Keywords: privacy; identity theft; syphilis; cancer; secrecy; dissidents
I’ve been thinking about privacy today — especially why I don’t have much of it and never missed it. But that involves thinking about what it is good for. Let me see.
Well, there’s identity theft. Absolutely, you should not share passwords and ID numbers widely. I don’t have a paper shredder but that’s what they are supposedly for and they sell briskly. My sister-in-law was charged for stuff she had not bought and had a hard time proving that she was not a dead-beat. I suppose that if I don’t talk about my ID numbers very much, that’s not likely to happen to me. I am circumspect. Indeed, please don’t ask my mother’s maiden name or who was my kindergarten teacher.
Syphilis If I had syphilis I would not tell many people. Yes, I would feel obliged to tell anyone whom I might have infected, but I can see why one might be diffident about sharing such information widely.
Some people are bashful about other diseases as well: cancer, for example. They say that whenever you announce that you have cancer, then every conversation for the rest of your life is about your cancer — or about why you are avoiding talk about cancer. Still, if I have cancer I will let you know, even if you’re not very interested. In fact, it’s rather like HIV, isn’t it? Nelson Mandela announced last week that his son had died of AIDS — and this was a shocking revelation. But Mandela said that it’s an essential step toward solving the epidemic. It has to be mentioned in the same way as every other disease — as a normal illness, not as a shameful revelation.
Totalitarian governments. Actually, I am not afraid of the CIA, though I have my doubts about CSIS and (since Bartleman’s new revelations) about the RCMP as well. I will try to deceive them about any topic if I expect them to use the information against me. However, I can’t imagine what they might do.
I was deported from the Soviet Union once for hanging around with dissidents. Fortunately, these dissidents turned out to be very famous and under Gorbachev they all emigrated to the United States or Israel, so they are doing well nowadays. Their main strength was their fame. They tried to have their cases known as well as possible, so they would send information out to the BBC World Service or Voice of America, which would broadcast all kinds of details about them. People throughout the USSR listened surreptitiously to these newscasts, though the Soviet authorities tried to jam them so they could not be heard. But one dissident told me he had been exiled to a village in Siberia and the men went out on the lake to fish, but really to listen to the BBC. He went to a house to borrow a hammer and the woman answering the door told him she had known his name for many years. She and the other high school girls in Novosibirsk had listened to BBC about him in the girls’ washroom. Those famous dissidents mostly survived. The ones whose identities were secret often did not. Nobody spoke up, asking about them. I think there's a lesson there.
Advertising. The fact is, posting information on a site such as MySpace or Facebook will allow people to collect data about your tastes in music and books, so they can figure out what ads to pop up in front of you. If that bothers you, maybe you shouldn’t have a computer. It doesn’t bother me. Even most spam doesn’t bother me. I delete almost everything without opening it.
Having my mistakes publicized. I have mis-spoken a few times in ways that I regretted, and I have even done unethical things more often than I like to admit. I am overcome by shame in the middle of the night sometimes. Once in Grade Three I peed on the floor when I was in front of the class trying to answer the teacher's questions. That was pretty embarrassing. I have a few more stories like that, but this one should suffice. I will not put that information on my Facebook entry. However, if you are interested in the more respectable aspects of my personal identity, I invite you to look up my new Facebook page and guess at the other bad things that may happen to me as a consequence of my reckless self-disclosure. Thank you.