Shaun’s Musings: The Internet and Privacy

 

My father bought the house’s first computer in 1995. Before then, I had used a rickety old typewriter with a flying ‘g’ that seemed to eat the ink cartridges faster than I could replace them. Happy with my father’s new purchase, I set to work on writing a novel. We had AOL in those days, but the Internet was not anywhere near where it is today. On the first day I started using the Internet, my father sat down with me and gave me a good piece of advice that I have never forgotten. “The Internet is a public place,” he told me. “I don’t care what website says it’s private. Automatically assume that everything you write, buy, and look at online will still be visible twenty years from now.”

That advice came in handy years later when I lost an entire manuscript I had saved since I was sixteen. Remembering that I had shared the file with some friends in order to gain some feedback, I was quickly able to find and download it. The date? May, 1997, just weeks before I graduated high school.

I had heard about Ashley Madison, the affair website, back in about 2003, and it became a sort of running joke between my friends and I, who were single, very geeky, and computer nerds. We joked about setting up fake profiles to see if anyone would be interested in a couple of twentysomethings that had yet to get their rocks off, but in actuality I think we were all a bit surprised that the Internet had suddenly become this gateway, this way of being able to hide your true identity or persona. One anonymous individual posted an article about his affair through Ashley Madison, and was extremely unapologetic about it. Of course, he posted it under the name anonymous, which tells us all something.

While many of us fight for deeper encryption and increased security, the FBI and Department of Homeland Security desire very much for applications and programs to have a “back door” that allows them to monitor computers and users, all under the guise of cracking down on domestic terrorism. As a writer, I have to wonder how my Internet searches are taken: I am working on two novels right now, one that takes place a few miles north of my house, and one that focuses on an uprising and an eventual revolution overtaking the United States. When all else fails, I go to the library or Barnes & Noble for military information, especially that of a sensitive nature.

People often argue that they have nothing to hide, so they do not worry about Internet privacy. However, that is like saying that the First Amendment doesn’t mean anything to you because you don’t have anything to say. A silent majority is always trumped by a vocal minority. The trouble is, today so many people aren’t aware of, or don’t care about, the idea of privacy: It has become one of those long-lost concepts. We have entered a stage where the up-and-coming generation cannot recall an age when they did not have technology, and they did not experience the uneasy peaceful times before September 11th, 2001. Often, teenagers will say they are simply playing video games, and as a result they really aren’t doing anything that warrants scrutiny.

I’m not concerned about Internet privacy because I’m doing something wrong. It is the fear of doing something wrong that concerns me. When we do not search on the Internet for information about military terms, conspiracy theories, or even our favorite United States warship out of concern that the FBI or some other entity is watching us, freedom has failed and tyranny has taken over.

The erosion of our freedoms has been slow and calls to mind the metaphor of a frog, placed in water that’s slowly boiling, failing to realize it is being cooked to death. We are in danger of having our voices silenced not through the banning of free speech, but through the fear of what might happen if we exercise it. This is, of course, coupled with intense stigmatizing as politically incorrect of anyone who says anything against the prevailing views, but that is another discussion for another day.

The Internet has solved many problems. We are able to find information that once would have sent us scrambling to the dictionary or to the library. My doctoral dissertation took six weeks of research, as opposed to six months for my masters’ thesis. However, it has also created problems. The ease with which we can post information on the Internet also makes it easier for us to be monitored.

The fate of a future United States President will depend on a Tweet or Facebook post that he or she made as a teenager.

 

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  1. Karen Inactive
    Karen
    @Karen

    Claire- my husband and I are part of the millions whose personal info was hacked! And the offer by the gov’t of identity theft protection and credit monitoring (which we were doing anyway) is little consolation. But the virtual world is just another battleground and information another weapon used by bad actors. TSA invades my privacy as well, but I don’t get all bent out of shape about it. Unless I go off the grid and go live in a bunker, there’s not a lot I can do about it.

