Is Privacy, Like, So Twentieth Century?

It has been many years since I read George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel, 1984. My curiosity about perusing the book anew is offset by my uneasiness about its prescience. I fear that the world occupied by Winston Smith, the novel’s protagonist, will eerily resemble America in 2010. Not entirely, but increasingly so. Big Brother is out there, observing, gathering data, infiltrating our lives in ways both overt and covert. The technology that we so eagerly embrace today, often with nary a second thought, may later bite us in the hindquarters. Sure, there are great benefits to cell phones, computers, wifi, the Internet, GPS, and the like. The whole world is immediately accessible. No longer do we have to await a call at home, seek information at the library, fumble with a map for directions, hunt for merchandise at local stores, wonder where our friends and family members are at any given moment. We have been freed from such burdens! But at what cost?

I worry that today’s liberators may become tomorrow’s oppressors. I worry that the technology we possess today may come to possess us tomorrow. I worry that the interests of big government and big corporations (often one and the same) will subvert and subsume our interests. I worry that we are not spiders on the worldwide web but prey. I worry that, as a people, we are growing ever more blithe about privacy and civil liberties—and ever less vigilant and perceptive. I worry about the future.

Do I appear paranoid? A little paranoia in this day and age may be healthy (assuming it’s reality-based). Was Julie Matlin paranoid when, after visiting a retail website and admiring a pair of shoes, she found that advertisements for “the shoes started to follow her everywhere she went online”? Was Louise paranoid when she encountered a stranger at a bar who “knew a lot about her personal interests” and then “pulled out his phone and showed her a photo…of [her] that he found online”? Was Juan Pineda-Moreno paranoid when, after being arrested on marijuana charges, he discovered that DEA agents “snuck onto his property in the middle of the night and…attached a GPS tracking device to [his] vehicle’s underside” and the “U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit…decided the government can monitor you in this way virtually anytime it wants — with no need for a search warrant”? Was Blake Robbins, a Philadelphia-area high school student, paranoid when he discovered that school personnel “activated the remote tracking system” on his laptop computer and “photographed him 400 times in a 15-day period last fall, sometimes as he slept in his bedroom or was half-dressed”?

Another twentieth century author, Joseph Heller, once wrote, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.” Do you know who’s watching you?

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9 thoughts on “Is Privacy, Like, So Twentieth Century?

  1. wow! great post! it gives us internet addicts something to think about.
    I saw on TV that photos taken with a cell phone might be encoded with the latitude and longitude coordinates where the photo was taken, which would be something to consider before posting it on the net.
    I always assume that anything I do on work equipment is an open book to my employer. I also take care with what I write on email or blogs.
    Some yearts ago patients who were prescribed certain meds started getting junk mail targeted to diabetes or whatever. Complaints led to some privacy protections being written in.

  2. I wonder if you freedom lovers have a problem with Homeland Security conductng surveillance on veterans,”patriot”groups,firearms rights supporters,and basically anyone who organizes opposition to Obama?All the while
    ignoring their responsibilities to deal with illegal aliens?
    Janet Napolitano basically said that people who give the government a blank check on their bodies when they go to war should be carefully observed when they come home.Screw her.And whoever told her to say that.
    I’d bet,Mr.Jaffe,you’d support national gun registration,since an outright ban seems to be a moot point.Gun registration is an invasion of privacy.The background check at
    purchase should suffice.That’s a reasonable inrusion just like a background check on someone working around children.
    The Patriot Act is a great danger.What an ironic name for an oppressive law.It should apply only to foreign nationals.
    FISA courts provide adequate legal foundation for surreptitious ops.There is no reason for warrantless intrusions,especially when FISA allows a 72 hour retroactive application process for a warrant in emergencies.It’s the judicial oversight that is important.
    The destruction of honest language by political correctness,imposed more by institutions of learning than by the government is another manifestation of “1984”.Prescient is a great description of that book.The communists were already there in the Thirties.Some of the fascist regimes also.Of course technology has made the critical exponential leap in this “field” possible.

  3. Observer, you would make your points more effectively if you would refrain from phrases like ‘you freedom lovers’. Diverse views are welcome. Incivility is not. Also, if you make too many assumptions about the writers on this site you will be arguing with yourself instead of responding to what’s written here.

  4. I might as well be arguing with myself as expect an answer to an uncomfortable question here.
    “Freedom lovers”was intended to be sarcastic-you are a master of the nasty thought couched in sweet words.
    I’m thinking particularly of your “concern”for Sarah Palin’s son and similar comments-why not just cone right out and say waht you really think?
    I guess you were forced to go to a church you didn’t like.Get over it.
    You tee off on evangelical Christians every chance you get.I think they’re out there,so to speak,but I just ignore them.
    I asked you a simple question about being a Pagan Unitarian and you ducked it.I wasn’t prying-you announced it here.
    And grow a thicker skin-incivility usually involves foul language.Sarcasm is part of blogs in case you never noticed.
    I really think you people that run this blog have a very selective definition of “rights” and who is entitled to them.

  5. Furthermore when I referred to the rank racism of Al Sharpton and the NBPP you complained about false equivalence.So only white people can be racists in your little world,is that it?
    I don’t expect an honest answer.

  6. I wonder, Observer, whether you are aware how you come across. You pose “uncomfortable questions” but do not appear genuinely curious in what others have to say or interested in conversation. You seem to prefer putting folks on the defensive, questioning their character and good intentions. Statements such as “get over it” and “grow a thicker skin” do not facilitate a dialogue. Your overall tone and comments suggest that you are spoiling for a fight, that you favor conflict over communication. You appear deeply angry and embittered. I suspect that the only “honest answer” that would satisfy you is one that confirms your sour view of humankind and allows you to imagine that others seethe with the same hatred and resentment that you do. I truly feel sorry for you.

  7. I really don’t need you feeling sorry for me.
    “Truly”??That’s what I mean,you don’t know one thing about me so you are incapable of having any true feelings about me except to dislike me,which is ok-if I’m looking for new friends I’ll join a club.
    I do expect honest answers to simple questions.
    I have a realistic view of people-I don’t know what you mean by resentment-if it’s envy you’re referring to,you couldn’t be more wrong.
    I don’t want some big mansion,or fancy car,and I don’t think I need anything I don’t have.
    I have some real hatred in me,but not of the stupid ethnic/racial/religious/homophobic type.
    I hate individuals for what they do.Period.
    Unfortunately,I have a dim view of mankind in general based on my life experience.It’s just that we are all every imperfect and social engineers like you think that can be changed.It can’t.
    There is no safety island in life.We all got a foot in the grave from the moment we’re born.
    There are lots of “good” people-they are the ones who can channel their destructive emotions into non destructive or frankly beneficial activity.
    Think about this-there is always some kind of war going on somewhere.Doesn’t that tell you something?
    There are always rapists,in every society.
    Murderers,psychopaths,thieves,etc.Ever wonder why?
    And my world view certainly doesn’t exclude me by any means-I haven’t done harm to anyone for no reason,but I could have been a much better person than I am,and at this point,there’s no way to go back and change anything.
    One correction:I don’t think I’ve questioned anyone’s character in the sense of trying to say they’re immoral or something.I have no room to judge anyone on that basis.
    I do question what I think are feelgood gestures and actions.
    I guess some people need causes to be fulfilled.

  8. We got pretty far from David’s original post, which is about the erosion of privacy. That’s a topic worth discussing, as is the Patriot Act, signed by George Bush and continued by Barack Obama. There’s plenty there to debate.

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