Privacy

There are two kinds of privacy: that which you freely discard and the privacy that is ripped from your hands.

People seems to be confused about the difference. If you post private information on Facebook or Twitter, you are doing so of your own free will. Your sharing, or over-sharing, is all of your own accord.

When the government is allowed to invade your home—physically or in the digital world—you are no longer in control. There are no more boundaries and you can’t just delete your social media account and stop sharing. Saying that you don’t need to worry about privacy attacks by the government because you’re already sharing everything is the same as saying rape is allowed because you are promiscuous.

Privacy is about consent. I’m careful about what I post online because it does matter what I share. People and governments are not altruistic. There are exceptions, but most people use labels to simplify their lives—and so do I. If I can categorize or label something, it makes my decision about dealing with it easier. That email is junk; delete it. That one is from my boss; flag it for action. These ones are just notifications from services; archive them. I do it with people too. Family, close friends, casual acquaintances, work mates, vendors, etc. How I categorize you determines my behavior towards you.

We all do it and we base our categorizations on what we know about someone. The more we share, the more we risk being labeled by someone, or worse, by the government. The word “terrorist” carries so much weight as a label. It implies evil and murder and hatred. Labels like that don’t peel off easily. Talk to someone who has been put on a no-fly list accidentally and see what they think about labels. If the government labels you as a terrorist, you have zero rights. The term “national security” is already used too often by people in power to trample personal freedoms and is easily triggered by the terrorist label.

What if the government had access to your home and all your private conversations and notes stored on your devices and determined that you were someone who needed to be on a watch list. Maybe you’re not a terrorist, but a sympathizer in their eyes. Even I’m not old enough to know about McCarthyism first hand, but I’ve read enough and seen movies about it and it terrifies me that we could go back to that era. People’s lives were destroyed because they said or did something that went against the accepted norm of thought. Senator McCarthy promoted that communism was a threat to our way of life and we needed to make sure to weed out the Commies before they hurt us. The cause was more important than personal freedom or rights.

”Make sure we stop the terrorists before hurt us.”

”Stomping on personal freedom is okay if it stops those damn terrorists.”

”Terrorists don’t deserve privacy or to have any rights.”

It’s easy to say or think these things as long as the label doesn’t fit you. What happens when the labels change? What happens if you or I are seen as a threat? What if just writing this article put me on a list?

This quote from Martin Niemöller has always sent chills down my spine and does so even more in our current political environment:

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I did not speak out;
As I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I did not speak out;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
As I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the Jews,
I did not speak out;
As I was not a Jew.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.