John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


Privacy in the Age of Exhibitionism

Posted on June 7, 2013

Privacy is over-rated.

We say we want our privacy, but we really don’t care that much about it.

The government wants the privacy to invade our privacy in order to sniff out terrorists.

Despite the best efforts of Rand Paul and the ACLU, most Americans are just fine with that.

Polls show that when there is a competition between privacy and security, the American people pick security every time.

George Bush won over the security moms in 2004 with a promise that he was going to keep them safe from terrorists.  He didn’t say anything about protecting their privacy.  He won.

Barack Obama promised the most transparent Presidency in history.  He didn’t deliver that, but he did keep the bulk of Bush’s security apparatus in place.  It’s like staying in a Holiday Inn Express.  He has gone far beyond where he promised he would go, and most Americans are just fine to be protected from terrorists.

Every once in a while, Hollywood does a good job of showing the awesome power of the government.  Will Smith starred in a Tony Scott movie called Enemy of the State.  It showed a hapless lawyer who got unwittingly caught up in CIA intrigue and thanks to the power of the government, he almost lost his family, his fortune and his life.  A cautionary tale, but most Americans see it purely as fiction.

They want the government to stop the bad guys, and they are willing to sacrifice their freedom (a bit) to give the government the tools to do it.

Privacy is over-rated in the world of commerce too.

The most important insight into Google I have ever heard was this:  They don’t see the normal G-Mail schmuck (like me) as a customer.  They see us as the product.

They give their products away for free to millions of people, and then they reap the data from those consumers.  They then either sell that data or market directly to their “customers”.

The upside for Gmail users is that they get a free email service that it is constantly improving, providing an excellent product for all who want to use it.  The downside is that you no longer have any privacy.  Somebody somewhere knows, through the power of algorhythms, what you like, what you shop for, who your friends are, who you vote for, what you drink, and what church you most likely attend.

If you are okay with somebody knowing all of that, well, then, keep using G-Mail, Facebook and Twitter (and credit cards for that matter).  If you are not okay with that, well, too bad.   Unless you want to go off the grid entirely, you don’t have any privacy any more.

We all live in a small, small world now.  You can’t get lost in the big city and stay anonymous, unless, you really try hard at it.

I have several friends who won’t go on Facebook, because they want their privacy protected.  Little do they know that there are picture of them splattered throughout the Internet, on other people’s Facebook pages.

Sometimes, too much privacy is a bad thing.

I keep thinking back to those poor women who were imprisoned by that dude in Cleveland.  The policy seemed to respect the privacy of the kidnapper too much, not probing deeper when clues would pop up about women being paraded around naked on a leash.

Some people who live in small towns complain that too much gossip travels too quickly in too confined a space, but we all live in small town America these days.  The Internet is chockfull of gossip and innuendo.

The younger generation doesn’t seem to care much about their privacy.  A whole industry (and a big industry) has sprung up around the concept that young people want to share everything about themselves to everybody who has an internet connection.  Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, Facebook, etc. etc.

It is hard to take privacy seriously in our Age of Exhibitionism.

The government likes to get on its high horse about protecting itself from leaks.  But don’t the American people have a right to know when the government is spying on them as a matter of course.  I mean, fair is fair, isn’t it?

Bradley Manning has been held in brutal conditions because he conspired with Julian Assange to leak government secrets on the infamous Wikileaks website.  Apparently, our national security was compromised when it was revealed that our State Department doesn’t trust the Communist Chinese very much.

We all should savor the irony a bit.  When the government compromises the privacy of the American people, we shouldn’t worry much about.  But when a citizen compromises the privacy of the government, there will be Hell to pay.

All in the name of security, of course.

Should we trust the government that much that they should have all the power to intrude into our privacy, but we should have no power to inquire to find out what the hell they are up to?

I don’t know.

Polls show that the American people are just fine with that, although I remain a bit skeptical.

I don’t mind giving up some of my privacy in the name of security, but I like to know what the government is up to, just so we can keep an eye on them.