Talking Point: Privacy

8 Conversations

A man in silhouette

In Western societies especially, privacy has been long regarded as an essential component of democracy. But exactly how secure is it as a concept? Is it still relevant, and valuable to us?

We are being watched and recorded more than ever before - not purely on CCTV cameras, but on the mobile devices carried by the vast majority of the population. Sites such as Youtube mean that footage from either of these sources can quickly become an Internet sensation. In 2005 in South Korea, bloggers targeted a woman who refused to clean up when her dog defecated on the floor of a Seoul subway car. Closer to home, last year 4chan members identified a woman who put a cat into a wheelie bin, leading to public outrage. More lightheartedly, footage has been released of an extremely inebriated man falling down the stairs at a Tube station. Whether trivial or not, this sort of footage can make or break reputations.

Facial recognition software means it's not always necessary to name people in order to identify them. Facebook last week elicited controversy when it introduced its own facial recognition API.

Google boss Eric Schmidt warned last year that in the future it might be common for young people to change their names in order to distance themselves from the revelations they've made about themselves on the Internet. The rapid growth of sites such as Facebook and Twitter means that people report even their most trivial activities and most casually-held opinions far more regularly. The Web is becoming more organised as Tim Berners-Lee's vision of a 'web of data' as opposed to a 'web of documents' is realised and this means that information - whether useful or damning - can be more easily found.

Quite often we see that our law struggles in a trade-off between privacy and freedom of speech. One man's superinjunction is another man's censorship, and the recent spate of activity regarding attempts to keep information private have shown that the law struggles to keep pace with developments. It's becoming increasingly difficult to keep anything secret these days.

This week, we'd like to ask you:

  • What is privacy? How important do you think it is to society?

  • Is our privacy under threat? Or do you think reports about the death of privacy are greatly exaggerated?

  • Is the law adequate to protect privacy? Is it even possible to control the free flow of information in the Internet age?

  • Do you think that loss of privacy is an inevitable by-product of systems that have brought us security and efficiency?

  • Or do you believe that the right to be let alone is too important a human right to sacrifice, regardless of any benefit?

Start a new conversation below and let us know your opinions.

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