A few thoughts on privacy . . .

As a culture we don’t think about privacy enough.  That has all changed in the last with revelations about NSA’s secret spying programs using our phone and internet data.  Libraryland has traditionally held a very conservative view of privacy because of our many battles over intellectual freedom and the tradition of protecting library records from prying eyes.

However in today’s online world people every day are making social and economic decisions about how and when to share their personal data, and what to trade their privacy for.  My view is that a key component of digital literacy is training people to understand that they are in fact using their privacy as a sort of currency when they make decisions to create social media profiles, sign up for grocery store discount cards, or post anything online.  It’s not my place to make those decisions for them, just help them understand the facts and implications that they can make informed decisions.

It seems to me that the larger issues of the day are less about privacy than they are about secrecy.  National polls are showing that people want the government to protect them from threats and many would be willing to endorse the kind of

Secrecy Promotes Tyrannysurveillance tactics that have been recently revealed are happening.  But the fact is that the public has not gotten to make such an endorsement because of the secrecy of the programs.

Is it feasible to have a public, national discussion about these kind of programs?  I’m not sure, but I am happy that Mr. Snowden did what he did – not that I generally advocate for actions that could be judged as treason. But this is the most massive use of what most people consider to be private information by the government in this era of big data, and I am grateful to have the opportunity to engage in a public discussion about where privacy ends and government protection begins.  Our ability to question the actions of our government is one of the rights I value most.

 

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Deputy Director at Phoenix Public Library and crossword puzzle enthusiast.

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