Personal Privacy – A Dangerous Concept!

image It seems rather strange to think of privacy as a dangerous concept. But governments, worldwide, would have you believe that it is, and generally have been highly effective in convincing their citizens that privacy has limited individual benefits. Moreover, governments have been successful, in large part, in convincing people that too much privacy has serious social and security implications.

To experience this erosion of individual privacy in action all you need do is walk anywhere, drive anywhere, and you will be recorded with, or without, your knowledge or permission. Your behavior and your activities will be noted, and in many instances stored for later retrieval. You need go no further than your own home town.

Police in London, England, despite its thousands of CCTV cameras, estimated last year that just 3% of crimes were solved by CCTV. All the while however, restrictions on invasion of individual privacy were thrown out the window. Despite this lack of effectiveness, London continues to add more cameras.

Virtually ever method of communication, including telephones and computers, can be, and are in fact, monitored by governments for “trigger” words or phrases. Web sites, email chats, and VOIP conversations are monitored for “suspicious” conversations, or activities.

It seems that most people (particularly younger people), have come to terms with living in this climate of little or no privacy; of uber surveillance – since we have been conditioned to believe that there is nothing we can do to change this reality.

The aftermath of September 11, 2001, has guaranteed that resistance to the government enforced surveillance society we now live in, is viewed with suspicion and hostility. Not only by government, but by individuals themselves. We are now the dogs in a Pavlovian experience – conditioning works.

I count myself amongst those who are genuinely concerned that the massive amounts of government data collection presents threats to our civil liberties and human rights – with good reason, I believe.

The idea that social control in the guise of patriotism, enhancement of security, and the protection of democracy is effective, is not new. Propaganda is a well established tool used to convince people to subvert their own best interests.

Those who are aware of history, a diminishing percentage of the population it seems to me, are familiar with Joseph Goebbels. Goebbels’s skillful use of propaganda ( a lie by any other name), helped Adolf Hitler acquire and maintain power, leading ultimately to World War 2.

In the final analysis, allowing government unrestricted control of our lives has proven, and will prove once again, to be disastrous. Thomas Jefferson, 200 years ago, had something to say on this issue of government power when he stated, “Experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny”.

The continuing erosion of our right to privacy cannot lead to a positive outcome. Democracy, as many of us have defined it in the past, is undergoing profound changes as we stand by and watch; participants in our own demise.

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Filed under cell phone, Communication, Email, Interconnectivity, Personal Perspective, Surveillance

18 responses to “Personal Privacy – A Dangerous Concept!

  1. Hi Bill,

    I’m with you on this subject. I come from a small town in England, and the town centre, town hall and all the businesses in the area literally bristled with CCTV cameras. No one seemed bothered by this.

    I often wondered, if they were shown video of
    themselves being recorded everywhere they went whether people would feel the same. The usual answer is; “it’s only criminals who are worried about being filmed.” But that isn’t the point. As you say, it’s an invasion of privacy, and a slow erosion of our rights.

    It would appear it’s even worse in the States, the lack of personal privacy, except for the criminal element.

    As you know I now live in Canada. I love the fact there aren’t cameras on every street corner. I love the fact Canada views personal liberty and
    freedom as a serious issue.

    I’m a law abiding person but I also know once liberties are lost they are very hard to get back. I wonder why governments feel the need to ‘spy’ on their citizens in such covert ways.

    Have a good evening, Bill.

    • Bill Mullins

      Thank you Paul, for your thoughtful response.

      You’re quite right when you state that the prevailing notion is, “it’s only criminals who are worried about being filmed.” The reality is somewhat different. As I noted in the article ” Police in London, England, despite its *thousands* of CCTV cameras, estimated last year that just 3% of crimes were solved by CCTV”. It appears that in fact, criminals don’t have to worry – not given these statistics! Most people are unaware that these cameras, in England, are used for *social control* – to curb littering, spitting, loitering and so on.

      You’re last point “I also know once liberties are lost they are very hard to get back” is at the crux of the matter. Governments by their very nature are repressive and cater to created perception; and manage that perception to their advantage. Examples of governments slowing clawing back fundamental human rights in the guise of “progress”, and “state security”, in the 20th century, are countless. But again, my experience is, most people see no value in history and are unaware of the repetitive nature of government oppression, even in so called democracies.

      In Canada, where both you and I live, I believe that it’s only a matter of time before we will be forced to compromise our personal privacy. The dumbing down of our society guarantees that fear of crime, (which is actually down 40% in recent years), skillfully managed by government, will have the desired impact.

