Give me liberty or give me security.

As technology becomes more pervasive, we have to ask ourselves an important question. Is giving up our rights to privacy worth it?

I’ve always been the type of person to disregard the importance of privacy. To be honest, I could care less if my ads are targeted or if a cell phone company knows who I text the most – and to be even more honest, the fact that Verizon knows exactly where I’m located right now doesn’t bother me one bit.

I blogged last week about the Samsung SmartTV that can listen to conversations and how dangerous that could be if the information gets into the wrong hands. But after some further research, I’ve realized that this voice-recognition software is nothing compared to the intrusive technologies that already exist, and have existed for years.

I’m currently reading Dragnet Nation by Julia Angwin. The book is about the “dragnets” these technologies cast over our nation – dragnets that “sweep up” personal data from every person at every moment. These dragnets are casted by different parties, even parties with good intentions. These parties include the government, private companies, and criminals who are able to hack the systems of the government and private companies.

Most of us aren’t too concerned with privacy because we haven’t had our own privacy invaded in a life-changing way. But the truth is, our personal data, however innocent it may be, could hurt any of us if it got into the hands of the wrong person.

Imagine that the computers the UNC CCI program issued to its students had surveillance software built-in. The webcam could take videos or photos at any moment, and students are unaware of this because the school didn’t disclose any information to its students about the surveillance software. Throughout the year, the computer catches hundreds of images of students doing various things – changing, drinking or even just doing homework.

No matter if the student’s activity was illegal or not, it’s reasonable to expect privacy, but a third party gets ahold of this information somehow. The police department catches students underage drinking, a website gathers images of students undressed in their own rooms. The data has officially been caught in the dragnet, and now anything could happen.

This story seems exaggerated, it’s actually based on real events. In 2009, a high school in the suburbs of Philadelphia issued its students laptops with surveillance software and didn’t inform its students about the program. Students got in trouble for various things they did in the privacy of their own homes. Fair? Not really. The school board then banned the software that was originally designed to protect the students from computer theft.

So in this example, it’s clear that the intention of the surveillance wasn’t to stalk students or find out private information about anyone. The purpose was to protect the students’ property. But anything can be used incorrectly, and without disclosing this risk clearly to students, it’s unethical, and most likely illegal, to cast this type of dragnet.

Similar privacy concerns are getting worse today. Airport security is an example mentioned in Dragnet Nation. By requiring every passenger to go through security and be vulnerable to pat downs and body scanners, the government is basically treating everyone as a potential criminal. But isn’t it worth it to give up some privacy if it means we can be more sure that no dangerous people are on a flight?

I think so. But privacy is a very blurry line, and we could be in danger with or without it.

One thought on “Give me liberty or give me security.

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