Privacy is dead, stop mourning it. Stop going to rallies in order to get your precious “privacy” back. And this is not new: Privacy properly said, has been long gone in the past decade, and it is not coming back, not because it is lost forever, but because Privacy truly never existed.
What exactly is “Privacy”? Privacy is defined by the Oxford University dictionary as:
“ […] the state or condition of being free from being observed or disturbed by other people.”
This definition leaves us with certain questions.
Since we cannot be unobserved, because we always are physically “visible” to other individuals, throughout any of our five senses, where does true Privacy begin? This said state can be achieved only if an individual cannot be observed or disturbed? Let’s dig a bit more into that last statement.
In order to be disturbed, an individual needs to be identified first. Hence, there is no identification without the usage of any sensorial mean. Thus, that person has to be “visible” to another individual’s senses in order to be identified. Then we can agree that there is absolutely no way, in any shape or form, to be disturbed without being identified first.
This situation proves that Privacy amongst living things could not be achieved: since we cannot live without being unobserved, and or unbothered. This sensorial explanation leaves room for debate, but perhaps the point that we should understand relays more, not on the encyclopaedic or academic definition of privacy but, on what we call privacy.
Privacy is today the ghost of an idea that something can be either kept, uncopied, uncorrupted, undiscovered and/or untouched. This assertion allowed us to believe that we do have a secret the rest of the world hasn’t discovered yet. This assumption can only live in the imagination of a child, because the moment that any idea gets reflected on any of the mediums available outside of the author’s mind, can be read, copied, kept, corrupted and touched by another individual.
I will point out a situation that can be seen in the daily life of any individual on a day to day basis: “Billy is a writer. He’s a great idea, and he chooses to write that idea on a paper. Max, a random passerby, sees that paper and gained access to Billy’s idea. Billy had his privacy invaded and his idea stolen.” Or is it? Didn’t Billy purposely write said idea on a piece of paper? Did that idea of Billy leave his mind for a second to be reflected on that paper? I am pretty sure that Max cannot read Billy’s mind, but I’m 100% positive that Billy’s idea left the vacuum of non-material existence in order to be translated into a piece of paper, with a code — or common language — which can be deciphered by Max, or any other individual who knows how to read in that code. The message — Billy’s idea — was transmitted -written down on a piece of paper- to a known receiver — himself — in a code — language — that he would understand later on. However, his idea was hijacked when another receiver appeared in the spectrum of the message, becoming a second possible receiver of that message.
We are constantly communicating things at all times, and the common denominator of those communications is that each and every single one of those pieces of communications come outside of the brain cavities, and are expressed through an output. It could be a stare, while the rest of the muscles of your body are completely paralyzed; but to the individuals who can read your body language, it will mean something. That message can be decoded, and it becomes noticed, bothered: it detaches itself from its own sender, crushing his privacy. It is clear that we cannot hide anything that remains outside of our heads. That being said, we can concur that anything that comes outside of our cerebral cavities, becomes a message, and it can be read by other individuals, whether it is intercepted or effectively delivered to a receiver.
What can we do about this? We are definitely not going to sit down and say nothing, just because we do not want people to know what we think. No: we’re just going to act normal, and keep on living our lives the way they were intended to be lived.
The Big Brother and the bad wolves.
Privacy never existed. Not even in the past, and definitely not in the future. Governments are absolutely aware of this situation and can use it to control society, to spy and to be conscious about the whereabouts of any individual.
To eavesdrop is the historically first and the easiest way to spy anyone at any point, anywhere. During the beginning of the practice of eavesdropping, we can imagine that the individual who practised it had to be physically there. This listener would have to stick close to the eavesdropped parties and take notes or remember the things they said, intercepting their message. Then, run back towards the hiring contractor or the spying party, and tell it all.
Eavesdropping can also be taken as a form of interception of the message, and it can be compared to the same actions interfering with the delivery of mail -as letters or packages — and telegraphic signals. Later on came the phone, and the lives of spies became much easier: they could intercept messages in a clear-sound-clear-code basis, doing it faster, not physically present and factual. One can imagine that eavesdroppers could intercept a message, but those who finally recorded that message were the professional spies. This form of electronic eavesdrop is called “wiretapping”.
A few people know that some governments have been secretly and manually wiretapped on the conversations selected members of the society had over the phone, in the past century.
But when did the message interception — call it eavesdropping or wiretapping- became the main source of espionage in the 20th century?
Since the 1920’s, with the creation of a company of army coders called “The Black Chamber”. This was US’s first espionage agency and the one who would wiretap telegraphs and intercept messages from individuals inside the United States. After the Black Chamber came to an operation called SHAMROCK. This operation moved its lines up until the end of WWII, but with the war won, and the towers of telephone companies coming back to regular civilian use, it was labelled as suspicious that the government would continue wiretapping American homes in lieu of deactivating any social issues that might run across with. It was on 1952 that President Harry Truman created what is known to be the National Security Agency in order to gather all of the surveillance efforts of the nation in just one operation.
