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This course is indispensable to anyone who has a phone or uses the internet. We need to understand the ways in which the government and private companies are tracking us and to appreciate what that may mean for our future. We must also understand the competing, equally legitimate, goals at play. Any effective solution for protecting our online privacy requires a full appreciation of its implications for security. This issue is so important to modern democracies, this course should be required reading.
Except that Rosenzweig falls just short of making useful conclusions. Rosenzweig argues towards the middle of the course that government should adopt the principle that they can use private data as long as it doesn't do harm. He could have spent the rest of the course explaining exactly what he means by that. My ability to trust the government with such powerful data would rest, in fact, on my confidence that it is possible to make such a distinction and the government is capable of making it. I would like to know much more about this principle to not cause harm and whether there is any potential practical application of it. The course fell short of answering that question.
The course also highlighted to me how inappropriate the term "privacy" is to what is at stake. "Privacy" implies the ability to act without the discomfort of others watching. So, for example, if I'm dancing naked at home and a neighbours watches me through my window, this violation of my privacy has two negative consequences. The first is that I am embarrassed. The second is that I lose my ability to do as I like without worrying about what other people will think.
Are these the consequences we worry about when we talk about online privacy from government and companies? In some examples, yes. The potential that someone might publish my profile on OkCupid might fall in this category, but for most government actions, I would argue it's a different beast. Many people, like myself, are not overly concerned about someone in the NSA judging me for looking at embarrassing websites or the secrets I share in private messages with friends. I worry about them using this information to destroy my life.
The example of the Stasi in East Germany shows that the consequence of government knowing too much about citizens is that it gives them the power to selectively incriminate and persecute people the government—or people in government—do not like. They used private information to make people lose their jobs and relationships as a way to punish them without publicly doing anything.
Imagine someone in the NSA with political aspirations using information to destroy the credibility of all opponents and to rise to power. The harm at play here is not one of emotional well-being and so "privacy" seems a wholly inadequate metaphor for the issue at play.
What would be a better word? Perhaps "security": the personal security from targeted information-based persecution. Using that word would lead, perhaps, to a more productive debate, in which what we are balancing is one kind of security against another, rather than security vs. an emotional state.
16 of 16 people found this review helpful
Prof R ably presents a thoughtful canvas of important issues concerning surveillance goals and technology in the hands of government and private people and corporations. He comes from a political background that I don't share and I found myself at odds a few times with some his opinions but they were always presented as such and never interfered with presentation of the subject matter. This is a well done survey of information and ideas to which all of us should pay serious attention.
5 of 5 people found this review helpful
A little biased towards the American legal/moral standpoint (I'm guessing written largely with an American audience in mind). The author does make an effort to discuss these concepts against the background of European laws too. Either way this was informative and thought provoking and well worth a listen.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
Comprehensive introduction into big data and technology are having an increasing impact upon all of our lives.
If you value your freedom, knowledge of the so titled Surveillance State is important to understand how electronic data does, can and will impact on all our lives and what you can do to protect yourself from its most pernicious implications.
The title would suggest that it's our governments who are most interested in our data 'footprints', but increasingly we willingly or perhaps unknowingly submit ever more revealing and intimate details of how we conduct our lives to globalised, private 'actors'.