Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Has Privacy Become Outdated?

One of the most frightening trends of government in general and the Bush Administration in particular has been the erosion of privacy. Privacy, in a post 9/11 world, is viewed by some as a frivolous and risky luxury with little legitimate use.

Indeed, unless you're a terrorist or some lesser criminal, why is privacy in your communication or personal space even necessary? If your most provocative statement of the day is a phone call to your spouse discussing what to microwave for dinner, who really cares if the NSA is listening in? And if they claim have to listen in on your grocery list conversations to prevent crazy people from flying into buildings, then a patriot will agree to speak clearly into the microphone, right? If the government needs to rummage through my boxer shorts to make sure my neighbor isn't hiding a nuclear device in in his underwear drawer, that's just the way it has to be.

Why do you need privacy, anyhow, unless you're doing something wrong?

Indeed, the freshly-sworn-in man who is second in command of National Security, Donald Kerr argues that in today's technological world, notions of privacy are somewhat outmoded, and we should not impose our "one size fits all" ideas on people who are willing to waive their privacy. Here's a transcipt of his entire speech (.pdf), and here's the part that has me upset:
And we’ve started to bring down those walls as we require information sharing between intelligence, Homeland Security, and Defense agencies, and law enforcement. Some have grown uneasy. People are asking, just what is it they’re sharing?

And that leads you directly into the concern for privacy. Too often, privacy has been equated with anonymity; and it’s an idea that is deeply rooted in American culture. The Long (sic, unless he's talking about some dirty movie) Ranger wore a mask but Tonto didn’t seem to need one even though he did the dirty work for free. You’d think he would probably need one even more. But in our interconnected and wireless world, anonymity – or the appearance of anonymity – is quickly becoming a thing of the past.

Anonymity results from a lack of identifying features. Nowadays, when so much correlated data is collected and available – and I’m just talking about profiles on MySpace, Facebook, YouTube here – the set of identifiable features has grown beyond where most of us can comprehend. We need to move beyond the construct that equates anonymity with privacy and focus more on how we can protect essential privacy in this interconnected environment.

Protecting anonymity isn’t a fight that can be won. Anyone that’s typed in their name on Google understands that. Instead, privacy, I would offer, is a system of laws, rules, and customs with an infrastructure of Inspectors General, oversight committees, and privacy boards on which our intelligence community commitment is based and measured. And it is that framework that we need to grow and nourish and adjust as our cultures change.

I think people here, at least people close to my age, recognize that those two generations younger than we are have a very different idea of what is essential privacy, what they would wish to protect about their lives and affairs. And so, it’s not for us to inflict one size fits all. It’s a need to have it be adjustable to the needs of local societies as they evolve in our country. Eventually, we can only hope that people’s perceptions – in Hollywood and elsewhere – will catch up.

Our job now is to engage in a productive debate, which focuses on privacy as a component of appropriate levels of security and public safety. This is work that the Office of the DNI has started to do, and must continue and make a high priority. This careful balance we need to strike, however, is nothing new. With the advent of telephones, we entered a new frontier that required careful balancing between safety and privacy. We faced this challenge again at the end of the ’70s in the aftermath of the Church-Pike Hearings. And now, in the era of new technologies, we have to work to continue to keep that balance, to earn that trust, and re-earn it every day through our actions. But we also have to be willing to reopen the laws and regulations that were based on technologies that existed 1978 and adjust them to the realities of 2007 and 2008.

Privacy, in this guy's view, is merely "a component of appropriate levels of security and public safety." Privacy "is a system of laws, rules, and customs with an infrastructure of Inspectors General, oversight committees, and privacy boards on which our intelligence community commitment is based and measured."

Those quotations are not my fevered reinterpretation of some right-wing whacko blogger - those are actual words from the Deputy Director of National Intelligence! In a nutshell, he's arguing that if you use a credit card to buy something from Amazon, you won't mind if the government examines your financial records. If you use the internet to google symptoms, you won't mind if the government checks out your medical records.

So, while we undervalue the right to privacy, and question its value to good people, the government is questioning whether it even exists any more. Please take a second, though, and remember three primary reasons we need the Fourth Amendment.

First, we know the government will ultimately abuse the power we grant it. Second, the police, FBI, NSA and other security agents are too stupid to get it right. Third, and most important, we don't want anybody messing with us. America has a deep-seated, defiant sense of independence from its government, and will not long suffer being treated like subjects of a superior power.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

"End" ? Hope not! ;)

11/14/2007 6:53 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

Sorry for the fumbled typing when I got started. I accidentally hit "publish" when the only word in the title was "the"/

It went from one word to way-too-many words!

