In a conversation I recently had on-line about an article regarding citizens being tracked by GPS, the subject of privacy came up. Okay, I did what I often accuse others of doing and jumped to a reaction before I’d read the article. The article was actually a serious look at an opinion by certain judges that it was all right for a governmental agent to sneak up to a person’s car that was in his own driveway and place a GPS device underneath it in order to track all his movements. Without going into details, I think this opinion is slightly abhorrent.
This post is not about that. It’s about what I thought the article was about before I read it. It’s about an expectation of personal privacy, especially on-line. Before I get too much further, I should state that if you Google me, you’ll see that I’m all over the Internet. You can’t get rid of me. Go ahead, Google me. I’ll wait. [Click here to Google Geoff.]
I often hear people get really, really outraged when they discover that some fact about them can or could be accessed by someone or anyone in some way. “How can people be complacent? How can we let this happen!?!” I hear them shout, shaking with indignation and righteous offense. I hear people complain about how much information “they” are storing about you. When we learn that Facebook is Gasp! telling advertisers our likes and dislikes, we’re stunned. And yet we use those store “Club Cards” to get discounts on every day purchases. What do you think Ralph’s market does every time you swipe that card? It tells a database somewhere what you just bought so it can spit targeted coupons at you. I see no evil in that. And sometimes I even use the coupons.
I’ve thought a lot about this over the years. My conclusion has been, “Actually, what does it matter?” I’m not complacent, I just don’t care. When everything we do, think or say is already on the intenets for everyone to see, there is so much information available no organization could ever possibly parse it all. (Think about the relatively small amount of information we had before 9/11 that no one had bothered to look at, most of which has STILL not been gone through.) Yes, I’d rather you didn’t know that, occasionally, I watch Xtube, but what the hell.
And, yes, any information collected could be accessed by the government. Which is okay when it’s our people in charge, but what about when their people are in charge? You know their people won’t hesitate to look you up and pull you in front of the court of public opinion because you read either the Communist Manifesto or Mein Kamf or Henry Miller in college. (I haven’t read any of them, by the way, in case you’re keeping tabs on me. Well, a chapter or two of Miller.)
The only way to not have everything you do, think or say be accessible to anyone who wants it is to go off the grid. I’m not willing to do that, so I’m at peace with everyone being able to know everything they care to about me. If I don’t want the satellite to know where I’m going, I won’t have a GPS. (Actually, I don’t have one, either in my phone or my car, but not for that reason. Just haven’t gotten around to get a phone or car smart enough.)
We love to be outraged by it all, but if we want to be “on-line” in whatever capacity we do want it, we have to know that there is no possible way to still say we have any real right to privacy, which is kind of a strange concept in any case.
The whole idea of privacy as a right is a very recent one in human history. It’s even recent in American human history. It started, like much in American philosophy, as the rights of propertied men and those particular individuals are still afforded more of a “right” to privacy than the rest of us poor slobs. (Poor slobs just being an expression. I don’t mean to imply that you have less money or are more messy than the average individual.) It’s not even really a part of our constitution, although in the 14th amendment it does say, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized…” which goes to the heart of the original article (the one I hadn’t read when I started going off all half-cocked about privacy in the first place). That isn’t, however, really about privacy, per se.
We often don’t even know what we’re talking about when we talk about privacy. Some people equate it with a right to liberty, which is also a relatively new idea. Some think of it as the right to be left alone. Some simply think of it as the right to not have the masses of humanity know they read porn and beat their dog. Or their children. Or themselves.
Get used to it. What you do, think or say can and will end up in some database somewhere. There’s no point in outrage. If you put your name into the Google search engine and anything comes up, no matter how many pages deep, it’s already too late for you. Get used to it or live by candle light.
Geoff Hoff is co-author of the best selling satirical novel Weeping Willow: Welcome to River Bend
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