Generation Public

(Photo Credit: David Horsey/LA Times)

Are we deep on our way into a privacy crisis?

The advancement in technology over the past 20 years alone, has meant that it is easier than ever before for governments to monitor it’s citizens. Britain is one of the most surveilled countries in the world, with one CCTV camera “for every ten people”. We no longer simply face threats from these “mechanical eyes”, which may be “hidden, visible or even highlighted” (Gutwirth, 2002), but our governments now have the power to reside in our pockets, our handbags, and even our televisions. Phones and other devices connected to the internet can be easily utilised by officials who wish to invade our privacy. Technology has made it possible for any government to “watch us, use our actions against us” and make public our most private information (Jarvis, 2011). But is it, necessarily, that bad? Can we really return to the days when governments “didn’t know who flew on our planes” (2011)?

The modern world has meant that “the watched can also be the watchers” (Sifry, 2011). Increasing threats from the likes of WikiLeaks and whistleblowers, allow us – the public – to hold those who govern accountable. Democratising platforms such as WikiLeaks, have arguably lead to the end of privacy – at least for governments – by “exposing systemic details of how America” and her allies really conduct their “foreign and military policies” (Sifry, 2011). These revelations have made governments wary of such exposure, and should, in theory, “lead to better behaviour” (2011). Some politicians have even embraced transparency. The Obama administration launched ‘’, in order to increase transparency and collaboration (2011). Tony Blair enabled the public to sign petitions from the Downing Street website; and under the coalition government, “exact salaries of top officials” were made public for the first time (2011).

Facebook emoji pic(Photo Credit: Facebook/Tech Insider)

In less of an Orwellian sense, it is our habits that have altered society’s understanding of privacy. The dominance of social media has resulted in a “privacy paradox” (Barnes, 2006; c. Taddicken, 2012: 258), where concerns about online privacy are not necessarily met with “intensified security measures”, such as reducing accessibility or self-disclosure (2012). Nonetheless, there is hope. Although we are sharing more, it does not mean that “privacy is dead” (Jarvis, 2011). 91% of American teenagers use social media as a way of maintaing friendships with those they already know, and “more than half” restrict the visibility of profiles to those they are friends with (Pew, 2007). However, in an age of Tinder and Uber, are we really that protective of our privacy?

What these developments are doing simply makes us more aware of our privacy, as well as the attacks on it. We now appreciate privacy more than ever because it’s harder to maintain (Jarvis, 2011). In reality, our society is not controlled by some omnipresent big-brother-style overlord; instead we remain a “liberal capitalist” state where “privacy remains important” (Gutwirth, 2002). Privacy is enshrined is several international human rights declarations, including the European Convention on Human Rights, which protect individuals from gross invasions by others (Weber, 2012). The benefits of a more open and transparent world far outweigh the negatives. Examples include Facebook allowing users to “vote on it’s privacy policy”, making Facebook’s billion users “the largest electorate in the world” (Deibert, 2013); the financial support targeted adverts give journalism reduces the need for pay walls (Jarvis, 2011); and social media offers its users the opportunities for “participation and collaboration”, albeit at the expense of private information (Taddicken, 2012).

So on reflection, although we find ourselves less private than ever before, we also find ourselves more connected, more social, more aware and more informed. Privacy still exists and will continue to survive. There is no crisis, but we must all decide how much privacy we are willing to surrender in exchange for participation in the twenty-first century.