Utne Blogs > Politics

Privacy R.I.P.

 by David Schimke


Tags: Privacy, Internet, Big Brother, Little Brother, Facebook, Google, surveillance, spying, Sacremento News & Review, Mike Miliard, David Schimke,

internet-privacyAs reporter Mike Miliard points out in “You are Being Watched,” most recently published by the Sacramento News & Review, those vested in online privacy have been “drawn to a battle between two conflicting notions—and the winner of that battle may determine what kind of Internet we end up with.”

“The voices advocating for increased privacy protections argue that our actions online should remain invisible—unless we give our express consent to be watched and tracked,” Miliard writes. “But some of the most powerful voices on the Web are beginning to suggest that you should be responsible for your online actions: that your anonymity on the Web is dangerous.”

Those in the first camp are most concerned about corporate opportunists and government spies, known collectively as Big Brother.  Even if some citizens haven’t yet surrendered their anonymity to Facebook or Twitter, when anyone logs in at work or browses almost anything online their every keyboard stroke and mouse click is being tracked, analyzed, and saved. “Your smart phone—jam packed with apps coded by who knows who and potentially loaded with spyware—is a picket homing beacon, trackable by satellite,” Miliard reports. “There are trucks with cameras on their roofs, trundling past your apartment, duly noting your unsecured Wi-Fi signal.” Walmart is even “putting radio frequency identification tags in your underwear."

There are also, according to a special report Miliard references from the Washington Post, some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies in the U.S. developing programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security, and intelligence.

While Big Brother gets all the ink, though, there’s an equally insidious threat to our privacy that some Internet advocates have come to call Little Brother. “Who is Little Brother?” Miliard asks rhetorically. “He’s all the people you know, sort of know or wish you didn’t know: creepy, barely remembered high-school classmates; Machiavellian co-workers; your angry ex. But mostly you really don’t know who Little Brother is, because Little Brother is anonymous. He or she is part of a sea of nameless faces: the anonymity-emboldened tough guy on a message board, or an auteur posting a sadistic video on YouTube, or an obsessive Twitter stalker, or, sometimes, a malicious suburban mom hiding behind a hoax identity while taunting a teenager to suicide.”

Because Big Brother thrives on information and his Little Brothers require anonymity, the ability to legislate an effective privacy policy for the rest of us is mired in paradox. As Miliard writes, “Any measure that would allow Google to track the sources of a Chinese hacker attack would also enable the Chinese government to track its own dissidents.”

Or, as the Sacramento News & Review points out in the tease for Miliard’s well-reported overview: “Don’t want the government, big industry and some 15-year-old to know your secrets? Guess you’re out of luck.”

Source: Sacramento News & Review 

Image by o5com, licensed under Creative Commons.