“There is no nation on earth powerful enough to accomplish our overthrow,” Daniel Webster once observed. “Our destruction, should it ever come at all, will be from another quarter. From the inattention of the people to the concerns of their government, from their carelessness and negligence.” This is not a new concept. The same observations were made about Greece, Rome, Judea, and appears to be axiomatic.
We as a nation have recently survived the dark ages of abuse of governmental power through the Clinton administration. Government as Big Brother and caretaker knew better than you how and when you should be allowed your presumed “pursuit of happiness.” Despite Ben Franklin’s caution about those willing to sacrifice a little freedom for security we have suffered an unending assault on our privacy “for the good of the many.”
Threats to our personal privacy have been routine, consistent and viral. Over the years I have cautioned audiences about the erosion, atrophy and subordination of privacy:
- National IDs
- Subdermal biochip implants
- Digital tagging
- And more …
Recently I have become increasingly aware of several ventures devoted to eviscerating the very concept of privacy. One arena is not only enhancing the technical capabilities of video surveillance, but also installing very sophisticated state-of-the-art surveillance as ubiquitous as pigeon droppings in Trafalgar Square.
Already, according to Julia Scheeres of Wired News, in Britain you can’t stroll down certain streets without having your movements shadowed by dozens of cameras.
Scott Fry is the president of Pedagog USA and in the wake of significant European success has now settled in California to peddle his moveable surveillance systems to an anxious American market.
This is another of those whiz-bang technologies that morphs science fiction into science fact. Fry’s software allows “video images to be transmitted over wireless networks to portable devices such as Palm Pilots or laptops for a fraction of the price of traditional closed-circuit television (CCTV) systems.”
If man can do it, man will do it. When they cloned Dolly the sheep some ethicists were outraged and debate ensued regarding the potential for human cloning. Notwithstanding laws enacted to prevent human cloning, there is a faction in the scientific community working on it and eventually they will clone a human being. Recently there was a BBC story about the doctor who successfully (kinda) transplanted the entire head and brain of a monkey to a host body of another monkey. The subject primate lived for a while before dying.
Just as we have “progressed” to successful organ transplants of livers, kidneys, lungs and hearts, so too eventually these scientific children of Mary Shelly will succeed in doing what science suggests they can do.
In his first Inaugural in 1981 Ronald Reagan said, “From time to time we’ve been tempted to believe this society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by and of the people. But if no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else?”
Assaults on privacy will continue. Incrementally for a long list of allegedly “good” reasons the very concept of privacy will be eroded, watered down, and eventually extinguished.
Hey, what have you got to hide?
If you’re not doing anything wrong (illegal), what do you care if some government Big Brother bureaucrat has access to your medical records, your health records, or your financial records? Medical privacy is being homogenized into some hybrid of “government data.” Financial data is again being compromised with a return of the “Know Your Customer” regulations. Tracking of individuals is taking place in a wide variety of ways including Global Positioning Satellites tracking your cars, and the prospect of digital tags to replace bar codes will give Big Brother a wealth of personal information to assist in triangulating where you are, when and what you are doing. After all, what do you have to hide?
This assault on privacy is a multi-phase attack. It isn’t just banking records, or medical records or even locator tools. I recently received the following:
Subject: Intel Pentium 3 Processor ID
As you may recall when Intel first shipped the Pentium 3 there was great objection to the use of this spy tool, the processor ID. As a result of this, Intel as well as all other motherboard and computer venders announced they would ship their goods with this Processor ID turned off by default. Guess what: After waiting an appropriate amount of time for interest to wane ABIT one of the largest motherboard manufactures has removed the Processor ID control from their bios settings and made Processor ID on the default — with no acceptable way to turn it off.
Every week most of us who use e-mail receive numerous offers of various software that lets you find out anything about anybody. “Find a lost love.” “Check out an in-law.” “Research a business associate.” Anyone can be an online private detective snooping into the presumed private lives of anybody.
Again, if you haven’t done anything wrong why should you care if your private life is revealed to a nosey cyber-neighbor?
Because private should be just that — private.
It goes back to the ancient common law tradition of a man’s home being his castle. That is one of the reasons the Fourth Amendment clearly reaffirms “The rights of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
Privacy, as defined by Webster is “the quality or state of being apart from the company or observation of others.” Private is defined as “intended for or restricted to the use of a particular person or group or class of persons; not freely available to the public.”
Scott Fry and Louis Freeh need a refresher on definitions and the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The fact that technology makes it possible for businesses and governments (if there is a distinction) to intrude into restricted areas does not abrogate the core principles of privacy. We have the capacity with weapons of mass destruction to annihilate huge chunks of geography. We presumably strive not to because there remains a glimmer of the distinction between right and wrong.
Ubiquitous invasion and destruction of privacy is certainly within the grasp of technology, but it remains by definition wrong.