This blog post is in response to a Redditor asking this:
So my founder at my startup asked this question and gave examples of when surveillance in the public space, cc tvs in UK, a plane that shot 1 second photos over Ohio allowing for cops to catch a robber etc.
His argument was that we are so attached to privacy but we don’t actually need it in the public space. What could you possibly have to hide when walking down the street? Additionally, its not like someone is maliciously looking into you all the time, its only when necessary.
I countered with our government doesn’t have the oversight to appropriately use these tools and they will be abused. His argument to that was that we should work on fixing that structure, not shoving privacy as the savior of our times. He highlighted that with less privacy / more public surveillance we could stop Amber alerts (missing children) etc.
This guy is an intelligent person (astrophysics from Stanford etc.) and I understand his point in an ideal world, but we seem to only have issues managing this vast amount of private information and there is NO oversight by the casual or active citizen.
Just want to know how I can make my argument that privacy is needed.
Before I start to answer I want to make a distinction between Privacy and Secrecy. I would summarize the contrast between Privacy and Secrecy in this way:
- Privacy is given by others/us as a sign of respect for people.
- Secrecy is something you personally ensure for yourself.
Privacy are those rules that govern what, when and how much of data flows, and to what parties. It does not mean that parties ought to keep that data a secret, but they have to respect that contract – the rules governing the flow of data.
Respecting someone’s Privacy only means abiding to those laws. That is all.
It does not mean you are not able to record the activity of some of that public space. It does not mean you have to collaborate with people that want to keep details of their life a secret. It does not mean that the whole public space can’t be under surveillance by one or more parties. It does not mean that if a crime is produced, we can’t access all relevant data connected directly/indirectly with the crime.
Saying that you do not want Privacy, is equal to saying that you don’t what any rules regarding how that data flows. That the data can be accessible to anyone, including but not limited to: any citizen, criminal, law enforcing personal, governmental organizations, including higher centralized federal government – e.g., all data in one place.
I don’t think you will find a Privacy advocate that will argue that public space activity can’t be recorded. They will argue about the rules regarding the recordings.
Your friend makes two mistakes:
- He thinks that Privacy is actually protecting someone else secrets.
- He is arguing for centralized, global, un-ruled surveillance.
No one in the right mind wants to “protect someone else secrets”. If you have a secret, you better keep it a secret yourself. The moment is out, no one has to keep it. If it is something illegal, unless the rules of Privacy prohibit us from reporting the issue, any person can (and sometimes must) report the secret to police/authorities.
Regarding “centralized, global, un-ruled surveillance” there is a little bit more to talk about, but I would like to cut it short like this. If we can surveil all public space in a decentralized manner, which BTW will also ensure that the laws of Privacy are respected, and that in a case of a crime, there are parties that in a decentralized manner can provide those details to catch a criminal, why in the world would anyone want centralized surveillance? Why even take the risks associated with centralized surveillance if distributed surveillance, with guaranteed Privacy rips off all the benefits. Why allow anyone to access any data, if such level of access is not actually required for a equally better society?
A smart solution is one that maximizes the benefits, while minimizing the risks.
His argument is that we do not need to minimize the risks, if we maximize the benefits.
Only an anti-social, psychopath, empathy-less person would want that.