Why Privacy

Why Privacy? - An Explanation

You behave differently when you know you are being watched. A lot of growth, creation, and improvement happens in private. What if you have nothing to hide?

By James Wilson

Aside from our open-for-business post, we wanted this to be the first real post. The question is simple, but the answer is both simple and complex. A lot of people have argued on both sides of the discussion around privacy, and we wanted to mention a few good points and to share our two cents. This post is not intended to be a comprehensive discussion of privacy.

You behave differently when you know you are being watched.

Do you drive differently when you see a policeman nearby? Most, if not all of us, behave differently knowing that someone is watching or could be watching you. Do you do different things when no one else is in a room versus when others are there? Should we let others control our behavior? Would you still sing in the shower if you knew others could hear or see? We self-censor if we know others are watching. Privacy lets us be ourselves.

A lot of growth, creation, and improvement happens in private.

To grow, develop, and seek fulfillment we need room to fail. Failures can be painful, uncomfortable, and ugly. Failure is often a precursor to success. Sometimes we have to fail in public, but failure is not as bad when it’s in private. If every failure is broadcast, then we are less likely to try new things: to experiment, to create, to explore. Without the privacy to try new things, we will see less success. Would the sports stars we watch have persisted to become stars if their early failures were broadcast and mocked? If they were never able to live down some bad ideas that seemed good at the time? We want to live in a world where it is safe to experiment, to try new things, and to disagree. That world will have more new cures, new solutions, new art, new talent, and new things created.

What if I have nothing to hide?

Everyone has something to hide. Why do we have passwords to our accounts? Why do we keep money in banks or safe places? Why do we have hiding places at all? Why do we write some things that others can’t see (journal, an email, a text message)? What if everyone was able to see everything we ever wrote or hear everything we ever said? Not everyone has skeletons in their closet, but some insensitive comment you made or some good intention voiced the wrong way and taken out of context can make anyone seem like a bigot or a bad person.

Do only bad people seek privacy?

It would be stupid if the bad guys didn’t seek privacy. If they don’t it makes them easier to catch. But is it wrong to want a text shared between two people to stay just between them? Is it wrong to expect a picture shared between two people to not be seen by anyone else? Is it wrong to want a conversation to stay private? Does it make someone bad if they don’t want to broadcast their location? What about their intimate details?

We all have things that we keep private online, even if we sometimes don’t protect them as well as we should. It would be stupid of you to share your email, banking, or other credentials with anyone you don’t trust. Does that mean you are a bad guy? Of course not. It is human nature to want to keep personal things private.

Mass surveillance is dangerous.

The capabilities of existing, emerging, and near-future technology is breathtaking and at the same time terrifying. The ability of governments and organizations to surveil their people leads to their ability to control or censure their people. Individuals lose the ability to be different and unique. Conformity or punishment are the two only options when taken to the extreme. Mass surveillance leads to loss of freedom and the loss of self.

A lack of privacy can even make it harder to change.

Most people have done things they regret. If everything is public, recovering from those things is harder. Some people’s opinions or political views change. It is hard to have a change of heart when something you previously did or said can be waved in front of you. It can also be hard for others to believe you have changed when they know what you previously did or said.

Privacy is respect for the individual.

Everyone poops. There is even a great book by that title. But nobody (hopefully) wants to watch or hear you do it. There are plenty of other things that we do in private with the expectation that it will not be observed. Allowing individuals privacy gives them the dignity to do things unobserved by others. The safe space we have allows us to be unique and feel safe. If we have no safe space we are debased and disrespected. Privacy comes down to respect for the individual. Limitations on privacy ultimately limit freedom of thought and freedom of speech.

Let us both respect others and ask to be respected.

A few resources on privacy: