Role of privacy in protecting political freedoms

Josh Hall brings to our attention an article in Technology Review by Simson Garfinkel. While the article focuses on online privacy, below are some excerpts that may be useful for our purposes here:

Privacy gives us the right to meet and speak confidentially with others—a right that’s crucial for democracy, which requires places for political ideas to grow and mature. …

Collectively, we made things worse by not building strong privacy and security guarantees into our information systems, our businesses, and our society…

Another law, the Video Privacy Protection Act of 1988, makes it illegal for Netflix to disclose the movies you rent…

A Nixon administration advisory committee then developed the Code of Fair Information Practice, a guiding set of principles that underlies the majority of U.S. privacy laws passed since.

This code is surprisingly straightforward. There should be no secret data banks; individuals must be able to view their records; there must be a way to correct errors; organizations maintaining data banks must make sure they’re reliable and protect them from unauthorized access; and information collected for one purpose must not be used for other purposes…

Congress, however, opposed TIA on the grounds that it treated everyone in the country as a suspect, and because it feared that a massive data surveillance system might be used for purposes other than catching terrorists. This prospect was not so hypothetical: in 1972 Richard Nixon had ordered the IRS to investigate his political opponents, including major contributors to George McGovern’s presidential campaign…

For more than 100 years, American jurisprudence has recognized privacy as a requirement for democracy, social relations, and human dignity. For nearly 50, we’ve understood that protecting privacy takes more than just controlling intrusions into your home; it also requires being able to control information about you that’s available to businesses, government, and society at large. Even though Americans were told after 9/11 that we needed to choose between security and privacy, it’s increasingly clear that without one we will never have the other.

Simson’s proposal for a government-issued online identity will be very controversial—see Bruce Schneier for the opposite view—but his discussion of the role of privacy in protecting freedom is useful separately from that.

I increasingly feel we need a different term than “privacy” for what we are trying to protect. Privacy has negative connotations. Any ideas? —Chris Peterson

2 Responses to “Role of privacy in protecting political freedoms”

  1. well, what _are_ you trying to protect?

    security through obscurity is generally considered poor form.

  2. We’re trying to protect freedom.

    I agree that security through obscurity is dubious.

    Are we agreeing, or disagreeing? ;^)

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