Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Expectation of Privacy

One of the hot topics in the U.S. these days is the erosion of personal privacy. In a time when we are observed by more than 30 million surveillance cameras in the United States alone, when we bare our deepest secrets on Facebook, express our views in blogs, fill out "warranty cards" for our purchases which request information totally unrelated to the repair of an appliance, what secrets are left? Where is our cherished "right to privacy" (which, by the way, is not specifically guaranteed by the Constitution)?

If your name isn't John Smith, you have pretty much no chance of anonymity, much less privacy, any more. I spend quite a bit of time considering what to write in this blog in order to maintain some degree of privacy and personal safety (there being all sorts of people who will take offense at some of the positions I take on issues, particularly those relating to a specific religion). I know that my picture will be taken by a surveillance camera each time I use an ATM, enter and leave my workplace, conduct a bank transaction, check out at the supermarket, check in at a hotel, enter many buildings, and cross many streets.

The degree of privacy and anonymity I can retain is partly under my control, and partly beyond it. To the extent that I share information about myself in this blog, I've chosen to expose that information and am responsible for it and the consequences. I would never think of posting revealing or embarrassing photos of myself in this blog or on a Facebook page. But to the extent that I'm photographed by surveillance cameras, or that credit bureaus and data brokers trade and sell all sorts of data about me (generally without my consent), I've lost control over my personal data and what use may be made of it. The lesson: there's some personal information we can control; most of it we can't. The task is to be judicious about what information we choose to share with others.

There's a great song by Robbie Fulks titled "I Like Being Left Alone" that pretty much summarizes my feelings. I enjoy interaction with the friends I choose, and I like expressing my opinions through blogging. But, as Robbie Fulks sings,

"I like chocolate pie, clear blue sky,
"A glass of Cotes du Rhone.
"I like summer, I like fall,
"I like music, but most of all -
"I like being left alone."

Enjoy your privacy...or that part of it still left you by the telemarketers and public opinion pollsters.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.



The Mistress of the Dark said...

What I find odd, is that our health issues are private but everything about our finances can be spread far and wide without our even knowing.

zero_zero_one said...

Our family signed up to something which in theory means that we can't be cold-called or offered services etc over the phone. No-one should be able to call us up and start their conversations with, "Uh, hello, am I speaking to a Mister John Smith?" (pronounced "Yon Smeef").

Invariably though, they do. I can't remember which company it was who called this one time, but I remember the start of our brief conversation...

"Am I speaking to a Mister John Smith?"
"Who's calling please?"
"Am I speaking to Mister Smith?"
"Who's calling please?"
"(slight pause) Hello sir, I'm calling from Company X and -"
"I don't have any dealings with your company."
"Er, that's correct sir, but I'm calling to -"
"Excuse me, how did you get this number? This phone number is not supposed to be listed for these types of calls."
"Er, I'm sorry sir, for privacy reasons I can't tell you that information."

How stupid of me.

Jean-Luc Picard said...

Everybody wants to know everything about us.

Serina Hope said...

I like that song. I am not a terribly private person, I tend to share too much most of the time. But I definetly feel you on this.

Mike said...

I'd tell you something I think you need to know but I think they're watching me. Gotta' go!!!!!