Privacy

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Why is Privacy Important?

There’s nothing wrong with asserting your right to privacy. Whether you’re planning a political campaign, discussing your taxes, or having a private romance, you have the right to confidential communications. Privacy is a necessary component of liberty. And it provides breathing room to engage in the process of self-development, free from the influences, restraints and judgements of our society and culture.

Here is what some accomplished scholars and technologists have said about the importance of privacy:

Glenn Greenwald

Glenn Greenwald is a journalist, constitutional lawyer, and author of four New York Times best-selling books on politics and law. [More…]

We all need places where we can go to explore without the judgmental eyes of other people being cast upon us. Only in a realm where we’re not being watched can we really test the limits of who we want to be. It’s really in the private realm where dissent, creativity and personal exploration lie….When we think we’re being watched, we make behavior choices that we believe other people want us to make. It’s a natural human desire to avoid societal condemnation. That’s why every state loves surveillance – it breeds a conformist population. [Source]

[Full Interactive Transcript]

It is true that as human beings, we’re social animals, which means we have a need for other people to know what we’re doing and saying and thinking, which is why we voluntarily publish information about ourselves online. But equally essential to what it means to be a free and fulfilled human being is to have a place that we can go and be free of the judgmental eyes of other people. There’s a reason why we seek that out, and our reason is that all of us — not just terrorists and criminals, all of us — have things to hide. There are all sorts of things that we do and think that we’re willing to tell our physician or our lawyer or our psychologist or our spouse or our best friend that we would be mortified for the rest of the world to learn. We make judgments every single day about the kinds of things that we say and think and do that we’re willing to have other people know, and the kinds of things that we say and think and do that we don’t want anyone else to know about. People can very easily in words claim that they don’t value their privacy, but their actions negate the authenticity of that belief. [Source]

Eben Moglen

Eben Moglen is a professor of law and legal history at Columbia University, and is the founder, Director-Counsel and Chairman of the Software Freedom Law Center. [More…]

Anonymity is necessary for the conduct of democratic politics. Not only must we be able to choose with whom we discuss politics, we must also be able to protect ourselves against retaliation for our expressions of political ideas. Autonomy is vitiated by the wholesale invasion of secrecy and privacy. Free decision-making is impossible in a society where every move is monitored, as a moment’s consideration of the state of North Korea will show, as would any conversation with those who lived through 20th-century totalitarianisms, or any historical study of the daily realities of American chattel slavery before our civil war. In other words, privacy is a requirement of democratic self-government. The effort to fasten the procedures of pervasive surveillance on human society is the antithesis of liberty. [Source]

Edward Snowden

Edward Snowden is an American computer professional, former CIA employee, and government contractor who leaked classified information from the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) in 2013. The information revealed numerous global surveillance programs, many run by the NSA with the cooperation of telecommunication companies and European governments. [More]

“When you say I don’t care about the right to privacy because I have nothing to hide, that is no different than saying I don’t care about freedom of speech because I have nothing to say or freedom of the press because I have nothing to write.” [Source]

The first is the chilling effect, which is well-understood. Study after study has show that human behavior changes when we know we’re being watched. Under observation, we act less free, which means we effectively *are* less free. [Source]

Bruce Schneier

Bruce Schneier is an internationally renowned security technologist, called a “security guru” by The Economist. [More…]

Too many wrongly characterize the debate as “security versus privacy.” The real choice is liberty versus control. Tyranny, whether it arises under threat of foreign physical attack or under constant domestic authoritative scrutiny, is still tyranny. Liberty requires security without intrusion, security plus privacy. Widespread police surveillance is the very definition of a police state. And that’s why we should champion privacy even when we have nothing to hide. [Source]

Jacob Appelbaum

Jacob Appelbaum is an American independent computer security researcher and hacker. He is a core member of the Tor project, a free software network designed to provide online anonymity. [More…]

What people used to call liberty and freedom we now call privacy. And we say, in the same breath, that privacy is dead. [Source]

Surveillance makes you say ‘yes’ when your conscience says ‘no.’ [Source]


I’ve heard quite a lot of people that talk about post-privacy, and they talk about it in terms of feeling like, you know, it’s too late, we’re done for, there’s just no possibility for privacy left anymore and we just have to get used to it. And this is a pretty fascinating thing, because it seems to me that you never hear a feminist say that we’re post-consent because there is rape. And why is that? The reason is that it’s bullshit.

We can’t have a post-privacy world until we’re post-privilege. So when we cave in our autonomy, then we can sort of say, “well, okay, we don’t need privacy anymore, in fact we don’t have privacy anymore, and I’m okay with that.” Realistically though people are not comfortable with that. Because, if you only look at it from a position of privilege, like, say, white man on a stage, then yeah, maybe post-privacy works out okay for those people. But if you have ever not been, or if you are currently not, a white man with a passport from one of the five good nations in the world, it might not really work out well for you, and in fact it might be designed specifically such that it will continue to not work out well for you, because the structures themselves produce these inequalities.

So when you hear someone talk about post-privacy, I think it’s really important to engage them about their own privilege in the system and what it is they are actually arguing for. [Source]

Laura Poitras

Laura Poitras is a documentary filmmaker, journalist, and artist. She is currently finishing a trilogy of films about post-9/11 America. [More…]

Privacy – especially the infringement upon and commodification thereof – now plays a central role in how so many powerful institutions in the U.S. function. Those include not only government agencies but also private corporations like Google and Facebook, whose revenue models hinge on the mining of user data. [Source]

Julie E. Cohen

Julie E. Cohen is a Professor of Law at Georgetown University who teaches and writes about copyright, information privacy regulation, and the governance of information and communication networks. [More…]

Freedom from surveillance, whether public or private, is foundational to the capacity for critical self-reflection and informed citizenship… A society that values innovation ignores privacy at its peril, for privacy also shelters the processes of play and experimentation from which innovation emerges. [Source]

Daniel J. Solove

Daniel J. Solove is professor of law at George Washington University. [More…]

Privacy is often threatened not by a single egregious act but by the slow accretion of a series of relatively minor acts. In this respect, privacy problems resemble certain environmental harms, which occur over time through a series of small acts by different actors. Although society is more likely to respond to a major oil spill, gradual pollution by a multitude of actors often creates worse problems. [Source]

Cory Doctorow

Cory Doctorow is a science fiction author, activist, journalist and blogger – the co-editor of Boing Boing (boingboing.net) and the author of many books. [More…]

If you were lucky enough to be born with the unearned privilege of having “nothing to hide”, then you owe it to your children, brothers, sisters, parents, and friends who don’t have your good fortune to help provide cover for them: if the only people maintaining their privacy are the people with “something to hide”, then figuring out whose health, political beliefs, sexual orientation or other personal details are sensitive is just a matter of presuming the guilt of anyone who tries to protect her privacy. [Source]