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Understanding Privacy 164

privacyprof writes "Slashdot readers familiar with Professor Daniel J. Solove's essay, 'I've Got Nothing to Hide and Other Misunderstandings of Privacy,' might be interested in his new book, Understanding Privacy, which develops many of the ideas in that essay. As rapidly changing technology makes information increasingly available, there has been a great struggle to define privacy, with many conceding that the task is virtually impossible. The book argues there are multiple forms of privacy, related to one another by 'family resemblances.' It explains the framework for understanding privacy which was briefly discussed in the 'Nothing to Hide' essay. The book covers the framework in greater depth and explores how it applies to a wide array of privacy issues, such as data mining, surveillance, data security, and consumer privacy. Chapter 1 is available for free download."
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Understanding Privacy

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  • by fyngyrz ( 762201 ) * on Tuesday June 17, 2008 @07:40PM (#23832365) Homepage Journal

    Personally, I think the idea that privacy is difficult to comprehend is overblown. Privacy is not at all difficult to define, understand, or to properly address in either the social or political sense.

    Privacy is defined by the set of social boundaries dealing with information in any one society that we are expected not to cross. How well you respect privacy is essentially whether you elect to cross those boundaries against those expectations.

    Here is my essay on privacy []; see if reading it doesn't nail the issue for you in very short order.

    There is literally no need to invoke "multiple kinds" or "family resemblances", to mistake the hardening of a boundary (increasing difficulty of access) or the softening of it (as in data becoming easier to get to) for the idea that there actually is one, or to imagine that digital data is somehow qualitatively different than a letter. That's just making a ridiculous mess out of things that weren't all that complicated to begin with.

    Further, it isn't that there has been a "great struggle" to define privacy in a practical sense; any reasonably intelligent citizen knows perfectly well what it is, and they know when it has been violated, too. The problem is that the government (in the USA, at least) has found it to its great advantage to ignore privacy at every level it can; and that we are nearly powerless to do anything about it. That's what is causing all the fuss, and deservedly so.

    • by fyngyrz ( 762201 ) *

      Darn it, because I was thinking of information issues, I typoed my own definition. What I meant to say was:

      Privacy is defined by the set of social boundaries dealing with ACCESS in any one society that we are expected not to cross.
      • by Aussenseiter ( 1241842 ) on Tuesday June 17, 2008 @07:49PM (#23832485)

        Privacy is defined by the set of social boundaries dealing with ACCESS in any one society that we are expected not to cross.
        So basically, my kitten society has no business venturing into your private blender?
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward
          The best reasoning I've ever heard for privacy:

          "Privacy rights are not to protect you from the government you know, they're to protect you from the future government you don't."
      • But it's a little complicated more than just pure societal rules. There's also the question of what I individually choose to disclose and what not to disclose. I'm free to have privacy in my bedroom, just as you're free to be an exhibitionist. Maybe society sets the outer limits of what we can declare to be private, but we still make individual choices within those boundaries.

        I personally think I have nothing to hide. That's why I use my real name on Slashdot. /sarcasm.
        • by fyngyrz ( 762201 ) *

          What you're talking about is scope and grant of access. They're still social boundaries; it isn't a matter of law by nature. That is simply hardening boundaries — not creating them. I encourage you to read the essay I linked; I talk about issues of large scope and small scope there, as well as grant of access and the (ir)relevance of hardening boundaries, directly addressing your points.

        • by Drakonik ( 1193977 ) <> on Tuesday June 17, 2008 @08:49PM (#23833117) Homepage
          So if you have nothing to hide, you would be perfectly comfortable with "THEM" listening/watching/observing all communications made between you and: your friends; your family; your significant other (God knows I don't want some NSA operative reading some of the pet names I have for mine)? You're okay with them having access to all information relating to you, including name, age, sexual orientation, date of birth, blood type, medical history, insurance history, credit history, dating history, and I would go on, but I'm having trouble thinking of more personal things "THEY" would be interested in.