    • #61
  2. Ricochet Inactive
    Ricochet
    @SDCurran

    People can be themselves and not be boring. When it comes to the Internet, especially social media, people yell, scream, anything to get attention. It’s as if somehow if we’re not the center of attention, we don’t exist. People don’t realize that all they are getting is negative attention. I see it all the time on Facebook with people trolling, looking for validation (or war).

    • #62
  3. iWc Coolidge
    iWc
    @iWe

    Karen :Drlorentz – I’ve been interviewed several times by folks – all unannounced- doing federal background checks on friends, family members and neighbors for security clearances.

    I would never speak to them.

    If they so much as THINK you have misstated something, then you can be put away for lying to a federal agent.

    Much safer to have no comment and close the door.

    • #63
  4. Karen Inactive
    Karen
    @Karen

    iWe:

    Karen :Drlorentz – I’ve been interviewed several times by folks – all unannounced- doing federal background checks on friends, family members and neighbors for security clearances.

    I would never speak to them.

    If they so much as THINK you have misstated something, then you can be put away for lying to a federal agent.

    Much safer to have no comment and close the door.

    Yeh, I’m not sure where you’re getting that. That’s really not the way the interviews are conducted.

    • #64
  5. Ricochet Inactive
    Ricochet
    @SDCurran

    Karen :

    iWe:

    Karen :Drlorentz – I’ve been interviewed several times by folks – all unannounced- doing federal background checks on friends, family members and neighbors for security clearances.

    I would never speak to them.

    If they so much as THINK you have misstated something, then you can be put away for lying to a federal agent.

    Much safer to have no comment and close the door.

    Yeh, I’m not sure where you’re getting that. That’s really not the way the interviews are conducted.

    It depends on who you are and who you know. Authority figures are rarely interested in justice. They want an open-and-shut case, and if you don’t know how to defend yourself, it’s pretty much over. We have seen conservatives being raided in the wake of Governor Walker’s victory, and it will continue to happen. The IRS constantly audits conservative employers. Any misstep, and that’s it.

    • #65
  6. iWc Coolidge
    iWc
    @iWe

    Karen :

    iWe:

    Karen :Drlorentz – I’ve been interviewed several times by folks – all unannounced- doing federal background checks on friends, family members and neighbors for security clearances.

    I would never speak to them.

    If they so much as THINK you have misstated something, then you can be put away for lying to a federal agent.

    Much safer to have no comment and close the door.

    Yeh, I’m not sure where you’re getting that. That’s really not the way the interviews are conducted.

    Nevertheless, federal agents often misrepresent themselves and can do so. They can ask questions designed to catch you out, while pretending to be interested in something else entirely.

    One perceived misstatement, and you are toast. Assuming they want to get you.

    • #66
  7. Karen Inactive
    Karen
    @Karen

    drlorentz:

    Karen :Drlorentz – I’ve been interviewed several times by folks – all unannounced- doing federal background checks on friends, family members and neighbors for security clearances. They ask all kinds of personal information about the candidates and me, so I don’t see the cause for alarm. The guys with JTTF were doing what they were supposed to do. It would’ve gotten ugly if the family had acted stupidly, which is always a concern.

    There’s a big difference between being interviewed by someone from OPM for a background check and an unannounced visit by a bunch of guys with guns pulling up to your house in SUVs. Perhaps your experiences are different but when they come to see me for a background check (at work, not at home), they make an appointment and are never armed.

    My experiences have been different. That said, I doubt the JTTF showed up with guns drawn thinking this family was another Branch Davidian cult or something.

    • #67
  8. Ricochet Inactive
    Ricochet
    @SDCurran

    Nevertheless, federal agents often misrepresent themselves and can do so. They can ask questions designed to catch you out, while pretending to be interested in something else entirely.

    One perceived misstatement, and you are toast. Assuming they want to get you.

    Sometimes they’ll prosecute just to send a message, but they can do more harm than good. A great example happened when digital cameras first came out. A woman who was still printing photos the traditional way by going to the store was arrested because she had a naked picture of her son. At a press release she said, “You just essentially told every pedophile out there to go buy a home printer.”