11/14/2007 7:14 AM  
Anonymous dolphin said...

I hate it when people use the amount of information most of us put out on the internet every day as justification for the government stealing that information from us. When I purchase something on Amazon I know that I'm giving them my contact and billing information, yet if somebody else hacked in to Amazon and took that information without my permission, they'd have committed a crime. How can someone think it's less criminal for the government to do the exact same thing?

The argument isn't new, but it's scary that it's filtered up high enough that government officials feel free to use it without even trying to mask it.

11/14/2007 8:34 AM  
Anonymous travelingal said...

At first, I was in the if you ain't done anything wrong camp, what's the problem. However, I am changing my mind as time goes by. I still am more concerned that some jerk will steal my identity for financial reasons than the government knowing what library books I read, but I have to respect the deeply held beliefs people have that the government should stay out of their private business.

I hope we find the right balance in these treacherous times where we can be assured the government has the necessary tools to protect us while still maintaining our constitutional rights.

That said, Donald Kerr is a bonehead. His job is to shut up and protect us, not to lecture us.

11/14/2007 9:17 AM  
Anonymous Brent said...

Ironic that in one instance you have concern about government infringement on personal freedoms, and in other instances you have no problem with it and even encourage it.

11/14/2007 9:48 AM  
Blogger Bull E. Vard said...

First, we know the government will ultimately abuse the power we grant it. Second, the police, FBI, NSA and other security agents are too stupid to get it right. Third, and most important, we don't want anybody messing with us.
I like that, especially first and third. I wish you would use the same logic when looking at healthcare and other minor issues such as smoking ordinances (inserting the name of the regulatory agency in your second point).

11/14/2007 9:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brent - I'll bet that if there were a Constitutional right to smoke cigarettes in bars and get people sick with second-hand smoke, Dan would be on your side.

In other words, it's pretty flippin' stupid to even refer to the poor persecuted stinkbombs in the context of a REAL violation of a REAL right. IMHO.

11/14/2007 9:58 AM  
Anonymous Brent said...

I'll note that I never said that smokers have any rights whatsoever. I do think property owners do though.

The way I figure it, is either you want government meddling in all of our business, or you don't. But picking and choosing is asking for them to overstep their bounds into other areas that you don't want them meddling privacy for instance.

11/14/2007 10:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's not all or nothing, Brent. Clearly, the government has a legitimate role in regulation. That's why they shut down restaurants with rats in the kitchen, right? If you want to have rats in your kitchen, go right ahead, but don't inject yourself into interstate commerce.

All of which, you single-issue zealot, has nothing to do with the government interfering with our CONSTITUTIONAL right to privacy, does it?

You say "The way I figure it, is either you want government meddling in all of our business, or you don't." That's where you jump the tracks, my friend. Allowing voters to approve a smoking ban in highly regulated public businesses is not the same thing as wanting government meddling with my emails. You're guilty of the same "logic" as Kerr is - if you send your credit card info out, you don't mind having W reviewing your check register.

11/14/2007 10:22 AM  
Anonymous Brent said...

I'm not going to hijack Dan's blog on this anymore, so you can have the last word after this. I pointed out to Dan last week that once you start encouraging government intervention into things that don't need it (ie, there are non-smoking bars that I can go to as a non-smoker, and supply and demand should be able to encourage more non-smokig establishments) there is a slippery slope involved of government interfering in areas where you don't want them messing with. Personally, I'd prefer less government intervention in almost all things. But there is a certain irony in having someone excited about government intervention in one area but then decrying intervention in another. As I said, once you start asking for government intervention, it's a slippery slope.

I realize that one case is specifically called out in the Constitution and the other (property rights) is typically just held up in various court statutes.

Honestly, I think there is enough public fear on terrorism, that if they put it to a vote, the majority of people would vote to lose certain amounts of privacy in the name of public safety. That honestly scares the hell out of me.

And thanks for the "single issue zealot" name calling. A) Couldn't be further from the truth and b) name calling is always a great way to try to prove your point.

Just pointing out that when I say there is a slipper slope, and then Dan skates on it, he has less room to complain IMO.

11/14/2007 10:50 AM  
Anonymous dolphin said...

