Many are often voluntarily
surrendering their privacy
President Obama speaks at a news conference on Friday. Click image to enlarge.
THE DEBATE OVER government surveillance of just about everyone and everything reached a crescendo on Friday when President Obama announced at a press conference that he was ordering an overhaul of U.S. spying programs.
He admitted this was provoked by the revelations of Edward Snowden, who has been charged with treason and has been granted temporary asylum on Russia.
The president announced four steps his administration would take to review and reform government surveillance programs.
But in the debate over spying now raging throughout the country and the world, even the president overlooked a remarkable phenomenon mentioned previously on this blog: that we ourselves are, through modern technology and the internet, voluntarily surrendering our privacy – many times unaware that we are doing so – on an unprecedented scale.
WATCH A VIDEO OF THE OBAMA PRESS CONFERENCE BELOW THE FOLD.
I BLOGGED ABOUT IT on June 11 is “In the end of privacy at hand” and warned then that government spying (although much more detail has since been revealed), pales in comparison to the volume of personal information we are revealing ourselves through social networks and other internet venues.
The text of the president’s remarks is available at the White House Briefing Room. Click image to enlarge.
At his news conference on Friday, according to a transcript available in the White House Briefing Room the president said:
“In meeting those threats [to our country] we have to strike the right balance between protecting our security and preserving our freedoms.
“And as part of this rebalancing, I called for a review of our surveillance programs. Unfortunately, … repeated leaks of classified information have initiated the debate in a very passionate, but not always fully informed way.”
On this score he is correct.
“But given the history of abuse by governments, it’s right to ask questions about surveillance – particularly as technology is reshaping every aspect of our lives.”
THE ISSUE OF QUESTIONABLE government spying on Americans is not a new one.
NSA monitoring of telephone and internet traffic was first revealed in a blockbuster report by James Risen and Eric Lichblau on The New York Times on Dec. 15, 2005.
In Bush Secretly Lifted Some Limits on Spying in U.S. After 9/11, Officials Say they reported:
“Months after the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States to search for evidence of terrorist activity without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for domestic spying, according to government officials.”
This should have been a wake-up call to all Americans that their electronic communications were being monitored.
Since that time, I have taught this topic to my journalism students every semester.
But also in the past eight years, Facebook grew to more than one billion users, Twitter emerged as a major venue for revealing personal information and other web channels for disclosing your current whereabouts, what restaurants you like, you favorite hotels and innumerable other personal details have blossomed like weeds in a garden.
Edward Snowden is wanted on charges of treason for leaking information about government spying. Click image to enlarge.
GPS TRACKING IN OUR PHONES allows anyone to know where we are and where we have been.
We give permission to Google maps and other apps to know exactly where we are, where we are going and how we are getting there.
We leave a trail of our habits on credit and debit card bills and store loyalty programs. So, should someone wish to know, they can find out what you had for dinner in the past week, and how many bottles of wine you purchased to go with it.
Most people never even consider how all this data could some day be used against them.
The ways are uncountable.
Divorce lawyers can use it to prove infidelity; they can find out how often you visited your mistress! And how long you stayed there.
“Friends” and enemies alike can review your entire social history on Facebook; where you went, whom you were with, what you did.
The pictures you post to Flickr reveal even more. Did you have a facelift? Are you gaining weight? Do you spend a lot of time in bars?
There is no doubt that government spying possibly in violation of the Fourth Amendment and other statutory limitations is a huge issue that needs to be thoroughly debated in this county.
But there is also a desperate need for a discussion about how much privacy we can expect to have left after we surrender so much of it voluntarily.
Is it absolutely necessary to post the minutiae of our lives on the internet, where it lives forever? Just try deleting something from Facebook. You may not be able to see it any more, but it is still on their servers, and will remain there for an indeterminate time.
Our lives change as we grow older. Youthful indiscretions, seemingly harmless at the time, can prevent one from getting a job a decade later, or being passed over for a promotion.
We need to think more carefully about what we reveal and to whom.
We can take it for granted that our own government has the means and resources to know everything there is to know about us. But there also are steps each and every one of us can take to limit how much is so readily available.
Everyone should start right now.
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