      George Orwell’s 1984, in retrospect, will seem like a mild fairytale in comparison to the coming reality – *if *we allow it to happen.


  2. proview

    Good post, Bill. I couldn’t agree more.

    I’m in the UK and I’m fully aware of what a high percentage of these cameras are for, and you’ve hit the nail right on the head there “social control”.

    They are mainly used as a means to rake in money, via fines, for local and central government. They do very little to reduce crime as far as I can tell, they don’t stop the real criminals. But woe betide if you go 2 mph over the speed limit or drop a small piece of litter. Instant fine.

    It’s no safer to walk the streets at night, or even day, in some places, no matter how many CCTV cameras they install.

    I blame public apathy, I’ll leave you with a quote from Bodie Theone;

    “Apathy is the glove into which evil slips its hand” … wise words indeed.


    • Bill Mullins

      Thank you Proview for another convincing comment.

      You’re point on public apathy is well taken. I’m always surprised with the lack of public interest concerning an important issue. It seems that unless one sees a direct personal connection, no interest is forthcoming. There certainly is truth in that old maxim, which states – we get the government we deserve.

      I have no doubt that in the U.K. video cameras are a huge source of revenue.

      BTW, I love the quote, and I’ll use that tomorrow in my tech news column.



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  4. Hey Bill,
    Great piece!
    I was planning to use the piece below for a post reference but this your post deserves it as just a follow-up:

    “This isn’t specific to Facebook and is entirely possible in the real world as well,” a Facebook rep points out. Though the student project was just a pilot study, it exposes an interesting dimension of the debate over online privacy. Social networking programs provide users with controls on the personal information—but how can users ensure the privacy of information they don’t realize they are sharing? 
    —Nick McMaster SOURCE: Boston Globe

    You will see this your piece reposted at WP Writers Group.

    • Bill Mullins

      Very cool, Pochp.


      • I have to inform you that a most excellent comment was made by a Mr. Steele which I think you should personally reply to.

        • Benjamin Steele

          Here it is:

          I don’t think democratic value of privacy will have much of a future. With technology, the ability to invade people’s privacy is too easy. Also, it’s impossible for the average person to even know that their privacy has been invaded. We live in a world where we are forced to assume that someone is keeping tabs on every single thing we do. I doubt there is any way to reverse this trend. Some genies can’t be put back into the bottle.

          If there is a future for privacy, it will be private companies who will sell it to you (or the appearance of it) rather than government. But who wants to trust a corporation to ensure one’s privacy? The further problem is that the separation between big government and big business always seems to be eroding.

          I suspect there will be private citizens who will come up with various solutions, but the powers that be will have the upperhand for some time to come. Eventually, there probably won’t be one internet network. Various people and groups will develop their own networks (as technology develops). People of like minds will band together to ensure their own privacy. I think there will be a resurgence of libertarian values which originally were a part of democratic values.

          • Bill Mullins

            Thank you Benjamin for your perspective on this issue. You’ve covered some key points here, and I must admit, I agree with your point of view.

            Technology has advanced in such a way, that what we considered science fiction 10 or 20 years ago, is now a reality. As you say “With technology, the ability to invade peoples privacy is too easy”. Realizing as you put it “we are forced to assume that someone is keeping tabs on every single thing we do”, might once have been thought to be slightly paranoid, but in today’s world it is simply recognizing an existing reality.

            I think you’re right in assuming the Internet will be reshaped into new configurations. In fact, there are many “private” networks already in existence; generally being used by those who have similar interests. Thankfully, most are used for legitimate purposes.

            Overall though, people being the “sheeple” that they are, I doubt that the privacy will ever be put on the front burner. People, by nature, like to be led. Even if, as in this case, it’s in the wrong direction.


            • ‘Overall though, people being the “sheeple” that they are, I doubt that the privacy will ever be put on the front burner. People, by nature, like to be led. Even if, as in this case, it’s in the wrong direction.’

              This sounds biblical yet excellent. You could even be a TRUE pastor Bill.

            • Benjamin Steele

              Yeah. There are already “private” networks. I’m just thinking that the numbers of these will increase along with the amount of privacy they actually ensure.

              For example, you can privately send someone a message, but they could then post it publicly. However, it’s possible to design a technology that wouldn’t allow a message to be reposted or to be copied, and that would cause the message to disappear after being read or after a certain amount of time.

              For the average person, though, you’re probably correct. Most of the time for most people privacy doesn’t have any direct value in and of itself. Even so, if technology made keeping one’s privacy cheap and easy, then many more people would be interested. However, then you have to trust the company that sold you the technology (which of course would have a hidden back door).

