You cherish your privacy, don't you?
You're assuming, of course, you actually have privacy to cherish.
Do me a favor. Get naked. Now go into your bathroom. Shut the door. Sit down.
You may now cherish your privacy.
Just don't expect to cherish it for long. Eventually someone else in your house will want to, um, cherish their privacy.
I raise this "privacy" issue in the wake of numerous recent Internet-based breaches and assaults on our "privacy," especially the media's and Congress' ridiculously paranoiac response to your iPhone or Android phone being able to track your movements. Over the Memorial Day weekend, a law professor called David Coleman wrote a piece on Huffington Post entitled "License, Registration and iPhone, Please" postulating the legal and personal pitfalls of your iPhone and Google Android phones being able to track your whereabouts.
While Mr. Coleman may know the law, his technological expertise is less than lacking. Even though this was never an issue to begin with, Apple corrected its location-tracking/storing non-problem nearly a month ago (its reaction was more a succumbing to the stupid uproar than an actual problem).
But this whole location-based brouhaha, in fact our whole effort to maintain our chimera of privacy, is pointless and ludicrous.
I'm not fatalistic, just realistic. We have no privacy – and this loss is not necessarily the fault of the government, the Internet, Apple, or any other outside agency. As Pogo famously observed, we have met the enemy, and he is us.
Our anonymous past
Once upon a time, a long long time ago in our sepia-toned past, we could wander about the country with anonymous ease, adopting aliases when necessary, remaining invisible from the government, corporations, our family, other people. This identity freedom – along with the freedom or re-invention – while not exactly spelled out in the Constitution, is a cornerstone of our political philosophy and our independent national identity.
But then, thanks to technology, the government and corporations started keeping records about us. With the invention of the automobile, there came driver's licenses and car registrations and the government knew our name, where we lived and what clunker we put ourselves into hock to drive. Thanks to Alexander Graham Bell, we got telephone numbers, and the phone company knew who we called and when – and they'd rub our nose in their invasion of our privacy each month when they listed all the calls we'd made on our bills. Cable TV operators know what we watched. Our bank and credit card companies know how much money we have, and how and where we spend it.
Everything we pay for is recorded, and everything that's recorded is accessible by someone. You want privacy? Pay cash in person. Just avoid the store security cameras.
Then came the Internet and the Web, which shattered any remaining semblance of our anonymity. Your internet service provider (ISP) – the company that supplies your Internet connection – knew not only what Web sites you visited, who you emailed and who you texted, but the contents of these correspondences. Each time we dial up the Internet, go to a Web page, perform a search, order anything, fill in your email address online, each time we use our phone for calling, texting, emailing or checking out local traffic or finding a nearby restaurant, that data is recorded by someone someplace, with varying levels of benign or malignant intentions.
In "Access Nation," the February 27, 2002, episode of Law & Order, Assistant DA Serena Southerlyn (Elizabeth Röhm) tells Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston) what an Internet detective firm was able to discover about him online:
You bank at CitiBank. These are your account balances. I also got all the Web sites you've ever visited. And, by the way, you really shouldn't use your grandmother's name as your password for absolutely everything. You're reading a biography by Eleanor Roosevelt, you listen to a lot of Beatles and fusion jazz, and you've got what I can only describe as a very weird obsession with The Clash. I know what movies you've rented and pretty much your entire medical history. Oh, and Sumatriptan, is that for migraines?
As a surrogate for all of us, McCoy acted properly indignant that such information was so readily available and easily procured. But his and our current privacy invasion indignation is as laughable as Capt. Renault being shocked, shocked, to find that gambling is going on in here.
We are willing activists in our own privacy invasion. And we know it, even if we don't want to admit it out loud.
In a piece I wrote last week, "Is Technology Bad for You," I quoted from the movie Inherit the Wind, which I repeat here:
[P]rogress has never been a bargain. You have to pay for it. Sometimes I think there's a man who sits behind a counter and says, "Alright, you can have a telephone, but you lose privacy and the charm of distance…Mister, you may conquer the air, but the birds will lose their wonder and the clouds will smell of gasoline."
We make the same devil's bargain when we accept the conveniences of modern digital technology. Cha-ching! The price is our privacy. Will that be cash or credit?
But even more laughably hypocritical about our privacy howling is our devotion to letting everyone know exactly what we're doing and watching and buying and reading and thinking on social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare.
Yes, I know – that's information we choose to share. But once you unlock the door to your home, you can't complain the thieves took things you didn't want them to steal.
Oh – this privacy-shattering technology also solves more crimes, aborts terrorism, gains more news, understanding and information about what our government is and politicians are (or aren't) doing, more easily exposes corruption, fuels global pro-democracy movements and help topple totalitarian regimes. That should help make the technology/privacy bargain less devilish.
Should we abandon all efforts to try to keep personal data secure? Of course not. But let's not pretend that these privacy issues are all someone else's fault or problem.
But nevermind all that now. I think my bathroom is empty now.