It’s very hard to understand the consequences of something when you can’t touch it, feel it and experience it in the physical form. Many of our virtual experiences seem displaced from a physical reality. It’s as if it didn’t really happen, that it’s only information and information isn’t real. Digital privacy fits neatly inside this parable.
I’m sure you’ve heard the following statement when it comes to online privacy:
“If you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to worry about.”
The next time you hear that, ask the person who said it to hand over their phone. Ask them to tell you the password, unlock every app inside it and to let you browse through at your leisure. I’d be surprised if any adult in the free world would feel comfortable with this. I know I wouldn’t. It’s not because I have anything to hide, it’s because privacy and secrets are not the same thing. And some things in my life, like everyone, are private. The phone is not a phone – it’s a digital manifestation of the physical self. It’s the most personal device humans have ever owned in history.
To gain access to it, our governments and tech companies have conspired to conflate privacy and secrets to be the same. It suits both of these actors. Governments get access to all that we do – just in case a terrorist is hiding inside their gigantic digital dragnet, or someone tries to use crypto currency to dodge tax. Simultaneously the tech giants get to continue their business of Surveillance Capitalism. And the externality of both these things, is that basic human decency, respect and freedom is compromised for all.
If there’s one thing we need to get better at as a society, it is understanding the physical consequences of informational actions. If you’d keep something private in the physical world, then we should have the ability to do that in digital realm too. If you wouldn’t say something to someone’s face, we shouldn’t say it on-line. And if you think that your online life is different to your physical life – then it’s time to start remembering that all these things interact in the one physical world we live in.