Thursday, October 4, 2007

Reviving Privacy - Commentary

This column in Forbes Magazine by Robert Ellis Smith, a lawyer and author, and publisher of the Privacy Journal newsletter, is a must read! Is there a public revival in interest in the issue of privacy? And as this blog is especially interested in determining and articulating - where does that intersection lie between security, technology and privacy? Similarly, to what degree do corporations have the right to compile, share, and sell our personal information?

Fortunately, this editorial goes far in answering, or at least coming close to, a lot of these questions. This is not to say however, we quite share his level of optimism in terms of the public's recognition of the importance of this issue. While there has been an opinion shift among Americans on it, the question remains whether this will lead to a more active and energized public that is ready to fight for their right to privacy.

Mr. Smith writes:

Is there a revival of interest among Americans in protecting personal privacy? I believe that there is, and you can see the signs everywhere. This comes at a time when the President has nominated for attorney general a judge who seems to think that civil liberties protections can be ignored in difficult times, when we are rushing towards a de facto national ID card required of all Americans, and when the Bush administration continues to assert unprecedented claims to conduct secret collections of personal information and to monitor electronic communications with total disregard for existing laws.


Since 2001, there has been a maturing of our attitudes towards combating terrorism and protecting civil liberties. Many Americans now realize, for instance, that a mandatory national ID card is not going to help at all secure airplanes (from non-resident shoe bombers?). They understand that our pre-existing surveillance laws have always allowed for emergency and wartime procedures.

They know that allowing lots of entities to collect Social Security numbers only diminishes our individual security and does not enhance our national security. They have manifested a belief that by strengthening individual privacy and autonomy we might just embolden citizens to participate in the "war against terror" by staying alert to suspicious activities.


In the fall of 2001, 70% of Americans said they favored a mandatory national ID card. Just a few months later, support had ebbed to 26%, and in later years polls have shown that most Americans aren't so sure that a national ID is a good idea at all. In 2005, Congress went along with one member who insisted on a law increasing the documentation for a driver's license and requiring that all state licenses be uniform. In 2007, several states expressed opposition to the so-called REAL ID requirement, and 25% of respondents in a Zogby Interactive Survey said they disliked the idea.


This revival of concern has put pressure on Google to reconsider its headlong charge towards increasingly intrusive search services without adequate privacy safeguards. Another sign of the revival: Corporate representatives are attending conferences on privacy in record numbers.

Please read this optimistic call to action on privacy and individual liberty at a time when each are under outright assault from both government and big business.

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