          There's a concept known as the "slippery slope" that basically mirrors the saying, "Give X and inch, and they'll take a mile." If we let "THEM" listen in on phone conversations so that "THEY" can prevent terrorism, it'll be a matter of time until we're asked to endure the wiretapping because there are 'harmful dissidents' in the country, trying to harm the nation. Actually, for a real-world tangible example where you can see the effects of allowing your government to invade your privacy, look at China. Yeah, you can call semi-Godwin's Law on me for citing Communists, but tell me that I'm wrong. They claim that the censorship, the firewall, and all that is to help keep the country safe and sane, but who really believes that?
    • by nebaz ( 453974 ) on Tuesday June 17, 2008 @07:49PM (#23832483)
      This is essentially saying privacy is privacy. "The set of social boundaries ... that we are expected not to cross" really varies from person to person. In fact, if you use this definition, if people accept warrentless wiretapping as the norm, then social expectation will dictate that there really aren't any privacy violations going on, which is a neat little way to define away privacy erosions. What social boundaries are we talking about here, and who is the "we" that are expected not to cross them?
      • by dotancohen ( 1015143 ) on Tuesday June 17, 2008 @08:04PM (#23832647) Homepage

        This is essentially saying privacy is privacy. "The set of social boundaries ... that we are expected not to cross" really varies from person to person. In fact, if you use this definition, if people accept warrentless wiretapping as the norm, then social expectation will dictate that there really aren't any privacy violations going on, which is a neat little way to define away privacy erosions. What social boundaries are we talking about here, and who is the "we" that are expected not to cross them?
        I have argued with people in the past who don't care when I show them the keylogger on their Windows computers. They bank online, and I show them that there is a keylogger installed, and they are so stubborn in the mindset that "I don't know what it is, so it won't hurt me and please I don't want to learn". This is actually normal, as I've found this behaviour in many people. It's maddening. These are people that must be saved from themselves.

        Sometimes I think that simple GUI computer interfaces like KDE or Windows did to the PC what the automatic transmission did to the automobile. The bar of entry was lowered so low that now the complete idiots of the world can operate the technology and get themselves killed.
        • by jav1231 ( 539129 )
          I would think the inclusion of messages like "Are you sure you want to shutdown?" would be a clear indication of how low Windows set the bar.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by icebrain ( 944107 )
            There's nothing wrong with asking for confirmation of major commands like shut down, delete, fdisk, etc., or having them require two separate steps to complete. This is especially true in a GUI, where it's much easier to accidentally choose the wrong command--as opposed to a command prompt, for instance.

            Now if only they'd put those little retaining screws on power cords like they do on the monitor cable... I've accidentally kicked the power cord out at work a couple times. The smart thing would be to rear
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by b4upoo ( 166390 )
          Perhaps they should not be saved from themselves. Being wiped out financially just might alter their value systems in such a way as they now VALUE UNDERSTANDING instead of shallowness.
        • people who don't care when I show them the keylogger on their Windows computers. (...) It's maddening.
          Why would that be maddening to you? I.e. what's it to you?
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by joto ( 134244 )

          Do you seriously believe that drivers who are used to automatic transmission are involved in more accidents? I've never heard of any such statistic, and it seems rather implausible to me. The main difficulty in driving safely is to (a) understand the rules of traffic (b) interpret what you see fast enough to be able react in time and drive safely (c) maintain awareness.

          Being able to handle a manual transmission is mainly an automatic motor-skill, something that doesn't require thought; and if you can lea

    • Sorta.... (Score:2, Interesting)

      by dwayner79 ( 880742 )
      Agreed that the majority of people understand privacy, though not all (mentally challenged, etc.).

      Disagree on the US government. Frankly, the type of data the US Government works with is mostly public knowledge anyway. I do not see the major infringement on privacy from the US Government. I see other terrible failures wrt individual rights (i.e. Bush's disregard for Habeus Corpus), but privacy seems a minor one.
      • Re:Sorta.... (Score:5, Informative)

        by fyngyrz ( 762201 ) * on Tuesday June 17, 2008 @08:02PM (#23832631) Homepage Journal

        Frankly, the type of data the US Government works with is mostly public knowledge anyway.

        Yes? What you say on the phone? The amounts, times and participants in your banking transactions? Your medical records? Your email? Your borrowings from the library? Your purchases from Amazon? Your credit card records? These comprise "public knowledge"?

        I'm sorry, but I have to call your position the definitive "head in the sand" position. I cannot agree, even slightly.

