The current phone hacking scandal in Britain has not been that riveting. I doubt Rupert Murdoch knew what his employees were doing, and I question whether we should be that shocked by the developments. The press operates in a drastically different way in Britain so I can’t pretend to imagine everything else that has gone on across the pond. But still, the debacle brings to light questions of privacy and, of course, security.
First, I acknowledge that what the journalists did was not “hacking”, but that is the term most are using to describe the situation so I will use it as well.
Put yourself into the shoes of the hacking victims. Presumably it occurred a long time ago. During that time period that they were ignorant of what happened, how did they live? As if nothing happened, because they had no idea that it happened. I think this underscores an important point: the crime was harmless while knowledge of the crime was disastrous (and not only to those who were hacked).
The reason why the crime is viewed as heinous is because it causes a sense of insecurity. Those doing the hacking were not trying to hurt anyone, rather they were going after stories they believed would sell more papers. Now, don’t misunderstand, they should not have done it, but really we should question why we value privacy as much as we do.
I realize that there are many bad people out there that would love to get personal information in order to use your credit cards, etc., but, for me, I cannot imagine a reason why someone would even want to listen to my voicemail. It would be very boring, trust me, I have boring friends. So, for the vast vast majority of us, we have no reason to be worried about our phones being hacked. But still, we are outraged at the thought and do everything we can to keep our lives private.
The reason why this bugs me so much is not that people have personal preferences for privacy that I don’t. Rather, I often see opportunities for progress stifled by concerns over privacy. Not just concerns, but mostly unfounded ones. I know people that dislike using their credit card on the internet, even at sites like Amazon. People are outraged that complete strangers might get glimpses of outlines of their genitalia when they walk through airport scanners (I also think we overreach for security, but that is a different balancing act). Many people are scared that Google tracks their search data (which is ridiculous if you know anything about Google). We are encouraged to use different passwords for all our accounts, eight characters and include capitals and numbers. Just FYI: humans don’t sit down and try all the passwords they can think of to access your Facebook account, bots do it without prejudice. Privacy fences, tinted windows, and shut blinds are all other examples of how we distance ourselves from the outsiders.
Sure, we could enter a discussion on the individualism that pervades Western society. I think, for the most part, that has allowed us to accomplish more than any of our predecessors. But really, when you are more concerned with privacy than health, isn’t that a little too much? Healthcare information technology and medical studies are both hindered in enormous ways by concerns for privacy, and to what end? Worse care and fewer scientific discoveries.
We have the right to privacy. If someone hacks your phone or computer bring them to justice, especially if it is an institutional problem. Basic computer security is essential to have a functioning computer. If you are a celebrity or wealthy, you should probably do more than everyone else to insure the security of your accounts.
But we also should have the right to forgo privacy with the goal of progress. If Google did not track search data they would not be able to sell the ads they do and thus not offer the incredible free products they have. If a significant portion of the population said that they wanted to share their health data with researchers, what scientific insight would we gain? If everyone wasn’t so scared that some hacker in Norway might learn they were vaccinated as children for mumps, could we have a better system of electronic medical records and personal healthcare information technology?
Seriously people, its time we question whether privacy is worth it. I seriously doubt someone is targeting you.