Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Personal Privacy

I recently touched on the topic of privacy without expanding much. That particular blurb was inspired by a story I had heard on NPR about a small village that had posted cameras on the only roads leading into and out of town as part of a plan to thwart auto theft.

Naturally, in that small village, there was an outcry from those citizens who felt victimized by a perceived loss of privacy. Had I written more expansively, I would have pointed out that those same people already have their locations registered if not tracked on a regular basis by the cameras at banks, stores, gas stations, and parking garages. Every time they use a credit or debit card they leave a geographic trail as well as a pattern of consumption. And as we all know, their internet habits form a record that can be mined to assemble a rich and detailed picture of their personal interests and activities.

Most importantly, today's cell phones are like beacons that can be plotted through space and time to reconstruct the owners movements with alarming accuracy. In this respect, a new camera in a tree on the road out of town is hardly an infringement. People just like to cry victim.

I was prompted to come back and write more on privacy because I have heard too many times over the past few days that the people have "a right to know" what happened to Tiger Woods the other day.

No they don't.

The argument is that "he leads a public life" and has "made millions off his fame" so volunteering details is the price he must pay. Actually, having the media dig up details about his private life is the price he must pay, and he has been paying it for his entire adult existence. He needs not volunteer a thing and no one has a right to know.

I understand that people are curious but the claim of a "right to know" is the opposite of the "right to privacy" that began this post. Here's how I see it: First and foremost, we all have a right to privacy. However, we need to be realistic about how most of us have already (voluntarily) undermined those rights by carrying cell phones and using the internet. I think many fear losing a level of privacy that they have probably already forfeited.


  1. what is this town? Adulteryville? what are all these people hiding that they don't want others finding out?

    "Honey, i would NEVER cheat on you... but i'll fight until my death to protect my right to do it undetected!" Gotta love the USA.

    until someone uses your cell-phone-beacon, or internet log to gain insight on your life, your privacy has not been invaded. are there more opportunities for ones privacy to be invaded? certainly. are peoples private lives being invaded more often because of this? probably not. chances are people still don't care what you do day-to-day

  2. Anonymous12/02/2009

    Here's a new one. In the newspaper this morning there was a story about the local police cruisers being mounted with cameras that would scan license plates of nearby cars and alert the officer if a car was stolen, or was resistered to someone with an arrest warrant etc. This would free up the officer to concentrate on driving. The only hold up to implementing this is that "there might be some privacy issues". Amazing. (name purposely withheld - it's none of your business)

  3. Boo Hoo12/02/2009

    What's a little privacy ? Just because you choose to give up one piece, that doesn't mean someone has the right to go ahead and take another piece. When does it end ? Your rights are not taken away in one big apparent chunk, they are chiseled away slowly until one day you notice that everyone is wearing the same gray pajamas and driving a white Yugo.

    Healthcare is the next big program the government is going to fix !!! They have done so well with the war on poverty and the war on drugs !

  4. If Boo Hoo is responding to the comment about cameras on police cars, I would contend that criminals have forfeited their right to privacy.

  5. Boo Hoo12/03/2009

    Sorry Jack, the original post had a lot more to it than just "cameras on police cars".
    FYI - I have no respect for criminals, but our society seems to have a different idea. We let child rapists out of jail on a seemingly daily basis. Two days ago another little girl never made it home. But hey - poor Tiger !!