4/10/13 questions and discussion
1-nuclear war, child prostitution, and gladiator style fighting are the 3 worst things in the world. If I live an average lifetime, will I see gladiator style fighting?3
2-is privacy overrated?5
3-is it possible to be safe in America, as it is elsewhere in the world?4
4-do we genuinely care about poverty in America?4
5-are people afraid of silence in conversation?2
is privacy overrated?
Jon: reading Michel Foucault's book Discipline and Punish I have become convinced that Western societies have been required to find ways to increasingly "invade" its citizens privacies in order to thrive since the onset of the Industrial Revolution. I emphasize thrive, not survive. The logic goes like this: things like assembly lines in factories are complicated and the more that is known about the individual workers' skills the better. This requires testing and it results in greater efficiency/productivity. That's benign enough, but consider the now common use of Facebook by employers when they are hiring and maintaining staff. This data they consider important to their business success. This data is private. It is the logical extension to our present times of that assembly line testing. The formula is knowledge = success. More knowledge equals more success.
Tor: ID theft is real and dangerous. Friends and co-workers of mine years later still haunted by it. Productivity is not about knowledge. Productivity has no limits. [knowledge has limits?] It's about knowing what individuals can do, who to do what. Privacy comes in when we seek to be able to preserve knowledge that can jeopardize us. I am saturated with information in my work as an economist. I must be disciplined -- focus -- in order to get something done. Some kinds of freedom are bad (child porn, "Snuff" films). The one good thing one can have is reputation and work. Anything that threatens those two is bad. There's no way to stop it. Being accused is sometimes enough (child abuse). Harm to one's family ought to be considered. Small towns permit very little privacy. In cities, anonymity rules. What's been lost is a sense of community in big cities. We are judged on what we actually do and it's determined by who knows about it. I had a friend who survived a serious illness and its surgery. I found a doctor with a zero death rate for him. That's how quickly life saving can happen and it happened because of my access to data on that doctor. The larger picture is very complicated. It's bound to ethics. Making the question unanswerable.
Mike: the principle of privacy has always been based on an expectation of privacy. An erosion of things has occurred. Once, recently, corporations who were going to hire people to do important/"sensitive" work asked potential employees to submit their hard drives for investigation. The courts haven't decided but those companies did get a lot of bad press/public reaction. Some years ago London installed "the Circle of Iron": 50,000 closed circuit cameras in London streets. A journalist tested it by walking around town and the security staffs were able to document his movements 47 times. Crimes are routinely solved via tech/cameras. It's everywhere, insurance companies urge their use. It used to be a big deal for Daytons if one could peek through dressing room doors as a shoplifting prevention. The expectations of privacy still reigns supreme. I remember flying around the cities with an infrared camera to detect crimes. Police in Minneapolis were recently caught using investigative tools to track a women they thought attractive. 700 cops looked at her, probably to look at her photo. No one planned to harm her. How do we stop human curiosity? Arguable that female cop wasn't hurt. It wasn't nice, sure, but if it becomes commonplace fines for these cops' actions will lessen.
Rachel: whether or not harm is done, the law is clear. Its egregiousness is shocking. Maybe no physical harm came to her, but the concept of public officials using their unique and powerful access to private data is worrisome. Even though she'll get lots of money it's more about the integrity of the system. Privacy isn't overrated. It's integral to the US Constitution. Pro-gun organizations oppose background checks on the slippery slope argument/loss of privacy. It's illegal to request Facebook data to get a job. We share information daily on the assumption of privacy. We are starting to become more conscious as to how data is being mined.
Jon: I have read that within 10 or so years it will be possible to use the internet to access publicly installed closed circuit cameras worldwide. I also saw a "Ted Talk" describing gossip as any culture's way for establishing and maintaining moral expectations. Our reactions to celebrities' life choices are what we collectively expect from each other. I wonder if the dynamic Foucault describes has led us to our emphasizing the importance of the individual, because privacy is so particular, so individual. Someone at the Burnsville Socrates Cafe mentioned that with the private data taken by Medicare, Social Security, and the Census it is no doubt possible for our government to violate privacy, yet so far no significant cases have arisen.
Mike: I don't want to minimize the trauma of the woman the cops were spying on. No man can understand what that's like. But limited resources means we'll eventually not be able to pay these victims. In the movie Chinatown, a guy's snooping and takes a watch and puts it under a car's tire to find out when the car left its parking spot -- a limited, low-tech solution. Today, an investigator/angry boyfriend can buy and install a small camera anywhere! We used to do lots of polygraph testing -- not so much anymore. Sometimes it was used by retailers to catch employees who were stealing from them. This was abolished in 1970. In 1974 only a chief of police could demand a polygraph, which changed in 1975. The FBI can still do this. It's just so easy to spy now. I don't see any way to slow this process down. Maybe this kind of information could be useful as gossip.
Jon: our workplaces are likely festooned with security cameras which also can catch employees doing private things. Employers may secretly use Facebook data with staff and potential new staff. There's a good side to technological ways of recording events. Think of the Rodney King beating. Here's a way it cuts both ways: I was adopted as an infant and my parents were given information about me that protected my birth mother's family's privacy. When I was a teen my mom decided that the law protecting my birth mother's privacy violated my right to family health history and violated a moral expectation that all adopted children should have the right to know who their birth people are. Over a several year period she used a variety of methods -- a small but significant number of which that were technically illegal -- to find my biological ancestors. Did fulfilling my "rights" trump my ancestor's right to privacy?
Eric: the way we value privacy is overrated. In Medieval times houses were very close together, multiple families often lived together, there was very little privacy. We still have the thoughts in our heads and as long as we keep them there they remain private. Now one can live in much greater privacy. But maybe we don't need it. Maybe other people dont really care. I never paid much attention to my Facebook privacy settings, then I learned almost all my pics were available to strangers. At what point do we think this is not good? To me the cop's spying on the woman situation doesn't seem a privacy issue. Where one's safety is involved, that's where privacy matters. I may have invaded privacy in the past. Those I spied on may have found out about it. Curiosity is natural, so when does it become harmful?
Rachel: even without a physical interaction, that woman had lost some control over her privacy and her life. Technology is changing, so we ought consider how best to use it.