Computers, Privacy & the Constitution
-- JonathanGuerra - 14 Oct 2010

Convenience rules the day.

Friend: So you don’t use Easy Pass?

Me: No I don’t.

Friend: Why not?

Me: I honestly hate the idea of there being a record when I am on the island and when I am off.

Friend: Well you have obviously never had to wait forty-five minutes in line for the money booth, because once you do you won’t give a damn about whether there’s a record of when you are and aren’t in Manhattan.

I certainly considered getting Easy Pass after my first time waiting what seemed like forever to pay toll, but the privacy implications served as a sufficient deterrent from getting it. This decision, given my others, may very well be considered arbitrary. Nearly all of the purchases I make, at least one a day, are made with a credit card. I send SMS text messages throughout the day and make several phone calls, and where would I be without Google maps for blackberry? Well, lost.

Why do I do this? Well it is essentially a convenience/privacy calculus. Given that my cell phone is a constant snitch, my decision to avoid Easy Pass is less than rational, but I just cannot give it up. Steve Rambam in his lecture “Privacy is Dead – Get Over it” expressed that convenience is what has led to the changing of attitudes towards privacy: "The average American finds a very healthy acceptable balance between privacy and convenience, they give up some privacy and get a lot of convenience…Things have changed because self-contribution has changed”. Why am I on Facebook? Well, I like to stay connected with friends that I don’t see regularly and banter with the friends I do.

Everything I post is archived and will live forever, but somehow I feel okay about this because in a sense I am in control because I make active choices on what to divulge. Indeed, I am also in control of whether I make purchases with a credit card and whether I use a cell phone; however, these concessions are done less comfortably because the bargaining power is wholly lopsided. I cannot function socially with my peers without my cellphone as easily as a person from an older generation can. My generation is one of rescheduling and tardiness due in large part to the use of instant communication. Because my generation has become accustomed to calling and changing or delaying plans so easily, we do not think twice when we do it and we do it often. Anytime I have met a friend within the last month there has been a text either from me or the person I am meeting to expect tardiness. Thus, if it were not for the snitch in my pocket, I would spend much of my time waiting on people who will never show or waiting longer than I should. This propensity is so culturally engrained and acceptable now that if I did not have a cell phone I would expect reluctance from my friends in scheduling anything with me as they would know that punctuality would be necessary. Hence, convenience wins, and I keep my cell phone alive.

Fortunately my cell phone is a smart phone because how else would I have found that amazing Italian restaurant in the East Village or that quirky bar on 14th Street—which has a record of every time I have been there. Of course Yelp Mobile is not offering great recommendations out of good will. They stand to make money by selling my preferences to companies who specialize in precision targeted marketing. Unfortunately, I may be divulging more information than my preferred cuisine and most frequented locations. They may be getting access to my notes, contacts, and possibly my media, but I hate spending money at a restaurant that sucks. Convenience wins.

So convenience wins out and I actively use my cell phone, my credit cards, g-this and g-that, and companies continue to data mine allowing for predictive analysis of my every move. I do not like it, but what will I do about it? Quite frankly, I will do nothing. Sure I will carry on a conversation with a likeminded friend of mine and talk about how there should be laws that protect me from Google archiving everything I do, but this conversation will probably take place on g-chat. I am complacent, and I am not sure why. I do not like my complacency at all, but I am sure that I am not alone. I do not actually think that if privacy is dead we should "get over it" but I sure do act like it.

Certainly one way to understand the bearing of these observations is the way you come down: that you're another example of someone who has traded away privacy for convenience. Another way of understanding the data, however, is that you're another person conscious of having paid a large, indeterminate price in return for convenience, struggling with the sense of resulting powerlessness by making occasional fitful stands on points you know to be only isolated islands in the sea overwhelming you, and wishing for something to come and offer you better privacy without depriving you of facilities that have become necessary to familiar daily life.

In this latter view, you are a potential consumer of the Freedom Box and related free software-based pro-freedom technologies, that are capable of offering you more privacy without having to abandon your friends on Facebook and without having to compromise your ability to use social networking to gain mastery of the world around you by learning from other people. You are also potentially a voter for political candidates and parties that might offer you a more pro-freedom approach to the overall regulation of this complicated network economy you see growing up around you and outstripping the protectors of the public interest in every direction. If you live in a society with proportional representation in its electoral regime, so that parties of Young Peoples's Parties, Green Parties, and Civil Liberties Parties may viably exist, you and people like you may have significant political consequences.

And if, as a lawyer, you decided to do some work in this area, along with whatever else you are going to put into your practice, you could make real difference in the development of the law.


Webs Webs

r4 - 17 Jan 2012 - 17:48:21 - IanSullivan
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