An Inalienable Right to Privacy

Privacy has always been a concern on the internet. But as more and more people let it all hang out on the many social networking websites popping up like weeds all over the web, there's much more at risk. Every other week, it seems, I'm reading about some new privacy gaffe. Last month, it was Facebook's Beacon opt-out policy; this week, it's Google Reader sharing private data. The privacy problems just keep piling up as more people tune in and turn on.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at:

There were a couple of stories on Slashdot that had some decent responses to the “what do you have to hide?” statement:

  1. People have an annoying habit of abusing their power.

  2. There are secrets people have that aren’t illegal.

  3. Because there are lots of little things we do every day that break the rules.

  4. Because there is a big difference between serving the public interest and fascism.

Because there are lots of little things we do every day that break the rules. These include: j-walking, downloading MP3’s, subletting without telling your landlord, […] putting chairs in the street to save your parking spot, stealing office supplies, stealing the [hotel’s] towels, littering, loitering, the office NCAA pool, etc etc. All of these are necessary for the functioning of our society in some way or another, but are illegal. Yet we would go batshit insane without a few personal pet vices.

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And all too often, the hunters are the ones proclaiming to be looking for TRUTH. But they are more concerned with removing any obstactles to finding the TRUTH, even when that means bulldozing over people’s rights (the right to privacy, the right to anonymity) in their quest for it. And sadly, these people often cannot tell the difference between the appearance of TRUTH and TRUTH itself. And these, the ones who are so convinced they have found the TRUTH that they stop looking for it, are some of the worst oppressors of Natural Rights the world has ever known.

    They are the hunters, and it is right and good for the prey to be afraid of the hunters, and to run away from them. Do not be fooled when a hunter says "why are you running from me if you have nothing to hide?" Because having something to hide is not the only reason to be hiding something.

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Is it even possible to demand any privacy? In the grocery store example, even if you don’t sign up for the discount card, they can still track your every purchase if you use a credit card (since the number is a unique identifier).

There are large database companies that exist only to consolidate data and sell that for direct marketing purposes. I’ve heard horror stories that they can basically track everything you’ve purchased, except for pure cash transactions. (I hope that’s not true, but have no way of knowing.)

Other than tearing up our credit cards and buying things anonymously in cash, we have no control over this.

One of the problems is that there is actually no right to privacy written into the Constitution, in the USA. I was actually kind of surprised to realize this, taking Constitutional Law classes in college. It is, however, implied from other rights, as interpreted by the Supreme Court in many, many decisions.

Still, sometimes the lack of an explicit description of this right leads to problems, I think.

I think that normal people have every right to expect their personal lives to not be interfered with or published without their explicit consent. And I think that criminals lack the same right. However, sometimes this gets into treating everybody as though they were a criminal (such as inspecting the baggage of random airline passengers, or installing devices to scan all email at an ISP for possible illegal activity), and the fact of the matter is that the vast majority of people are not criminals, and don’t deserve to be treated like one.

Every time I’m subjected to some violation of my privacy without my consent, I feel like the state or the organization thinks I’m a criminal, and that doesn’t help anybody–me, the state, or actual criminals. It even leads to non-criminal people standing up for the rights of criminals, because if everybody is treated with a single blanket rule or law, then I’m forced to defend criminals as well.

No, I think we could use a little more “innocent until proven guilty” and a little more general consideration of the privacy of individuals.

Of course, at the same time, I don’t think it’s necessary to get paranoid about all your personal information on the Internet. It’s quite handy for a site to remember my credit card number, for example.

To a certain degree, I trust the retailer–I don’t expect them to be criminal. When they’re criminally negligent about my privacy, then that’s the time to deal with it, unfortunately. Otherwise you’re going to treat organizations with the same sort of blanket “everybody’s a criminal” attitude that I wouldn’t want applied to individuals.

So in brief, I expect normal people to be honest, I expect organizations to be reasonable, and I expect criminals to be stopped.

I would say that in the large, the problem of personal information on the Internet is a problem of the criminal misuse of that information by criminal or negligent organizations, not the problem of whether or not I gave them the information in the first place.

And also, the problem is much more a human problem than a technological one.

I see a mixing up of two very different concerns about privacy in your post. One is in regards to security—government snooping—and the other is in regards to proprietary information—corporate snooping.

To me these are a bit different. Google might know a lot about me, but it’s going to use that information to try and make a buck off of me. OK, that might be a bit creepy, but who cares? As long as they aren’t mishandling the data or letting it get out (cough cough, AOL), I don’t really care all that much that they are keeping track of what I am searching for and using that to tailor ads towards me.

Government snooping is different, though. Historically governments have long used surveillance of the population as a sort of legalized extortion—see somebody doing something quasi-legal but innocuous, or just discover something about them that they’d rather not revealed (it’s not illegal to have an affair, but you probably wouldn’t like it aired publicly, no?), and you can get them to do whatever it is you want them to (rat out similar information on friends, for example). The oversight on organizations that do this kind of snooping (the FBI, the CIA, the NSA, etc.) is known to be limited at best, done in hindsight at worst. The potential for abuse is extremely high, and in fact here is one of the only places that anything like a “right to privacy” is spelled out the constitution: you can’t be searched without a warrant, the government can’t just go through your things and life without some sort of oversight being exercised (in the form of a judge).

The latter worries me much more than the former. There should be strict privacy laws put into place which would prevent corporations from misusing proprietary information and result in massive fines and punishments if they should do anything like what AOL did (which was a gross infringement of privacy by any measure) or for the release of information like Social Security Numbers (which has happened more than a few times due to bad data practices at companies and universities). Such laws would probably be sufficient to control abuses and negligence by businesses; let them keep the data, let them even sell it (with probably some limitations), whatever, just make sure they only use it for legitimate business.