      • by joto ( 134244 )

        Frankly, the type of data the US Government works with is mostly public knowledge anyway.

        Nope. It isn't. Sure, lots of it might be accessible in roundabout ways. Your phone-call history is stored at the phone company for billing reasons, but it's not public knowledge, because not everybody has access to the data. Your credit card purchases is stored at the credit card issuer for billing purposes, but that's not public knowledge either. And your foreign travel history might be available by accumulating dat

    • Agreed, it's not that complex. I didn't RTFE/B, nor your FE, but we talked about this at length back in my grad school. It comes down to this:

      Privacy = I decide who knows what about me.

      This, to me, does away with the "I have nothing to hide" fallacy, because that attitude surrenders power. It's not about what they find, it's about who decides when and where they can look in the first place.

      To put it another way, if you argue that the authorities can do whatever they like because you haven't done anything wrong, you surrender any right to make a case that they might be doing something wrong.
      • by fyngyrz ( 762201 ) * on Tuesday June 17, 2008 @08:20PM (#23832813) Homepage Journal

        Privacy = I decide who knows what about me.

        That's a good working model. It doesn't account for someone who comes into your house and sprays graffiti on your walls, though.

        Consider defining your equality this way:

        Privacy = I decide who has access to me, those people I am responsible for, and those things that are mine.

        Then go look at the fourth amendment. Carefully. Think about the role of persons, houses, papers, and effects as stated there, as well as how those things generalize into today's realities, and then take a moment to marvel and just how right those people got the issue.

        Then take another to be absolutely horrified at how wrong today's government has gotten them.

        • Re: (Score:2, Redundant)

          by greenguy ( 162630 )
          I take your comments as a friendly amendment. In fact, it's really only an elaboration. My information is an abstraction of my sphere of direct, personal influence. My house and other possessions (car, papers, hardware/software/data) are the concrete manifestation of my sphere of influence. They are a logical extension of "knowing about me." I have a right to exclusive power over them, barring some VERY urgent social need to forestall harm to others. Of course, that's the argument used to invade privacy all
          • by fyngyrz ( 762201 ) * on Tuesday June 17, 2008 @09:50PM (#23833603) Homepage Journal

            Not really. Knowledge is not a synonym for physical or human-free (computer) non-storing access; yet access -- to knowledge certainly, but also to property, your person, your effects, your home -- directly addresses the issue at hand.

            Personally -- and I seriously mean that, this is not about you -- I find that boiling things down to be concise is a task that, while eminently worthwhile, is fraught with the risk of error. One of the signals that I've gone too far is when I find myself trying to make what I said into an abstraction of an abstraction. That's why I would not adopt your formulation.

            In this case, I find the fourth amendment instructive. Those were incredibly insightful people. When they said the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, that really covers the bases very well, without having to get all hand-wavy.

            ...unless you're a government stooge, that is. In which case, like the commerce clause, the prohibitions against ex post facto laws, the phrases "shall make no law" and "shall not be infringed" and "shall enjoy the right" and "nor shall be compelled" and others, we are being told we should believe it means the exact opposite of what it says. I have a severe problem with that.

        • "Privacy = I decide who knows what about me."
          That's a good working model. It doesn't account for someone who comes into your house and sprays graffiti on your walls, though."
          Unless the person spraying the graffiti is blind it does. Consider this: Not only did I not allow you access to spray paint my wall, I'm not even allowing you to look at it.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 17, 2008 @08:37PM (#23832985)
      I don't think it's a lack of recognition or lack of value. Fear is being used to brainwash people into willingly giving it up. I think respect for privacy is good manners. It distinguishes a thoughtful and sensitive person from a empty fool. Did you ever stumble upon a couple alone in a heated and personal argument and feel the urge to give a polite cough to announce your presence so as not to appear to be 'lurking' before walking purposefully away trying not to snoop? Or did you lurk in the bushes nearby fascinated? Are you the kind of person who a friend can trust alone in their house, or would you find the urge to rummage through their possesions too much?

      As a good rule, a persons respect for boundaries says a lot about their inner sense of self and personal security. Normal, mentally healthy people don't need to be taught these boundaries, they are implicit social contracts. We respect other peoples privacy because we expect the same freedom. Freedom? Well, "The right to be let alone is indeed the beginning of all freedom." (Justice William O. Douglas).

