Is Privacy Obsolete?

NSA Security chief, Adm. Michael Rogers raised an interesting point regarding privacy. Speaking at an event regarding cyber security, the Admiral made the following statement,

“In the world we’re living in, increasingly by choice and by chance, we are forfeiting privacy at levels that, as individuals, I don’t think we truly understand…”

Welcome to the age of Twitter, Google, Instagram, and Facebook. Here our world is becoming smaller and smaller. We post our thoughts in blogs, like this one. We post our vacation pictures on Facebook or if we are famous enough, we will be caught on video. That video is posted on Youtube or linked in via Twitter.

The idea of a right to privacy was expounded in the late 19th Century. In an article to the Harvard Law Review, Justice Holmes defined the right to privacy as the right to be left alone. As we move to the 21st Century, the right to privacy has been moved from being left alone to the right that government should not interfere in our lives. This modern notion of privacy is the basis of why abortion is legal, gay marriage is okay, and why marijuana use should be legalized.

As we move in the world of Twitter, we are learning that we cannot be left alone. There are consequences every time we post our thoughts on Facebook, or post a picture of ourselves in an unflattering position. We learn that not everyone is going to agree with our political rants or statements. We cannot demand the right to be left alone, if we desire to post every moment of our lives in the internet. The more we blog, the more we post on Facebook or in Twitter, we might begin to learn that no man is an island to quote the English poet John Donne.

That being said, I think that the notion of privacy is not obsolete, but needs to be reformed. We need to recognize that so long as we live in a community or a society, our actions and statements will have consequences. The question then becomes what information about ourselves do we want to have the right to consent to?

In this debate about big data, access to information, and so forth, the starting point about privacy should begin with what information about myself do I consent to give no just to the government, but also to the companies I purchase products from, or even to data brokers.

Addressing this question first is the first step of preserving privacy.

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