              More than anything, technology (such as the internet) allows people to broadcast widely any infringements of privacy. Except for major cases (and even not always then), the mainstream media doesn’t spend that much time on privacy issues.

              It’s hard to tell where it’s going. In some ways, technology has made people even more like sheeple. And, in other ways, it has made people less like sheeple.

              • Bill Mullins


                Technology, general speaking, is almost always used for the common good. Unfortunately, humankind’s creative mind can easily twist, distort, and apply technologies in ways that were never intended.

                The good thing about the technology that we have been discussing is, it’s cheap and readily available. It allows us to be proactive; allowing us, if we choose, to “watch the watchers”. While we both agree that the average person is not overly concerned with their loss of privacy, I can well imagine a time when, as you suggest, a technology will be developed, or existing technologies modified, to protect individual privacy at every level. The alternative to this is not attractive.


  5. Great post Bill.

    Like a few others, I also live in the UK and the fact remains that the governments have stripped away the right to any form of privacy in large chunks using the pretext of “counter-terrorism”.

    The average person in the UK will be captured on CCTV 300 times per day, but they are no safer as violent crime continues to rise and the police take the ‘easy’ targets, motorists, litter droppers and so on., but they also have their daily quota to fill to balance the books. It’s not about keeping the law, it’s about making a profit.

    A few months ago the UK government was known to be planning to introduce the ‘Intercept Modernisation Program’ where ISP’s would have to record every site visited, every email sent and every IM. Along with this, cell phone companies would store all sms messages and details of calls and the same applied to landline calls.

    The government quickly stated that they were going to drop this plan, but what they failed to reveal was that it had been handed to two private companies to do the dirty work for them.

    There are also security weaknesses at the Government body in charge of compiling information on all homes in England risk turning the database into a “burglar’s charter”.

    The database being compiled has digital photographs of homes as well as property details such as conservatories, parking spaces, stables, outside balconies, roof terraces and those on quiet roads.

    Given their track record on losing sensitive information stored on discs and laptops that ‘get lost’ and the fact that over 1000 computers in parliament alone were infected with the conficker worm, it must be a feeding frenzy for the hackers to get into these massive databases.

    So, smile at a policeman and get arrested for ‘lewd behaviour’, wave and get arrested for ‘threatening behaviour’, the only thing left now is for the government to employ someone to open our post before it is delivered.

    The right to opinion has been stripped away, the right to march on parliament is now illegal, more than three people together constitutes a ‘mob’ and George Orwell’s 1984 doesn’t even touch the tip of what is really going on.

    As for the ‘threat of terror’…….the real terror lies within…..

    Have a great evening and it won’t be too long before we have CCTV in our homes to watch us would be terrorists at work…and under current legislation you are guilty until proven innocent!

    • Bill Mullins

      Hi Colin,

      Thank you for your insightful comment.

      I’m not at all surprised to see that the comments on this particular article have come from the UK, or from those who have lived in the UK. In a real sense, the UK has become the test platform for government “privacy control”.

      The irony, given that England is the home of the Magna Carta (Great Charter of Freedoms), the most significant early western influence that led to the rule of constitutional law, has not been lost on me.

      I agree with all of your points, most particularly that Orwell’s “1984” fictional portrayal of pervasive government surveillance and control, and government’s increasing encroachment on the rights of the individual, is just the “tip”.

      Government and I might add, business, has become expert at “perception management”. They first create the required perception, and then manage that perception for maximum effect. Terrorism fits nicely into that groove.

      Convince people to give up their rights and freedoms for a perceived increase in their security; then manage that perception, and human rights and freedoms will be eroded to a shadow. This scenario is unfolding worldwide, with little resistance being offered by the people being most affected.

      The great American statesman Benjamin Franklin said it best, “People willing to trade their freedom for temporary security deserve neither, and will lose both”.


  6. ‘However, it’s possible to design a technology that wouldn’t allow a message to be reposted or to be copied, and that would cause the message to disappear after being read or after a certain amount of time.’

    There is already a program that that self-destructs messages after an alloted time.
    I have to search for the name first then I’ll report back.

    • Benjamin Steele

      There is probably all kinds of technology that I (and most people) don’t know about. There is so much constant technological innovation. I think that even in just another decade there will be massive changes in technology.

      Presently, there is still a lot of mistrust towards technology from the older generations, and that mistrust has held back implementation of a lot of technology in business and government. With Boomers retiring in large numbers, this will create the opportunity for GenX and GenY to experiment more freely.