Imagine the internet 50 years ago, Thats when our notions of privacy were originally crafted in the courts. Cars had chrome and fins. Around here smokestacks billowed. When the phone rang a piece of metal still, struck a bell. If you wanted to talk to the guys, it wasn't just legal to go to the bar and drive back, It was American as smoking a Lucky Strike. Ladies used the phone for a bit of gossip but people visted each other in homes. Face to face was how we shared ourselves with each other for the most part.
Sometimes its quite alarming when we read that peoples lives are upturned by things they do and say on the net. Party lines on our telephones are a thing of the past but in the long term our temporary privacy over telephones will look like a anomalous bump in the road. A strange distortion. While it seems our rights are being eroded, it may actually be our misperceptions fading. There was a time when one large company fought to not be broken up by antitrust laws. The telephone company sold the public that one large company could offer privacy that many small companies could not. It was not a lie. One point of contact was easier to control.
Today we have dozens of points of contact between ourselves and the people we connect with on our phones and computers. All our financial transactions leave trails now. Each one of those are third parties that may be subpoenaed or court ordered or even searched. In this country only our families and ourselves can withhold evidence or testimony against us. All these third parties have a logical and reasonable reason to share our data with law enforcement entities.
We have been in a dark age. Our notions of privacy and property are about to swap places. This is why this memorandum is important to our rights. It gives us information and direction for future growth but in these first moves out into the light from our post 911 confusion it offers us a public concept of information as property. More importantly for us it recognizes it as public property, a resource to be efficiently managed.
Our most private concerns have the same protections as our garbage. In State versus Smith 1970, Alaska gave us this list of items of garbage that we routinely think of as private:
Trash routinely contains many personal items, including:
- empty prescription medicine bottles, which are always labeled with the individual's name and may be labeled with the name and dosage of the drug, so that someone who searches the trash may infer the individual's medical condition. Particularly in the case of sexually-transmitted diseases or psychiatric disorder, disclosure of the individual's medical condition could cause embarrassment.
- credit card receipts, which have the person's name and credit card data; someone who searches the trash could use these data to order merchandise by telephone
- letters that contain confidential information on financial, political, religious, family, or romantic topics
- empty containers of alcoholic beverages, which could be embarrassing in a town with a substantial number of people who disapprove of alcohol for religious or moral reasons
- empty boxes for condoms, birth control pill packages, empty containers of spermicide, and other contraceptive materials that could be embarrassing, but are legal to possess and use.
- telephone invoices, with a list of all long-distance numbers called, with the date and duration of the call
- paper indicating membership in political or religious groups
Suspicously, this looks like the same kind of data we leave on the internet and in corporate databases when we make tranactions with them. Outside of the privacy at home we leave third party trails both in and out. The Black Bag of hidden garbage on the outside is at risk. If we use shredders the rest is untraceable after its mixed with others garbage.
But that inbound trail left at the banks and merchants and on all those shopper convenience cards? Its lifespan is indeterminate. Its transparent baggage over our heads that helps keep us civil and compliant. It behooves society to keep us civil but imagine a lifetime of trash around your home for everyone but you to sift through.
Thats what your data looks like. The sooner we see its all public, the sooner we can regain control of our privacy. As our data becomes more and more public and accepted as public, more people can begin to act responsibly. Our privacy is not a question of our civil rights. Its about property and the data belongs to corporations and governments. Data will soon be too transparent to be taken for granted.