Your privacy is important to us

Has anyone seen the movie Freaky Friday (2003)? That one with Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis? Just watch the first 45 seconds of this clip and bear with me.

In addition to posting this because I thought it would be funny to bring up a movie like Freaky Friday in a discussion this important, I also wanted to draw attention to the idea that “privacy is a privilege”, at least according to Curtis’ character. That is something I thought was a fact for a pretty long while, and I didn’t really think much of it for I had nothing to hide. In fact, I had always assumed I was being watched and that my data was being recorded on a server somewhere even before the whole Snowden thing in 2013. That was because my middle school’s vice principal had bought a 50 inch TV monitor for her office that allowed her to watch what every student was doing on their laptops. The giant size of the screen allowed her to watch more students at a time, and I even witnessed this first-hand when passing by her office once, where I saw what looked like at least a dozen laptop screens being displayed at a single time.
Additionally, the school’s head of IT had the ability to chat with any student he wanted. One time I was sitting next to a friend in class who started watching videos during a work period. At some point he taps me on my shoulder to get my attention, and when I looked at his screen, I saw a chat bubble appear with someone named “ADMINISTRATOR”, asking “Is this school-related?”. It was not, and my friend got a written warning.

Furthermore, around 2006, my dad purchased a new GPS for his car and noticed camera emblems on the map surrounding our house. I remember he showed it to me and we thought that it was extremely peculiar. Surveillance-cameraMy dad was suspicious that we were being monitored on account of us being from Pakistan and all, but I couldn’t locate any of these cameras when I ventured around the perimeter of the house looking for them. I still don’t know whether there actually were any because not only could I never find them, but also, why on earth would they appear on a GPS if surveillance is supposed to be secretive? It’s because of this type of upbringing that I didn’t grasp what the big deal was about the 2013 NSA exposure because I had already assumed it was being done.

I’m not sure when my opinion on the matter changed, but I am a huge advocate of privacy being a fundamental right that people must have the ability exercise, particularly online. I know that is something we all pretty much forfeit when we agree to the “terms of use” on social media platforms we wish to join, but the clauses about forfeiting our personal info is something that shouldn’t be there in the first place. For example, I don’t necessarily mind sharing some of my browsing info if that means the advertising I’ll be seeing is targeted to my interests, but I should still be given that choice to make. No, I don’t have to agree to those terms of use. But that means I can’t have an online presence. Not joining social networking sites in our increasingly digitized world would be disadvantageous to me. Technically, I do have the choice to not agree to those terms…but do I really?

snowden-preff

Edward Snowden

 

As stated by Justice Louis Brandeis, “privacy is the most comprehensive of rights” (211). He goes on to write:

The makers of the U.S. Constitution undertook to secure conditions favorable to the pursuit of happiness. They recognized the significance of man’s spiritual nature, of his feelings and of his intellect. They knew that only a part of the pain, pleasure and satisfactions of life are to be found in material things. They sought to protect Americans in their beliefs, their thoughts, their emotions and their sensations. They conferred, as against the Government, the right to be let alone- the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men. To protect that right, every unjustifiable intrusion by the Government upon the privacy of the individual, whatever the means employed, must be deemed a violation of the Fourth Amendment. (212)

Brandeisl

Justice Louis Brandeis

The fourth amendment guarantees the protection of a citizen to unwarranted search and seizure of their assets by the government. I’m sure if Brandeis was with us today, he’d have strong opinions about current governmental and corporate surveillance of our online activities. Is that not a violation of our 4th amendment rights? Probably, had we not forfeited them when we signed the user agreement. Still, what is privacy? Would our online activities be considered private actions anyway? As John B. Young says, “privacy, like an elephant, is perhaps more readily recognizable than described” (211). As such, I’d say what we do online is our own business and not that of others. If you are a law-abiding citizen, you should have the freedom to do what you please without big brother watching. The similarities of today’s mass-scale surveillance is eerily similar to Orwell’s dystopia from 1984.

In summary, I think people must stay critical of unwarranted surveillance because there are constitutional issues with how it is currently being handled by agencies like the NSA. Yes, there is the ongoing debate between sacrificing some of our freedom for the sake of security. But surveillance of this scale is moving us towards a police state that I don’t think is necessary in the slightest.

 

Work Cited:

Cheney-Lippold, John. We Are Data: Algorithms and the Making of Our Digital Selves. New York University Press, 2017.

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