Some people say they don’t care if someone accesses their personal data because they aren’t doing anything wrong. That’s only fine if it’s a permission-based issue. But no one asked. They’re just doing it. And that’s not right. If you give someone permission to record your every move, that’s your business. I don’t. And not because I’m doing anything wrong, but because my sense of personal privacy is core to my ability to truly be myself.
If someone/something recorded everything we’ve done, when we did it and with whom, and then used our activities to extrapolate our personal philosophies, view points, reasons for being – since Shannon does X with X this means she thinks/is X – isn’t it safe to assume that our choices might alter? I bet you can list three things off the top of your head that you might reconsider doing if you knew you were being watched. We are private people – we don’t use our work laptops to look up porn or shop online, we like e-readers because we can privately read whatever we want in public (Fifty Shades of Grey?), and we use fake names on Facebook to ward off unwanted friend requests. We like controlling access to our personal lives.
Losing our privacy would be like living like a celebrity, but without the glamour, champagne and chauffeurs – we’d only get the paparazzi, the constant attention, the feeling that we are being scrutinized all the time. I think this would force us to live a scripted life, where we eventually fit ourselves into the box created for us, and we wouldn’t be able to keep both the façade and our sanity up. We’d end up living like drones in a sci-fi movie.
Too dramatic? I’m not sure.
Think about our natural response to a temporary loss of privacy and an increase in scrutiny, for example, when we’re asked personal questions in a social situation or we go through a rigorous interview process or even go through airport security – we become self-consciousness and paranoid. One wrong move, or one right move poorly interpreted, and we don’t get the friend or the job or entry to another country.
Now think of that level of scrutiny every day all the time. We’d go into self-protection mode, try to look, feel and sound like what we think is expected of us, presenting a public self and hiding our true self. If we’re watched and recorded and assessed all the time, we would lose our ability to assert our individuality for fear of being judged and boxed incorrectly (or correctly). Over time, we would develop a false sense of self and a deep fear of being discovered. We’d feel increasingly isolated and have difficulty trusting others (if I am covering up who I really am, so likely is everyone else).
So, for those of you buying the line that losing our privacy doesn’t matter as long as we aren’t doing anything wrong, hear this: It matters. And as for the future dystopia sci-fi world becoming a reality sounding too dramatic, maybe clinical psychologist Christina Villarreal’s perspective might shed some light on how losing our privacy changes not only how we are viewed but also how we might view ourselves:
“ … personal information is an extension of the person. To have access to that information is to have access to the person in a particularly intimate way. When some personal information is taken and sold or distributed, especially against the person's will, whether it is a diary or personal letters, a record of buying habits, grades in school, a list of friends and associates or a psychological history, it is as if some part of the person has been alienated and turned into a commodity. In that way the person is treated merely as a thing, a means to be used for some other end.”
We are not things. We are not drones. We shouldn’t allow anyone or anything to treat us as such. Among the pertinent definitions of privacy from the Oxford English Dictionary: "freedom from disturbance or intrusion." Twenty-four-seven surveillance is disturbing and certainly an intrusion. We need to think about how dangerous it is to slip into an Orwellian world, a massive surveillance state, and what we can do to stop it. This is a very real issue. This is happening. And whether or not you are doing something wrong has nothing to do with it.
As for Edward Snowden, we need him and should thank him. “Whistleblowers” help ensure our leaders are honest, have our best intentions in mind and are doing the right things. If we need to be watched for our safety, then the Edward Snowden’s of this world are required to watch the watchers.