Editor: It is a mega-irony to discuss privacy at a time when millions of us relinquish it voluntarily — every day. We are generally relinquishing it to the marketplace and not the government, but is that reassuring? Can we trust the companies that virtually own us to guard our security — our secrets or our safety?
With regard to government and the struggle between security and privacy, the choices are more difficult as the stakes are higher. We don’t want big brother watching us but we do, to some extent, want him watching over us — protecting us from danger — whether the danger comes from terrorists from abroad or here — whether they are driven by the spirit of a holy war or by a deranged desire to kill. Doesn’t the Declaration of Independence proclaim that we have unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? Doesn’t that imply some security measures — ranging from traffic lights to gun laws to protection from our outside enemies?
Some people are more fearful of government than unbridled lawlessness and others are more fearful of being the pawns of commerce — where our identities are bought and sold every day — or of the social media which make the words “private” and “secret” virtually obsolete.
Most of the dilemmas don’t have easy answers — reasonable cases can be made on both sides of them. One has to say, in an imperfect world, a dangerous world, which is more valuable, our imperfect security or our compromised privacy? We will be having to make these decisions all our lives. Staying on the middle path — giving the government some slack in the name of making us safer — and protecting while being less naïve about how much privacy or security we have — may be an unsatisfactory but livable path to follow.
Publication Date: June 17, 2013