What is Privacy?

What is Privacy?
By Rick Falkvinge

First article in a series. More in the coming days.

Privacy is a basic human emotion like love, aspiration, empathy, and understanding. It’s what we feel when we lock the restroom door, it’s what we feel when we lay back on the couch with a good book, it’s what we feel when we close our eyes on the warm beach and just have a little moment completely to ourselves.

Privacy is not just completely natural: it’s a good emotion. The feeling of privacy causes us to relax, causes us to not worry for a little while. Like most of our fundamental emotions, privacy is so important to our well-being that it has been recognized as a right in our legal frameworks along with feelings like love, safety, and the pursuit of happiness.

Therefore, our laws – indeed our constitutions around the world – say practically in unison that under normal circumstances, we have an inviolable right to feel, experience, and have actual privacy. However, such laws and constitutions also say that this privacy can be breached by law enforcement in exceptional circumstances, when somebody is under individual suspicion of a serious crime.

Now, there are many different kinds of privacy, each one important and each one mapping to different aspects of our daily lives. We speak of the seven privacies of body, correspondence, data, finance, identity, location, and territory. Those privacies and their legal safeguards have been found to not just empower the individual and the richness of their humanity, but also to have positive and important effects on society as such, when its individuals have the ability to experience privacy.

Unfortunately, all of these privacies have come under threat by well-meaning but ultimately destructive politicians and officials.

There are forces, predominantly in government and law enforcement, who want to associate this emotion – privacy – with guilt, in an effort to ultimately also remove its legal safeguards. (“If you want to feel privacy, it must be because you’re a bad person.”) This is not just disempowering and deceptive, it is also dishonest and fraudulent. And frankly, a lot of the time, it’s also an expression of plain laziness in trying to avoid doing real detective investigative police work, thinking the solution to all kinds of law enforcement will magically appear if you just have unfettered access to everybody’s private matters.

Therefore, mass surveillance has been introduced, violating everybody’s privacy wholesale all the time, constitutions be damned. Even though this mass surveillance has been found illegal in most cases where it’s been tried, it still continues. Now, laziness among powerholders is also a natural human emotion, but that doesn’t excuse such laziness and demagoguery causing us to lose the right to feel one of our major emotions. It’s nowhere near excusable.

But mass surveillance isn’t just inexcusable from a human standpoint, it’s also inexcusable from a taxpayer-money standpoint. Real world data shows that this kind of mass surveillance – specifically, telecommunications metadata retention – makes a difference only in 0.002 percent of criminal investigations. Zero point zero zero two per cent! And that’s at a huge dollar cost, even when disregarding the unacceptable human violations taking place. One estimate from Europe said that data retention costs about $125M for a country with 20,000 police officers – meaning that 0.002 percent corresponds to zero point four extra investigating officers.

In other words, mass surveillance gives us the results of half an extra investigating police officer, at the price of one thousand such officers. That’s an efficiency factor of over two twenty thousand, only it’s in the wrong direction.

Fortunately, just as there are technical tools to violate the human emotion of privacy, there are also tools to safeguard it and defeat those tools which would violate it. Such technical safeguards can bring back the strong and powerful human emotion of privacy, the positiveness of which is the cause for its legal protection in the first place.

We’ll look more at such tools in the upcoming articles in this series. Privacy remains your own responsibility today.

The post What is Privacy? appeared first on Privacy Online News.

January 23, 2016 at 06:13AM
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