In 1972, the United States’ Supreme Court of Justice ruled in favour of the Constitution’s fourth amendment, after realizing that it protects the citizens against “unreasonable searches and seizures” and this also contemplates surveillance for domestic threats. The USSC then established the precedent that warrants were needed to authorize any sort of espionage, particularly those where a domestic threat could take part in. This would be the one and only setback that governmental espionage would have in a century. This glorious attempt to bring “privacy back” to the citizens of the US, would be absolutely and blasphemously ignored — at best — by the National Security Agency when it got involved in a warrantless and intrusive practice that was called the “Watergate Scandal”, which later on provoked the resignation of the 37th US President, Richard Nixon in 1974. It took two years for US Senator Frank Church to release a report that investigated federal intelligence operations, concluding that “intelligence agencies have undermined the constitutional rights of citizens.” This report has set the fundamental stones for the creation of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, to control the US surveillance activities. A watchdog watching over the shoulder of watchdogs.
The real surveillance technically started with the invention, proliferation and enhancement of the mobile phone. In the previous years to the mobile era, people needed to be physically near a phone at a certain time in order to receive a call they would wait for a total maximum of 15 minutes. Going to the restroom was not an option, since one second away from the telephone base, and it could mean that the call they were waiting for was gone. The main fix for the said issue was the attachment of an answering machine, which came later on, allowing it to record a message for the individual who was supposed to receive it. And, yes: that message was not private, since everyone in the household or company, had access to the same recording the receiver of that message had.
The technical advancement which really gave the original phone a quantum leap, was when it would allow people to carry around the city a briefcase with a phone inside, that would allow the user to make a call on any position of the city. Later on, that briefcase transformed into a brick-shaped device with the size of a shoe — a men’s shoe that is, approximately 12 inches. At this point, the telephone companies needed more towers in order to sustain quality service, and be able to receive and hold new business at the beginning of the digital era. A three-point calculation (XYZ), could actually pinpoint the global position of the caller. This is incredibly effective when the Department of Homeland Security or any other sort of local authority aims to locate a fugitive. It renders the technique useless when that fugitive posts about its crimes on social media.
All this marked the last whisper of Privacy in the world as we know it. However, this espionage towards people is much acute and quite deep.
Today’s mobile phones are computers. These devices can produce, record and make a different array of media, beyond its initial calling capabilities. The mobile devices of today, are telephones with telegraphs, gramophones, photographic and film cameras and maps. Oh, and Global Positioning Systems. All these different mediums produce a different array of data, and that data is stored somewhere. That data can live inside the guts of your mobile device and it can become part of the huge pool of data subject to any company’s desire: despite that data was created around you, they own that data. And they own you.
Sun Tzu, wrote in the Art of War:
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”
This phrase is teaching us that knowledge is power. Knowledge is defined by Oxford as “facts, information and skills acquired by a person through experience or education; the theoretical understanding of a subject.” If we pay attention the first part of this definition, we can see that facts and information refer directly to small data: points of value, itemized and logged actions which together can become insights and create a portrait of a situation or individual. It can be vague as a daguerreotype, detailed but superficial as an HD picture or insightful as a radiography: this portrait indicates patterns of behaviour and said behaviour can be observed by other individuals -whether they are humans or machines. Mobile technology and computing devices have made that type of “message interception” possible with the invention of personal-oriented devices -such as the personal computer, a tablet or a mobile phone — and more intrusive devices that can display insightful data — like wearable wristbands or pace trackers — combined with a fashion movement oriented towards individualism, which guaranteed people’s consumption of the devices that would know all about them, and combining that small data into big pools of data. Scary? We’re not there yet.
Since all your devices know and intercept all the messages that you send, who’s on the other side? The answer is that we don’t know. It could be literally anyone. What we do know is that it can penetrate our most private sectors: there is no hard drive safe, and there is not a single stone that cannot be flipped.
They. Will. Find. Out.
What can we do to protect ourselves? Is there any legal measure that we can use?
Habeas Data is a term in Latin that literally means “ you can have the data”, and it is a constitutional way of protecting your image, privacy, honour, information, self-determination and freedom of information of the individual presenting this writ. This is respected by no legal entity: if it is not violated directly, the data collector would be able to obtain the same array or similar characteristics of data, from the same subject and source, from a different way. In other words: data will bleed through the cracks of the system, and there is absolutely no way that we will ever achieve transparency in the extraction, collection, processing, and depersonalization of any individuals data: there are too many parties to control and only one watchdog: the user. That user is emitting a message, that message gets intercepted by another party or receiver… it is a vicious cycle and it is impossible to follow. If we are communication animals, and we have the urge to spit out anything that we have in mind, then privacy is a chimaera, and thus it never existed.
In order to really achieve privacy, we would have to live in a suspended state of consciousness, where only our thoughts would resonate in our skulls. Why? Because the moments those thoughts see the light of day, they can become someone else’s, and be collected by other individuals to gather information about the sender of that message. Thus, no form of communication would be allowed to leave our bodies, and that would also mean no movement at all. It would be some sort of conscious comma, where we could only think and not communicate those thoughts, achieving the one and only true form of privacy: silence.