Thursday, May 18, 2006

Privacy is a Basic Human Need

The debate over privacy vs. security has been raging in Washington and across the country recently, thanks to the controversial surveillance tactics being used by the Bush Administration. But in such a globally connected world, what is privacy, anyway, and can we really afford it? Bruce Schneier says the issue is far simpler than many people make it sound, and the obvious conclusion is that we can't afford not to make privacy a priority. "We are not deliberately hiding anything when we seek out private places for reflection or conversation. We keep private journals, sing in the privacy of the shower, and write letters to secret lovers and then burn them. Privacy is a basic human need."

The most common retort against privacy advocates -- by those in favor of ID checks, cameras, databases, data mining and other wholesale surveillance measures -- is this line: "If you aren't doing anything wrong, what do you have to hide?"

Some clever answers: "If I'm not doing anything wrong, then you have no cause to watch me." "Because the government gets to define what's wrong, and they keep changing the definition." "Because you might do something wrong with my information." My problem with quips like these -- as right as they are -- is that they accept the premise that privacy is about hiding a wrong. It's not. Privacy is an inherent human right, and a requirement for maintaining the human condition with dignity and respect.

Two proverbs say it best: Quis custodiet custodes ipsos? ("Who watches the watchers?") and "Absolute power corrupts absolutely." Wired 05/18/06

Even in painting, artists are subject to their own sense of privacy. We make choices throughout the creation process of what parts of our psyche to expose and what to hide. While it is true that we very often make unconscious choices to reveal certain ideas and previously undisclosed aspects of our lives; these public revelations still occur by our own hand. Giving away power over our own privacy is very much a loss of freedom. – DN

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely "

The statement was made by Lord Acton, a British historian of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Just so you know where it really comes from.