      There are two causes for this to go wrong. One is exhibitionism, and the complementary feeling that others too share a desire to be understood, scrutinised, exposed. It is an exposure of the false self, a persona masque, these people who say "I have nothing to hide" would be mortified to think anyone would know the real self they haven't meticulously cultured and presented to the world. But this schizoidal thing is rare.

      The other, much more common and easily provoked is self loathing. The lack of self respect and autonomy that makes an adult willing to accept pseudo-parental oversight is a cry for help. They're hoping that Nanny state and corporate Big Brother are really going to save them from themselves. They dispense with any real personal responsibility because they are made to feel the world is out of their control.

      Decent societies are founded on the freedom of priviacy. Even commerce and matters of state cannot survive without it. Privacy, the desire to have it and the desire to bestow it is a mark of sanity. It demonstrates a lack of fear, mature boundaries, self assurance, trust and dignity. To give up on this freedom is no different than giving up on the right to vote, to raise a family, to practice religion or freedom of movement and association.

      It beggars belief that something so fundamental and obvious is even debated.
    • by Marful ( 861873 ) on Tuesday June 17, 2008 @09:48PM (#23833595)
      An Excellent post fyngyrz!

      The problem is one of convenience. The average citizen is uneducated as to the nuances of liberty and freedom. (Not, I should say, uneducated in general). Given then the ignorance of liberty and freedom, they are easily swayed into giving up their constitutional power under the guise of necessity. For it is much more inconvenient to object and much more convenient to acquiesce.

      Take a look at every legislation that resulted in the encroachment, or out right infringement of the 4th amendment. Every single incident was precipitated by some perceived "danger" to society as a whole in which that specific piece of legislation was to address.

      Ironically, this is nothing new. And again, the masses are ignorant. Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.

      Give the masses their bread, give them their entertainment, and they will become complacent. Make it too inconvenient for them to question and they will not until the very end.

      "Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add 'within the limits of the law' because law is often but the tyrant's will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual." - Thomas Jefferson

      "The two enemies of the people are criminals and government, so let us tie the second down with the chains of the constitution so the second will not become the legalized version of the first." -Thomas Jefferson

      "They that can give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." - Benjamin Franklin

      "Necessity is the plea for every infringement of Human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves." - William Pitt

      "Good intentions will always be pleaded for every assumption of authority. It is hardly too strong to say that the Constitution was made to guard the people against the dangers of good intentions. There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters." - Daniel Webster
    • by JoshJ ( 1009085 )
      The problem is that a lot of people only want privacy for the specific set of actions they take, but not for any others; so they call for invasion into others' internet access and so forth because "I don't have anything to hide!"

      They, of course, don't really think about what they do hide in many other aspects. It's pathetic.
    • by grcumb ( 781340 )

      Here is my essay on privacy; see if reading it doesn't nail the issue for you in very short order.

      Nicely put. But let's play duelling essays. This is a layman's introduction to understanding the nature of online privacy [], written for my weekly Communications column in the Vanuatu Independent newspaper.

      To summarise: You're dead right on your definition of privacy. Most everyone is at least innately aware of this. While technology has transformed our ability to access information, nothing about the nature

    • by Confused ( 34234 )

      Privacy is not at all difficult to define, understand, or to properly address in either the social or political sense.

      The main problem I see in this discussion is, that people miss the important point. The whole privacy discussion shouldn't be about what information I can hide from other people. This has changed constantly over time and will change again. When living in open huts without walls, private mattress acrobatics can be less expected than when everyone has his own little fortress box with 1.5 rooms.

      The real problem with privacy that makes it such a hot topic is the question: What does my neighbour know about me t

    • by Moraelin ( 679338 ) on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @05:51AM (#23836339) Journal
      Actually, what makes anything difficult with humans is our being herd animals. We do stuff that we think would please the herd and make us better liked by our peers. Because we're nice and social like that.

      Unfortunately, that can be used jujutsu style against us. Enter: groupthink. And there are those who figured out how to do that. It's not new, it's at least ten thousand years old, very probably even more.

