Wednesday, June 12, 2013

'Why Believing "Nothing to Hide" Leaves You Vulnerable' by danah boyd (@zephoria)

Recent news of what the National Security Agency (NSA) in America is up to is brought under the microscope by Danah Boyd who is a senior researcher at Microsoft. Her post on Linkedin Why Believing "Nothing to Hide" Leaves You Vulnerable really questions the balance between the right to privacy and national security.

We've long accepted the principle of Innocent-Until-Proven-Guilty, but this is changing with the advent of Big Data and Government's use of such data. Most people would favour a Government mining through suspected terrorists' email and on-line communications to foil a bomb plot or an assassination. In fact, when these things do occur, many in the media ask why was more not done to prevent such things happening?

But where do law-abiding citizens fit in, or as Boyd says if you "feel immune from state surveillance because they've done nothing wrong"? Like her, I count myself as a law-abiding citizen. But she writes "proving oneself to be innocent takes time, money, effort, and emotional grit". Earlier this year I posted about my experience with the Educational Building Society where I asked the question I am not a money launderer or a terrorist - why do I have to prove this to the EBS? Recently when my youngest daughter turned 18, her passport was not sufficient proof of her identity to get an Age Card - she needed TWO forms of identity!

Big Brother is watching you!
Image source: Mr. Geib.
Big Data can give us all many things that were not possible in the past, including increased security and protection from harm - after all, a Government's first duty is to protect its citizens. Boyd writes about how "data is used by our current government. It's used to create suspicion, not to confirm innocence". If we lived by the Utilitarian Principle that "the greatest possible good for the greatest possible number of individuals" should be applied, then we have to accept Big Brother watching over us. Others will value individual privacy over all else - kind of like Immanuel Kant’s Categorical Imperative: "If an action is not right for everyone to take, it is not right for anyone".

In her post, Boyd further explores our perceptions of other people, especially when we "generate suspicion of others who aren't like us". Doubt can be created because people are different. None of us will want our own privacy to be invaded, but many are OK if the privacy of others such as gangsters, terrorists, drug dealers, and perverts is invaded. However, we can't accept a society where "Spy on someone else" becomes the norm. Boyd carefully asks: "Is your perception of your safety worth the marginalization of other people who don't have your privilege?". This is a difficult question to answer.

We may get used to it - we are being monitored almost every minute of every day and generating vast amounts of data. Nobody is collecting this to stick it on a hard drive somewhere and then ignore it forever.

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