Mourning the Loss of Privacy

Remember when your social security number wasn’t assigned at birth? When it wasn’t the key to your doctor’s, dentist’s, therapist’s and financial institution’s databases? Through the years, any public or private institution needing a unique personal identifier used SSN. Per the Privacy Rights Clearing House , although you may not be required to provide your SSN to your doctor, they probably will deny service to you if you don’t!

My medical records used to be between my doctor and I – now they are online (From the Guardian  “In 2001, a researcher presented the governor of Massachusetts with his personal medical records ‘reidentified’ from anonymously released data.”).

Did you know a time when there weren’t cameras on every street corner and in every store, bank and business, clicking your picture and noting the time. (In the TV series Criminal Minds, the writers envisioned the scenario where the actors hacked into the city camera system to follow citizens by tracking them via the red light cameras).

What ever happened to the need for a subpoena to listen in on your phone conversation, instead of having digital analysis point out conversations using certain terrorist tagged keywords? (MSNBC  reported that “The federal government is allegedly compiling a database of telephone numbers dialed by Americans, and eavesdropping on U.S. callers dialing international calls without obtaining court orders”.).

There was a time when we wanted to be listed in the phone book, so our friends and acquaintances could find us, a time when we didn’t get roto dialed by 10 marketing or pollster companies a day. ( “A cottage industry of small companies with names you’ve probably never heard of — like Acxiom or Merlin — buy and sell your personal information the way other commodities like corn or cattle futures are bartered” – per MSNBC).

What I eat and buy at the grocery used to be my own business. (Consumer Affairs  reported that in 2005, CVS posted purchases made by holders of their loyalty card).

It used to be illegal for someone else to read your mail (Per the Guardian  “Google automatically scans all emails to and from Gmail to target adverts”).

There was a time our home was our castle, shielded against the outside world.  Now drone planes could fly over our house and listen in on our conversations.(NPR reported “US drone planes, MQ-1 Predator and the MQ-9 Reaper are remotely controlled planes that can hover in the air 24 hours at a time, collecting intelligence.”).

There was a time when someone actually had to drive by our house to see what it looked like, let alone ease drop on us (The Guardian reported “As well as systematically photographing streets and gathering 3D images of cities and towns around the world, Google’s Street View cars are fitted with antennas that scan local wifi networks and use the data for its location services”).

I mourn the loss of  privacy, do you?

Do we share too much?

How valuable is our privacy? Do we have a right to it? If so, why have we and are we continuing to give it up freely and enthusiastically? Maybe, had we listened to someone who knows what they’re talking about, like someone with a cyber security degree, maybe things would be different.”

Bloggers post the most detailed accounts of their finances on their sites – what they make, what they spend, where it comes from and goes, where their banks are and what their net worth is.

Facebook collects any and all information you enter – your friends, your children, your likes, your pictures (probably including the location information which is attached to them), your phone, address, relatives, the web pages you like and on and on.

Google dangles free goodies and tools for your use and collects and combines the profile information they ask you to enter in order to use those ‘free’ things.

Linked In knows your professional history and education. Online job sites have databases about your salary requirements, job history and education.

 The ubiquitous cell phones we use can be tracked. Owners can snap a picture anywhere and everywhere and immediately send it worldwide or record a conversation and broadcast it.

We feel ‘protected’ when TSA does a body scan or search or when a suspected terrorists is detained indefinitely in the US without being charged with a crime.

We leave an electronic trace every time we type out a letter, send an email or a tweet; turn on our home alarm system, check a movie out from Netflex or use our credit card for a purchase.

Our cars and phones have GPS locators in them, but it’s OK – after all – if we get in trouble we want someone to come rescue us, right? (iPhones were shown last year to be frequently reporting the user’s geographical location per the Guardian.)

We may mourn the loss of our privacy, but for the most part, we are the ones who let it slip through our fingers. We gave it away to get a bargain at the grocery store, to be able to charge our purchases, to be ‘protected’ or to participate in our online world.

How far would you be willing to go, to get it back?

As far as Gene Hackman in Enemy of the State – taking extreme measures such as living in a metal cage room so radio and electronic signals could not leak through?

Would you be willing to forgo use of convenient online products to assure your information remained private – to pay for email instead of using gmail – to avoid using Skype for your video calls (you do know they record and keep the data right?) – to direct wire to your internet instead of using wifi or hot spots –  to take action against companies, laws and governments that slowly but surely are collecting our private information?

How valuable is your privacy? What will the world be like in 50 years if we stay this course?


Mourning the Loss of Privacy — 26 Comments

  1. I’m very much troubled by the decline in privacy, and I guard jealously the few remaining pieces of info about myself I can keep private. I consciously behave in certain ways specifically to safeguard privacy. I’m amazed that many young people appear perfectly fine with sharing every detail about their lives and identities with the world, and seem oblivious to the potential consequences.