I happen to disagree with Dan on the smoking bans, but your assertio that one must either expect NO government intervention or accept all government intervention is ridiculous on it's face.

If the government did nothing, what exactly would be the point of having it? The government is a tool that society has established to work for us. It's completely appropriate to believe there should be limits to the power we give that tool without believing that the tool should be rendered completely useless.

11/14/2007 12:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just one thought:

from dolphin: "The government is a tool that society has established to work for us."

11/14/2007 12:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just one thought:

from dolphin: "The government is a tool that society has established to work for us."

11/14/2007 12:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous Me. said...

Sorry about that - some days I'm an idiot with this damn machine.

Let's try again.

Just one thought:

from dolphin: "The government is a tool that society has established to work for us."

No - government is, in the words of Thomas Paine, "at best a necessary evil, at worst an intolerable one."

Everytime we forget that we get in trouble, whether it's smoking bans, or infringments on privacy.

11/14/2007 12:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Blanket criticisms of government are simple-minded and uninformed. We have an outstanding system of roads, thanks to government. That system of roads is well-enough policed that we are able to travel it safely 99.999999% of the time. We have a well-regulated airline industry. Our foods are generally safe to eat. Our drugs are generally safe to take. Our public schools are (outside of KC and a few other areas) effective and safe. Our military is the best in the world.

The founding fathers recognized that a democratic government is great at many things, but it is not perfect, and that's why we have a Constitution to protect our most important rights. If the right to stink in a bar were important and worthy of protecting from the majority, it would be in the Bill of Rights. It's not, and neither is the "right" to sell alcoholic beverages to the public without restriction on how you do so.

11/14/2007 1:35 PM  
Anonymous arewethereyet said...

No, privacy has not become outdated. What is lost is our desire to fight for our constitution. We capitulated for a dram of false security.

11/14/2007 2:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous Me said...


Your post is noted. Nothing of which you wrote makes Paine's abservation any less true, either in 1776 or today.

11/14/2007 2:09 PM  
Anonymous Michelled said...

America has a deep-seated, defiant sense of independence from its government, and will not long suffer being treated like subjects of a superior power as long as it just suppresses the minority.

Annon 9:58 Read what you wrote again: "...the poor persecuted stinkbombs in the context of a REAL violation of a REAL right. IMHO." So as long as YOU get to decide what's a real violation and YOU deem what rights should be defended/prosecuted, then its ok?

Dolphin: I think the point is you can't just ask the govt to meddle in things you don't like but leave all the things that personally effect you alone, ie NIMBY.

11/14/2007 4:38 PM  
Anonymous dolphin said...

I think the point is you can't just ask the govt to meddle in things you don't like but leave all the things that personally effect you alone, ie NIMBY.

Well, except under a dictatorship, that is pretty much all we CAN do, as a society. Hopefully we incorporate respect for individual liberty (and for when we don't, that is part of the jobs of the courts) as well.

11/14/2007 4:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Michelled -

I'm not the one who decided which rights to put into the Bill of Rights, so don't blame me that your right to stink doesn't show up in there.

You should read about this Bill of Rights thing - you'd be surprised at what is and isn't in it.

11/14/2007 5:05 PM  
Blogger Bull E. Vard said...


Way back when when the founders were writing the Constitution there was a big debate about the bill of rights. Some of them thought that if the people's rights were listed that people in the future would think that those were the only rights they were allowed. There is even wording in the Constitution to the effect of those rights not stated as belonging to the government belong to the people. Yet, the founders capitulated and gave us a bill of rights anyway. And now, YOU are proving them right. Good job!

11/14/2007 5:14 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

It's great to get home from work and see such an interesting discussion.

It appears that Brent, and, to a lesser extent, Mr. Vard, believe that the right to stink up a bar ranks way up there with the right to privacy, and the Fourth Amendment has no special dignity over the right to stink, merely because it was included in the Bill of Rights. That's really pretty shocking, and surprising.

Mr. Vard is correct, of course, that the Bill of Rights is not the exclusive list of rights in this country. But they are the rights that are supposed to be out of play by the majority. Other rights and privileges exist in society, but they don't get the same protection.

Ultimately, this post is about the right to privacy, not the right to stink. There is a huge, huge difference, and I'm really surprised that so many people think that my support of a further restriction (of many) on "right" of bar owners has any bearing whatsoever on the RIGHT to privacy. I understand that Brent is kind of obsessive about this imagined right of bar owners (which presumable extends to allowing unrestricted nude dancing, sponsoring Everclear chugging contests, and having rats gnawing on the appetizers before they're served), but I expected the rest of us to know better.

