Common Privacy Nonsense

Privacy is a recent, Northern European invention and everyone clearly likes sharing their stuff anyway.

This argument is fundamentally dishonest. It is true that we have not always had the privilege of privacy as we in the English speaking world understand it. In newly industrial Britain we'd often have lived several families to a home. In the Iron Age families lived in a single room together. So our current understanding of privacy is a very new one. There are three issues with this dismissal of the concept of privacy.

  1. It doesn't matter how things used to be. We used to marry and have children by the age of fourteen whereas now you go to prison for that kind of thing. Society improves on itself iteratively. We decide that new behaviours are preferable and we select them at the exclusion of others. Privacy is one of these.
  2. In all of those historical examples one important point is missing. Never before have other entities been able to harvest this information on a huge scale and profit from it. Your information is yours - why should an external entity turn that into currency without your full consent? In the past when we had little privacy there was also much less risk of abuse. As the value of our assets increases we should have the right to protect those assets. Your data is an asset; and in a few years may be your greatest and most meaningful asset.
  3. People are free to share what they choose to, how they choose to do it, and different types of information present different risks. While people may be liberal with what they share on social networking sites this is still an opt-in system (even if many users don't fully understand the potential ramifications of how much they divulge). This is normal social behaviour for the human species, and in no way an argument for outside entities to step in and take whatever information they choose to.

Basically the whole argument is bullshit when your compromised privacy allows someone else to get rich.

It's important for catching criminals and terrorists.

This is as fallacious as the notion that DRM prevents piracy. Anyone intending to do something illegal can hide their conversations. You can build and side-load your own encrypted message software if you want to. The only people that suffer in the case of compromised encryption are good citizens, because the would-be terrorists won't obey the law any more than they will your right to continue being alive and in a single piece.

The fact that your government disagrees is simple dishonesty on their part about what they really hope to achieve. You should approach every public debate on privacy as one that employs euphemism specifically to obfuscate intent.

If you're doing nothing wrong you have nothing to hide.

Arguing that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say.
— Edward Snowden

This particular statement is the crowning jewel of intellectual dishonesty. We all have things to hide, because not everything that we desire to keep hidden is inherently wrong. A lot of information is simply valuable. A lot of information is embarrassing. A lot of information has a social cost. A lot of information can do social and personal harm. Being gay is often no longer 'something to hide' now, but a decade ago it was.

'Wrongness' is such a meaningless term when it comes to privacy. There are simply things that you should be allowed to keep to yourself, from matters of social propriety to your own personal safety.


Time to Write