    • #68
  9. Gödel's Ghost Inactive
    Gödel's Ghost
    @GreatGhostofGodel

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:Have you followed the story of Tim Hunt?

    Google his name, if not.

    Not a week ago I cancelled my GitHub account for reasons explained here. I won’t be presenting at the Strange Loop conference—where I have presented twice before—because of this.

    It’s so very important that we reject not only government thought police, but private sector ones as well, with equal force.

    • #69
  10. Karen Inactive
    Karen
    @Karen

    S.D. Curran:

    Karen :

    iWe:

    Karen :Drlorentz – I’ve been interviewed several times by folks – all unannounced- doing federal background checks on friends, family members and neighbors for security clearances.

    I would never speak to them.

    If they so much as THINK you have misstated something, then you can be put away for lying to a federal agent.

    Much safer to have no comment and close the door.

    Yeh, I’m not sure where you’re getting that. That’s really not the way the interviews are conducted.

    It depends on who you are and who you know. Authority figures are rarely interested in justice. They want an open-and-shut case, and if you don’t know how to defend yourself, it’s pretty much over. We have seen conservatives being raided in the wake of Governor Walker’s victory, and it will continue to happen. The IRS constantly audits conservative employers. Any misstep, and that’s it.

    Well, I must be really important and well connected if someone from the government hasn’t carted me off for my political views. ;) Using the power of the Executive Branch to retaliate against political rivals isn’t limited to the Democrats, but that’s not what your OP was about.

    • #70
  11. iWc Coolidge
    iWc
    @iWe

    Karen :My experiences have been different. They’ve always been unannounced and have always been at my home.

    Please be careful.

    “On the majority’s view,” Scalia wrote, “if the bureaucrats responsible for creating Form 4473 decided to ask about the buyer’s favorite color, a false response would be a federal crime.”

    If the government wants to get you (and being a conservative can be enough, as we know all too well), then talking to an agent is quite dangerous. One perceived false statement, and off to the clink.

    • #71
  12. Songwriter Inactive
    Songwriter
    @user_19450

    Owen Findy:

    iWe: It does not know what you will do next. Whom will you love? What will you create? What is your next Ricochet post?

    Yeah, for now.

    Google knew you were gonna say that.

    • #72
  13. Ricochet Inactive
    Ricochet
    @SDCurran

    Great Ghost of Gödel:

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:Have you followed the story of Tim Hunt?

    Google his name, if not.

    Not a week ago I cancelled my GitHub account for reasons explained here. I won’t be presenting at the Strange Loop conference—where I have presented twice before—because of this.

    It’s so very important that we reject not only government thought police, but private sector ones as well, with equal force.

    Good articles. Being offended is a choice. When I was working for a group home for the Deaf in Central Mass, anyone who was offended was applauded for ‘standing up for themselves.’ I am deaf, but wear two hearing aids. I remember one person was offended because I used the regular telephone to call out. Thank goodness I’m out of that place!

    • #73
  14. Ricochet Inactive
    Ricochet
    @SDCurran

    Songwriter:

    Owen Findy:

    iWe: It does not know what you will do next. Whom will you love? What will you create? What is your next Ricochet post?

    Yeah, for now.

    Google knew you were gonna say that.

    Actually, if you think about it, Google does know what your next post will be. Don’t many of us do research before writing?

    • #74
  15. Karen Inactive
    Karen
    @Karen

    iWe:

    Karen :My experiences have been different. They’ve always been unannounced and have always been at my home.

    Please be careful.

    If the government wants to get you (and being a conservative can be enough, as we know all too well), then talking to an agent is quite dangerous. One perceived false statement, and off to the clink.

    Thanks for your concern, but I doubt my input has much bearing in these interviews. I don’t have much clout to sway anyone’s opinion on a character reference (which are basically what they are) or to be a threat to politician’s ambitions. The OPM contracts out a lot of background checkers to private contractors, and in my experience some of those guys are dumber than a bag of hammers. Talk about the weakest link. They gave Snowden a security clearance, after all. But most of the people who get higher clearances are squeaky clean and boring anyway, but that’s the kind of person you want entrusted with national security.

