 23, 2002


What's so embarrassing that the world can't know?

It probably varies from person to person...and some people are just more sensitive or private than others.

But isn't that okay? Don't they have a right to be?
posted by rushmc at 8:26 PM on May 23, 2002


But isn't that okay? Don't they have a right to be?

Sure, you have a right to be sensitive and you have a right to be private, but then you have the right to feel however you want. But just because you can't see the cameras doesn't mean that they can't see you, and just because you "feel" private doesn't mean that you are.

The thing is, if you want to make sure that nobody's watching you, you have to have somebody watching to make sure nobody's watching. Go ahead, pass some more laws about who can watch what, and who can see what, and who can tell who about what they saw. Somebody has to enforce those laws. And of course they can't tell anybody about what they're enforcing because that'd violate the privacy of the people who the people that they're watching are watching.

So what you end up with is a lot of secrets, and a lot of men in grey suits who are required by law to keep those secrets. And who will, because who knows who's watching? How much of our privacy will we give up to protect our privacy?

Sorry, but it seems to me to be a choice between the loss of privacy on the one hand and the loss of privacy, dignity and freedom on the other.
posted by hob at 10:17 PM on May 23, 2002


The solution to 1984 is 1776.
posted by johnnyace at 3:34 AM on May 24, 2002


> How does this jive with the way they voted?

You accidentally answered your question.
posted by pracowity at 4:49 AM on May 24, 2002


as far as civil liberties go, the American people will beg the government to take them away in favor of safety and protection.

I rest my case.
posted by crunchland at 5:55 AM on May 24, 2002


Hob, what you're describing is the totalitarian state-- and I don't mean that in the usual Godwinian sense, but literally.

In this particular case that we're discussing, your statement
Because there are cameras, there are databases, and the information will be collected
is absolutely incorrect. Presently we don't allow the government to search our mail randomly. There isn't information being collected, and we don't need watchers to watch the watchers: if some customs official starts overzealously searching packages illegally, anything he discovers can't be used in the courts (and presumably he loses his job). Same as an illegal search of someone's home.

The passage of this bill will mean that the U.S. Government has decided that it has the right to read its citizens' mail, whether those citizens are suspected of breaking any laws or not. This itself will bring about exactly the Orwellian databases and information collection you describe.

In the wider sense: privacy laws aren't there for the purpose of letting people hide stuff -- not directly, anyway. Privacy laws exist because we don't want the government meddling in the everyday lives of law-abiding citizens. I don't want customs officials reading my mail for the same reason I don't want police searching my home: I don't have anything illegal in either case; I just don't believe the government should have the right to be that intrusive. This is exactly the sort of thing we used to make fun of Russia for, during the cold war: oh, it's horrible there, ordinary citizens are subject to random searches by the government. Isn't that terrible? Good thing we in the US live in a free society. That's what makes us better than them.

A side effect of privacy laws is that, yes, they do allow criminals to hide stuff, sometimes. But we already have a fairly efficient mechanism in place for this: if someone is suspected of a crime, and a judge decides the suspicion is great enough to justify it, the police can get a search warrant. The idea is to give the government enough power to catch criminals, but not so much power that it can run roughshod over its citizenry. Checks and balances. They work pretty well.

This bill subverts those checks and balances, giving the customs office unilateral control over what happens to our mail. They can search it, or not, suspicion or not. This is absolutely unconstitutional, and I can only hope that the Senate doesn't get so carried away by the current terrorist paranoia that it forgets what we're all about, here.

This makes no sense to me:

So what you end up with is a lot of secrets, and a lot of men in grey suits who are required by law to keep those secrets. And who will, because who knows who's watching? How much of our privacy will we give up to protect our privacy? [hob]

None, I hope. I'm not arguing that we need secret police to watch the secret police. I'm arguing that we don't need secret police at all.

I've been rereading a lot of my old poli-sci books from college, and it's funny how many of the dire warnings prompted by Iran-contra and Vietnam seem even more apposite today:
Freedom, whether in the sense of from or to, is not a virtue in itself. It is a virtue only when there goes with it personal privacy, autonomy in some degree, and creativeness to the limit of one's faculties. To be free merely to be free is the stuff of inanition... Democratic absolutism, chiefly in the manifestation of the thick, heavy bureaucracies we build today, can be as oppressive to the creative instinct, the curiosity itch, and the drive to explore as anything that exists more blatantly in the totalitarian state.
Robert Nisbet, The Present Age
posted by ook at 8:34 AM on May 24, 2002


What is it that you're so desperate to hide?

That you find the government imperfect or intolerable and your activities or speech or writing are critical of the current system. As you say, power corrupts and I would remind that power also seeks a means to maintain that power.

Privacy is not about letting the world know embarassing tidbits about your sex life, it is about handing over information wholesale to an entity which may decide to shirk its responsibility or its accountability to its citizens and use that information to exert greater control and justify repression to stay in power.
posted by vacapinta at 10:23 AM on May 24, 2002


Surely we can be concerned about both.
posted by rushmc at 11:22 AM on May 24, 2002


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