I’ve already written on the subject of privacy several times, and will likely be regurgitating a lot of what I’ve said previously, but an article I read last week really pissed me off; Three Reasons Why the “Nothing to Hide” Argument is Flawed. It’s exactly this kind of absolutist nonsense [from both sides of the privacy ‘debate’] that makes true progress so bloody difficult.
Their first point: “1) Privacy isn’t about hiding information; privacy is about protecting information, and surely you have information that you’d like to protect.” is backed up by several metaphors, one of which is “Do you close the door when you go to the bathroom?” Seriously? Even the Universal Declaration of Human Rights qualifies the right to privacy with the word ‘arbitrary’:
“Article 12 – No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”
Every other treatise [that I’ve read] on privacy has a similar qualifier, which clearly infers that there can be very good reasons for ‘interference’. This is further supported by the fact that privacy is only a fundamental right, not an absolute right.
Their second point: “2) Privacy is a fundamental right and you don’t need to prove the necessity of fundamental rights to anyone.“. If you’ve never read anything about privacy, you would think that a fundamental right is immutable and incontestable. It’s not. As Recital 4 of the GDPR phrases it; “The right to the protection of personal data is not an absolute right; it must be considered in relation to its function in society and be balanced against other fundamental rights, in accordance with the principle of proportionality.”
In other words, your right to privacy must be put into context with EVERYONE else’s OTHER rights. e.g. Hypothetically, if I believed that ‘mass surveillance’ increases the safety of myself and my family, then your demand for privacy-first puts my loved ones directly in harms way. Therefore, my absolute (or ‘unalienable’) rights to what American’s call ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ are more important than you not being seen with your trousers around your ankles.
But then they go big and say: “We change our behavior when we’re being watched, which is made obvious when voting; hence, an argument can be made that privacy in voting underpins democracy.“, which is a ridiculous stretch. Democracy through a “cohesion produced by a homogenous people.”? Sure. Democracy through a ‘consensus on fundamental principles’? Absolutely. Democracy through “privacy in voting”? Get a bloody grip.
And their final point; “3) Lack of privacy creates significant harms that everyone wants to avoid.” is basically true. But their example of “You need privacy to avoid unfortunately common threats like identity theft, manipulation through ads, discrimination based on your personal information, harassment, the filter bubble, and many other real harms that arise from invasions of privacy.“, makes it sound like organisations and governments are forcing us to put this stuff online. WE have the choice about what personal data we expose online, and while there absolutely should be [more] checks and balances against Governments overstepping their bounds, and organisations like Google should be completely transparent in their dealings, we are the ones giving our personal data away in exchange for convenience.
You’ve probably heard the quote by Snowden; “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.”
If that’s true, I could argue that what most people actually do online is little different from someone who cuts out their tongue. Regardless of whether we have the RIGHT to privacy, it does not mean we HAVE privacy, and certainly not online. If it’s online, it’s exposed, so you have two choices:
- Don’t put it online, so no more online banking, Facebook, Amazon, and so on; or
- Put online only the things you don’t care about losing (i.e. no nude selfies), or can protect in other ways (i.e. insure your bank accounts)
To one degree or another we all trade our privacy for functionality. We all want the convenience of online banking, shopping, communication, and all the world’s knowledge at our fingertips. But did you really think this was free? Our right to privacy is both a privilege, and a currency, which means you have a responsibility to protect it, and a responsibly to spend it wisely respectively. Both of these responsibilities require you to NOT be ignorant, to educate yourselves and not rely on others to do it for you.
But in the end it has to remain a CHOICE! The ‘privacy-first’ side of the debate will NEVER agree with the ‘nothing-to-hide’ side, but like every fundamental right we have (and yes, democracy itself), this choice will be determined by the majority. So even though, as Snowden said; “[…] the majority cannot vote away the natural rights of the minority.“, the opposite is equally true; “The wishes of the minority cannot outweigh the wishes of the majority.” To put it another way, if a person wants total privacy, then they should have the right to have it, but not if that conflicts with the rights of the others.
What very few people address is the fact that my definition of privacy may be different from yours. You may think ‘secrecy’ is the best way to privacy, but I think ‘hiding in plain sight’ is more appropriate in the Information Age. The more that is known about me, the more unlikely it is that someone can pretend to BE me.
I could go on bitching, but there’s no point. I will not change your mind, and you will not change mine. The only difference is that I’m not going to try to shame you for your opinions, or even LACK of opinion. We choose the things we care about, and NO ONE can care about everything. As long as your decisions are not based on ignorance of the subject, do as you wish.
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