Advancing a Free Society

On Privacy

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Wall Street Journal recently published a round-robin dialogue on privacy featuring Jeff Jarvis, danah boyd, Chris Soghoian, and me. Our vibrant discussion was quite heavily compressed for publication, so two of the other participants have now published their contributions in full.  Jeff Jarvis's is here, and danah boyd's is here. Publishing the full version on the web seems like good practice generally, so I'm following suit, with a few edits to avoid cross-referencing material that hasn't been put on the web.  The Wall Street Journal's questions are in bold italics.

How much should people care about privacy?

That’s like asking how much they should care about the weather. Some, for sure. If we don’t, we’re liable to end up deeply uncomfortable from time to time.

But let’s not kid ourselves. Privacy is like the weather in another way, too. For all the complaining, no one is going to do much about it.

They can’t. The price of storing and analyzing data is dropping exponentially; and keeping that data hidden is a hopeless task.

So, in the end, we will adjust.  Privacy is the most adaptable of rights.

Sometimes our sense of what is private shrinks. The man who invented the right to privacy, Louis Brandeis, was appalled that ordinary newsmen could snap his picture and print it in the paper without so much as a by-your-leave.  And most of us can sympathize, if we remember the shock of seeing ourselves in a photo, looking quite different than we imagined.  But no one today thinks that photography is a privacy violation. We’ve adjusted to the new technology.

Continue reading Stewart Baker…