July 29, 2013

Very chilling effects

I’ve worried for years about a terrible and under-appreciated danger of privacy intrusion, which in a recent post I characterized as a chilling effect upon the exercise of ordinary freedoms. When government — or an organization such as your employer, your insurer, etc. — watches you closely, it can be dangerous to deviate from the norm. Even the slightest non-conformity could have serious consequences. I wish that were an exaggeration; let’s explore why it isn’t.

Possible difficulties — most of them a little bit futuristic — include:

And it goes on. My late mother’s favorite aunt, Genja Jonas, was a prominent photographer; indeed, the collection of her photographs I inherited is probably rather valuable. One of her specialties was photographing children. In Germany, in her day, children often ran around in the nude. Just looking into her work too closely could reasonably be regarded as a signal of pedophiliac intent.

What makes these dangers so great is the confluence of two sets of factors:

Thus:

This road leads to gray, totalitarian-like conformity. Fortunately, there’s still also a path to a brighter future.

Related links

Comments

6 Responses to “Very chilling effects”

  1. What our legislators should do about privacy (and aren’t) | DBMS 2 : DataBase Management System Services on July 29th, 2013 12:39 am

    [...] been harping on the grave dangers of surveillance and privacy intrusion. Clearly, something must be done to rein them in. But [...]

  2. Marco Ullasci on July 30th, 2013 2:47 am

    Hi Curt,
    this is a subject I’me very interested in and worried about, so I’ll take the risk to comment and appear to be a political dissenter:
    [...]
    while ever-smaller deviations from the norm are becoming detectable.
    [...]
    deviations (will) include the decision of keeping away from some of the monitoring channels (always-on smartphones today, Google-glass-like devices in a few years, GPS tracking of the car and so on) that are common for an individual’s population segment: even deciding to limit the quantity of our personal traces in the digital world is providing a trace about us.

    [...]
    This road leads to gray, totalitarian-like conformity
    [...]
    Most people doesn’t realize how strong the push to conformity is but social scientists have provided demonstrations of this for a long time now.
    The video below is great to show the phenomenon live: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sno1TpCLj6A the subject tested behaves as if he had stopped to believe to his own eyes.

    [...]
    there’s still also a path to a brighter future
    [...]
    I agree: we can still discuss the subject freely so it’s still possible to change how the situation will evolve.
    And even in the worst case the history shows that even in totalitarian states it was possible to be a political dissenter and share ideas.
    Maybe not as easily and (almost) risk free as it’s today in the western countries, but possible.

  3. Curt Monash on video | DBMS 2 : DataBase Management System Services on August 8th, 2013 7:52 pm

    [...] capped off a series on privacy and surveillance a few days [...]

  4. Why privacy laws should be based on data use, not data possession | DBMS 2 : DataBase Management System Services on August 19th, 2013 8:58 am

    [...] of the problem is the very chilling effects they can have upon the exercise of day-to-day freedoms. Fortunately, I’m not as alone in [...]

  5. The Hemisphere program | DBMS 2 : DataBase Management System Services on September 3rd, 2013 4:04 am

    [...] to a point, this is reassuring. But it still bodes badly for a future in which there are many more ways surveillance can be used to hurt us than were possible before. Categories: Data warehousing, GIS and geospatial, Liberty and privacy, [...]

  6. The report of Obama’s Snowden-response commission | DBMS 2 : DataBase Management System Services on January 27th, 2014 3:14 pm

    [...] am always pleased when policy makers recognize that the key issue is chilling effects upon the exercise of ordinary freedoms; the report made that point multiple times, footnoting both Sonia Sotomayor and the 1970s Church [...]

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