      Groupthink is a funny thing. Take for example a bunch of farmers, like in the infamous Goering quote, who each independently would rather work their farm than go risk death and crippling in a war where they have nothing to gain. Independently, each would rather _not_ go to war. Put them in a situation where each thinks "OMG, I'd lose face if the others think I'm a coward and unpatriotic" and watch them thump their chests and screaming pro-war slogans. Watch them cheer for the very things they despise secretly. Or conversely shaking a fist and yelling against the very things they desire.

      And after a short while, cognitive dissonance kicks in, and they even lie to themselves that they really want those things they hate, and they really hate those things they want.

      It's the emperor's new clothes story. Get a bunch of people who think everyone else sees those non-existent clothes, and that their standing would fall dramatically if they don't. Watch them all swear that they can see them clothes. In fact, watch cognitive dissonance kick in, and see them convince even themselves that they _do_ kinda see the clothes.

      Where the Grimm Brothers got it wrong, is that that phenomenon is _very_ hard to unravel. In the story, all it takes is one kid shouting "the emperor is naked", for the whole charade to come apart. In reality, that wouldn't do jack squat.

      In reality, for you to be brave, someone else must be a coward. To provide the comparison. For you to be smart, someone else must be stupid. For you to be a superior audiophile who hears the difference in downloaded MP3s with an audiophile Ethernet cable, someone else must be inferior enough to not hear it. Etc. The child shouting "the emperor is naked" just provides that other term of the comparison. It makes everyone else in the crowd pat their backs and congratulate each other that they're not like that simpleton kid who can't see the clothes.

      It's a funny thing too, in that it's not even the emperor's guards that make it happen. They're at best a catalyst to get it started. Two hundred years later the emperor could be dead and his heirs guillotined long ago, the country could be a democracy, and the "clothes" could be in a museum showing the craftsmanship in the old days. Or maybe as proof of the excesses of nobility in the old days. And people would still come and squint and convince themselves that they _can_ see some fabulous clothes behind the glass. Just because everyone else does.

      So what does this have to do with privacy? Well, that's why you have to explain to people exactly what privacy is and that it's not some shameful failing to need your personal space. Because there are plenty of those trying to make it sound like you're some horrible monster and your peers would surely shun you if you want privacy. The ball is already rolling towards turning it into a group-think situation, and there are interested parties pushing the ball in that direction too. You need more than just, well, "privacy is privacy, duh, and of course you need it" to defuse that.
    • by pieterh ( 196118 )
      It's not just that the boundaries may not be crossed. It's that (a) we own what sits on our side of the boundary and (b) we have the right to set the conditions for reuse/sharing of that stuff. Privacy is a form of property and violations of privacy are a form of theft.

      I've written this up as a definition on the Devil's Wiki []:

      Privacy: A form of personal property owned by an individual or a group, and covering data, information, or knowledge held by that group. Privacy laws provide legal protection for that
  • by HeavensBlade23 ( 946140 ) on Tuesday June 17, 2008 @07:51PM (#23832519)
    *Everyone* has something they'd like to keep hidden. Can I watch you have sex with your spouse, or read your bank statement? Can I have your exact height and weight, and maybe get a glance at your mental health records? Do you mind if I videotape your grandfather's funeral? Got any love letters left over from Junior High I can read?
    • by Broken Toys ( 1198853 ) on Tuesday June 17, 2008 @08:14PM (#23832753)
      You can have all that and *more* if you subscribe to my newsletter.

    • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Tuesday June 17, 2008 @08:15PM (#23832765)
      It's not even about having anything to hide.

      Being under surveillance is a stressful situation. Unfortunately I lost the link to the survey, but I think everyone can relate to it. Remember the time when you were at school and were asked something, maybe something trivial, yet everyone in class looked at you. Think of an interview in the street, maybe a camera team asking for your opinion. Think of a police car driving behind you on the road, even if they don't want anything from you, where you aren't even under any kind of surveillance but you feel like you are.

      Being monitored creates stress. Now imagine putting people permanently under stress. I could see a few flipping before long.
      • by CodeBuster ( 516420 ) on Tuesday June 17, 2008 @08:26PM (#23832873)

        Being monitored creates stress. Now imagine putting people permanently under stress. I could see a few flipping before long.
        In fact this is precisely what happened during the infamous Stanford Prison Experiment [].
        • That's actually not what I meant, and frankly, I think it doesn't compare well to the situation.