Let's get this straight, right here, right now. There is a right to privacy - it's in the constitution. There is not a right to allow whatever you want to go on in a bar you happen to own. It's not in the Constitution, so the majority may choose to revoke that liberty, as it has many others. If you don't want the majority to do so, you are free to try to convince the majority that it ought not to do so, but arguing that it somehow violates your rights is wrong, and pretty unconvincing. And it's insulting to claim that the right to stink is morally equivalent to the right to privacy.

11/14/2007 5:41 PM  
Anonymous Brent said...

Sorry Dan. It's all about what's important to you. You want to pick and choose what the government has interference with based on what you personally want.

My entire stance on the matter is that -- as you noted "the government will ultimately abuse the power we grant it." So if we start giving the government the right to interfere -- or ENCOURAGING them to interfere -- then they will ultimately abuse that power.

Dan, I personally agree with you that I don't like the smoking in bars. I personally agree with you on the privacy issues. But the major problem with your argument is that once you start drawing the line on government interference, we all draw the line in a different spot. For one, giving up the right of privacy is ok because it helps give them freedom. For others, the right to allow patrons to smoke in a place they own is too far.

My whole point is that there is an irony in crying FOR government intervention in one instance, and then decrying it in another, is that treading down the slippery slope because inevitably, it will be something important to you that is taken potentially the ability to make a profit in your personally owned business.

I draw the line far up of where I don't want government to interfere -- KNOWING, that as you say, Government will abuse their power. I was just simply pointing out that when you, Dan, encourage government to interfere, KNOWING they're going to abuse that power, there's a certain irony when you decry them overstepping their bounds.

So while you want to dismiss these as entirely different issues, they're on the same slope...

11/14/2007 7:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Funny how Dan is concerned about privacy but not personal rights via smoking bans.

I think that is called emotionalism

11/14/2007 8:46 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

Anonymous - read the comments up above, and you'll see that there is a major distinction between the liberty to stink up a room and the right to privacy. That's not emotionalism, it's a solid understanding of the proper role of government.

Brent - I don't think we are really all that far apart, now that you realize there is a difference between Constitutional rights and the liberty to stink up a bar. We draw the line differently - I get nervous when government starts spying on its citizens, you start worrying when people are able to enjoy going into a bar without a gas mask. I suppose there's some chance that government could abuse its authority to prevent people from smoking in bars, though I don't see it as a major threat, do you? Really?

You claim a slippery slope will set in if people don't have the liberty to stink up a bar and get people sick. Umm, okay, but we've embarked on that slippery slope long, long ago - there were restrictions on pubs long before there was a United States. Yes, we have surrendered this bit of liberty, and it's worked out just fine. Earlier, you were sounding the absolutist alarm (you either want government meddling or you don't) and one of my anonymous friends pointed out how weak that argument is. It's not all or nothing, so quit acting like the freedom of our country depends on the ability to rudely stink in a bar.

11/14/2007 9:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Christ almighty, Dan, you're being too nice again. What kind of idiot sees a post about the Constitutional Right to Privacy, enshrined in our Bill of Rights, and thinks "Hey, here's an opportunity to talk about cigarettes?" Seriously.

Notice that Brent completely dodges your kind and gentle pointing out that bar owners can't sponsor nude dancing or Everclear chugging contests. Is he an idiot who can't see that there is no freedom to run a bar the way you see fit?? There's never been such a right, and there never will be.

Sometimes you drive me nuts, Dan, by treating these guys with respect and addressing their arguments seriously, when you really ought to either delete their comments for sheer stupidity or ignore them entirely. Brent is either stupid or just being a dick. Quit treating him like he is a legitimate voice of reason.

11/14/2007 9:24 PM  
Anonymous mainstream said...

Anon at 9:24,

Do you see the irony of your comment

"Brent is either stupid or just being a dick. Quit treating him like he is a legitimate voice of reason."


I think Brent was "off-point" is what you were trying to say. So I substituted that for every "dick", "stupid" "asshole", "asswipe" and "idiot" and it made much more sense.

In order to be more effective in your communications you might want to emulate Ssidedem, he's had some success commenting.

11/14/2007 9:40 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

Thanks for the input Anonymous. Brent's not really all that bad - he's just confused about the importance of allowing people to smoke in bars. To him, it really is just as important as the NSA tapping our phones.

