If you follow the news at all, even casually, I imagine you’ve heard about the whole NSA/phone records drama that came out at the end of last week. This is not a political blog (uh, duh), and I don’t intend to get political about this, but the whole incident has made me think a lot about something I had been thinking a lot about anyway lately: privacy.
For whatever reason, one of my elementary school memories features me on the playground, swinging to my heart’s content, and saying the phrase, “None of your beeswax,” to someone in my general vicinity. Obviously as a seven or eight year old, I imagine I was saying the phrase more because “beeswax” sounds like “earwax” which teehee! Body things! is always funny when you’re a kid. But I knew the phrase was a turn on “None of your business,” and I know I knew what that meant, even when I was little: it meant some things about my life weren’t for others to know.
I wonder, though, how relevant that phrase–or anything else related to privacy–is in our world today, and it has nothing to do with the PATRIOT Act or wiretapping or court ordered phone records or anything else the President, Congress, or anyone else in Washington, D.C. has been interested in since September 11. It has everything to do with the Internet.
My sister and I were talking about all of this on Memorial Day weekend (so about two weeks before Edward Snowden leaked anything to The Guardian), and I contended that the second anyone is willing to put their full name on the Internet is the second they give up their right to complain about privacy.
Now, obviously, there’s a difference between consciously putting your personal information on the Internet and then complaining about people violating your privacy and having Verizon hand over your phone records to the NSA, but it just fascinates me how up in arms we’re willing to get about anyone doing anything that feels like a violation of our privacy while it seems so many people are so willing to do the exact same thing to someone else. Have you ever Facebook stalked someone you’re not friends with? Gone through the Twitter feed of someone you don’t know or don’t follow? Looked up the LinkedIn profile of someone you don’t work with or probably never will work with? Googled someone? Is that not a violation of their privacy?
When I met with my personal trainer for the first time, literally within 30 seconds of meeting him he mentioned my job, which I had never told him about, and followed it up with, “I Google stalked you.” The other day I was responding to a request to connect on LinkedIn and saw someone I had met once in my life had attempted to view my profile. Both of those situations made me feel like my privacy had been violated — but had it? This was information I willingly and knowingly put on the Internet–the Internet that the entire world has access to. Anyone could look that information up. Do I really have the right to feel like my privacy had been violated when both of these people had done things that I, and I imagine most other people, have done at one point or another? Seems a bit hypocritical, if you ask me.
There was a quote from Snowden in yesterday’s paper where he said, “I don’t want to live in a society that does these sorts of things … I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded.”
Hilarious irony of Snowden going on the record saying he doesn’t want the things he says to be recorded aside, I’ve got to be honest — I think that ship has sailed. Maybe not for everything a person says and does…but only maybe. I know nothing about Snowden other than what the news has said, so I have no idea what kind of social media user this guy is, but think about it. Every meal you Instagram, every check-in you make on FourSquare or Facebook, every tweet you send, every status update you make, every workout you log: that’s all recorded. Is it literally everything you do and say? Probably not, but I’d wager a guess that for some people, it’s pretty darn close.
Do I want to maintain my privacy? Of course. I lock down most of my social media outlets quite tightly, and I censor the ones that aren’t locked down. I employ a variety of practices on this blog to keep you from knowing more about me than I want you to. There’s clearly a difference between willingly handing someone your information and having someone find out your information without your knowledge or consent, but I think in this hyper-connected, Internet-driven, social media-obsessed world we live in, privacy, more often than not, seems to be more of an illusion or lie we tell ourselves than a reality.
What do you think? Do you think privacy still exists? Note that this is not so much about a right to privacy, which I would agree everyone has, so much as it is people’s willingness to give up that right, or at the very least severely compromise that right, by putting so much of their personal information online. It’s also not about whether or not what the Obama administration has done is right or wrong, so good heavens, don’t turn this into a government-bashing debate.