Saturday, June 30, 2007

Nothing to Hide - Secrecy & Privacy by Louis Evan Palmer

The apparent struggle between privacy and secrecy is one of the trickest of knots to undo for a democracy. Paradoxically, as the demand and mechanisms for more secrecy (or government and corporate "privacy") increases, there is a corresponding argument and pressure to decrease personal privacy.

Ultimately, all secrets come down to individuals because it's individuals who identify what's secret and what's not, individuals who record and categorize the data, individuals who must interpret and act on various data and secrets.

We can classify privacy as concerned with secrets about an identifiable person or persons (usually related or associated in some way such as a family). Therefore, data which identifies a person is personal data; data which identifies a person and which is not data that would normally be available to a stranger or which can be used against that person and about which they would typically be guarded is private data, sensitive information. In this proposition, all private data is personal but not all personal data is sensitive.

Privacy laws vary among countries. Currently, Canada's and Germany's Privacy laws are the strongest in the world. In Canada, any data about an identifiable person is under the purview of the Privacy law with the due care required dependent on the sensitivity of the data.

Governments and corporations are not persons. What they do should largely be in the open whether or not they issue shares or borrow public money. Their secrets should have to do with products, possibly services, which would be rendered worthless or signficantly less profitable if known. Their secrecy needs must not contravene any laws. They must not impinge on any individual's privacy except as allowed by law. Persons should not be permitted to trade away their privacy in the same way that selling organs is not legal. It should not be permitted for any organization to have secret members or secret agendas or constitutions. National Security should be strictly defined and managed so that it is not abused and allowed to become a reservoir for illegal or questionable projects and activities and the unlawful collection and use of personal data.

A salient question surrounds the use of private data: is it generally used in a negative way? does it typically result in a sanction or limit on the designated person? The answer to both questions is "Yes". This is why privacy is important to individuals - the release of private information to the public, including government agencies, typically has a negative impact on the person in question regardless of the information.

When private data is collected, it is analysed by other persons. They may be well qualified, they may not. They may be independent and impartial, they may not. They may make correct deductions or they may make poor deductions. The decisions that flow from these actions, may be justified, may be legal, or they may not. This is especially critical when this data might be DNA data about which more and more conclusions are being drawn.

The video called "Nothing to Hide" provides some insight into this dilemma.
It focuses on what is one of the most common of the pretexts for invading a person's privacy - "nothing to hide" as in "I have nothing to hide" or "If you have nothing to hide". The fallacy of this statement is that there is a difference between wanting to hide something with its implication of shame or wrong-doing and not wanting various private things about you becoming available to any and all, fodder for the public or for various alphabet agencies here and around the world.

This also intrudes on the debate between who is a public person versus who is a private person and whether public persons are entitled to any privacy.

"Keeping something private" is not the same as "wanting to hide something". The only aspect of "hide" that should normally concern us is where there is suspicion of illegality and then the rule of law takes over and we must have reasonable grounds, etc. etc.

Open-ended data collection, unsupervised intrusions into the lives of private persons, acting on flimsy proof or unwarranted deductions has all the trappings of a police state or a corporate state.

There is incalculable loss for society in exchanging freedom and democracy for security. In what cause was the security required if not democracy? If that's lost, the security is almost worthless because it can evaporate for any given individual in a twinkling - in a long as it takes some bureaucrat to take exception to something on your profile.

Nothing to Hide - Secrecy & Privacy, The Way It Can Be, Louis Evan Palmer,
Copyright 2007 Louis Evan Palmer lives in Ontario Canada. His short stories have appeared in numerous publications.


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