    • #75
  16. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Great Ghost of Gödel: It’s so very important that we reject not only government thought police, but private sector ones as well, with equal force.

    I agree. And it’s important to stress that we have safeguards and traditions in place, however imperfect, against a government thought police. We have none against private sector ones.

    • #76
  17. Gödel's Ghost Inactive
    Gödel's Ghost
    @GreatGhostofGodel

    Karen :Talk about the weakest link. They gave Snowden a security clearance, after all.

    1. Thank God they did. Or are we supposed to believe everything Snowden revealed is A-OK?
    2. There’s realistically nothing they could have done to stop Snowden, whose cryptographic and privacy expertise was as good as you’d hope for an NSA contractor.

    Does this essentially mean the intelligence community’s behavior has to satisfy the ethical sensibilities of the lowest-level clerk who has access to information about it? Yes, it does. Why that should bother anyone who would rather be governed by the first 100 names in the Boston phone book than Harvard professors is quite beyond me.

    • #77
  18. Karen Inactive
    Karen
    @Karen

    Great Ghost of Gödel:

    Karen :Talk about the weakest link. They gave Snowden a security clearance, after all.

    1. Thank God they did. Or are we supposed to believe everything Snowden revealed is A-OK?
    2. There’s realistically nothing they could have done to stop Snowden, whose cryptographic and privacy expertise was as good as you’d hope for an NSA contractor.

    Does this essentially mean the intelligence community’s behavior has to satisfy the ethical sensibilities of the lowest-level clerk who has access to information about it? Yes, it does. Why that should bother anyone who would rather be governed by the first 100 names in the Boston phone book than Harvard professors is quite beyond me.

    Many of the things people praise Snowden for revealing in terms of intelligence gathering was in the public domain already.  He did reveal military positions that were classified that likely got some good men and women in uniform killed. He stole information that he didn’t have the clearance to access. I don’t think he is as smart as he or others think. And he’s a thief and a traitor who should rot in prison. And his little stunt, along with info he stole but didn’t make public, likely assisted the Chinese in gaining access to the personal info on millions of federal employees and their families, including myself, which have compromised our national security, so I have no respect for that bottom-feeding troll.

    • #78
  19. Whiskey Sam Inactive
    Whiskey Sam
    @WhiskeySam

    S.D. Curran:

    Songwriter:

    Owen Findy:

    iWe: It does not know what you will do next. Whom will you love? What will you create? What is your next Ricochet post?

    Yeah, for now.

    Google knew you were gonna say that.

    Actually, if you think about it, Google does know what your next post will be. Don’t many of us do research before writing?

    Researching before writing is one thing I have not been accused of.  Thinking before writing might also apply.

    • #79
  20. Ricochet Inactive
    Ricochet
    @bridget

    People often argue that they have nothing to hide, so they do not worry about Internet privacy. 

    What bothers me about this is that “not having anything to hide” is not synonymous with “Is okay with the general public or one’s enemies knowing everything about one’s business.”

    I’ll also point out that there has been exactly one person in history who had “nothing to hide,” and He was tortured and killed for it.  Everyone else has “something to hide,” even if it’s merely a late payment on a Sears card, a wayward teenage child, or an embarrassing health issue.

    There are some things that are just private because they simply aren’t fodder for public discussion.  Some things are private because, absent context, they become laden with connotations that aren’t accurate.

    • #80
  21. drlorentz Member
    drlorentz
    @drlorentz

    Karen :

    drlorentz:

    Karen :Drlorentz – I’ve been interviewed several times by folks – all unannounced- doing federal background checks on friends, family members and neighbors for security clearances. They ask all kinds of personal information about the candidates and me, so I don’t see the cause for alarm. The guys with JTTF were doing what they were supposed to do. It would’ve gotten ugly if the family had acted stupidly, which is always a concern.

