Mass surveillance was a high profile issue at the tail end of the election campaign in 2014. Kim Dotcom claimed that New Zealanders were routinely spied on by the Government Communication Security Bureau (GCSB). Of course the spy agency strenuously denied any part in mass surveillance in this country. In fact the government went a step further and said it had no control over its partners involved in the Five Eyes spy network. But it did admit to sharing information with the group. Exactly what information that was and how they manage to get it no one knows and that’s the worrying thing about the attack on our privacy. Not to mention corporations and their lust for our personal data, trading it for cold hard cash on a daily basis. We are watched almost anyway and at anytime these days. Just Google your house and you’ll see it on your computer screen in real time on the internet. Sign up to a telecom or ask for a loyalty card and you’ll lose control of your personal information, often without thinking about it. We don’t know who’s getting access to it or for what purpose.
We seem to take a blasé attitude to the security of personal details and we don’t seem to mind who spies on us. We’ve all heard the argument that if we’re not doing anything wrong then we have nothing to fear. But that answer is just plain wrong and shows ignorance that beggars belief. There are lots of mistakes and indiscretions we like to keep private that are of no concern to anyone but ourselves or perhaps our very closest confidants. These mistakes might be embarrassing to us, but they haven’t hurt anyone else in the community so why should anyone else know, why should it be there for public consumption?
Take a recent case of two people having sex in their office after hours at work. They weren’t impinging on the rights of the community at large. They weren’t causing offense and they weren’t committing an illegal act in public. In fact it wasn’t illegal at all. The couple weren’t high profile public figures. Just two people exercising their love for each other. The problem was that in the apparent excitement of their situation, they neglected to close the blinds in their office. So people in a bar opposite were able to look through the windows and witness the fun. Some of the patrons of the bar decided to take a film of the goings on, then sent the images to the news media who promptly made gratuitous news out of it. Indeed they broadcasted the footage; Identified the company involved and broadcast details of the couple. This amounts to a breach in their privacy. I don’t mind people looking (who wouldn’t) there’s a voyeur in us all. But to film and broadcast is another matter. Take the man in the United States who put his cell phone on the bottom of his shopping trolley so he could look and record up women’s dresses. Perhaps the man was going to post the footage on his Facebook page or on YouTube, who knows.
There are other cases of privacy being breached by people in authority. In 2009 a random audit of the police database here in New Zealand showed 21 officers were doing a little bit of “gratuitous snooping” on people. In one case an inquiry was ordered into why police officers looked 72 times at the file of a Tauranga woman who claimed she was sexually abused by a former top cop. And in 2008 officer Steven Hales resigned after he was found to have accessed the file of a woman he had allegedly harassed. It was revealed Hales had also made an unauthorised check on the file of a victim of a pack-rape by police in 1989. According to ONE NEWS, in 2012, 638 people were caught up in three serious breaches of privacy at Inland Revenue and in 2013 more than 900 people were affected by 43 breaches. Inland Revenue has since had to put measures in place to protect people from identity theft.
In the future it’s possible the authorities may look at your medical records to determine if you’re a terrorist threat. Already spy agencies are showing an interest in some research that indicates mental illness in terrorists. Most people with experience of mental distress are harmless to anyone but themselves. The implications are mind boggling.
Privacy is so important in the modern age and we should care what happens to it. It limits government power over us, giving us confidence in our democratic right of association, free speech and freedom of thought. If we didn’t have privacy laws we could be subject to unwarranted attacks for holding beliefs that aren’t popular. Without privacy we lose the right to set our own boundaries and that affects our sense of self and the need for personal space. Sometimes we need to be left alone to do what we need to do in our personal lives. This is why we close the curtains when we undress, or close the door when we use the bathroom. But you should have nothing to hide they say. Well it’s not about hiding things; it’s about have a little corner of the world that’s your own. How can we protect our reputations when only half the story about us is published or broadcast? It’s impossible to protect ourselves against nefarious gossip if we have no privacy. These are serious concerns. The way other people see us affects our careers, our social standing and our liberties. When it comes to your right to privacy – be very vigilant!
Written by James King
DISCLAIMER: This is a public opinion post and not necessarily the opinion of Changing Minds