Blurred Lines and the Right to Privacy

Click here for the NPR TED Radio Hour segment on privacy and the TEDTalks that inspired this post.

We face a growing assault on our right to privacy online with presumed innocent sharing to friends and family but in reality with some government surveillance and intrusion into our privacy. Meanwhile, many persons only see blurred lines in understanding online privacy violations. As Alessandro Acquisiti points out in his TED Talk, 'Why Privacy Matters,' some people may question the need for online privacy as many think they have nothing negative to hide. I think most people don't understand and don't connect emotionally with online privacy issues. And once more people come to better understand what their online identity means and also connect on an emotional level, many more people will speak out about their right to privacy and against government intrusion.

Once more people come to better understand what their online identity means and also connect on an emotional level, many more people will speak out about their right to privacy and against government intrusion. -- Debbie Hines

As a former prosecutor, I often heard victims of burglaries and home invasions speak with outrage about the violation of their privacy when someone came into their homes and took their belongings without their consent. They understood what happened and they wanted action taken. That same sense of knowledge and outrage is what is missing from Internet online privacy invasions and replaced mostly with apathy or lack of knowledge.

For many persons, the concept of online privacy is an abstract one that they can't see, touch, sense, feel or understand. And while some may understand it quite well, those persons often overly intellectualize the privacy issue, so others don't feel it on an emotional level. We need to understand online privacy issues but also need to emotionally feel the issue as if someone broke into and invaded our homes, pilfered through our stuff and stole all of our belongings.

I remember a few years ago that a friend's home was broken into on Capitol Hill. It occurred during the day while she was at work. When she came home, all of her dresser drawers, kitchen cabinets, closets and refrigerator had been ransacked. It was apparent that the intruders had been in the privacy of her home for quite a while. They even helped themselves to food out of her refrigerator and left the remains on her kitchen counter. My friend's house was a total chaotic mess. No room had been left untouched and no personal items were left unscathed. They rummaged through everything deciding what they wanted to take and what they wanted to leave. And as bad as her situation was, a much worse invasion and intrusion is occurring daily with our online personal belongings. Our online personal data by far out values any possessions in our homes.

While we need many more persons like Alessandro Acquisiti and Edward Snowden to make us aware of the extent of our online privacy violations and what might occur in the future, we also need persons who can speak to our emotions to move us in the direction to take action.

During the Civil Rights movement, many Americans spoke intellectually about the violations of African Americans' civil rights and voting rights being violated. Yet, it was not until many Americans emotionally felt the violations, as they watched unspeakable injustices occur, particularly those occurring on Bloody Sunday, that many others began to speak out and act against the wrongs being perpetrated. As a society, we often feel moved to action when our emotions also become involved, whether in gay rights, immigration rights, civil rights, voting rights or privacy rights. The law and our intellect move us in one direction. Our emotions carry us the rest of the way.

And so the question remains, what is the emotional stimulus that will move us in the direction to take action and protect against online privacy violations? Whatever it is, we must search for and find it. And when we merge the intellectual discussions on privacy with our emotions, blurred lines will cease. And we will move towards taking action in the fight to protect our rights to privacy.

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