I wouldn’t trust such laws to effect the practices of the aforementioned government agencies, though. They have long taken the position that they consider their particular view of “national security” to give them extra-legal jurisdiction, and they have been occasionally supported in this by pandering politicians and short-sighted courts.

On the technological question, there are some things which are surely technological in nature. UC Berkeley not long ago had a laptop stolen that contained thousands of SSNs on it, stored in the clear. Why were those stored on a laptop? Why were they stored in the clear? These are worries that could have been solved and avoided altogether by better information management practices, by minor technological measures.

Hmmm. This has interesting tie-ins.

People who claim there is no right to privacy must accept that the Roe vs. Wade decision was in error; however, the converse it not true because of another right: the right to life.

privacy shmivacy, can’t things just be clearly spelled out?

Here, I sign up for an account and this server knows who I am.
Here, I don’t sign up for an account and post from a (supposedly) private place.

Things can almost always be traced. If I really don’t want them to be traced, I can go somewhere like a lbirary and wea a big hat so the surveillance cameras don’t even see who I am.

Now if someone does something in a library with a big hat, people will google this and suspect it was me. Great.

Anyway, bottom line

Facebook - OBVIOUSLY they have my personal info, so anything I post there is free for everyone to read. How do I knwo I can trust the makers of Application X? How do I know I can trust the makers of ?

What facebook should have is a way of doing stuff without loggin in.

Yes I realize anonymity != privacy. But it provides true privacy, unless the details of yoru interactions uniquely identify you.

Who can really guarantee that NO ONE will look at yoru data? come on. That’s why Scott McNealy says it’s possible.

One of the problems is that there is actually no right to privacy written into the Constitution, in the USA

Sure there is:

"Amendment 9 - Construction of Constitution. Ratified 12/15/1791.

“The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”

I.e. it is implied and more specifically not denied just because it isn’t so enumerated.

Hoo boy.

#1: If you access the internet, your privacy is compromised. (Unless you have a real fake identity that you use for all computer related activities).

#2: You say privacy is an inherent right? Says who? The US Constitution is one of the very few places, and it is being dismantled daily. You’re waking up this now?

Consider taking a position on S.1959.

Scoble did today:


Simply, I am not able to resist the seduction to ask you - what about your bosses (clients)? Do they agree with everything you are publishing, here or anywhere else? None of your opinions - you present in public - makes them a little … angry? Because - as Mr. Blair wrote - “The heretic, the enemy of society,
will always be there, so that he can be defeated and humiliated
over again”. Do you think that we can win back our privacy or even our self-respect?

@Max “I think that normal people have every right to expect their personal lives to not be interfered with or published without their explicit consent. And I think that criminals lack the same right. However, sometimes this gets into treating everybody as though they were a criminal (such as inspecting the baggage of random airline passengers, or installing devices to scan all email at an ISP for possible illegal activity), and the fact of the matter is that the vast majority of people are not criminals, and don’t deserve to be treated like one.”

Until your thinking changes, neither yourself nor any “criminals” have any privacy.

Have you ever left your home without your wallet? Have you kept silent when a store clerk gave you too much change? Have you ridden a bicycle on a sidewalk? Failed to come to a complete stop at an intersection? You just admitted that you are a criminal. Now, should we allow the police to spy on you, knowing this?

The idea that government should respect your privacy except under certain narrowly defined circumstances is central to the fourth amendment. It means that you are free to hold minority and unpopular views without being spied upon. It means that you are free to disseminate your views without subjecting your non-public writings and communications to snooping.

If there is real evidence of a severe crime, the police can get a search warrant in order to stop or prevent that crime. This subjects law enforcement to outside oversight, which should hopefully prevent most abuses of power.

Our present Soviet-style government snooping must inevitably lead to tyranny unless we quickly put a stop to it.

Google reader is NOT sharing private data!

  1. There is a special tag called ‘shared’. It defaults to public, but you can change that in tag settings. I don’t know about you, but when something says ‘public’ I assume everyone can see it.

  2. Things only get shared when you click the ‘share’ icon in an item. If you’re sharing it, you should expect everyone to be able to see it.

I don’t know what part of ‘public’ those people don’t understand.

I sure wouldn’t want people to watch me in the bathroom. Isn’t that enough of an argument for privacy ? Because it should be.

Sadly,No! just posted a link to this great video which I think is quite relevant:

I think it’s quite sad, actually – if you realize they had just finished fighting WWII a year earlier, compared to our haste to throw away the same rights in our current “war”…

Here is a short list of information I want on everyone. If ther aren’t doing anything wrong, then they don’t have to hide this information.

  1. ATM Pin Number.
  2. Bank Website Username and Password.
  3. List of inventions or creations.
  4. Yearly salary.
  5. Social security number.
  6. Length of penis, in inches.
  7. Number of sexual partners, past and present.
  8. List of weapons owned, including dinner cutlery.
  9. Voting record, past and present.

Speak up Jeff… Speak up

the best question that I have heard about privacy to those who say they have nothing to hide … Do the close their curtains at home? Not having Digital privacy is like not only not closing your curtains at home but walking down the high street or shopping in the mall naked.

The privacy issue goes beyond just personal privacy but privacy for business ideas, business deals and competition. I can imagine the abuse of the bills like the Patriot Act to look into business. How would you like being a competing oil company in the age of no privacy? Protecting ideas and plans is as important as personal privacy and goes hand in hand with it.