New technologies always challenge the establishment, be it of societal norms or law. With email, cell phones, social media, online sharing and generally wanting to stay connected, society struggles with use and governance.
How do we balance freedom to share “good” with the ease of access to observe, track and target those wishing to do harm? What is the limit of privacy we can or should expect on our digital footprints?
We hope you enjoy today’s selection of articles addressing privacy, freedom and how we as a society will choose to engage with each other and with our elected officials.
To listen to Barack Obama or Dick Cheney, one would think that privacy is a reward that democracy only delivers reliably in fair weather, and that it is something most vigorously claimed as a right by those who don’t face the challenge of defending “freedom.”
These rugged statesmen, whose perspective — unlike that of the average citizen — is shaped by a much more expansive and intimate view of the ever-present threats to America, recognize that — as Obama put it recently — we can’t have 100 percent security and also 100 percent privacy. With respect to our private communications, it’s better to be read than dead.
As recent polls suggest, a majority of Americans are not alarmed by the fact that the National Security Agency (NSA) is collecting all of our electronic communications, from phone conversations to email messages and internet searches. “After all, if I haven’t done anything wrong, then why should I even care if they read my email? Isn’t this just the price we must pay to keep us safe and sound against those who may be plotting a terrorist attack?”
Sound about right? The logic here is, indeed, very practical. But is it prudent? Let me approach the latter question indirectly through an analogy with our justice system.
The founder of the world’s biggest marketing services company, Sir Martin Sorrell, has said he believes revelations about the National Security Agency’s Prism internet surveillance program are a “game changer” that will spark a fundamental rethink of web privacy by web users.
An exhaustive 2008 academic study of polling in the years after 9/11 can help make sense of what might be seen as confused public opinion today on privacy and government surveillance. It also suggests concerns about surveillance may be underreported as some people particularly sensitive about privacy might not take surveys.
Pollsters jumped into action after bombshell disclosures early this month about vast National Security Agency collection of telephone and Internet records. Polling observers quickly noted widely varying results, some indicating Americans were sanguine about the surveillance and others signaling greater alarm.