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Privacy Plus+: Why you should care about privacy

Privacy, Technology and Perspective

Why you should care about privacyThis week, we take on the “nothing to hide argument,” which is actually beautifully explained on Wikipedia, and a link to that entry follows:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nothing_to_hide_argument

Summarized, the “nothing to hide argument” is typically raised by privacy pacifists in response to reports of surveillance, regardless of whether that surveillance is driven by new technologies or old, and by the government or private enterprise.  Concisely, the argument goes like this: “I have nothing to hide, so I have nothing to fear.” 

We challenge that.  Surveillance begets knowledge.  Knowledge is power.  Power, when unchecked, can become tyrannical.  Tyrannies don’t respect human dignity or civility.  Therefore democracy – and even civilized life – depend on privacy.  And transparency (that is, the ability to see into how, when, why, and by whom anonymity is being compromised) is integral to privacy.

In support, we direct anyone claiming “nothing to hide”  to Amnesty International’s #unfollowme campaign, a link to which can be found here: https://www.amnesty.org/en/get-involved/unfollowme/.  Additionally, we would point to recent history, in which people’s information that they have voluntarily disclosed in one context has been selectively pulled, combined, distorted, and used without their knowledge in another (Cambridge Analytica).

This week, however, perhaps the most persuasive examples come from the stories in two articles, respectively about the use of geo-surveillance in retail at the most minute level, and the extraordinary measures taken by ordinary citizens to disguise themselves during the recent protests in Hong Kong.  Please read the links that follow:

-       https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/06/14/opinion/bluetooth-wireless-tracking-privacy.html

-       https://gizmodo.com/what-hong-kongs-protestors-can-teach-us-about-the-futur-1835715794  

We are not entirely privacy-centric, however; nor are we unrealistic. We recognize the life-enriching benefits that widely interconnected systems make possible; recognize, too, that national security (not to mention local and individual safety) depend upon wide and immediate access to substantial, even vast, amounts of personal information; and we certainly appreciate that one-size decrees will hardly fit the array of circumstances that change every hour.  A balance needs to be struck – a balance which may or may not be found in the arcane details of HIPAA or the GDPR or FCRA or FERPA or COPPA or GLBA or any of the other statutes and regulations that are emerging.

Helpful thoughts often come from the unlikeliest places: in this case, trade secret law.  For years, “reasonable security precautions” have been fundamental to trade secret protection – but only “reasonable ones.”  Consider U.S. Seventh Circuit Judge Richard Posner’s famous comment when evaluating the reasonableness of Rockwell’s trade secret precautions in Rockwell Graphic Systems, Inc. v. Dev. Indus., Inc., 925 F.2d 174 (7th Cir. 1991): “Perfect security is not optimum security.”

 The same is true for privacy, is it not?  “Perfect [privacy] is not optimum [privacy].” 

 Let’s devote ourselves to determining just what – considering all that is possible now, and tomorrow – is optimum privacy, for ourselves, and for our democracy.

Hosch & Morris, PLLC is a Dallas-based boutique law firm dedicated to data protection, privacy, the Internet and technology. Open the Future℠.

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