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Employers want a 10-year background check, a credit check, and access to your social media accounts. Phone companies want your social security number and location information. The local drug retailer wants your phone number and your address. Landlords want to know how many children you have, their names and what schools they go to. Video game vendors now need your banking information. Your home security company knows right down to the second every time your front door opens and closes or which window you open and for how long. Credit reporting agencies want to know everything. Even political campaigns want to know how we plan to vote and when. They want to keep all this data for their own use at their discretion. All of these things we provide to them without any regulator or watchdog ever asking why they need these things or what they are doing with it. It simply means a click of a box and acceptance of whatever perfectly legal self-regulation one must accept.

The NSA data-gathering "scandal" is being used a proxy for all sorts of other political fights, from Obama Sucks to ending the War on Terror to smearing whistleblowers. But the real scandal is how completely unregulated data gathering is generally. In truth, the NSA didn't go snooping around in the computers of private individuals to obtain metadata. They simply asked for it from the corporations who are gathering it in the first place. Corporations who had less choice in delivering it than you did in providing it. There are little to no regulations on "terms of service" agreements or in what you can be asked to disclose about yourself. The technological revolution in information gathering is changing the nature of what privacy means and who has a rightful claim to it. But the proxy political fight over the NSA is obscuring the real conversation we ought to be having.

Because surely, someone, anyone, needs to be asking about these reams of data and how they are being used. Or why certain data needs to be kept in the first place. For what purpose is AT&T collecting data on my daily movements? Why is my local grocer keeping track of my buying habits? What is really happening when I haven't moved or touched my phone in day or two, yet there it is sending and receiving streams and streams of I-don't-know-what. We need a modern conversation about life in the modern world and what the boundaries are. With respect to privacy, we should be talking about what privacy means in a world where everyone, or just about everyone, is walking around with listening and watching devices. Everyone can spy on everyone else. It is literally to the point of seeing videos published of people secretly recorded having sexual relations in their own homes, making a private moment a global event.

Google is right now developing a pair of glasses that will record anything seen by the naked eye and heard by the ear. They look funky now, but surely a Chinese made copycat will emerge that looks exactly like a normal pair of glasses and activated by a series of winks. What then for privacy? Who will regulate such things if needed? Denigrating leakers or proxy-fighting over political beefs wont solve or give some clarity to life in information age. That new life, and the boundaries between us, our institutions, our commercial society and our government is what we should be talking about.

Originally posted to Triple-B in the Building on Wed Jun 12, 2013 at 04:24 AM PDT.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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