Transparency Can Relieve Personal Privacy Concerns

I delivered a presentation last night to a local chapter of the Information Systems Security Association (ISSA). The presentation was meant to articulate some of the known surveillance and monitoring that individuals are subject to in 2017, and create discussion of the pros and cons of such activity.

We discussed Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, law enforcement, NSA, healthcare providers, auto insurance companies and the like. There was general agreement that some monitoring is helpful either for personal health monitoring, for personal protection or for online suggestions (Ads). When we talked about law enforcement and federal government surveillance, the tone changed. Whether we discussed video camera surveillance in public places, the use of Stingray devices to monitor mobile phone communications, or online monitoring there was a general feeling that it was invading their personal privacy.

So the question that arose in my head is why? Why do people find the monitoring by government entities to be more invasive than the monitoring of Google, Facebook or Apple? The answer comes down to transparency. The audience was generally ok with government monitoring for the purpose of physical protection, but they wanted transparency in what surveillance or monitoring they were subject to. At least Google, Facebook and the like provide agreements and privacy policies outlining what they are doing (I’ll address that in another post). The government doesn’t tell you what they’re monitoring or how they’re monitoring you, and that lack of transparency raises concern that the government may be overstepping it’s authority. Because there is an unknown element to this activity, citizens feel their personal privacy is being violated.

Most citizens understand that governments surveil and monitor both foreign and domestic individuals and it’s generally for the purposes of protecting their nation. Realizing that the unknown generally makes citizens uncomfortable and suspicious, however, better transparency in the monitoring of a nation’s own citizens could go a long way in making people more comfortable and accepting of this activity. Until that happens, expect continued push back from consumers and privacy rights activists.