    There’s a big difference between being interviewed by someone from OPM for a background check and an unannounced visit by a bunch of guys with guns pulling up to your house in SUVs. Perhaps your experiences are different but when they come to see me for a background check (at work, not at home), they make an appointment and are never armed.

    My experiences have been different. That said, I doubt the JTTF showed up with guns drawn thinking this family was another Branch Davidian cult or something.

    Not guns drawn, but armed. OPM and their contractors aren’t strapped. When they come to your door you can’t know what they are thinking, just observe that they are armed and asking if you are a terrorist. They have the power to arrest you, OPM employees investigators do not. They also don’t search your home. Equating those two situations wrong. Did you read the article I linked?

    • #81
  22. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    bridget:What bothers me about this is that “not having anything to hide” is not synonymous with “Is okay with the general public or one’s enemies knowing everything about one’s business.”

    I’ll also point out that there has been exactly one person in history who had “nothing to hide,” and He was tortured and killed for it. Everyone else has “something to hide,” even if it’s merely a late payment on a Sears card, a wayward teenage child, or an embarrassing health issue.

    There are some things that are just private because they simply aren’t fodder for public discussion. Some things are private because, absent context, they become laden with connotations that aren’t accurate.

    Absolutely. If you show me a person who feels embarrassed about nothing he or she has ever done, and has no concern whether everyone knows about it, I’ll show you a psychopath.

    • #82
  23. Ricochet Inactive
    Ricochet
    @SDCurran

    bridget:What bothers me about this is that “not having anything to hide” is not synonymous with “Is okay with the general public or one’s enemies knowing everything about one’s business.”

    I’ll also point out that there has been exactly one person in history who had “nothing to hide,” and He was tortured and killed for it. Everyone else has “something to hide,” even if it’s merely a late payment on a Sears card, a wayward teenage child, or an embarrassing health issue.

    There are some things that are just private because they simply aren’t fodder for public discussion. Some things are private because, absent context, they become laden with connotations that aren’t accurate.

    Well put. We live in an age where we watch celebrities share everything, or have everything revealed, so we have learned that privacy is wrong. Hiding things is wrong. In truth, it is just the opposite: the more we hide, the better off we are. Knowledge is power.

    • #83
  24. Ricochet Inactive
    Ricochet
    @SDCurran

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    bridget:What bothers me about this is that “not having anything to hide” is not synonymous with “Is okay with the general public or one’s enemies knowing everything about one’s business.”

    I’ll also point out that there has been exactly one person in history who had “nothing to hide,” and He was tortured and killed for it. Everyone else has “something to hide,” even if it’s merely a late payment on a Sears card, a wayward teenage child, or an embarrassing health issue.

    There are some things that are just private because they simply aren’t fodder for public discussion. Some things are private because, absent context, they become laden with connotations that aren’t accurate.

    Absolutely. If you show me a person who feels embarrassed about nothing he or she has ever done, and has no concern whether everyone knows about it, I’ll show you a psychopath.

    Good call. Growing up I was small for my age and mercilessly bullied. Now and then I’ll think about some of the things I said and did and think: “My God, was I that stupid?”

    • #84
  25. Karen Inactive
    Karen
    @Karen

    drlorentz:

    Karen :

    drlorentz:

    Karen :

    Not guns drawn, but armed. OPM and their contractors aren’t strapped. When they come to your door you can’t know what they are thinking, just observe that they are armed and asking if you are a terrorist. They have the power to arrest you, OPM employees investigators do not. They also don’t search your home. Equating those two situations wrong. Did you read the article I linked?

    Not everyone doing background checks are OPM/contractors, for certain clearances, the FBI or law enforcement personnel assigned to the specific agency do interviews. So, yeah, some interviewers carry. I did read it, but I think concerns about violation of privacy are overblown in that case. There’s no expectation of privacy online, especially if it’s in the public domain like a search engine or social media. That’s toothpaste you can’t put back in the tube. I have to remind my son not to talk about  bombs in the airport while going through security. It’s not because I’m hiding something, he’s 9 and loves all things war. It’s because I don’t want to miss our flight, because some observant TSA agent feels like getting some clarification.

