The Topic: What is the Meaning of Privacy in 2013?
Revelations that the National Security Agency has been trawling doggedly through our digital networks to unearth terrorism have brought to a head growing public concerns about privacy. We’ve worried for years about the security of our digital information against hackers and are (perhaps naïvely) shocked at the level of intrusion orchestrated by our own government. Meanwhile, the ubiquity of cameras on streets, in stores and in institutions has closed the quiet gaps of privacy in our lives to the point that we may soon be living under constant surveillance. How much are we willing to sacrifice for our own safety? And just what is the meaning of privacy in 2013?
professor, Department of Politics
Like other social, cultural and political values, the meaning and perceived importance of privacy has evolved to respond to changes in institutions, practices and technology. For example, today’s attitudes about privacy would have seemed bizarre to the Puritans. We are experiencing just such an evolutionary shift as technology and other developments redefine privacy and its importance. As with most social change, the process is advanced before people notice it. Efforts to return to some previous idea of privacy may delay but will not prevent change. Privacy as we once imagined it is gone and we’d better get use to it.
Jason Shellen ’96
Aristotle helped define modern thought on privacy by making a clear distinction between one’s public and political life, polis, and the private or domestic life, oikos. The introduction of technical means of communication has blurred these clear-cut lines for many governments. I’ve told friends and family for years that in the digital age privacy is an illusion. I am dismayed to see this observation confirmed so boldly by recent leaks and admissions. I welcome the public discussion about the right use of technology to ensure safety as well as the reintroduction of our domestic right to privacy.
Lisa N. Douglass ’99
principal, Douglass & Associates
Our dependence on technology brings greater opportunities as well as risks. As we increasingly rely upon the digital world, we must be vigilant about all the tradeoffs. Our posts on social media, our web browsing and online photo albums, for example, all provide a rich source of data about who we are for marketers and the government. As individuals, we must keep aware of how our dependence upon the speed, convenience and connectivity of technology in our daily lives also impacts our personal privacy.
SMC director of career development
A student’s right to privacy may be at risk, despite new privacy laws, since recruiters have discovered in social media like Facebook a treasure trove of personal information about potential job applicants. Such information can have a negative impact on the student’s ability to be hired. Often employers check to see if the person they interviewed on campus resembles that person on a Facebook page. To be safe, students should follow this advice: If you feel comfortable showing your Facebook page to your grandparents, you’re in good shape. If not, you still have work to do.
Rand Morimoto MBA ’93
SMC trustee / former cyber security advisor to the White House
I run into people all the time who complain about government snooping, employers watching over them, that they have no privacy. But then I go online and the same people have posted everything about themselves on Facebook, Instagram, etc.—like personal pictures, home address, date of birth, the works. In this day and age, you need to think carefully about what YOU choose to share. Once it’s out on the Internet, it’ll always be out on the Internet.
president of Security Innovation Network, member of SMC board of regents
I treasure my privacy, but I also want my family, community and nation to feel safe and secure. Balancing privacy and security has always been difficult, but the speed of cyberspace, global affairs and today’s threats make this symmetry even more challenging. Responsible, ethical leadership from both the private and public sectors is necessary if we citizens are to trust that our judicial, executive and legislative branches of government are in check and will protect us from harm.
COO of Impermium and former White House senior director for cybersecurity
We value technology that makes our lives easier, more productive and more fulfilling. As cloud availability, mobility and wearable technology become integral to the way we live and work, we increasingly value control over our own data and take a leading role in defining privacy. As a result, tech companies—particularly those built on very large amounts of user data—will place a higher priority on data protection, transparency of their data handling processes, and progressive thinking to meet consumer demand. We should embrace the desire for stronger privacy protections, which history tells us are essential elements of our society.
SMC’s chief technology officer
What we say and do is increasingly recorded and compiled in ways we wouldn’t have expected 10 years ago. With the emergence of “Big Data,” everyone in the developed world is part of a case study of individual and group behaviors, documented using means of which we are often unaware. Perhaps you remember Rod Serling’s introduction to The Twilight Zone, a “land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas.” Perhaps all that’s missing here is the familiar theme song?
John Locke (1632-1704)
British philosopher, Oxford academic and medical researcher,
The Second Treatise of Civil Government, 1690
To understand political power right, and derive it from its original, we must consider, what state all men are naturally in, and that is, a state of perfect freedom to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and persons, as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature, without asking leave, or depending upon the will of any other man.
Janine Ogando ’89
attorney and former adjunct professor
Although we are generally a Lockean society, we continue to move away from it, giving up freedoms in the name of terrorism. The imperceptible shifts away from Lockean principles are due to a general desire for instant gratification, complacency and perhaps naiveté in our younger generations. Terrorism is scary, but it is not a top killer in our society. The failure by the government to explain to us the nature of any threats gives us nothing to weigh regarding whether we should be giving up our privacy rights, to what extent and for how long.