Five reasons you should care about the NSA and privacy issues

Privacy issues have been in the news a lot recently, but a lot of people don’t seem to care. A survey from the Pew Research Center concluded that 56% of American’s view the government’s tracking of phone records as “acceptable.” Why should people care about privacy issues, particularly if they have nothing to hide? Here are 5 reasons why privacy is important.

1. You probably aren’t as open as you think you are

Maybe you don’t care if the government knows what phone numbers you dial or what your emails say. There are probably still limitations to what you are comfortable sharing with certain audiences.

  • Would you put social security number and credit card information on a public website?
  • Would you show your current spouse or partner correspondence you had with your ex?
  • Do you want your children to see you have sex? What about your neighbor? Or your boss?
You are being videotaped
Photo credit: ChrisGoldNY / / CC BY-NC

When people say they don’t care about privacy they mean they don’t care about a specific privacy issue. Most people still close the bathroom door when they poop.

2. Standards change

What society deems acceptable changes over time. For decades it was perfectly reasonable to be a member of the Communist Party in the United States, but in the 1950s McCarthyism and the “red scare” meant that even a casual history with that party could get you in trouble.

Although there may be nothing collected in the NSA’s PRISM program that you care about them having now, there is no guarantee that will still be the case years later. A detail about you that seems innocent today could make you a target for harassment, discrimination or worse in the future.

3. Trust has limitations

London Metro Security Sign
Photo credit: ToastyKen / / CC BY

By allowing a government or corporation to monitor you and access your information you are trusting that their intentions are honorable. Maybe you are comfortable with that, but you are also trusting that all of their employees’ intentions are honorable. You are also trusting that all of their third party contractors’ employees are honorable. This can be thousands of people.

Edward Snowden wasn’t even a government employee, but he had access to a lot of classified information. He leaked data as a whistle-blower. What if he or someone else sold your personal data to a criminal organization instead?

4. Security has limitations

Maybe you truly do trust all the people given access to your data. What about the people who aren’t granted access? If there is a collection of data about you it is vulnerable to hacking or other security breaches. Security issues can rapidly become privacy issues.

Sure, the NSA is arguably one of the more secure spots for your data to reside, but the safest database is always the one that doesn’t exist.

5. Some people do have things to hide

Maybe you don’t have anything to hide, but others do. I’m not just talking about criminals and terrorists. Whistle-blowers, undercover cops, workers at shelters for abused women, and many others rely on secrecy to do good. Massive collections of data and broad surveillance programs put these people at risk.

If you are interested in privacy issues you should also read

  • This article by Bruce Schneier in The Atlantic and
  • This article by Daniel J. Solove in The Chronicle of Higher Education. (This one is from 2011, but it is still very relevant to the privacy issues that have been in the news as a result of Edward Snowden’s whistle-blowing.)

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