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Why Privacy Debates Hardly Persuades People

"Privacy is the ability of an individual or group to seclude themselves or information about themselves and thereby reveal themselves selectively." Wikipedia

We all want privacy sometimes. Whether it's the ability to not disclose where you spend your money, access pornography, or even sing in the shower, we, as human beings, want to have the right to keep our individualities, as long as the law permits. It's common sense to understand that killing someone and keeping yourself hidden because you have the right to privacy affects society and isn't permitted by the law.

With this common ground between humans, it's accurate to assume that we all care about privacy, at least as long as it doesn't affect society.

This is the easy part of privacy discussions.

The hard part comes when governments want to violate the privacy of every citizen, such as the National Security Agency (NSA) from the United States. But it's not only the NSA. The German government is using/will use Trojan spyware to monitor citizens. The United Kingdom is not an exception either. It's clear that more governments would like to do the same because information is power and governments want more power, but they lack personnel/expertise. Some amateur countries could only cut off internet access, such as Egypt. Some governments rely on companies to get the job done, such as Hacking Team or Finfisher, although there is no guarantee that the collected information is not leaked to other governments. Pretty scary.

The excuse they mostly use to convince citizens that they should give up their privacy is "to detect possible terrorist attacks." That makes sense, right? If you want to have a safer country, it's simply fair to give your information if all citizens must do the same. One should diminish their privileges to peacefully live in society.

This concept has been applied to many situations.

Think about traffic. All vehicles must drive under a certain speed, which sometimes is too low and annoys drivers. Despite their rage, deaths in traffic tend to be significantly reduced.

So, is it safe to assume that migrating this concept from traffic to digital privacy will work as well? Sadly, no, it isn't. This is counterintuitive.

Before I explain why you should not give your information to your government, let me tell you how many experts in the field tried to persuade people into considering those government projects a threat to our privacy that should not be accepted at all and why I don't think their explanations were good enough to persuade people, at least not me.

Glenn Greenwald

Glenn Greenwald said that we should care about our privacy because if we don't, we should give him access to our emails and let him write an article about whatever he finds. He says that every time he asks that, no one wants to give their email credentials.

But email is much more than exchanging messages. It's used to recover passwords. I would not give him my credentials. Even if my email had only personal messages, I wouldn't mind sharing my information with the government if they could use that to save the country from terrorists, murderers, etc.

Moxie Marlinspike

In the post we should all have something to hide, he mentions unjust laws that could be used to punish citizens by spying on their data.

Think again, if the law is unjust, you need to change the law itself.

Moxie points out that actually, such law changes would probably not be possible without breaking the law by making use of privacy to break it.

Even "(...) if there were an alternate dystopian reality where law enforcement was 100% effective, such that any potential law offenders knew they would be immediately identified, apprehended, and jailed. (...)", we should adapt ourselves to fight the law in this new context. Would it be that hard to fight a law without breaking it? It's how it is supposed to be in the first place.

Edward Snowden

This one came close. He said, "Arguing that you don't care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don't care about free speech because you have nothing to say."

That's a really impactful quote. It makes me want to protect my right to privacy and not let anyone touch my personal things or the personal things of others. But still, if it affects society, if I could help elucidate a crime by sharing my info, thus making the bad guys share as well, I'd get rid of my privacy for the country's sake.


So, here's the answer, simpler than you may have thought, as privacy debates usually get into the philosophical realm:

Actually, the government can't really guarantee that your information will be protected and won't be leaked to other parties. Nor can they guarantee that they will responsibly make use of your data only to check for possible terrorist attacks.

This happens because of many concerns that apply to the digital world that aren't present in other contexts, such as traffic. Here are some of them:

  • After they get your data, it's over; you can't get it back.
  • Depending on how they get your information, other malicious hackers may take advantage as well, thus giving access to more parties. Schneier says that it is not security vs. privacy, but less security vs. more security.
  • Government employees will have access to check any citizen's record at will.
  • You won't have control over who checked your data, when, and why. Even if the government provides you a way to do so, that won't be trusted because there is a conflict of interests. Another party should verify who performed which actions, which will be another party with possible access to your data and that will need to be trusted by you. On a country scale, trusting another party and trusting the government will be the same thing.

That's all I have for today. Thank you.

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