Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Right to Privacy

Australia has recently been added to the list of those places were Google's 'Street View' is available; meaning that in a large number of population centers people with cameras have driven up and down streets and taken endless photos. These include not only images of 'public' buildings etc, but also suburban houses, park areas and so on—basically everything that can be seen from a street where someone might drive along. In effect your house, if you live in one of those photographed places, has just become such a 'public place'. I know mine has; I checked.

From some quarters there was an outcry: about how our privacy had been rolled back yet again, infringed upon, violated. Never mind that the outcry didn't last long: the media got bored of it within a mere two days!

And it is true that 'privacy' (1 2) had been stripped of yet another layer. Suddenly people can not just look down on your house from above, but also from street level. The argument that the information thus obtained could be used by antisocial elements to 'case' you place in preparation for, say, robbing you, is cogent and irrefutable. So is the one that relates not to you but more 'public' issues; for example that terrorists will use such information for much larger-scale mischief.

But such is life in the information world and the days of he internet. In recent work-related web researches I have come across information about the operations of 'security'-type forces that appears innocuous, yet when considered some more, reveals a lot about their operations and systems that I, were I responsible for publicity at these organizations, would keep a tight lid on.

But I was going to talk 'privacy' and our 'rights' to it and the subsequent violations of said rights.

First of all, a reality check.

'Privacy' is a canard.

'Privacy' is a concept accompanying historically fairly recent trends toward large-scale urbanization and fractionalization of society—and that only in certain parts of the world, those being mainly in the 'West'. In the 'old days', and even in the current days for most humans alive, privacy simply didn't exist, except at the level of 'thought', and even there it was highly doubtful that it existed, because—like today—vast masses of people actually do believe that there's a God who knows what's going on inside their heads, and who basically peeks into everything they do; and I mean everything.

Not much 'privacy' there, is it?

People will argue that 'God' is exempt from the list of those whose noses you don't want in your business; and that 'privacy' has to do with other people not snooping around where they shouldn't. That's cool, but traditionally that state of affairs was exceptional at best. In smaller-scale communities everybody basically knew and still knows everybody's business, because that's just the way it is. A lack of 'privacy' is essential for the maintenance of 'community'. The desire for 'privacy' is a desire for isolation. Granted: some part of a healthy psyche requires such isolation; but the truth of even such a limited-scope statement may not be acceptable in many cultures.

That, after becoming large-scale urbanized and fragmented, we should now find our privacy chipped away on by the ready availability of images from above and street-level of our residences, is ironic, to say the least. But it isn't the grimmest of ironies, which is this: we are afraid of the wrong kinds of 'privacy invasions'.

Google Maps? Google Street View? Schmoogle Maps!

The likelihood that someone's going to find out something about you they shouldn't know through these is minuscule compared to the invasion into your lives by leviathan-scaled peddlers and that other great destroyer of liberty known as 'The Government'. Never mind whether they call themselves 'democratic' or whatever else they're willing to admit to. If you're worried about your privacy, worry about the gazillion cameras in public places, all placed there to 'protect people' or 'prevent crime' of course, but at the same time effectively tracking your every move. Worry about the bizarre powers of taxation authorities. Worry about the myriad apparently-benign ways in which your lives are controlled and checked up upon, just to make sure that we're good citizens; all these things being ostensibly designed to 'protect the community', or 'making us safer', or 'looking after our welfare'.

The 'privacy invasions' of the small-community have been replaced by those of organized government. This is nothing new, of course. But what has changed is the capability of governments to do so—and they're using this newly-developed capability to the utmost of their ability.

'Privacy' never really existed on any large scale, and with things going as they are, it never will either. And with the lazy-ass societies that we, in the West, have developed and are still developing, the process will only accelerate.

Of course, every now and then, the benign dictatorships of the world will ease off a bit, just to make us feel that maybe we're not straight-jacketed quite as much as we may fear we are.

Sweden Eases Rules on Naming Children; 'Budweiser' Now OK

Like WOW! Now that should make the Swedes feel much better about life.

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