The Privacy Issues Don’t Either Have to Get Worked Out

Anytime I see new technology mentioned in the popular press, someone will mention this throwaway line:

Well, that’s great, but of course the privacy issues will have to get worked out.

We say that all the time. Digital cameras. iPhones. Google Glass. Facebook. Wearable technology. Massive data sharing. Every tech innovation in our lives, and some reassuring pundit trots out to say, “All the privacy issues will have to be worked out.”

At my local gym, there are signs in the family changing room that forbid you to use a cell phone in the locker room. In theory, I can get kicked out of the gym for looking at a text or an email in the locker room. That’s ridiculous, but that’s the best solution they’ve got for the problem of pervs taking secret photos of other people in the locker room.

I’ve made a number of comments to friends and on Twitter about how angry I am about the NSA data revelations….and the other revelations related to warrantless wiretapping, and all the way back to the Patriot Act.

Make no mistake: I absolutely think our government ought to be using [and developing] the most sophisticated technology to catch bad guys and keep us safe.

But not if they accidentally vacuum up a bunch of innocent Americans’ emails and phone records to do it.

There’s lengthy evidence pointing out that the government often doesn’t even follow its own oversight protocols, never mind that they’re way too lenient for me in the first place. No, I DON’T trust them with my information, and not because I’ve done anything wrong — I haven’t.

Have you ever tested positive for “residue” in a TSA security line? I have. Earlier this year, when I was flying, my water bottle [empty, thank you] tested positive for a suspicious substance. My hands and water bottle both had to get swiped with the mysterious cloths they use, analyzed in a machine. And then I got waved on through. After reading this horrific account, it seems to me that the biggest point in my favor that day in the spring was that I was a middle-aged white woman dressed in blue jeans and a t-shirt.

So no, we don’t have to work the privacy issues out. It certainly seems like we’re not going to bother, in fact. While I am pretty open about lots of my life online, there are entire volumes that aren’t online and won’t ever be. On purpose. Because Western philosophy [used to, anyway] highly regards the individual and his or her rights as an independent being. I have the right not to have the government, or a major corporation, divining and acting on those private items without my permission.

But I also don’t harbor any illusions about the reality of that. So yes, I think Edward Snowden is a hero, and I also think the NSA ought to be able to use the kind of technology he exposed — but ONLY when they can show cause to a judge who has the power to curtail abuse of power. We don’t live in that world today, and at the moment, it doesn’t look like we will anytime soon.