          I do see an increased threat for riots, though. When you're constantly forced to "behave", when you're constantly put under undue stress to watch your own behaviour, you will sooner or later lose it. The bar to engage in violent behaviour is lowered considerably because everyone will be edgy already. All it takes is a spark to blow that keg of powder.
          • This is pretty much the exact scenario outlined in the (in)famous "Unabomber manifesto".

            He starts from the premise that high tech societies need tighter controls on individual freedoms as their complex infrastructure makes them vulnerable to the vagaries of a free society. The more complex the infrastructure the more requirement there is to make sure that everyone required to manage and maintain that infrastructure does not dick around.

            He believes that as societies head toward ever more delicate infrastruct
            • Great, now I express the same thoughts as someone who blew up something. I guess I get some stuff packed and turn myself in, I hate it when they wake me up with a nightstick to my neck.
      • by inviolet ( 797804 ) <> on Tuesday June 17, 2008 @08:46PM (#23833083) Journal

        Being monitored creates stress. Now imagine putting people permanently under stress. I could see a few flipping before long.

        Yes, and more. Privacy lets you behave morally (as judged by your own moral code) in a world of people who would wrongly criticize you. For example, right now I need privacy in order to spank my children in a world that is presently running a perilous anti-spanking experiment.

        As social creatures, disapproval and disenfranchisement cause us physical pain. Privacy shields our proper actions from that.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by stevie.f ( 1106777 )
      1. Can I watch you have sex with your spouse?
      Sure, If you can convince her. she's shy.

      2. or read your bank statement?
      I have two. Which one? And not the account details, just the transactions.

      3. Can I have your exact height and weight?
      5'7". 182lbs

      4. and maybe get a glance at your mental health records?
      Depression. 2006-07

      5. Do you mind if I videotape your grandfather's funeral?
      Yes. You can't do it unless you give me a copy.

      6. Got any love letters left over from Junior High I can read?
      I never got any. sorry

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 17, 2008 @08:01PM (#23832619)
    Property privacy:
    "No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law."

    Property Privacy Rights, part two:
    "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

    Just something to think about.
    • * UNREASONABLE shall not be construed as to exclude hunches, guesses, gut feelings, roadblock searches, or any other reason for a search.

      ** SHALL NOT BE VIOLATED hereby means "shall not be violated unless we feel like it."

      *** Warrants aren't really necessary.

      **** Descriptions can be vague and all-encompassing, and nobody will ever be held to account for false Oaths or affirmation so long as their intention was "good" at the time.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by fermion ( 181285 )
      This was the jist of Bruce Schneier's essay on this very topic. One big issue in privacy is the imbalance of power. One example he used was that the police routinely video tape a traffic stop, and there is nothing wrong with that, but that while they have the freedom to use it was they wish, you have no formal method of gaining a copy. It appears that while the public has no right to privacy, the cops have something to hide. A more recent example in the news is the Bush administrations lack of email arc
  • When the discussion of privacy comes up with friends or family the overwhelming response from people I know is: "I have nothing to hide so it doesn't matter." To those more knowledgeable on the subject, what's the best response for me here? And has anybody else experienced dealing with this type of thinking?
    • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Tuesday June 17, 2008 @08:29PM (#23832911)
      My usual response is "You don't have now. Are you sure you won't have in the future?"

      With the changes in laws and the creation of more and more patronizing laws, can you be sure that what you do will not violate the law soon? Worse, is what you are doing today maybe illegal tomorrow, or seen as an indicator for illegal behaviour, and you'll be labeled a criminal because you happen to have similar habits to someone who actually commits a crime?

      We have a lot of pseudoscientific "evidence" thrown at us, showing correlation where there is none, used to create laws and, worse, put labels on people who have nothing to do with it. The alleged correspondence between computer games and violence has been discussed a lot lately, can you be sure that you won't be seen as a possible loose cannon because you play certain games?

      Oh, you don't play games? Well, maybe you enjoy watching swimsuit contests? Who says they won't create some correlation between people who enjoy watching model shows with people who rape women? Still not worried that your cable company wants to know what you watch, and that government wants, too?

