So the federal government has your phone records. We know that now thanks to Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old government contractor who leaked a secret court order to The Guardian newspaper. As authorized by Congress and approved by a federal court, the U.S. government has been collecting telephone records of every single American -- the numbers we've called and their frequency, though not the content of our calls -- for the stated purpose of searching for patterns and thwarting terrorism.
The news has sparked a fierce debate about the tradeoffs between privacy and safety. But what about the personal information we willingly give up every day -- in the interest, not of security, but convenience? We blithely hand our discount cards to supermarket cashiers. We post personal photos on Facebook. We surrender our thoughts to Google in exchange for the free mail. Have we collectively decided that the tradeoffs are worthwhile? Or are we poised for a new reckoning? What data do you agree to share, and where do you draw the line? Some ideas are below. Post your own in the comments, or tweet at the hashtag #privacy.
Stop doing that!
I'm pretty upset about the existence of PRISM and other NSA programs ostensibly used to "keep us safe from terrorists." I've spent the last few years of my life working hard to promote Anonymous activism, which doesn't work very well if no one can act anonymously online or in real life. What drives me crazy, though, is the fact that billions of people give up that fundamental right to privacy literally ALL THE TIME. Facebook, FourSquare, Twitter, all of them allow people to post information about where they are, what they're doing, who they're with, and what their political thoughts are. And people do it constantly! This isn't a matter of "nobody wants to see pictures of your sandwich." It's a serious matter of compromising your own privacy. Stop doing that. With very little effort, I could use social media to find out where you live, who your associates are, and everything about your political leanings. And don't pretend that your privacy settings matter. Everything has holes.
Gregg Housh, @GreggHoush
Just helpful enough?
When you use free Internet services from Facebook or Google, you’re not paying in cash. You’re paying in little bits of personal information, which the companies can then monetize as they see fit. For me, the ability to communicate with people on Facebook is just helpful enough, and the downside of NOT using something everyone else uses is just big enough, to keep me coughing up information. Of course, there’s a crucial difference between paying in cash and paying with personal data: If you’re dissatisfied with a store or a bar or a burger joint, you can just stop giving them your money. Even if you quit Facebook (or Google, or....) tomorrow, they can’t -- or won’t -- un-know what you’ve already told them about yourself.
Dante Ramos, @danteramos
Globe deputy editorial page editor
The one thing you shouldn't share
I have little to no expectation of privacy, given how often we nonchalantly offer up personal data — credit cards, telephone number, email, address — several times a day. No one should be surprised they’re being tracked. In fact, I think life could be a lot easier and safer if the US finally adopted a national ID card like so many other countries.Yet I draw the line at my social security number. Everyone from the utility company to your doctor insists on having it, though very few places except your employer (to pay you) and your bank (to comply with federal laws) actually need it. But if your number gets lifted, a person can open new accounts in your name and you’re unlikely to know for months, even years. Your credit can be devastated. And good luck on trying not to pay those bills because, as far as the creditor is concerned, you opened the accounts.
Kathleen Kingsbury, @katiekings
Globe editorial writer
Where the government should stop
The Fourth Amendment is a beautiful thing. It establishes that the government doesn’t have a right to poke around in our private lives unless it has individualized suspicion against a person, and obtains a warrant from a judge based on probable cause. That may sound quaint in 2013, but studies have shown that Americans are as likely to be killed by our own furniture as we are by terrorists. We can continue down the road to authoritarianism, placing no limits on the government’s power and remaining almost wholly ignorant of its secretive, illegal activities, or we can reverse course and fight for a democratic, open society. Which way will we go? Towards freedom, or further into complacency? I choose freedom.
Director, ACLU of Massachusetts Technology for Liberty Project
Things Google has known...for years
Your schedule: Google Calendar opens your personal and business schedule up to the prying eyes of Google.
Everything you’re looking at online: Users of the browser Google Chrome allow Google to see all of the web pages they are visiting.
Your problems: Asking a question or giving an answer on Google Answers will reveal your problems and personal life to Google.
How your voice sounds: Using Google Talk will share the sound of your voice with Google.
What you, your friends and family look like and do: With the photo editor Picasa, you’re revealing your photographs, friends, and moments to Google.
from "25 Surprising Things Google Knows About You"
Criminal Justice USA blog, March 10, 2009
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