Tuesday, March 15, 2016

What's So Great About Privacy?

As more and more of our lives become digital, we are instantly profiled by advertising agencies based on our internet usage. Target was able to successfully guess that a teenage girl was pregnant before she told a soul, and sent a catalogue to her address, which her father found. A few days later, she admitted to her disbelieving father that she was pregnant. Target did this all through the usage of completely legal internet cookies. There was no blatant breach of privacy. However, in this case, simply knowing enough about a person’s buying habits compromised a part of that person’s privacy.

Why is privacy such a big deal? There are some pretty strong arguments against it. I’m willing to bet that with about the same accuracy as guessing when someone is pregnant based on shopping habits, we could guess when someone is emotionally and mentally unstable enough to be dangerous. How many terrorist attacks could we stop if we knew exactly what the terrorists were communicating with each other? Is the protection of someone’s secrets really enough to put the entire community or city or country in jeopardy?

Books like 1984 and the Hunger Games portray dystopian societies where the government is involved in every aspect of a person’s life so that privacy does not exist. By controlling and gathering all information, these governments maintain absolute power over their citizens. Although the main characters of these stories and those similar find a sliver of secrecy to hide from the government and fight against “Big Brother”, they would have never had the opportunity if the government truly eradicated any type of privacy.

In a very elaborate way, they describe the issue of stability versus privacy, of secrecy versus security.

Anonymous uses digital privacy to carry out vigilante cyber acts.

If no privacy means reduced crime, then why do we fight so hard to maintain it?

Truthfully, most of us have trivial secrets that don’t concern national security. However, it is still absolutely valuable. Privacy is the root of real agency. It keeps us mentally sane; imagine if everyone around you knew everything about you. Creativity would be stifled. Vulnerability would mean nothing, hurting the possibility of developing genuinely deep relationships. Sacred things would cease to be as special. A person’s beliefs and opinions would be heavily affected and perhaps never fully develop like they should.

Our brains think to themselves on purpose. Our ability to talk to ourselves inside our heads and have a private space not only allows us to be individuals, but allows us to make mistakes and have a place to wallow and to grow without any outside judgment. We are naturally designed to have parts of ourselves that are private until we choose to allow them to be seen or understood.

Privacy is an unalienable right, and rightfully so. Some of our rights give us the power to hurt others if we so choose - speech, arms, capitalism - privacy is no different, and therefore should not be lost in the pursuit of security.

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