As for Mainstream - I hope you'll take your own advice and ignore him.

11/14/2007 9:58 PM  
Anonymous Brent said...

Again. People have no right to "stink up the place" -- but people I do believe have the right to have a bar stink. Huge difference Dan that you always dodge around.

and yes, I do see a legitimate next step. I can honestly see a time when they'll say that it's illegal to smoke in your car or your own home if kids are present.

That to me is a huge difference. Anon 9:24, calling names as an anonymous poster is COOL! But if you want rights to be taken away, don't cry when government starts stepping on your toes.

11/14/2007 9:59 PM  
Anonymous mainstream said...

I think that (most times) when people go off-point it's because they genuinely care about what they're writing.

As long as people are civil (and in a few rare cases where they're not) they should be respected for speakin' up.

After all, that's why we're all on here - to be heard in one way or another.

11/14/2007 10:09 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

Brent, I've addressed the rights of bar owners, and you've never responded. Do you believe they have the right to have unrestricted nude dancing? Do you believe they have the right to have Everclear chugging contests? Of course they don't, and pubs have been heavily regulated since they first appeared in jolly old England.

It's funny that you claim to be worried about the bar owners' rights, but won't address the fact that they don't have, and never have had, freedom from regulation based on community standards.

Also, why do you jump from defending bar owners' rights to discussing hypothetical future restrictions on "rights" of smokers?

Anon 9:24 may have used some coarse language, but s/he was absolutely correct about the wrong-headedness of confusing the importance of the right to privacy with the right to stink, or, as you prefer to describe it, the right to host stinky people.

11/14/2007 10:13 PM  
Anonymous Brent said...

The reality is that a bar CAN do nude dancing on a bar -- they just have to apply for a special license for it.

THe "hypothetical jump" is about the right to smoke, or allow smoking, on private property. Not a huge jump.

Sure, we regulate everything. Some is good, some not so good. But our excitement to control things that don't need to be controled (because you have the choice to go to that restaurant or not as a non-smoker, no one is forcing you) is a slippery slope. You're inviting intervention into all things...and as you noted, government will always take just a little bit more. So when they take away something that's important to you, but not important to everyone else, don't come crying to me. One day it's the right to allow someone to smoke in a bar you own, the next day it's the right to smoke in your own home, the next is the ability to monitor whether or not you're smoking in your own home, the next is a complete violation of your personal privacy.

Are the right to allow smoking in a bar the same thing as personal privacy? Of course not. But if you go encouraging one, and the government takes a little bit more, you shouldn't be surprised...and barely have the right to be outraged. It just means that most other people have drawn a line somewhere else on the slope further down than you feel comfortable and think you're an idiot, dick or wrongheaded for not thinking that giving up that freedom is ok. Scary thought.

So when in doubt, I prefer to yield toward personal freedom and less regulation.

Sorry for hijacking your blog today, but the irony was too much.

11/14/2007 11:15 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

Brent: Wrong again.

You can't just get a license and have nude dancing in a bar in Kansas City. Hence the rise (and fall) of juice bars. Also, you conveniently ignored my point about Everclear chugging contests - not allowed. The reality is - you're wrong.

The point is important, because your "sky is falling" rhetoric is simply alarmist faux-libertarianism. We can ban smoking in bars, and it won't mean that children are taken from their homes if someone lights up. We can ban nude dancing in bars, and it doesn't mean that I have to wear a swimsuit in the shower. We can ban Everclear chugging contests in bars, and it doesn't mean I can't drink as much as I like at home. If, someday, somehow, some crazy person proposes making those changes, I promise that I will be there by your side to argue against the restrictions, and I promise you we will win.

Your unreasonable fear of smoking parents losing their children is not a good enough reason to interfere with the right of the majority to catch this town up with the rest of the civilized world.

11/15/2007 12:11 AM  
Anonymous Brent said...

Just want to point out that you're the one that started the day with the post "has privacy become outdated."

Yeah, no reason at all for concern.

11/15/2007 8:20 AM  
Blogger Xavier Onassis said...

All right, I've been lurking on the sidelines, but it is clearly time for me to chime in on this important topic.

I am in favor of unrestricted nude dancing in bars AND restaurants.

11/15/2007 9:47 AM  
Anonymous travelingal said...

You think the government is bad? Think about your employer and read this article:

11/16/2007 10:36 AM  

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