Hello, Privacy!

Society needs privacy. Here's why.

“We live, in fact, in a world starved for solitude, silence, and private: and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship.”
C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

I love this quote from C.S. Lewis regarding the importance of privacy in a human life. This seemed an important place to begin explaining my philosophy...yes, philosophy...on privacy, specifically data privacy.

Warning: The following post is anecdotal in nature, meaning it's my opinion and philosophy, NOT an evidence based research paper. It is meant to be persuasive and biased so I expect it to be approached with the highest level of caution and critical thinking by the reader...in fact I'm counting on it.

We are such social creatures, you and I, desiring the approval of our peers in often bizarre ways. With this comes a real need for a tempering balance. Privacy provides some of this balance. It allows us uninterrupted freedom to express thoughts and ideas without the repercussions and embarrassment which often follow doing so in public. Another extremely important part of privacy is that it can enhance trust in relationships. This might seem counter-intuitive at first blush until you consider the trust that must exist before sharing the most intimate aspects of your life with someone. Follow that up with how much closer we usually get with people who hold knowledge of our most intimate aspects and you should be able to see how the trust only grows deeper as long as it isn't violated.

To hinder, neglect, or remove the ability to process our thoughts and ideas in private is, quite frankly, dangerous because it disrupts the natural process of flushing out of bad ideas or the crystallization of good ones. Without privacy and trust we are at the mercy of whoever is watching us and lose the very definition of trust. To some this may seem fine when everyone agrees, but what happens when those watching turn on us? What happens when human rights come into question? What happens when things you hold dear are suddenly deemed unfit for public consumption? It is in these times when privacy is critical. We are all responsible for what we do and say as individuals, so why not take advantage of a little thoughtfulness and private consultation before firing off a heated response to that annoying troll or droning on about some half baked idea in a blog post. To put it another way, privacy can be viewed as a sandbox we play and practice in before the grand production.

"Ok," you might be saying to yourself, "You've explained why you think privacy is important. But what about secrets? Surely secrets are always bad, right? People should be transparent!"

To this I pose the following scenario; your loved one wants something special for their fill-in-the-blank. They have their heart set on it, so naturally you get it for them then immediately tell them over a quick text message, right?

Of course not! You keep it a secret until the perfect time to present it, usually in some kind of wrapping or bailing wire to further obscure and build anticipation. That's all secrets are...some information only a select party is privy to until others have need to know. The same definition holds for that super sensitive business deal you brokered last week or that new drug which still has trials pending before going mainstream.While I'm a huge fan of transparency and open sourcing of data in very specific contexts, there is a real need for things to, at times, remain obscured from the general populace to control the misuse of said information. Of course there are other pieces of information which should generally never been public. For example there is no good reason for everyone to know my medical history outside my doctor and family, though there could be a plethora of nefarious reasons bad actors might want this information. This is why controls like HIPAA exist. They help institutions better control who is allowed to know what about me. But a lot of and responsibility control lies with me, the individual, to only give away the least amount of information needed about my life. Through my career I hope to be able to teach and consult people and businesses on how they can protect both themselves and their loved ones by limiting the information they give away, turning secrecy and privacy into the valuable assets they are.

My hope is this article provides you a fresh look at privacy as well as demonstrates why our society needs more of it. Privacy helps insulate us from hostility while, at the same time, creates an environment of trust where healthy debate and analysis of arguments can occur before hitting prime time.

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