    • I hear ya – I obviously am as well. Sometimes I think I’m just a dinosaur though – and wonder if my Grandma hated it when she got her first telephone – which had to be a big intrusion on everyone’s privacy at the time.

  2. Couldn’t agree more. The thing with privacy rights is that once they’re lost (ie Patriot Act) we will never get them back. Library checkout records, emails, credit cards, phones, cars…all this info, and we’ll never get the privacy back.So we either have to accept that this is the way it is or fall of the grid in some extreme way. What other choice do we have?

    • You mentioned a lot of things that I didn’t. We do (and have for years) driven around with license plates on our cars…any police department could get a lot of personal information from that – even way back when. Thing is, then it was isolated, not easily put together as it is now.

      I don’t have any solutions either – the only answer I know is to try to stay clouded in anonymity.

  3. I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently, and figured out that a lot of this just isnt worth it. I stopped “liking” things on facebook about 5 years ago because I didnt like what they were doing with the info. I log in and browse ,then log out without visiting any other sites while logged in, and dont accept cookies. Still though, I think they know too much.

  4. I seem to be one of the few who doesn’t care much about privacy. I freely share my financial stuff pretty consistently on my blog and realize that most of my personal info is easily attainable with anyone that is computer savvy. But I don’t participate much in Facebook or social media since that stuff usually annoys me. So, I know that privacy is a dying resource but don’t think about it much.

    • Crystal, it is beginning to feel that you are in the majority. I guess in the near future we will all feel like celebrities – with a spread in the latest issue of the gossip rags – our lives will be an open book for anyone to read.

  5. The world is all too public. I don’t know what we could do to retract it. I don’t post too much of my financial info on my blog because of this. But I’m also not going to go all Gene Hackman on the world.

  6. Our family’s house was burlarized on our son’s 9th birthday, 3 days before Christmas! It was as terrible as it sounds. Adding to the issue was that the 4 of us had to go down to the police station to be fingerprinted so they could eliminate our prints. As horrible as the whole thing was, knowing our fingerprints were in a national crime base was just as invasive!!! Supposedly they are destroyed after a certain time period…..right : /

    • We have been lucky so far, but we personally know several people who had break ins. They never told us that you have to get fingerprinted though!

      It is so scary to think about how many innocent people are convicted of crimes and serve jail time.

  7. Yikes. I know of all these things individually, but when you put it all together you do realize just how bad things have gotten. I think the need to control the universe may have taken things a bit too far.

  8. Yeah, privacy is going to be gone in the future. The government can already easily tap into locations and filter the Internet, without your knowledge. Private companies like Facebook have access to an unprecedented amount of data. Soon, flying drones will be able to see in your windows, and I believe that this is currently legal since if something’s visible from the sky, it’s up to you to close your blinds. Scary stuff!

  9. Yes, I do remember when there was such a thing as “none of your business,” when your Social Security card arrived in the mail with a letter from the feds stating that it was against the law for it to be used an identification number (!!), when it was illegal for the government (or anyone else) to eavesdrop on your phone conversations and read your mail, when no one would even think of asking for personal details like your phone number and birthday, and when a person had a “reasonable expectation of privacy” inside one’s home and within one’s walled backyard.

    I do everything I can to protect private information that matters to me, even to the point of dispensing disinformation whenever possible. But it’s a losing battle.

  10. I realize you are speaking about services that we opt-in to use and thereby forgo our rights to privacy. That’s concerning in itself because the personal data collected by some companies on our daily lives is staggering and frightening. More and more, living off the grid will become a distant memory for most people. Also, I’m not a fan of the overt dissemination of personal data either. I think even cautious people have a lot more data out there than then realize.

  11. I remember reading (and tweeting) a quote last year that said something like, “If you’re getting something for free, the free item isn’t the product. You are.”

    Information has become the most valuable commodity on the planet. Every time we fill out a form, answer a survey, or visit a website, someone is keeping track of it. There are probably entities that could tell you more about me than I could. Personally, I hate it, but I also don’t know what to do about it.

    So much of my life is online. I bank online, shop online, work online… I do try to minimize the information I give out (for example, when a retail store asks for my phone number, I tell them it’s unlisted) but it’s hard to function in our tech-heavy society without a degree of sharing. Honestly, I try not to think about it because it freaks me out to know that someone with enough money could find out anything they wanted to about me.

  12. I think in NZ we’re lucky to have a relative degree of privacy.

    I’m of the Web 2.0 generation – I put a lot of myself out there online, and I’m okay with that.

    I do a TON of market research/surveys etc for extra money – heck, the most recent one asked me how much I had in my bank accounts roughly (in brackets, not exact amounts).

    Like Andrea, most of my life is online. I work in online media, do all my banking online, pay my bills online, communicate online, etc. I was a bit lost without my smartphone recently – what use is a phone that can’t get online? Or a computer when your internet is down?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

I appreciate your readership and really enjoy hearing your thoughts on different topics. Thank you for contributing to the discussion.