Did we ever really want privacy?
I remember generating my private key with PGP in the early days of the Internet. Just as Steven Levy described it in “Crypto Rebels,” it was a source of pride. I knew little of PGP’s origin and how its free dissemination formed an integral part of the burgeoning national and international debate on widespread access to cryptography. I just knew it felt cool to be able to give my public key along with every e-mail. It showed I was tech savvy and possibly had some knowledge that I wouldn’t share with just anyone.
Soon, though, it became a hassle to encrypt every message, and friends started ignoring my requests to continue using it when our e-mail exchanges involved nothing more than typical early teenage ramblings. It was quite unlikely that the girl we liked, the teacher we suspected of drinking on the job, or our parents were ever going to discover our unencrypted e-mails floating around in cyberspace.
Besides, I liked the idea of cryptography more than its implementation. We were just masquerading as crypto stalwarts because it was fun, not knowing that there was a real battle over secrecy occurring at the time.
In some ways, it may be even more difficult to get people to take this debate seriously today than it was back then. Back then, there was a critical knowledge gap with many people still not knowing exactly what the Internet was or what it would mean for their lives. Today, most of us willingly forfeit any notion of privacy everyday. We can’t find enough avenues to publicly broadcast our opinions, purchases, jobs, family lives, dreams, and heartbreaks, which is why Facebook and Twitter continue to grow, Google keeps trying to get in on the game, and sites such as Pinterist find select markets.
As a Manhattan criminal court judge ruled in regards to the prosecution of an Occupy Wall Street protester, “If you post a Tweet, just like if you scream it out a window, there is no reasonable expectation of privacy” (http://rt.com/usa/news/twitter-occupy-last-harris-153/). We knowingly forfeit any expectation of privacy because we don’t want it — we want to be heard, noticed, and regarded.
Moreover, we cannot expect that these sites will jump to their users’ defense when asked to hand over sensitive information. If they present any defense at all, we can count ourselves lucky. To our disadvantage, many of those requests do not originate with the government, however. Most of the daily exposures involve media corporations asserting copyright interests. As more of these websites become partners and members of bigger media conglomerates, we might want to take notice of what we’re agreeing to when we click “I accept the terms of service.” We might be agreeing to more exposure than we ever imagined, especially when we consider the many ways in which one can run afoul of the law in social media (see http://www.guardian.co.uk/law/2012/aug/10/twitter-legal-risks).
Filed under: identities, physical, privacy, virtual | 3 Comments