Why shouldn't my life be an open book? Only people with something to
hide worry about privacy, right?
As explained in the page describing
PGP our communications, and particularly our email messages
can be monitored by those with basic technical know-how
unless we take precautions.
But you may say, "who
cares if they know what you say to your friends?"
How about putting
a tracking device in your car?
"Who cares if they know where you
Heck, why not let them install a camera in your shower?
cares if they know what you look like naked?"
The point is that there are many, many things
that nobody's got any business knowing about
somebody else. That's privacy - the right to
an unfettered, unmonitored personal
life which is not subject to the scrutiny of
others. It's about self-respect.
Why should other people be able to nose around in your private affairs?
There was a time (not long ago, either) when we had enough respect
for other people that we'd be horrified at the thought
of rummaging around in their private affairs. And we had enough self-respect
to (politely) make sure that nobody snooped around in our business, either. Because self-disclosure is very fashionable these days in 'modern'
western society we've become a culture obsessed with rooting out each other's
secrets and hanging out everyone's laundry - clean, dirty, and just
People who say they have nothing to hide often
seem to do so with a gleam in their eye and an
accusing finger pointed at someone else. But there is not a person
anywhere (short of a spiritual aesthete) who wants
every aspect of their life publicly
known. Though the media would have us think otherwise,
wanting privacy is not about hiding your dirty
laundry, it is about being free from
others' prying eyes. There is a very crucial distinction.
If you really believe that your life is an open
book, let me ask you a few questions. Do you close the door when
you go to the bathroom? Do you try not to pass gas in mid-conversation?
Do you resist the urge to scratch your genitals or pick your nose
while others are watching you? Do you tone down arguments with
your spouse when your boss walks in the room?
Do you sit a little straighter and dress a little nicer when you want
to impress someone?
If you answered yes to any of these questions you
are a normal human being. You are also - like
it or not - a privacy advocate.
(If you answered no to any of them you need a crash course
in social behavior.)
Everything just named involves a distinction between the private self and the
public self. But these are just the things we'd all agree on. There are as
many other activities requiring and deserving of privacy
as there are people.
As long as we are not hurting anyone, all of our other activities have
the same right to be protected from the observation of others.
Do you have a terrible singing voice but occasionally like to belt
out a tune in the shower?
Do you write gushy love poetry? Draw moustaches on photos of
supermodels? Drink milk from the carton? Bite your fingernails? Bite
your toenails? Suck your thumb? Sleep with a teddy bear? Perform rain
dances in your living room? Wear a superman cape to mop your kitchen?
Have meaningful conversations with your goldfish?
Actually, you probably don't do any of these things (and it's absolutely
none of my business if you do), but we could each expand the list with
a few idiosyncrasies of our own.
Do these sorts of things hurt anybody? Sheesh, no. Are they weird?
Yeah, maybe, which is why we might not want our neighbor,
or the CBS film crew, or the agent from the NSA watching us do them.
The need to have time alone, to engage in activities
in private is not the guilty response of a person who really has something
to hide, it is a place of refuge for our psyche which,
for good or bad, is highly attuned to other's opinions
and needs to let its hair down once in a while.
The stresses of living in society with other people are enormous.
If we never had the opportunity to relax, be ourselves, do something
maybe a little bit weird (though ultimately harmless) we'd all go mad.
So give yourself and your neighbor a little rest
from each other. Enjoy your time alone, enjoy being
unobserved. And don't point fingers at others who want to enjoy the
(With thanks to Katherine Albrecht.)
1. Think twice about giving out information unnecessarily, and opt out of as many public and private databases as you can.
2. Use MailVault and other Freedom
Tools to take
back your privacy from the privacy invaders.
3. The ultimate democratic principal is the voluntary decision made by each individual whether to buy or not to buy.
You cannot chose not to buy many of the services of "western" governments unless you move from their jurisdiction, which includes their extensive efforts to collect information about "their" citizens.
Against such arbitrary power held over you and your family it is sensible to watch those individuals who wield this power like a hawk. In their "public" duties only the cold sobering and disciplining light of scrutiny can hope to prevent waste, arbitrary monitoring of the innocent, and ultimately, absolute tyranny.
For the private individual there is privacy. For the public servant there can be nothing but transparency and constant scrutiny if we are to prevent tyranny.
"Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority. Anonymity is not a pernicious, fraudulent practice, but an honorable tradition of advocacy and of dissent."
- The U.S. Supreme Court upholding citizens' right to be anonymous in the landmark 1995 decision, McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission.