Privacy under Scrutiny
Privacy. A word held sacred in properly run democracies, often under assault from those who favors its abolishment in favor of specious goals such as public safety and law and order. Those are the rationales of authoritarianism.
In the United States, the notion of privacy was birthed in the 4th Amendment. Coming from various philosophical traditions from before and during the Enlightenment in Europe, the notion that a person was in ownership of his or her own personhood and the centrality of property rights to true freedom informed deeply how that amendment was formed. It is neither perfect nor as aggressive as it needs to be to safeguard against those peeking in places they need not be, but its guarantee against unlawful violations of person and property as a central charter was new in its day.
Why then do people seem so intent on their own privacy and so willing to surrender those rights in others?
There is no easy answer save for the universal failing of human nature. I’ve long considered this failing and can come to no good conclusion. Yet, it permeates into the lives of every person.
Religious rationale for a violation of privacy, such as sexual morality and same sex marriage. Aside from societal norms against things such as pedophilia and other such abhorrent behaviors, the principle of privacy would seem to dictate a need to leave alone the sexual dealings of consenting adults. It is an obsessive focus of law and prognosticators of moral doom to determine who is sticking what in whom and why it is right or wrong.
Security rationale offers the need to access and assess the private communication and life of a person’s devices and papers for the sake of nebulous goals as national security. A goal that has never truly defined itself save to say one is not a patriot for denying its need. No person of lawful authority need be allowed unfettered access to anything no matter what good it may do, if it violates the digital and physical personhood of a man or woman protected by the inherent right to privacy.
Market rationale is as crass and debasing to dignity as profit based reasoning usually is when it comes to people. A lack of privacy in the market demands that people are products and their data is sellable or collectible without their express permission. And when given pushback, somehow a lack of access to this data is in violation of the free market rights of those companies. It is a queer dystopia that allows for the rights of an entity over a person but that is where we are.
A phrase that has long stung my soul is heard by most everyone at some point or another in their life. “I’ve got nothing to hide.” Perhaps you do not. But if the person saying that is truly the saint they claim to be, which likely they are not, who decides the answer to that statement? Today nothing to hide suggests a dark taste for forbidden proclivities or out of normal views of the world all the way to the outright vile. If any of the groups I think have a hand to play in depriving a person of their privacy had their say, the noose would be so much tighter. Corporations and those who trade on the knowledge customer data provides hold nothing sacred. The high religious moralists want to know what goes on in the dark so they can burn it at the stake. The governments take power but never return it. In the interest of security or law and order, their grip ever tightens. One day, nothing to hide becomes a reason to take a short trip to a long prison sentence. Nothing is outside the realm of human contempt for another’s rights.
I have much to say and think about on this topic. All of us should. Especially in this day and age when even those we hoped would be least likely to champion hugely invasive laws are only too eager to sign away the rights of people for a little security. Don’t let them.