Thoughts on Privacy

by Roger Bourke White Jr., copyright November 2013


This was inspired by a 16 Nov 13 Economist article, Every Step You Take, which is all about mixing our new imaging technologies with traditional concepts of privacy. From the article,

"“THIS season there is something at the seaside worse than sharks,” declared a newspaper in 1890. “It is the amateur photographer.”

The invention of the handheld camera appalled 19th-century society, as did the “Kodak fiends” who patrolled beaches snapping sunbathers."

In other words, this problem dates back more than one hundred years.

The Eternal Conflicting Goals

Privacy sits at the nexus of two longstanding human aspirations: free will and security. The free will side wants the ability to move about freely, try new and daring things, and not be critisized for actions taken -- privately or publicly. The security side wants to know what all people are doing all the time. The desirable balance between the two is constantly shifting. In times of optimism the free will side grows in desirability, in times of fear the security side grows.

This balance is, in fact, a good barometer for just how fearful a community is feeling.

And this is one of those things were technology keeps changing the playing field. But no matter how the field changes, the twin goals remain constant. The more fearful a community is, the more spying is condoned. The more optimistic a society is, the more it says "Mind your own business."


While privacy is a big concern, addressing it directly is addressing the wrong issue. The real issue that needs to be addressed is the level of fear we wish to tolerate in our community.


-- The End --