I've been wondering for weeks (well, months, actually) whether it was even possible to write this diary on any kind of neutral basis. Let's see.
There is more information available about a greater percentage of more people than there ever has been before. Some of it is collected with our direct consent, some with our indirect consent, some without any consent at all. It's collected by our friends and neighbors, our employers, financial institutions, retailers, online search engines, and governments. When that collected data improves our lives, we tend to have some sympathy for the collection process; when that same collected data creates obstacles for us, the sympathy disappears.
Calls for transparency of information and worries about privacy and misuse of information compete on a number of different levels, from the personal to the global. Arguments about the subject are based on all kinds of different premises; Constitutional, ethical, moral, rational, etc..
For the moment, assume that the arguments are beside the point (mostly because I don't have any good answers...). Let's instead look at a number of different questions, most of which are going to be hard to answer well.
Does it bug you more that other people and institutions have access to your data, or that you don't have comparable access to the same data, both about yourself and about them? Note: that's a throwaway question, because I was feeling snarky at the time I wrote it. It's still worth thinking about.
What changes do you think other people or institutions would make if they knew that everything they did would become publicly available information? What would you change if you did?
In what ways might society change, both for the better and the worse, if the concept of secrecy were to become null and void at all levels? Or at all levels above the purely personal?
Is it fair to say that transparency is what we want from other people, and that privacy is what we demand for ourselves? Can the concept of privacy be redefined to fit in with the call for transparency, or will it need to be scrapped either partially or entirely?
How many of the problems our society has today do you think are due to inadequate access to, or nontransparency of, information?
Some general thoughts on data limitation, in no particular order: The concept of privacy assumes that no one else has access to, or control over, some subset of your personal actions and/or data. Secrecy means trying to limit access to certain data to a selected number of people. Security (data security) is thinking you've achieved secrecy, worrying that you haven't, and spending an increasingly larger share of resources on trying to bolster your protections. Since a secret held by more than one person is potentially no secret at all, security cultures generally involve a strong tendency toward paranoia. Blackmail, when it doesn't involve real hostages, involves the threat to publicize private or secret data. Inequity in power, apart from real weapons, generally involves the acquisition of useful data, and the ability to subsequently limit its dissemination.
While direct threat will continue to be a useful tool for intimidation, blackmail and corruption on any large scale depend on there being a culture of privacy and secrecy, where the ability to obtain and potentially release negative private data is a major status marker.
One of the reasons that there is a general lack of trust between people, or people and institutions, or between institutions, is that, if you have a culture based on privacy and secrecy, it's easier for people and institutions to lie when it's profitable for them to do so. When verification is impossible, trust depends on blind faith; not a good basis for productive reasoning.
How might we go about making access to information broad enough that it cannot be effectively used as a weapon against the average citizen because of inequality/inequity of access? This is one of the kickers. Repurposing the NSA as a public information access system might do the job, but I suspect a fundamental shift in society will be easier to accomplish, and would probably need to be done first.
What specific things can you see better information access doing for you? I'm thinking about things like
- being able to find what kind of money "radical" writers and activists are making, and how they're spending it, so I can judge the extent of their sincerity or hypocrisy for myself
- being able to look at actual salaries and hierarchy in a corporation I'm thinking of working for
- checking out the driving record of a cabbie before I get in
- looking at the records of police activity or environmental medical problems in a neighborhood I'm thinking of moving to
Some things are more selfish, some less so. All are possibilities if we can get a handle on the information that's already out there for a few, but not available broadly.
I can envision some really good scenarios, as well as some pretty scary ones, coming out of real answers to these questions and others that might need to be asked, but in either case I think it's time and past time to start asking them. The only thing I can't envision at this point is any way to shove the genie back into the bottle. This, I think, is part of what living in the information age has to encompass.