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Is Privacy Dead?

by Bill Rounds Esq. on December 5, 2011

Reading time: 5 – 8 minutes

Some people feel like it is useless to protect privacy.  Privacy pessimists already feel the ubiquitous surveillance of almost every action they take.  They envision a near future when every thought, word and deed are detected recorded and archived for later reference by anyone who wants to know.  The advance of technology makes it seem like privacy is dead.

Privacy Is Dead Because Of Technology?

It is true that technology is advancing to track our every move, often without our knowledge. But technology is also advancing to protect privacy in ways that were not available before.  There are already many tools that we can use to protect our private information and most of them are free and easy. Tor, Truecrypt, and GnuPG are three great examples.

Unfortunately, as Julian Assange  alluded to following the release of “The Spy Files,” much of the technological effort is aimed at invading privacy.  But, if privacy is valuable to people, more and more privacy protecting solutions will become available. If privacy is not valuable, then nobody will read this.

The reality is that privacy protecting technology is usually easier to employ than privacy invading technologies.  For example, it is free and only takes a few seconds to encrypt files or emails.  To break into those emails, you need a significant amount of technical skill, time and money.

Privacy Is Dead Because Of Social Norms?

Many also look to the changing social norms that seem to punish people who don’t want to participate in social network surveillance.  Idiots get paid millions to display their stupidity on TV and on the internet.  Governments and advertisers can now track people like the East German Stasi could only dream. But, even Mark Zuckerburg is publicly noting the dangers of social networking. Plus, the Stasi aren’t forcing anyone to use Facebook.

The Law Is Killing Privacy?

The Patriot Act has made constant, warrantless digital searches legal.  Telecommunications are controlled by strict regulation, preventing communication without government permission.  Your bank accounts are under government surveillance. Death by one thousand cuts of privacy invading regulation is a real problem, but the future is not as bleak as it may appear if we look at the bigger picture.

Americans of Japanese descent have much more privacy now than they did during World War II, even though the law allowing them to be imprisoned based on nothing but their heritage is still valid.  Minorities, while still brutalized by law enforcement, are brutalized much less and enjoy much greater freedom than they did under Jim Crow laws.

Encryption Technology Is A Model For Privacy

The most significant protection from unjust law is the technology that has developed to make the law irrelevant.  The history of strong encryption is a good example of this.  Strong encryption was developed and used by the US military several years ago.  At that time, fearing the power of encryption in the hands of the enemies of the US military, it was illegal to export high level encryption technologies to other countries.  It was treated as a munition.

But, other groups outside the US were able to harness the power of mathematics and develop strong encryption on their own.  Now, strong encryption is so ubiquitous it is available for free to anyone with access to the internet.  The law preventing the export of encryption is as useful as a law preventing people from riding their bike in a swimming pool and was severely relaxed in the US.

Many other technologies are rendering other laws irrelevant.  Torrents, Tor, GnuPG and other solutions allow individuals to communicate privately.   Financial transactions can take place with Bitcoin across international borders with no limits on value, no declarations, and no ability to restrict a transfer.

Keeping Privacy Alive

As with most things in life, 80% of the benefits of privacy can be attained with 20% of the effort.  Focusing on just a few of the most effective privacy tools and techniques will go a long way to protecting a material amount of your personal privacy. Giving up does not do any good.

Conclusion

Privacy is alive. We may not be able to unplug completely from the Matrix, but we can have a material amount of privacy by using a few tools that best fit our situation.  All we need is to carve out some areas where we can keep our private files, communicate anonymously and transact anonymously.  Other information, like our favorite color and our favorite food can be uploaded to the Matrix without much harm done to ourselves.  I have no doubt that in some ways there will be privacy battles that are lost in the future.  But at the same time, I have no doubt that many solutions to protecting the most fundamental aspects of human autonomy will be developed.  There is no putting the genie back in the bottle for many of the privacy protecting tools that have been, or will be developed.  Long live privacy!

 

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7 comments

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Bill Rounds, Esq. is a California attorney. He holds a degree in Accounting from the University of Utah and a law degree from California Western School of Law. He practices civil litigation, domestic and foreign business entity formation and transactions, criminal defense and privacy law. He is a strong advocate of personal and financial freedom and civil liberties. This is merely one article of 123 by .
Free HowToVanish Privacy Guide

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Grant Hall December 5, 2011 at 11:54 pm

My comments on this question posted on your site:

Is privacy dead?

Many in the population are brain washed and conditioned into believing that others in business or the professions have a right to their most personal information. For instance, observe new patients bend over backwards to please front office clerks at Doctors’ offices. They seldom resist when asked for their Social Security number as a part of the application to receive medical services. Insurance policy numbers are asked for and given prior to receiving the treatment-often over the phone prior to the first office visit. Providing an SSN to any business, practitioner is a huge mistake in my opinion. I would never give a policy number until the services were rendered.

Medical identity theft is a big industry. Often, insiders are the culprits. I’ve read a number of articles that substantiate this.

A good policy to follow in my opinion regarding the SSN is to never provide it to anyone or any agency unless it is required by law.

Contrary to popular opinion, those who want business and personal privacy can achieve it with the help of good resources, flexible management, good communication skills, and persistence. For instance, banks and brokerage companies’ managers will often do it your way when you go in knowing what you require, have all your documents in place, and insist on your privacy needs being met. However, it can take time, effort, and extra money to accomplish these goals.

I suggest that privacy is not dead, but misunderstood by the masses.

Based on my experience, it’s possible to get anything you want pertaining to personal and business privacy when one is informed and selective. It may be a surprise to some, but I believe that today, because of business conditions, opportunities exist for whatever privacy level one desires.

The housing depression makes property managers desperate to rent houses and apartments, and those who refuse tradtional credit checks are often accomodated. Bankers will also listen when you speak to the right management. They have no SSN requirements for the signer when an EIN is provided for the entity holding the account according to my understanding of the industry and the law. They often cite the Patriot Acts I and II, the “Know Your Customer Provision,” etc. Knowing your customer doesn’t mean providing the SSN is mandatory, or finger printing-as some banks do-well, thumb prints, actually require for cashing checks. That’s only their policy. I’d never do anything like that. I’d go elsewhere and get it done my way.

Thanks. Enjoyed your site.

Grant Hall

2 Bill Rounds Esq. December 6, 2011 at 10:17 pm

Thanks for the comment Grant. There is a lot of good info in there. It is amazing what a simple request and some pleasant persistence can get you.

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