"Secret information centers, building dossiers on individuals exist today. You have no legal right to know about them, prevent them, or sue for damages. Our liberty may well be the price we pay for permitting this to continue unchecked."
Last week I wrote about the groundbreaking for the NSA's new datacenter and much of the response I got, both here and on sites where the article was linked, made reference to some of the large government programs that are designed to monitor our communications and gather data all in the name of national security.
A few of the comments I received in email referenced the entire spectrum of data gathering, with the writers going off on everything from Google sucking the data out all the email they track and their mapping and imaging projects, to the need for datacenters to handle the huge amount of data collected by retail establishments that use loyalty cards to generate sales data and track purchaser's preferences so they can stock appropriately and use targeted advertising.
I tend to be on the conservative side of things, yet I'm in the middle ground on this topic. I don't think that the government is working hard to destroy my privacy (at least intentionally) and I do understand the value of the data collected to businesses and marketing engines. Do I really want Google sending a camera vehicle down my driveway to collect images of my house? Of course not (and I do have a personal stake in this as Google Maps lists my driveway as a public road; something that I have been unable to get changed).
But all in all I feel that there must be a middle ground, between the tinfoil hat brigade who thinks that spy satellites are watching their every move and black helicopters are staged for imminent assault, and those who believe that complete, unfettered information availability is the way to go and that the government is inherently benevolent.
Human nature being what it is, this continues to be a difficult problem to address; the quote that leads this piece, despite its tinfoil-sounding overtones, is from a member of the U.S Privacy Protection Study Commission, a group that issued its final report more than 30 years ago. Which indicates that despite the high-profile concerns that privacy has taken on in the last few years, the problem and its known issues isn't a new one. And for those who think that I dug an obscure quote out of an ancient report that never saw the light of day, that exact quote was used at the end of a special 2-hour season finale of the highly rated TV show 'The Rockford Files' in 1978.
There are many organizations today focused on the issue of information and privacy, ranging from the Electronic Frontier Foundation to the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, but the bottom line is that you need to be proactive about protecting what you deem to be private information, be it configuring your smartphone to not include location data in snapshots you post online to getting actively involved with organizations that want to do something about privacy issues, to staying in touch with your congressional representatives and continually voice your concerns when privacy related policies are crossing theirdesk.
Venting at online bloggers or on internet forums may make you feel better in some way, but it is no substitute for actually doing something about the issue. Sometimes we need to step away form the keybaord and get involved..