Monday, July 7, 2008

Your Privacy is Your Freedom

This week, amid news - just in time for the 4th of July - that a Federal US judge has ordered Google to turn over the confidential user information of every single user who has ever watched a Youtube video to Viacom, the giant media conglomerate who is suing Google over some TV clips that end-users uploaded, my thoughts turned again to the issue of privacy, and freedom, how the two are inextricably related, and how poorly this seems to be understood by many people who consider themselves citizens of a free country.

Viacom, by the way, are the brilliant folks who stole a Youtube user's video without permission, aired it on TV, and then filed a DMCA takedown notice against said user, for infringing on "their" copyright.

While the invading horde of Viacommies is bad enough, it pales in comparison to the threats posed by warrantless wiretapping programs and their ilk (including the deceptively-named Patriot Act). It's becoming more and more apparent that we all need to take a careful look at privacy, and why it is essential to freedom and democracy.

There is an argument that goes, "If you're a good citizen then you shouldn't have anything to hide; if you don't have anything to hide then you shouldn't be worried about privacy."

This is dysfunctional thinking.

The right to privacy should be protected because it is an essential pillar of freedom and democracy. Without privacy, there is no such thing as freedom. And, as Amy Teimman wrote: "Let's face it: just because we have nothing to hide doesn't mean we want to have our lives uploaded to government servers."

"...the absence of privacy has the ability to influence"

I'm not talking about someone planning to build bombs, share music, import French wine, pick their nose in front of Congress, or other equally nefarious crimes. I'm not talking about the concern people have for keeping their credit card information safe online, concealing their web-browsing activity, or protecting their kids from an online predator. Those are valid concerns, too, but there is an even more important over-arching issue at stake...

If your private thoughts were broadcast on a television screen above your head for everyone to see, its fair to say we'd all be more careful what we thought about. We would be forced to practice thought control to give others a good impression. Mental self-discipline is great, but this imaginary scenario illustrates a critical point: the absence of privacy has the ability to influence.

Moreover, the one who usurps privacy is the one who wields that influence. And such control at the cost of privacy is the opposite of freedom. Democracy and freedom are upheld by the individual's right to form thought and opinion and to communicate within the haven of privacy.

You should have the right to speak to or email a friend privately. You should have the right to discuss political views privately. You should have the right to pray and gather for religious worship privately. You should have the right to check out a book from the library without a government agency tracking your selection. You should be able to conduct online research, reading and communication, privately.

When you have lost these, you have lost your freedom. We're in a time where freedoms and privacy are being usurped in the name of security, and as Benjamin Franklin said, "He who sacrifices freedom for security deserves neither."

Your privacy is your freedom.

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