To formulate my final statement, I will explain my view on privacy an its roots. In my opinion, people aren’t perfect, because they are a product of evolution. Therefore they have evolved in a creature that only excels in skills that come in handy for the survival of it’s genome. This is how shallow we are, an as the matter of fact, we all are. This means there is in fact competition between every single human being, but alliances are forged there where it comes in handy for every single individual of the alliance.
Because people communicate people have invented something to hide their week spots, as to fool their competitors and come out of the battle as the winner. That invention they called the secret. People started creating an elaborate collection of secrets through the times, going from the looks of their genitals to the access codes to their bank accounts, from the fact that they cheat on their lover to the information that might make them rich.
Secrets have tons of uses for each individual on its financial terms, in their lovelife, and other personal affairs. Even for the common good, secrets have their uses. Although, there is something dirty about secrets and that’s the fact that you don’t share them with anybody, thus keeping people stupid. Because from an evolutionary point of view people don’t want to be kept stupid, people started to conceive tricks to pilfer the information kept secret by others.
But of course, people don’t want the information to be shared, for they will expose their weak spots to whoever steals that information. That is where privacy came in. Privacy is a term that covers the entire collection of socially accepted secrets people have gathered during their lives. Offending this privacy became a crime. So what this means is that it is prohibited to steal information that is socially accepted to keep secret. For instance, nobody will blame you for keeping your pin code secret. Therefore, it is still prohibited to steal access information to your bank account.
However, the hunt should still be open on those other secrets, let’s call them harmful secrets. This is for instance the fact that somebody stole some money, cheated on her boyfriend or that somebody spies on the girl next door. These secrets are harmful because they prevent the society from stopping a harmful situation to recur.
In the beginning it looks easy. People have access to information that is shared between all the individuals of society and people should have access to the information stored in the harmful secrets. All the socially accepted secrets should be protected at all times. Nevertheless, there is a catch. It seems secrets are almost never plain, simple and one-sided.
For instance, a person is addicted to gambling. This addiction makes him a weak person in society and an unattractive mate. However, he doesn’t harm anybody with his addiction, so if he decides to keep it secret, it is socially accepted. The secret becomes part of his privacy. However, because this is a very costly addiction he starts stealing. Of course, this makes him a dishonest person and even a worse mate. Moreover, he risks some kind of revenge or punishment for his crimes. Therefore, he decides to keep this also secret.
Of course, money is counted and people notice money is being stolen. The community starts searching for the culprit. Because the culprit is one of the suspects, people want to see where the man gets his money from and how much he can spend along the way. In this case it seems likely the gambling addict is discovered both as a gambling addict as a thief.
This example shows that sometimes a secret starts to conceal a seemingly socially accepted piece of information, but as time progresses, also harmful secrets get involved in the story. So a first subject of discussion comes to the forefront. How much can we violate one ‘s privacy to stop harmful things happening to society? Especially when we don’t know the content of any secret, what is an inherent property of a secret.
Subsequently, there is a problem with the process of discovering secrets. You never know exactly what you are looking for, thus, all processes are indiscriminate towards any kind of information. I give another example to prove this point. You know there is a group of people and you know that three people visit their mistress on a regular basis. One person however, meets up with terrorist regularly. You don’t know who is the terrorist and you don’t know where all the contacts live. It becomes clear that you can figure out who is the terrorist by following every individual.
The logical outcome is that you can track down the terrorist, but on the other side, you discovered three very juicy scandals about the three adulterers.
You see that even though I haven’t even discussed a single piece of technology, the subject of privacy becomes already pretty complicated. It seems like it is hard to avoid every form of privacy violation if we want to protect all public interests, but where can we draw the line? What is possible and for what use?
For the technology, I personally think all of the products available on the market today can be used for good and for bad things. Just banishing the products from our daily life is almost never a good option. For instance, you can strangle somebody with a piano snare, you can cut somebody with a knife or you can shoot somebody with a gun. You can even club the person to death with a baseball bat.
It is hard to imagine all those products should be banished from society. To be honest, if we look into every product we encounter, it can be used in a harmful or in a useful way. If we look into regulations about armaments, you can in fact have piano wire, knifes, guns and blunt objects in your house. Note that you do need a gun license if you want to keep a gun and that you have to store the gun and its ammunition in separate places.
You can’t, however, bring any of these objects to a soccer game. This has probably something to do with the fact that the chance you want to harm somebody in a soccer stadium with one of these tools is much higher than the chance you want to cut your steak, mend your piano or hunt for game. What is also interesting is that it is illegal to possess knuckle dusters, while they won’t help you much in a fight against somebody with a legal knife.
Probably that is because the chance that you will use your knuckle dusters for a useful reason is rather small. However, it looks very assumable that somebody who buys a knife has some meat to process. So the conclusion I make here is that law should be designed to minimize the use of objects for harmful things, while maximizing their useful use. The use of every tool should be regulated, while keeping the law as simple as possible.
If we look into the subject of observation technology, I think the same moral laws can be applied and materialized. There are technologies that can be produced and distributed in a very uncontrolled fashion, such as professional space telescopes. These are very sophisticated technologies, but the chance that they are used to violate anyone’s privacy, for instance by trying to discover if astronauts masturbate, is relatively small. On the other side, these things can be used for useful research about our universe.
At the other side, the privacy violation equivalent of a firearm is a directional microphone or a wiretap. There aren’t many things one can do with such a thing besides listening to conversations that are supposed to be secret. It is obvious that such technologies are to be distributed with great care, only to be given to those who really need it for their job in those situations in which we know it will have enough interest for the common good. But things are not always black and white. What do we do with binoculars? Everybody has a pair of them somewhere, yet they are very easy to use for spying on people. The opinion of every person will be different. This is of course because everybody has different kinds of secrets and the path to their discovery is always different.
Also, it is impossible to discuss the effectiveness of each technology. It is impossible to research which technologies can replace which at which price. Because of this, it is impossible to state a proper law to prevent abuse of these technologies.
This results in the fact that I support only a very small amount of preventive regulations towards privacy protection, for there is just too much versatility for most of these technologies. There are however, some technologies that you can forbid, like hidden cameras, but the list remains small. Certainly if you see how easy it is to hide a microphone or any camera system.
I think that it is wise to punish severely if an unauthorized privacy violation is noticed, while not taking too many preventive measures. But then again, how would you gather the proof of this violation, for instance camera recordings?
I thank you. Bart