Is Privacy Dead?
The fast and easy answer is yes. The privacy our parents and grandparents had is no longer. The privacy we still have in pockets of our lives will not be available to our children and grandchildren. The historical definition of privacy that has existed for centuries no longer exists.
In the last seven years I have written and spoken about privacy and whether we will have any in the future. In 2006, before the iPhone and all the hand held computing that has followed, I wrote a column titled “Technology Advances, Privacy Declines”. As I wrote in a recent column:
“That is basically the bottom line on privacy in the Shift Age and the 21st century. Smart phones, tablets, browsers, video surveillance cameras everywhere, ATM machines and all form of digital records and communications that we so embrace basically are eliminating privacy as it has been defined for centuries.”
The Snowden revelations of last summer prompted me to think more deeply about the future of privacy. This led me to write a short eBook, “Is Privacy Dead? The Future of Privacy in the Digital Age“. It has just been published.
The purpose of this book is to prompt a larger, deeper discussion of privacy and the future of privacy than is currently going on. Through our use of technology, our desire for convenience, our sharing of information in social media and of course the almost mind-boggling depth and breadth of NSA surveillance we are now in a place where the traditional sense of what is private has be shredded.
The conversation about privacy for the United States and for all the developed countries of the world must now move forward. The current reporting and discussion on the media is still on a low and reactive level. Do we have privacy? What is the valid trade off between national security and personal privacy? What is Mr. Snowden up to? Here is the latest revelation about the magnitude of NSA surveillance reported in breathless or indignant tone.
What we must now do is to begin the discussion about what society looks like in a world of no privacy. What are the moral and ethical adjustments individuals must make? What are the new social contracts between businesses, governments and individuals? How do we protect our nation from physical and cyber attacks and still protect our citizens’ individual rights?
The word privacy is not in the Constitution of the United States. The Fourth Amendment, the most relevant part of this great document, speaks in physical terms about the right for privacy:
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
These words were written at a time when the only reality was the physical reality of a place-based world. These words were written 75 years before the telegraph, 125 years before the telephone started to become commonplace, 200 years before critical mass of cell phone users and more than 215 years before there was widespread, high speed internet connectivity.
In my research for “Is Privacy Dead? The Future of Privacy in the Digital Age” I realized that the definitions of privacy, starting in the 1400s were all based upon a physical reality with no connective technologies. This is the point I made in this column “Privacy and the Two Realities of the Shift Age” We now have two realities, our physical reality and our screen reality. For centuries privacy was defined and thought about solely in the physical reality that was THE reality for humanity until the last 100 years.
Of course it is through the screen reality that we have lost much of our personal privacy. Now of course surveillance has become ever more prevalent in our physical reality with cameras in every store, on many street corners [remember how the Boston Marathon bombers were captured] and police departments and toll booths on highways taking photographs of our license plates.
If you use a smart phone, log onto the Internet, drive a car, walk down a street or use any card that swipes your information, it means that others know what you do. This is the world we now live in. It is time to accept this reality, happily or not, and move on to how we need to change our morality, ethics and social contracts in such ways that will allow freedom and democracy in a world of no privacy.