      Maybe you're a smoker? Well, are you sure it's still going to be legal tomorrow? And we all know how hard it is to stop smoking, it's almost sure you will try to get your tobacco somewhere, and most likely from that guy you can also get other stuff. Mind if we did a search of your home, just to make sure you don't?

      You've been talking on your phone quite a lot lately. And you know, the people you called happened to live next to some guy we arrested yesterday for terrorism (or something else, pick any kind of random crime). Mabye you'd like to explain to us who you called abroad?

      That convenience store you shopped at? That funny talking guy running it was arrested because we think he has contacts with some terrorists. Maybe you did more than just shop there, too?

      You buy an aweful lot of trans fat grease junkfood, your health insurance decided to up your premium due to your risky behaviour.

      Do I have to go on?
      • ``My usual response is "You don't have now. Are you sure you won't have in the future?"''

        This is a good argument. Just because something can't be used against you _now_ doesn't mean it won't be used against you later. And once collected, it stays collected - at least, it's safe to assume so.

        But for the rest, I think the problem is more with allowing people to be harmed (arrested, convicted, harassed, discriminated) for the wrong reasons. Just to pick a few examples:

        ``Who says they won't create some correlat
        • I have to admit, the whole deal works better here, in a country that had its fair share of Nazi occupation during WW2. People are still edgy when it comes to dealing with the police, especially being arrested.

          Now, when you're being suspected of terrorism, I doubt they will come knocking and politely ask you to come with them. At the very least you'll have a police team surround your house or flat to make sure you won't take the back exit. In other words, your neighborhood WILL know what's up. A team of 8-10
    • To those more knowledgeable on the subject, what's the best response for me here?

      I would float questions like:
      What do you think a Denial of Service Attack is in a network context, and at what point does repeated "trust but verify" activity constitute a DoS on your life?
      Your taxes are paying for security services at the airport. At what point do you buy the right to say "Enough"?
      Yeah, I have a relatively boring life, too. Cast as a reality show, it would make an effective insomnia treatment. Ther

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      what's the best response for me here?
      "When's a good time for me to come over and start installing video cameras in your house?"
      • "But that's not what they're doing, don't be ridiculous. That's why you privacy tinfoil hatters can't be taken serious. All they wanna do is monitor public places and make sure terrorists can't talk with each other".

        Your turn.
        • "And... will tomorrow be OK? ... Oh, you're not fine with that? What do you have to hide?"
          • *throws hands up*

            "It's really useless discussing with you. That's NOT what they're doing, ok? They don't come in here and mount cams in my bathroom, they just watch public space."

            Don't forget that you're fighting a lot of propaganda and a long campaign to call everyone concerned with privacy a paranoiac. If you want to create concern, you have to use examples of what can really happen with the surveillance at hand, not create some privacy invasion scenario yourself.
            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              The point got across. The person does have something to hide and now sees there is nothing wrong with excluding people from seeing it -- whether that person calls it "privacy" or something else.

              Once you demolish the silly argument of "I've got nothing to hide," you immediately win the battle. Now that person has to acknowledge privacy as necessary. At this point, we're only talking about the degree -- which has nothing to do with this particular thread.

              Of course, you might get someone who wants to see if yo
              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by Opportunist ( 166417 )
                The problem is that you do not win. They still accept the loss of privacy, they still accept the surveillance and snooping, they still accept being monitored. All you won is a silly, pointless argument.

                You won the argument, ok. He has something to hide. But now he thinks you're some professional tinfoil-hat wearing paranoiac who blows stuff way out of proportion. The government/corporations/whoever don't want to put a cam into his toilet.

                He doesn't even understand the connection. You argue from a rather eso
        • "Ok, in that case, can I have you bank account details and PIN codes?"
    • You might not think that you have anything to hide but let's say you are driving in your car and pulled over for a traffic violation. Should you let a crooked cop search your car? After all, you have nothing to hide. Maybe the cop finds a piece of rope in your trunk. Now you are a suspect in a kidnapping. Or maybe he finds a pry bar. Now you are a suspect in a robbery.
    • Easy. Ask them for their bank account numbers and their PINs.

      If they do online banking, ask for their usernames/passwords for their accounts...

