Privacy Is an Important but Not Ultimate Consideration

Do you worry that Comcast and Verizon might use your age, gender and address to concoct an effectively targeted advert?  Most of us would prefer to see fewer adverts, and when we shop on the Internet, we do not need an advert’s help to find want we want.  The marginal improvement in an advert made possible by knowing our gender, age and address does not make the advert lethal and does not inflict actual harm to us.  The Federal Communications Commission thought otherwise.

There are laws that apply when our privacy is attacked such as in the theft of personal financial data, the publicizing of our medical history, and slanderous attacks on our reputation.  An unwelcomed advert does not rise to the level of damaging us although some may find it annoying or uncomfortable.

Let’s put an unwelcomed advert into perspective.  Surely it is less annoying than pompous political advice from a Hollywood celebrity?  It is probably less annoying than the dishonesty that occurs when news coverage shows visuals of a killer shooting his victim, but then reports the killer is “alleged” to have killed someone.  Near the pinnacle of deceit are the self-serving public lies from those who use laws that support the selective application of the “right to be forgotten.”  The Internet is awash in deceptions less honest than a targeted advert.

Knowing or suspecting that an advertiser has used information about your age, gender, address or current wish list may cause distress, but that very personal reaction is not evidence of a crime against you.  Free email, news and social sites are the benefits you originally trade for personal information when you “sign up” for those free services.  You probably do not need a safe-space to protect you from advertisers, but if you feel that strongly about adverts, you can leave the Internet behind, or use a fake persona for email and browsing, or turn off the sound, or block adverts.  Your privacy can be conserved, but there are downsides to opting out of an advertisers’ ability to discern who you are.

Individual Internet users can sometimes convince themselves that he or she represents a majority of opinion on the Internet, and a few think they hold the only correct opinion.  Each of us sometimes assumes that our personal ranking of concepts is the ranking that the Internet should adopt for maximum benefit.  For example, many of us would rank human life as more important than property rights, and property rights as more important than privacy and privacy as more important than personal comfort, i.e. life > personal property > personal privacy > personal comfort.

You are free to rank those concepts in any sequence you choose.  It should not be a surprise to you that if you differ from the sequence above you will inevitably disagree with others on matters such as privacy law, national security and Internet regulation.  Ranking privacy first can make you very lonely.

Elected representatives need to make the tough judgements on tradeoffs between life and property, between life and privacy, and between privacy and comfort.  The life versus property tradeoff occurs in pricing of drugs and in the allocation of resources to patients.  Life versus privacy interests are acted out when AIDS infected people are forced to divulge their illness to sexual partners.  Personal privacy is sacrificed to others comfort (peace of mind) when convicted sex criminals are forced to register in their neighborhood police districts.

The Congress will tackle aspects of cybercrimes this session.  Among the key topics will be legitimate access to personal communications for law enforcement and national security agencies.  In the interim, the more terrorist and cybercriminal attacks we suffer, the more likely the life > property > privacy > comfort sequence will be foremost in Congressional thinking.  That will result in laws that trade some privacy for more security (life and property).  There is no way to maximize both privacy and security.

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