nush Yegyazarian over at PC World magazine just published an article titled, “Your Privacy Under Siege.” If you’re looking for a well-reasoned argument for the institution of strong privacy guidelines, this is a good place to start. Yegyazarian begins by cataloging recent U.S. government actions that privacy advocates find troublesome—the NSA’s culling of data from phone companies; the Justice Department demanding search records from Google, MSN, and Yahoo; and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ plan to require Internet service companies keep user activity records. She acknowledges that these measures might occasionally result in the exposure of a terrorist or child pornographer, but raises the question: How can we devise safeguards that protect the rights and privacy of innocent citizens?
Her proposal is straightforward. Encrypt all data. Make fine print explicit. Allow opt out (except in criminal. Define government agency parameters. Monitor agencies. Impose penalties when agencies overstep.
Comments about the article on the digg.com page linking to the story probably suggest the spectrum of our response as a society. Some agree with Yegyazarian’s pragmatic approach. Some are resigned, convinced that both parties are in cahoots with the communications giants—consumer be damned. Some champion greater security measures, pointing to increasing unrest on almost every front. Some wonder at the trivial number of criminals and terrorists apprehended as a consequence of this mass collation of personal data.
The question will not be answered this round. Nor any round, really, I suppose. A popular understanding and interpretation of privacy is an ongoing process, one that mirrors the savvy and social conscience of each era. We seem a little timid these days. We watch the corporate/governmental panoptikon scanning our horizons and try to find ways to call it beneficent. But history would suggest that societies that maintain a healthy vigilance are much better able to maintain their rights, to defend them against inevitable intrusions by whatever hegemonies are in place at the time.
Clashes are occurring in surprising quarters. Two hours ago, the New York Times posted and article about Vice President Dick Cheney defending domestic eavesdropping. “These communications are not unusual — they are the government at work,” says Cheney. Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, Republican Arlen Specter disagrees. He wants to subpoena telephone company executives to testify in hearings to determine whether the eavesdropping is unconstitutional.
Vigilance surrounding our rights. The new patriotism?
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