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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. Be it the ability to don't tell others where you spend your money, access porn or even sing in the shower. We, as human begins, want to have this right to keep our individualities, as long as the law permits. It's common sense to understand that killing someone and keep yourself hidden because you have the right to have privacy affects the 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 while it doesn't affect the society.

This is the easy part about privacy discussions.

The hard part comes when governments want to violate privacy of every citizen, such as National Security Agency (NSA) from United States. But it's not only NSA. German government is using / will use trojan spyware to monitor citizens. 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 lack personnel/expertise. Some amateur countries could only cut the 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 that 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 citizen must give as well. One should diminish his privileges in order to peacefully live in society.

This concept has been applied to many situations.

Think about the traffic. All vehicles must drive under a certain speed, which sometimes is too low that it annoy drivers. Despite their rage, deaths on traffic tend to be lowered a lot.

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 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 that their explanations were good enough to persuade people, at least 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 everytime the 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 won'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 that actually such law changes probably would not be possible if not 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. Makes me want to protect my right for privacy and don't let anyone touch my personal things or personal things from others. But still, if it affects the society, if I could help elucidate a crime by sharing my info, thus making 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 gets 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 that they will responsible 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 on other contexts, such as traffic. Here's 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 record at will;
  • You won't have control over who checked your data, when and why. Even if the government provide 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. In a country scale, trusting in another party and trusting in the government will be the same thing.

That's all I have for today, thank you.

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