Privacy: Out of the Echo Chamber, Literally Touching Our Person

Within the first discussion of this week's Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco, the "P" word was used: privacy. During a conversation with Google CEO Eric Schmidt, he made reference, in jest, to a misinterpreted comment he had made previously regarding the obligations of technologists to be careful about pushing up against the line of being creepy without passing it. This framing of the "creepy line" places into context what is now a national debate on privacy and the intimate zones of our lives.

A perfect storm of the TSA body scanning debacle and the variety of social network snafus coming together has brought the conversation about privacy into everyone's lives. The TSA debate is forcing all of us to examine the larger than life forces, government and industry, that are assuming the role of defining which zones of our lives will remain intimate.

The issue with communicating privacy has always been tangibility. While some have labeled the privacy debate as an issue that only the information elite is concerned with, now that we can touch it or, I suppose in the case of TSA, now that it is literally going to be touching us, it is becoming more "real." Intimate personal zones still exist, whether virtual or physical.

We are being forced to make impractical, and frankly, unfair choices, whether it's exposure to a full body scan versus a pat down or opting in and out of networks that have proven to be critical in today's world, whether for business use or otherwise. Within the technology privacy debate, we have demanded that companies like Google and Facebook police themselves in terms of user rights. This call for self-policing must also be directed at government entities that have crossed the "creepy line" to which Schmidt referred. Government, particularly, has a responsibility that goes far beyond preserving public trust in their practices.

As part of the Schmidt conversation, it was admitted that it is not up for any group of elites, political or otherwise, to decide where the privacy lines should be drawn. It is up to us. Through bits and bytes, it is becoming apparent that individuals have the power to take control.