Much hue and cry is being made about the nature of privacy today. Secrecy/privacy is required in nearly all human activity taking place in Status-Quo economic systems. There are personal secrets in intimate relationships, family secrets kept within the family, business secrets preserved for earning profit and market share, government secrets. Government secrets are en vogue. Especially with the Snowden leaks and the president’s today about the NSA’s surveillance program.
Funny, the need to preserve secrets sparked an equally strong need to find a way to obtain them. Millions of dollars can be made from obtaining some secrets. Even personal secrets in intimate relationships can be worth millions. A technology war – also worth millions if not billions – has thus ensued as people try to protect their privacy/secrets from others trying to obtain them.
Some argue that without privacy, whole societies are at risk, as the following (sorry!) long excerpt makes clear:
“Some theorists depict privacy as a basic human good or right that’s value is intrinsic. They see privacy as being objectively valuable in itself, as an essential component of human flourishing or well-being. The more common view is that privacy is valuable because it facilitates or promotes other fundamental values including ideals of personhood such as:
• Personal autonomy (the ability to make personal decisions)
• Worth as human beings
Privacy allows us to make our own decisions free from coercion, to totally be oneself and potentially engage in behavior that might deviate from social norms. It allows us the time and space for self-evaluation. Informational privacy is seen as enhancing individual autonomy by allowing individuals control over who may access different parts of their personal information. It also allows people to maintain their dignity, to keep some aspect of their life or behavior to themselves simply because it would be embarrassing for other people to know about it.
Privacy also allows people to protect their assets or to avoid sharing information with others who would use it against them, such as discrimination by employers, educators, or insurers. The ability to control one’s information has value even in the absence of any shameful or embarrassing or other tangibly harmful circumstances.
Privacy is also required for developing interpersonal relationships with others. While some emphasize the need for privacy to establish intimate relationships, others take a broader view of privacy as being necessary to maintain a variety of social relationships.
By giving us the ability to control who knows what about us and who has access to us, privacy allows us to alter our behavior with different people so that we may maintain and control our various social relationships. For example, people may share different information with their boss than they would with their doctor, as appropriate with their different relationships.
Most discussions on the value of privacy focus on its importance to the individual. Privacy can be seen, however, as also having value to society as a whole. Privacy furthers the existence of a free society. Large databases, potential national identifiers and wide-scale surveillance, can be seen as threatening not only individual rights or interests but also the nature of our society. For example, preserving privacy from wide-spread surveillance can be seen as protecting not only the individual’s private sphere, but also society as a whole: privacy contributes to the maintenance of the type of society in which we want to live.
In short, society is better off when privacy exists”
Many points in this quote only apply to societies based upon transactional relationships taking place under the following conditions:
That describes all dominant Status-Quo economies in the world today. It is no wonder then that this quote makes sense. The majority of people live in such societies. As such, we are vulnerable.
You’re vulnerable because other people are in the same position you are. Sometimes, exposing your vulnerability lessens another’s vulnerability, as in when people earn money for selling secrets about their celebrity friends. More so if your secret results in social embarrassment.
Privacy, when practiced in Status-Quo economies, almost guarantees someone at sometime falls prey to coercion – at the hands of a spouse, a friend or family member, a co-worker, boss, or society at large.
Technology has made privacy old-fashioned. Advances allow transparency into almost anything about us. The problem isn’t the potential loss of privacy. That’s always been the case. The problem is the marketability of that information. Others have explored this. The point here is our private information is a market – a place for people to earn vast sums. Current economies and advancing technology make keeping private information private impossible. The NSA has proven that, as have many private “Big Data” companies making billions off your every move, you’re every feature, and, yes, your every keystroke.
Privacy is an inherent value to human beings. Here’s how to restore it.
As with many problems we face today, permanent solutions can’t occur within Status-Quo economies. Status-Quo economies are the problem. Privacy invasion, like poverty, wealth inequality, plutocracy, corruption, environmental destruction and more, are symptoms. Trying to solve the privacy problem by in isolation is like an oncologist trying to treat throat cancer by giving the patient a throat lozenge because she complains of a sore throat.
The real solution is tougher. But it’s permanent. It requires changing the system causing the problems. Here are the steps:
Status-Quo socioeconomic systems can’t do these eight steps. The main problem is that other people’s private information is too valuable. And the system itself compels people through the “earning a living” game to do almost anything possible to earn money.
There’s an old Eastern saying. It goes: “When the student is ready, the master appears.” I’ll adapt this bit of Zen wisdom so it fits the topic: “When the people are ready, the system best suited for them emerges.” The people are increasingly calling for social and economic features current systems are inadequate to provide. The one best suited for an evolved human civilization is already emerging. When our current systems have been left behind, and this new one becomes the dominant system, it will be a good day. A good day indeed.