After 10 years of research, blogging and copy, Groklaw is no more. Pamela states that she’s concerned about privacy, and makes a very compelling argument as to why we all should be concerned. Pamela writes:
I really know, after all my research and some serious thinking things through, that I can’t stay online personally without losing my humanness, now that I know that ensuring privacy online is impossible. I find myself unable to write. I’ve always been a private person. That’s why I never wanted to be a celebrity and why I fought hard to maintain both my privacy and yours.
I’m sitting in a tragically similar situation: caught between the reality of zero privacy and the longing desire to break free.
Some folks are shocked to discover that “anyone” can find you from the pictures you post online. We’re tied together, one and all, in a microcosm of ones and zeros, and yet we still expect that even with our devotion to data we deserve privacy. Not me. Truthfully, I’ve never held on to some novel belief that the internet, mobile devices, or social media, were anything other than a collective melting pot of publicly displayed information.
After this post, Sam Glover, an ardent “privacy” supporter, even admitted that resistance is futile. “[Things are] a whole lot more useful,” Sam said. And that’s the truth. We’re so fundamentally tied to technology, that our attempts to privatize our personalities actually hinder us.
But, I think there’s a common ground. You can have “privacy” online and still maintain some sanity.
First, privacy is perception. In college I learned that “everything is communication.” Similarly, our privacy comes when we realize what information we’re sharing and with whom.
I start from the premise that I’m sharing everything and work backward. That means the things I don’t want shared need to become compartmentalized inside restricted areas. Whether I use traditional methods to communicate, such as writing on a piece of paper), or opt for clandestine strategies, restricting the information offline is crucial. And remember, “offline” doesn’t necessarily mean outside of a computer. In my office, I store information on a restricted network.
Second, privacy is practice. Quite simply, don’t share it if you don’t want it revealed. Again, this principle means understanding what’s shared and how to restrict it. Most mobile devices allow you to restrict geolocation and data sharing, among other settings. Learn how to operate your technology.
Of course, part of the sharing problem comes because of the ever-prying eyes of the government. But, I’m confident that courts would rule that an attorney does not waive privilege because of the NSA’s spying. I outlined some reasons here and here.
Finally, privacy is about reality. The revelations about intrusions in our daily lives merely changes our perceptions, not our reality. Before now, you’d probably never seen a nova star explosion. The truth is that stars explode all the time, but we’re rarely privileged to see one. Our reality changes, and change is rarely easy to handle. Especially when the change is profound or drastic.
How long have credit card companies, supermarkets, or even libraries, tracked our spending and reading habits? While it’s not exactly the same, what’s the government (aside from 4th Amendment issues) doing that’s different? I guess, “in the interest of national security,” they didn’t tell us, but neither did the other trackers.
The goal for privacy is admirable, but most people can’t cut cold turkey. And I don’t think you should. We’re tied to technology. That’s not bad, the fact just requires more diligence.
If you’re going to keep yourself connected, then exercise caution in the things you do or say. If the conversation needs to be secret, use a different method of communication. If you’re worried that someone knows who you are, where you’re going, and what you’re doing, then you’re well-advised to disconnect. Otherwise, accept the fact that the camel’s nose is too far in the tent.