Responses To Schmidt’s Privacy Dodge

The EFF has collected several very well considered responses to the earlier privacy dodge by Google’s CEO, Eric Schmidt. Bruce Schneier’s response refers not surprisingly to an excellent piece he wrote several years ago. He not only speaks about the harm, the chilling, even potentially crippling psychological effects of constant monitoring, but also frames his strongest objections in terms of an unfair difference in power between citizens and those surveilling them.

I also like the talk by Cory Doctorow that they quote:

We have an unfortunate tendency to conflate personal and private with secret and we say, “Well, given that this information isn’t a secret, given that it’s known by other people, how can you say that it’s private?” And we can in fact say that there are a lot of things that are [not] in secret that are in private. Every one of us does something private and not secret when we go to the bathroom. Every one of us has parents who did at least one private thing that’s not a secret, otherwise we wouldn’t be here.

So this decision — this determination — over when and under what circumstances your personal information is divulged tracks very closely to how free and how much power you have in a society. When you look at really stratified societies, particularly the great totalitarian empires of the last century, the further up the ladder you go, the more raw power you wield, the more raw power you have over this disclosure of your personal information. And the further down the ladder you go, the less power you have.

I want to emphasize that first part, in particular, that confusion of norms, private, with something that can be effected legally or technologically, secrecy. Normative expectations of how others will use private information is as much a part of the question. If we expected every personal conversation we held in public to be observed, recorded, and published, we would live in a drastically different society than we presently do.

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