Privacy implies a separation of thought, speech, activity or other action from the larger world around us. If you look back in history, the Cynics were perhaps the best example of way of life in which there was no privacy. They practiced shamelessness and did everything in public, preferred a simple lifestyle and actually avoided the entanglements of possessions. Most cultures ultimately have evolved into a balance of public and private activity (while sometimes ignoring any distinction between public and private property rights).

What is the problem today? The issue with our beliefs around privacy of communications. And it’s due to our “expectation of privacy”. For instance, if we post a public comment on social media, we have no reasonable expectation of privacy and therefore are not worried if this communication is shared or observed by others. However, if we send an e-mail to single recipient, or converse on the telephone with a family member, we have a reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to this communication and would be dumbfounded if such information was shared with others including government agencies. The thing is, various internet-based companies or state agencies have taken the position that extracting and storing virtually all possible data from communications within their reach is ethical, potentially useful, and profitable. From the authorities’ point of view, if we have all this data on hand, then we can review it if we come to believe that an abstract person has potentially violated some standard of behavior and is therefore deserving of surveillance. The commercial position is that the more we know about everyone, the better we can target commercial opportunities – or perhaps protect certain company’s profits.

There is one issue left, however. Which is on a vast amount of storage capacity. Eventually someone has to pay for this infrastructure behind your Internet connection; with a variety of different concepts of data theft that has been revealed generating terabytes of data per hour. The scope of this data storage complication is becoming quite large. But the world does not stand still and, for instance, quantum storage could make our lives even more trackable in the near future.

It will take some time for a collective understanding that real privacy is an illusionary concept.

10 October 2017