The Institution Of Privacy Isn't Going Anywhere

Google CEO Eric Schmidt says privacy isn't important, and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg emphatically agrees. The New Yorker has framed the entire concept of privacy as a by-product of 1890's U.S. law and subsequent clashes with technological progress.

Taking a page from Orwell's 1984, a concerted effort is underway to gaslight our perceptions of privacy. Executives and government agencies have declared privacy an obsolete concept, hoping ordinary citizens will capitulate to the simplicity of their propaganda over the complexity of congitive reasoning.

Those Who Control The Past

To understand privacy, one must consider its origins: the first known democracy and the formation of the Athenian state (around 500 BC).

A completely new element is thus introduced into the constitution: private ownership. According to the size of their property in land, the rights and duties of the citizens of the state are now assessed, and in the same degree to which the classes based on property gain influence, the old groups of blood relationship lose it.

Friedrich Engels, Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State, 1884

As a function of private ownership, privacy is inherently economic in nature, and this is why poor and marginalized groups (e.g. LGBTQ) are disproportionately targeted. The wealthy can afford to hide their identities behind shell corporations, their financial transactions behind offshore accounts, and their data behind virtual private networks. Those who live in such anonymity quietly profit off those gullible enough to believe it doesn't exist.

Consider the smartphone, perhaps the most privacy-intrusive consumer device, designed to exfiltrate data, audio/video, and physical location to manufacturers, third parties, and government agencies. For millions living in poverty, it is their primary (and only) connection to the internet. The nature of our global economy has ensured this phenomenon is not limited to the poorest nations, but also those living in relative poverty, including in the US.

Every day, corporations attempt to undermine the very definition of private property through predatory lending practices, by promoting car-sharing subscriptions over vehicle ownership, streaming content we purchase but don't legally own, and selling in-game purchases (aka "paying for pixels").

Those Who Control The Present

As a function of democracy, privacy is a critical element of our financial transactions, legal searches, decency laws, ownership of land, and the sale of durable goods. The institution of privacy has shaped the exchange and ownership of tangible goods for over 2,500 years, and underpins the very businesses attempting to redefine it for themselves. It isn't going anywhere.

We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

In his discussion of why privacy matters, Glenn Greenwald makes a simple analogy: would you give up your right to free speech simply because you have nothing to say? Then why give up your right to privacy simply because you have nothing to hide?

Published January 01, 2019 by Ethan F Grant