Does Privacy Still Matter?

Posted: June 26, 2013 in Law, Technology & Crime
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This is a guest post by Jessica Ruane, who blogs about crime, social media, and current events in her sunny hometown of San Diego, CA.

After Edward Snowden blew the roof off the National Security Administration’s (NSA) massive surveillance operation, the 29-year-old technical analyst for the NSA has been called everything from an anti-American traitor to a heroic whistleblower.

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Snowden publicly disclosed not one, but two large-scale, top-secret government surveillance programs, including the NSA’s mass collection of phone records of millions of Verizon customers, and its direct access to the servers of tech giants such as Apple Inc., Facebook Inc., Google Inc., and the Microsoft Corp.

What Did People Think?

One of the most intriguing aspects of this historic leak has been the wide range of public reactions. Some people were outraged, claiming that the American public could say “goodbye” to our rugged independence, freedom, and most importantly — our privacy. In the days following the leak, NPR reported that Amazon sales of George Orwell’s dystopian novel,1984, (a story about living under an oppressive political regime) had jumped 6,021 percent in just 24 hours! Clearly the public was connecting the dots between these surveillance programs and the growing threat of Big Brother.

While some folks were preparing for doomsday, others. . . didn’t really care. Naturally after the story was leaked, the government busted out their big PR guns and quickly began pointing to examples where the surveillance efforts of these programs had paid off. ABCNews reported that the NSA told Congress that over 50 terrorist plots were successfully foiled because of these two programs.

After these reports started to surface, public opinion seemed to shift from “let’s all move to Canada” to “Meh. I guess that’s cool.” The Washington Post recently reported that according to a Post-pew Research Center Poll, the majority of Americans (56%) now consider the NSA’s accessing of telephone call records of millions of Americans through secret court orders “acceptable.” This recalibration of public opinion can most likely be attributed to the fact that the NSA was able to justify their actions “in the name of public safety.”

Majority say NSA tracking of phone records  acceptable    Washington Post Pew Research Center poll   The Washington Post

The Digital Age Gets Us Up Close And Personal

Perhaps one of the reasons that the public outcry over the NSA scandal lost steam so quickly was because we’re already so used to being on public display.

Social networking has arguably made us more comfortable with being exposed. In an age where we tweet what we had for breakfast, disclose relationship problems on Facebook, and share what music we’re listening to on Spotify, the idea that someone is collecting metadata from your phone is more palatable than perhaps it would have been 10 years ago. Even Mark Zuckerberg himself said “the age of privacy is over”. . . and that was three years ago!

Online Background Checks Rise In Popularity

Along with the overshares and TMI moments on social media, the public also seems to have embraced the idea of using electronic public records to look into someone’s past. Online background check sites, like Instant Checkmate  and, have exploded across the digital marketplace. Sites like these usually offer basic identifying information, arrest records, and location information about individuals in the U.S. These sites are among the most frequently visited sites on the Internet, so I think it’s safe to say that the majority of people don’t mind having their public records available online.

Instant Checkmate  Get A Background Check  Access Arrest Records

If someone doesn’t want their personal information to be made publicly available, these sites make it relatively easy to “opt out,” meaning that the company removes your information from the site. Although, if lots of people were opting out, there wouldn’t be a product to sell, so I’m guessing those opt out requests are few and far between.

Signs Of The Times

If you want to ensure that all your information stays private at all times, all you have to do is pay for everything in cash, stay far away from social networking sites (in fact don’t even go online), don’t go to the airport (unless you like full body scans), and apparently don’t talk on a cell phone. You get the point. It seems as if we’ve chosen modernity over privacy already.

What do you think? Is it worth sacrificing the convenience, connectivity, and safety that is offered by the very same things that expose us? Does privacy really still matter?

Author bio: Jessica Ruane regularly shares too much personal information about herself on Facebook. She blogs about crime, social media, and current events in her sunny hometown of San Diego, CA.

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