We all want to feel safe, and in the face of fear we’re willing to do anything to achieve perceived relative safety. It is therefore tempting to want to sacrifice anything for a sense of security, even freedom, and evenprivacy, which is a form of freedom.
To feel safe, we often don’t mind creepy security cameras in every corner, oridentification papers that make us feel guilty until proven innocent. We don’t mind endless monitoring, whether conducted by government employees or social media giants. We don’t even mind indefinite logging of our private behavior, and its baselining by AI machine learning algorithms that are able to arbitrarily “interpret” our behavior, and judge the content of our character according to the biases of whoever is watching and programming.
Privacy is the extent to which an individual maintains the freedom to keep their personal information private. Privacy is important because your private information can be used to threaten you, extort you, hurt you, or damage you reputation. It can be a tool to oppress and control you in wildly unpredictable ways. You only need to see how oppressive regimes, like the Soviet Union, East Germany and WW2 Germany were spying on their own citizens to use information against them as a means of control. Private information can also be used to damage our dignity and social standing, and we are naturally instinctively inclined to safeguard it. Just like we instinctively want to keep our nudity private (most of us at least), so do we instinctively feel that our private conversations, private behaviors, private relationships and private exchanges should remain private, as they are private by definition. It should be a simple principle to grasp, but in troubled times, for example during an outbreak of terrorist attacks, fear overrides all logical thinking, and all we can think of under stress is achieving a relative sense of safety (not necessarily actual safety). Governments are then quick to dictate to us that relinquishing our private information is a measure to keep us safe, or more precisely, give us the perception of safety, as long as we don’t think about it too much. And as a good placebo, we do feel “safe” with every surrender of our personal information, our freedom and our dignity to perceived authorities that we naively presume have our best interests in mind.
The question remains: How safe do you feel when your personal information is available for some people to use with little-to-no transparency or guiding ethical principles? Information is power, so when people with guns possess information about us, how safe does that truly feel? In the age of subjectivism, any information about you can be used against you in unpredictable ways. Regardless of the benevolence and the good intent of alleged “measures for safety”, entities like governments, regimes and other interests groups tend to change over time, and your private information remainsavailable for anyone to misuse against you, as they see fit, at any given moment.
You may think that it’s harmless for your government to have access, for example, to your online chat history, as long as it could possible help identify terrorists. You might not care if government employees get to view your personal photos and private behavior. But what happens when, for example, your government changes into a puritan dictatorship, and AI machine learning algorithms decide that your life is not pure enough? What happens when all those designated as “impure” are sentenced to be imprisoned (or worse) for the then-perceived “greater good”? It’s not like these things haven’t happened before. And if they have happened, it is just a matter of time until they happen again.
There is no telling how your private information can be used against you in an unpredictable near future. And since information about you is power against you, it is safer to keep information to yourself, andethically, you should never be forced to give it away, for any alleged justification. Privacy, it seems, is safety at its fundamental level.
Privacy advocates understand that the lack of for the sake of safety is not safe. Relinquishing your privacy for the sake of safety is self-defeating, because it creates other risks, and no one can know exactly whether it decreases your total risk, or it increases it. You simply cannot second-guess yourself and generate more risks for the sake of mitigating other risks, because trading one risk for another unknown risk is inconsistent with the principle of “safetyfirst”. In other words, the lack of privacy is dangerous.
But how can you maintain safety from, let’s say terrorism, without sacrificing privacy? How do you spot terrorists, if authorities are not allowed to spy on everyone electronically? Well, if you want less terrorism, you need to address the problem from its source, and treat the cause, not the symptom. You must stop the incentive for terrorism, and not treat the symptom of your government’s aggressive policies with aggression against personal liberties of certain political groups. Terrorism, defined as the act of politically motivated violence, is mostly caused as a reaction to governments’ aggressive policies. There is no justification for terrorism, just like there is no justification for cancer, but we have some idea as to what causes them, and by honestly acknowledging these causes, we can find solutions. The 9/11 terrorist attack was atrocious, but we understand that it was a response to “coalition forces” interventionism in the Middle East, and other places, with big-oil interests. So, the same governments who claim that they need you to relinquish your privacy for your own safety are the ones who are causing the problem in the first place. If your government wanted to safeguard you from terrorism, it would seize all activities that incite terrorism against its people. It clearly doesn’t do that, therefore, your wellbeing is not in your government’s best interest. How safe does it feel when you hand your personal information to such entities?
Privacy is freedom. By sacrificing your freedoms for the sake of safety, you are incentivizing those who wish to enslave you to continuously threaten your safety. If a ruling class wishes to oppress you, and they know that you relinquish your freedoms every time you are afraid, you are asking them to make you afraid more and more. This is why conflicts keep happening. Maybe we are incentivizing them by caving in to our fear each time something bad happens. If you didn’t sacrifice freedom for safety, there would be little incentive for people to terrorize you, because you would not back down to their demands. This is where the infamous “we do not negotiate with terrorists” paradigm comes in, which is spot on, as it describes the situation perfectly. If a terrorist holds a gun at someone, making demands, then we cannot give them what they want, even if our denial costs that someone’s life. Because if we do cave in, we incentivize more terrorist attacks to occurwith even more victims. No terrorist will be motivated to mess with people who do not cave when threatened. This is why “safety in the here and now” is never a justification for the loss of privacy, because the loss of privacy is danger in the long-term.