Friday, July 07, 2006

Why privacy matters

Just spotted this over on Bruce Schneier’s blog. The Privacy Commissioner of Canada has warned that Canadians are facing unprecedented threats to their privacy:
A popular response is: "If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear." By that reasoning, of course, we shouldn't mind if the police were free to come into our homes at any time just to look around, if all our telephone conversations were monitored, if all our mail were read, if all the protections developed over centuries were swept away. It's only a difference of degree from the intrusions already being implemented or considered.

The truth is that we all do have something to hide, not because it's criminal or even shameful, but simply because it's private. We carefully calibrate what we reveal about ourselves to others. Most of us are only willing to have a few things known about us by a stranger, more by an acquaintance, and the most by a very close friend or a romantic partner. The right not to be known against our will - indeed, the right to be anonymous except when we choose to identify ourselves - is at the very core of human dignity, autonomy and freedom.

If we allow the state to sweep away the normal walls of privacy that protect the details of our lives, we will consign ourselves psychologically to living in a fishbowl. Even if we suffered no other specific harm as a result, that alone would profoundly change how we feel.

A lovely piece of writing. Something that has always worried us about the whole children's database shebang is the effects of constant surveillance on children's development. If privacy is the way that we draw our personal boundaries, how do you develop a robust sense of self when your privacy is constantly under threat? Just remembered that ARCH said something along those lines some time back, so if the thought interests you, take a look.

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