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Why is Privacy So Important?

The right to privacy is one of the basic human rights that the founders of the United States said that we are all granted, not by our government, but by the very fact of being human.

Yet there has been increasing focus in the press and on the Internet lately on blatant privacy violations, such as with spyware programs that make a record of every file you download (Netscape is one of these companies; see http://grc.com/downloaders.htm), or every Internet page you view.

Many of you may say to yourself, "So what? Who cares what files I download, or what pages I view? I have nothing to hide." And yes, in an ideal world, we wouldn't need to worry.

I admit that I used to think that way too. My thinking went something along these lines: Yes, companies are "harvesting" data about people, the better to market products to them. But so what? Marketing is worthless if the people being marketed to are thinking and aware human beings who do not allow themselves to be manipulated.

However, there was something nagging me: Why did our founders feel that privacy was so important?

I was thinking about it again today, and realized that the true evil of privacy invasions is this: What happens if someone decides that they don't like your particular lifestyle, beliefs, or preferences, and chooses to, at best, personally campaign against it, and at worst, outlaw it entirely?

The Minority Doesn't Rule

Many heinous laws that infringe on people's rights have been justified in the past because the claim was made that "only a few people" or "only a minority" would be affected by that law. In some cases, that "minority" has risen up and proven that they were a majority. Or, enough people who did not belong to that "small group" have seen the writing on the wall and have spoken out against that kind of repression.

Central databanks that contain all kinds of personal information about each of us only make this kind of repression easier. How easy it would be to find out how many people actually do pursue some activity or belong to some group. Then one would know how large (or small) the opposition would be. In an ideal world, we could rely on everyone to speak up against repression, suppression, prejudice, and other such fascist or socialist "Big Brother" activities, and someone trying to enforce their own personal standards on everyone would be politely listened to, but their beliefs would not be acted upon.

The Real versus the Ideal

Sadly, however, we do not live in an ideal world. We live in a world populated by imperfect human beings, many of whom are struggling to do the best they can despite the damage done to them in their childhood, damage that sometimes manifests as a desire to make everyone "do the right thing," where "the right thing" means "do as I say." Such people pursue their goals without realizing that "the right thing" is in many cases a personal decision and not a global one. It doesn't help that this kind of person often "just knows" that they are right.

For many of these people, if you do not think like them, you are wrong. "Okay," you may think, "so what? Let them think what they like." And I agree, to a point. Let anyone think what they like. The "so what" is that they feel they have the right to impose upon you their standards of what is right or wrong, and they will pursue you or harass you or try to stop you (and everyone like you). This is where the statement, "Your right to swing your fist ends where my face beings" comes in. They have the right to their opinions, but they do not have the right to try to make others live as they do. As long as a person is doing no harm to others, let them think and do as they like.

For example, even though I am not gay, I would not presume to tell someone who is that they are not doing the right thing. (And one of my cousins, whom I like very much, might have a problem with me if I had that attitude.) Yet there are those who would want to judge that orientation and even make it a crime.

I am also not black, but I would not presume to tell a black person that there was anything less than acceptable about being black. (And another cousin's husband, whom I also like very much, might object if I had that attitude, too!) Yet there are some, even today, who think that being black is an offense that is punishable by death.

And although I am not Jewish, I certainly wouldn't try to keep others from practicing that very ancient religion. (My Jewish grandfather, Nathan Michaels, would rise up from his grave and haunt me if I did!)

It may seem to you that in today's "enlightened" society, we would never have a problem with blacks or gays or Jews and any other group of people being rounded up and put in internment camps. And it may even seem that to even suggest such a thought happening in today's society is impossible. Think again. Take a look at the problems caused by unethical people in high places in corporations, or at remarks made by a Million Mom marcher who is said to have been quoted in the Washington Post as saying effect that Hitler and Stalin didn't disarm citizens, only Jews, Gypsies, gays, unionists and other "undesirables."

Coercive Collectivists

Or take a look at some of your neighbors, especially if you live in California. Most people who call themselves liberals are actually what one Web site calls "coercive collectivists." Coercive collectivists "advocate state power over individuals and believe in ...the sanctity of the Crowd and the villainy of the single person."

Without making this essay too lengthy, my point is that some people (the coercive collectivists) do not respect the individual or the right of the individual to live his or her life freely and without control or harassment. This is why our privacy is so important--not because we have anything to hide, but because we need to protect ourselves against those who would wish to coerce us. Many of these people work in marketing; others work for radio or television, and some, Good God, like television executive Jamie Kellner, even think they own us.

One gem from Jamie's own mouth about people skipping ads on television:

"It's theft. Your contract with the network when you get the show is you're going to watch the spots. Otherwise you couldn't get the show on an ad-supported basis. Any time you skip a commercial or watch the button you're actually stealing the programming."

(Yes, he said in response to the interviewer, even if you take a bathroom break--he grudgingly allows them, but you are not allowed to go overboard). Excuse me? What contract? And how is it that the television networks think that accepting money for advertisements, which essentially means that they are selling their audience--that's you and me, folks--also means that the thus-sold audience is required to watch those advertisements? And does this extend into other media? Am I committing a crime when I skip the advertisements in a newspaper or magazine? How about when I throw a catalog--one giant advertising circular--into the recycling bin? Is my pop-up ad blocker in my firewall committing a crime? I think not. Jamie Kellner has obviously lived in the rarified air of power without moral or ethical accountability for so long that he is suffering from oxygen starvation. (For a few more choice excerpts from his interview, check out http://scriban.com/movabletype_archives/000289.shtml .)

Although many of these people seem far away, some of them also live near you, and work toward limiting your freedoms in the name of some "feel good" cause or other. Because such people exist, it is important for us to protect our freedoms by doing four things:

  1. Educate yourself and think through any cause before supporting or opposing it.
  2. Educate those who would restrict our freedoms. There are many who are just following the crowd and who haven't really thought things through. Help them to learn to think and not just react.
  3. Speak up when someone tries to limit anyone's freedoms: Write to your legislators, speak with your neighbors and friends, send email, post Web pages. Boycott products and companies that invade your privacy.
  4. Allow people in your life the freedoms they are entitled to.
  5. Related Links

    http://www.stentorian.com/2ndamend/leaflets/timeout.html Strongly worded, but short and to the point.

    http://www.guncontrolnetwork.org/untruths.htm. (While researching this article to verify the accuracy of my quotations, I came across this gem of a page; mind you, the page is at a parody Web site, so the title, "Untruths from the Opposition," should be taken to mean that, in fact, the Web site authors fully approve of and agree with the statements made on this page:)

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