    • #85
  26. Karen Inactive
    Karen
    @Karen

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Great Ghost of Gödel: It’s so very important that we reject not only government thought police, but private sector ones as well, with equal force.

    I agree. And it’s important to stress that we have safeguards and traditions in place, however imperfect, against a government thought police. We have none against private sector ones.

    The lines between government and private sector can be blurry, though. Days after we moved into our current home, a neighbor came over to ask if my husband attended a certain high school, very obscure and in different country. I was a little surprised she’d ask such a question not knowing her. She admitted that she wanted to know the kind of people who were moving in next door, so she googled us! Turns out her son attended the same high school as my husband. I guess we passed our “background check” since she still speaks to us. Get this, she’s retired DoJ! And worked for DoD before that. So if you think your privacy is in jeopardy, I’m under surveillance 24/7!

    • #86
  27. Ricochet Inactive
    Ricochet
    @SDCurran

    While it is true that when one uses the Internet they sacrifice a good deal of privacy, what about older adults who do not want their names and addresses posted on the Internet? My father was very uncomfortable with neighbors being able to find out how much our house was worth, etc. When he died, I was swamped with offers to buy the house because my father’s obit was online.

    • #87
  28. Gödel's Ghost Inactive
    Gödel's Ghost
    @GreatGhostofGodel

    Karen :There’s no expectation of privacy online, especially if it’s in the public domain like a search engine or social media.

    How about a paid tier for users who don’t want ads, don’t want their posts indexed by search engines, or both?

    I’m not at all persuaded there’s no expectation of privacy online. I’m persuaded there’s a commonly violated expectation of privacy online. I’m also persuaded of what I take several commenters’ concern to be: that it works to the illegitimate surveillance state’s favor for the culture to have developed such a lackadaisical attitude toward privacy and security, such that if you’re a Tor or Tails user you must be at least one of: hacker, drug dealer, pedophile, terrorist. As Midge asked me in another thread, are not enough people on Ricochet “shady” enough to be familiar with cutting-edge privacy technology? In a recent thread, it was proposed that Claire should join our intelligence community, which Claire suggested is a bad idea, given her lack of interest in deception. I asked if she didn’t have enough James Jesus Angleton in her.

    Deception is a state of mind and the mind of the State.

    So I strongly suspect the answer to Midge’s question is “yes.” Jesus hung out with prostitutes and tax collectors; digital privacy advocates hang out with drug dealers and pedophiles. So be it (especially since it’s unavoidable in the first place).

    • #88
  29. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @FrontSeatCat

    Wondering something… under some of the comments people say  “Google knows all” – so what? They put out a decent product – email is friendly to use, especially if you have businesses in additional to personal – under one umbrella They may give to left-leaning projects – that is bothersome, but you wouldn’t stop using Microsoft products if you don’t like Bill Gates politics. Where does one draw the line.

    Everyone uses the Internet for work – even government. So looking up data has become natural.

    On a slightly off subject, a car talk show commented that the latest generation is so technology trained that none of them can work on cars that don’t have a computer to tell them what to do. So older cars and classics have to be worked on by older folks, unless they pass on the knowledge how to “do” things without technology. Good to know anyway. Again, you could probably “Google” how to fix just about anything old school, but there you go….

    There is a lot of good knowledge found on Internet – many doctors and hospitals I understand will /are treating via “logging in” to patients-will be our future.  Claire B once said it was a cesspool. I agree. But try doing without.

    • #89
  30. Ricochet Inactive
    Ricochet
    @SDCurran

    So, someone should have to pay to be invisible online, but if they want to advertise, etc. they have to pay for that, too. It doesn’t seem right. While the absolute expectation of privacy may be wrong, shouldn’t there be at least some reasonable expectation?

    • #90
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