      Amazingly, I bet they want to hide that information...


    • The one I like best is "If you have nothing to hide, why don't you take off your clothes?"
    • I think the first question to ask is "Why do you want to convince them that their privacy is important?" I suppose it is because if their privacy can be violated, so can yours. Now, why don't _you_ want your privacy to be violated? Perhaps the same argument works for them.

      But then again, I honestly don't have a problem with people knowing things about me. It's not like I'm going about blathering about my private life, but if you want to put in the effort to find out what strange things I might be doing, go
  • by CodeBuster ( 516420 ) on Tuesday June 17, 2008 @08:10PM (#23832721)
    but rather insufficient penalties for violating the privacy of another. If the perceived profit, whether that be money or some other reward, outweighs the perceived loss (i.e. punishment for violating the privacy of another) then privacy will always be violated assuming that it can be. Many of the perceived problems with protecting one's privacy today have been created by or occurred as a consequence of the introduction of new technologies, so it follows then that solutions must also be technological rather than strictly social or legal because of the aforementioned favorable risk/reward quotient for breaching the privacy of another. That is why it is important for people to take the necessary steps to protect their own privacy including use of strong encryption, strong passwords, fake identities, mail drops, etc. I find that it is best to view the entire exercise as an adversarial process [] where the reward for winning is continued privacy and the cost of losing is a breach of privacy. You are continually seeking to protect your privacy while others are actively seeking to breach it.
  • ...but plenty that I want to keep hidden.

    Expose it all and I will be fine - free as a bird, no lawsuits, no divorce.

    That is not to say that life wouldn't become quite inconvenient.
  • Here's my suggestion: Any piece of personal data that is allowed to be shared without restriction between entities, or read by the government without a warrant (a real warrant, the way the founders intended), shall be classified as "privacy excluded data."

    Then, for any level of government that authorizes "privacy excluded data", every elected official at that level will have that data published. Any data which is not published about the appropriate elected officials is considered private data, and breach of
  • by Kingston ( 1256054 ) on Tuesday June 17, 2008 @09:12PM (#23833303)
    A friend of mine grew up in Spain under Franco's regime. By the time she was ready to start work in the local factory, Franco had been dead for six years and Spain had become a democracy. A relative asked her to join the trade union at the factory and help out with the admin work.

    You may or may not agree with trade unions just bear with me.

    Most of us are lucky enough to live in democracies where we can make these choices and think nothing of it, we have nothing to hide after all. A few weeks after she started work, on the night of 23rd February 1981, fascist elements of the Spanish military attempted a coup and took control of the parliament. She spent the night along with her relative and other union officials burning and burying all the union membership details and correspondence because all of a sudden they did have something to hide, the mass graves of student radicals and trade unionists are still turning up from Franco's time [].

    Luckily the coup failed and democracy was quickly restored. The point being we can't burn or bury our electronic records, emails, phone logs, forum posts, blogs, journeys logged by electronic numberplate recognition and cellphone records because we don't have control of them. Privacy matters more than ever, the record of what you do now could last forever and you don't know who will use that information and for what purpose.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Brilliantly written. I keep an copy of Ann Frank on my desk. People ask why. I tell them it is a reminder of what happens when information is given to the wrong people and how people die as a result. In the future great books will be written and great movies will be made dealing with privacy issues and destruction resulting therefrom.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Sperbels ( 1008585 )
      There are plenty of people who would counter this by saying that this could never happy in my country. They'd be fools, but they'd still say it.
    • Well, let's be honest here, the student radicals and trade unionists wanted to turn Spain into a charnel house like Cambodia or the Soviet Union. Funny how that never gets pointed out, despite the students shouting it through megaphones.
  • by ghostunit ( 868434 ) on Tuesday June 17, 2008 @09:23PM (#23833401)
    Because knowledge is power. Therefore, information about me can be used to gain power over me. Privacy keeps others from having such information.

    There are other reasons I guess, but that's the most important one when relating the concept of personal privacy to institutions such as government agencies, corporations, etc. It has nothing to do with shame or morality, it's all about power and control.
  • Yet ANOTHER framework to learn

Who goeth a-borrowing goeth a-sorrowing. -- Thomas Tusser