“There’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation”

While Pierre Elliot Trudeau, then Justice Minister, was addressing the outdated criminal codes dealing specifically with homosexuality, I feel believe that this ideological sentiment could be applied to a greater idea of digital privacy.  The idea of being interconnected with anyone who wants to be on the Internet anywhere around the world is absolutely amazing, but I don’t think giving up my right to have a private relationship with that person should be sacrificed for the benefit of governments and corporations.

As one of my communications professors continuously reminds us, WE are Facebook’s products, and our personal information is sold to the highest bidder.  They gather large amounts of data on billions of individuals, in greater detail than our national census, and we move along like lambs to the slaughter.  We knowingly and voluntarily give up this information and don’t question, or simply don’t care what is being done with our digital lives.  It’s all fun and games to share goofy information, or to list where you’re worked or gone to school, but it’s this information that allows corporations to target your consumer needs.

This is a small part of a bigger problem with our eroding privacy.  Digital life brings new concerns.  It’s not just social media companies selling aggregate information, but governments and other formal bodies that are using whatever loopholes they can to spy on our digital lives and activities.  We used to seal letters with wax and a coat of arms to detect if messages had be tampered with, now governments are forcing companies who have secure messaging systems to hand over their encryption keys so they can track every word we pass along around the world.  No longer are we presumed innocent, we are presumed guilty the moment we touch a keyboard.

Individually we are to blame for this situation.  5 billion of us have acted like lemmings and gleefully stepped off the edge of the cliff while taking pictures being sure to tag all our friends all before we hit the ground.  I don’t ever remember growing up with this overly excessive desire to share every little detail of my life, but I’m old and out of touch, I suppose.  I just can’t see this open sharing, that is out there for as long as the Internet exists, won’t come back to haunt today’s youth.  Most social media outlets offer some level of privacy controls, however if you don’t implement them then it’s your own damn fault that your friends can post and tag you in that video of you in a drunken stupor getting a tattoo of the one foot tall My Little Pony in leather chaps with the name of your favourite professor written across the saddle.

It is still illegal for the Canadian Government to open our mail unless there is an obvious issue with the letter, like a funny looking powder or a ticking sound emanating from the package.  So, what gives our government a greater right to view our email?  How is that level of communication any different?  Email companies like the now defunct Lavabit used to offer a completely encrypted email service that, at the time, was impossible to circumvent.  It so frustrated the American Government that they try to force the company to hand over its encryption keys.  They must have really wanted access to that My Little Pony video.

I would dare to say that most of our daily lives here in North America have now been transferred into the digital realm in one form or another.  Whether it be banking, healthcare, job search, or even job interviews, why should we as private citizens not be offered the same sense of privacy that was afforded us when all of these things were done in the brick and mortar world?  I truly love the simplicity of doing my banking online, or paying for my purchases using a debit card instead of carrying cash around, but the idea of a government or corporation tracking and using this information to either bias their marketing or possibly give cause to flag all my purchases because I may be building an explosive device with that fertilizer that I bought for my vegetable garden sends shivers up my spine.

In the end, be careful with your online presence.  In the today’s world where the word privacy will become extinct much like an honest politician, it may be best to start limiting your digital footprint.  Go Green, digitally green that is.

This post is being published on Remembrance Day here in Canada, so please let’s give pause to remember the men and women who have sacrificed their lives to preserve our way of life as Canadian and as private citizens.

Until next week
A Clockwork Techie

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