Privacy/surveillance. Not an easy topic to address. We are instinctively for privacy — yet happily give away information about ourselves to marketers on social media quizzes. We yearn for safety but oppose mass surveillance. We fear identity theft but want the convenience of online shopping and banking.
Dear those in ICM810 as well. We have been talking about Edward Snowden and mass surveillance quite a bit. For those new to the issue, here is the story.
I have tried to provide a somewhat different approach here that hopefully can complement but not overlap those discussions.
I’ve tried to design this session with connections to cybercrime and Dark Net and Dark Web, our requested session next week. Of course, you will also find connections to Bitcoins and even freedom of expression, as well as to our upcoming (last) session on digital rights.
But most importantly: Note the governance issue: Who governs us online? Please screen this talk as an interesting prologue to the issue.
Cultures of Privacy
Privacy is culturally defined. Although the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that it is one of our basics rights just think of how the concept has changed in the past decades, including reality shows and social media revelations. As a historical look at privacy in the U.S. notes,
In challenging public tastes and journalistic decisions with some success, nineteenth-century privacy advocates showed how standards of civility can be used to limit civil liberties. Constitutional protections for expression can be overshadowed by community norms and demands for personal dignity. The firm “no law” language of the First Amendment sometimes has been overcome when journalism is classified as threatening to society and broadcast content is considered a violation of the public interest.
Controversial issues of informational and decisional privacy have permeated the legal system, but the roots of the right remain in rather nebulous standards of social politeness and personal spirituality.
In addition, the very rich and complex text by some of the world’s leading sociologists, After Snowden, explains the current shift in our culture, in terms of the state/corporation-citizen relationship. Our data doesn’t relate to us as subjects, persons, individual being. Our data=utility.
[T]he concept of suspect is now thoroughly transformed, for we are no longer able to confine it to its juridical sense, which refers to criminality, nor are we able to confine its meaning to its socio-political iteration relating to enmity or potential subversion.
What is clear is that the subject of surveillance is now a subject whose communicative practices are seen by the surveillance agencies as of potential informational value or utility, where this value might be related to security or the economy. It is hence not that we are all suspects now, but rather that our data inputs and networks might be deemed of value, understood in terms of utility, at some point in the future. As the subject communicates in cyberspace, there might be some awareness that the communication network is variously being monitored, registered, stored; however, there is a lack of knowledge as to the informational utility accrued to that communication by the surveillance agencies.
How the mass surveillance of communications might impact on behavior is clearly a pertinent question…
Not an Isolated Issue
How do we behave under surveillance? Remember the idea of Chilling Effect and the Spiral of Silence — the connection to Freedom of Expression? As that reading indicated, privacy issues and freedom of expression dilemmas are interlinked. This first empirical look at the relationship between Internet and telecom-based mass surveillance and self-censorship, was conducted last year in the University of Oxford. This is what the researcher told the Washington Post:
It concerns me that surveillance seems to be enabling a culture of self-censorship because it further disenfranchises minority groups. And it is difficult to protect and extend the rights of these vulnerable populations when their voices aren’t part of the discussion. Democracy thrives on a diversity of ideas, and self-censorship starves it…
Many of us feel that we have nothing to hide. Well, go ahead and read this short column by a Time magazine journalist:
National Responses to Global Problems
You’ve heard this one before. In regulatory terms, privacy (as well as many media-related issues) have been nationally governed — but the changes sweeping the “culture of privacy” are becoming very similar all around the world, thanks to our global nature of online culture.
This discrepancy between global challenges and national responses is clear, e.g., from the UNESCO survey on Internet Privacy and Freedom of Expression. I highly recommend the report if you want a solid, basic, understanding of the the issue, and its relationship to other governance issues, such us FoE:
- The report lays out concrete challenges, due to platforms and services (from cloud computing to the mobile internet), as well as due to different data collection processes (from cookies to geolocation).
- It also discusses different stakeholders — governments (macro), intermediaries (meso), and private people (micro).
- It has wonderful conclusive sections (4-5) that focus on many issues relevant to criminal justice and law enforcement.
- The UNESCO report gives examples from various countries, but given it’s from 2012, I’d like to refer to a more recent project by Privacy International. PI’s State of Surveillance reports have more up-to-date information.
Privacy is Big Business