Blog Post 10: Privacy Politics

Hi everyone,

Here’s a thread for some writing for Monday’s class, with one change: rather than reading the piece by Greenwald in the packet, you should watch this talk by him online, entitled “Why Privacy Matters.” As you watch the video (make sure to watch the Q&A at the end as well), you might turn on the subtitles or read along in the transcript to follow along with all of what Greenwald is saying.

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This blog is another open-ended chance to engage with the issues raised by this material — you’re free to respond to whatever strikes you as most interesting, provocative, or significant in Greenwald’s talk, as long as you ground your thinking in some close textual analysis of his speech, where you quote, cite, and analyze and respond to the issues and ideas he’s introducing in what you quote.

Reminder: your response should go in the comments section for this post — click the “Leave a Comment” link at the top of the post. It should be at least 250 words, and is due by 11:59pm on Sunday, November 11. If you have any questions, let me know via email.

12 thoughts on “Blog Post 10: Privacy Politics

  1. Nowadays, privacy only exists in own our minds. First of all, I was interested by how he defined the Internet. As he says, “The United States and its partners, unbeknownst to the entire world, has converted the Internet, once heralded as un unprecedented tool, of liberation and democratization, into an unprecedented zone, of mass indiscriminate surveillance.” This shows how the Internet used to be a privilege for all of us to communicate to other people, share ideas and thoughts, and create constructive platforms and communities. Unfortunately, now it has become an uncomfortable place that everyone could know everything about anyone. There is no real meaning to privacy because whatever action you take online, it is somewhere out there in the digital cloud. Greenwald describes that “privacy is no longer a social norm.” This means that it is normal for us that everything we presented online will always be out there.
    What intrigued me the most is his argument about the mindset that if you’re not doing anything wrong, then you have nothing to hide. I definitely disagree with people who think that, like the speaker, because even if I am not doing anything wrong, there will always be some sensitive personal information that I do not want to share with the world. I learned that privacy is not about good or wrong doing, instead it just a safe space that most people want to have.
    Also, I liked his point when emphasized on how our actions change when we are being watched, as a part of human nature. It is true that entities and governments would prefer to treat their citizens as if they could be watched at any time because that results in “conformity, obedience and submission.” Moreover, he says “mass surveillance creates a prison in the mind.” This is illustrated when people are being watched, their actions change into a more formal productive manner, and it is like the real self is being locked in one’s mind.
    In my opinion, the most important part of his speech is when he as a journalist, was able to disclose Google’s Executive Chairman, Eric Schmidt’s, private information. He says that people who wield power say, “doing bad things means doing something that poses meaningful challenges to the exercise of our own power.” This is true because people who have power do fear being challenged or wronged. As an example, he says, “The United States continues to be the most powerful country in the world, and doesn’t appreciate it when you disclose thousands of their secrets on the Internet at will.” This is because they do not want people or countries to look at them in a less powerful way. They still want to maintain stability and the status que of being the most powerful. This whole situation reminds me of the Panama Papers that were disclosed “11.5 leaked documents that detail financial and attorney client information for more than 214,488 offshore entities.” I remember watching many documentaries about the whole research from the start. It is a very private research that was able to disclose very confidential information about offshoring financial transactions. That is why I think politics is a game that revolves around privacy, and you gain power by hiding and knowing the most information possible.

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  2. Throughout U.S history, there has been example after example of extreme control and power over various groups of people and the modern day is no different. While outright slavery and times of fatal relocating of indigenous people has cease in America, a new (and more dangerous form) of dominance by the US government has come into effect. In 2013 Edward Snowden changed the course of history by releasing up to 10,000 documents of government secrets to publishers such as Glenn Greenwald. Surveillance of civilians online was revealed through this event and therefore creating the discussions of privacy and if this surveillance is even a point of concern for civilians. While I always believed the right to privacy is should not be compromised in any way, the Glenn Greenwald Ted Talk gave me more proof that my initial reaction to the compromising of privacy is correct. In one portion of the talk, Greenwald completely shattered my perception of freedom by stating “And what he said was that this mindset, this framework discovered by Bentham, was the key means of societal control for modern, Western societies, which no longer need the overt weapons of tyranny — punishing or imprisoning or killing dissidents, or legally compelling loyalty to a particular party — because mass surveillance creates a prison in the mind that is a much more subtle though much more effective means of fostering compliance with social norms or with social orthodoxy, much more effective than brute force could ever be.” Once these philosophers realized how mass surveillance or even just the promise of mass surveillance can keep people in a social standing that is preferable to higher officials, us as a society were put in a dangerous predicament. Greenwald is inferring that the government allowing itself to enter into our everyday lives without us noticing but us recognizing it CAN, makes us no longer act under our own agency but through the social pressures of having judgmental eyes on us at all times. Not only does this take away our ability to be ourselves, but this then becomes instinct and freedom is slowly stripped away from us. Living in a world where there are screens in almost every room I enter, and I am at constant risk of being videotaped or captured in a photograph, I can feel how I change when I suddenly do not feel alone or I feel presented to someone else. I act in a very status quo mentality and even go as far as to act the opposite of what I am actually feeling in order to be appropriate in the social context. The thought that my screen is the government’s inside to my personal moments of any pure emotions I may be facing or any curiosities I may be exploring is a scary concept because it then forces me and anyone like me to over think or question all my motives. When Greenwald said “the first of which is that the only people who care about privacy, the only people who will seek out privacy, are by definition bad people. This is a conclusion that we should have all kinds of reasons for avoiding, the most important of which is that when you say, “somebody who is doing bad things,” you probably mean things like plotting a terrorist attack or engaging in violent criminality, a much narrower conception of what people who wield power mean when they say, “doing bad things.” For them, “doing bad things” typically means doing something that poses meaningful challenges to the exercise of our own power.”, it showed that the government is not only subtly oppressing our free expression of self but making us feel as if we need the surveillance in order to stay safe from domestic/ terrorist attacks. However, while our mindset as a society is to keep us safe, the government’s mindset is to keep the government safe and therefore surveillance is nothing more but a tool to keep us from coming together and revolting. A government that uses fear in order to manipulate a group of people to feel like a right is in the way of their safety is not a free government, and America is absolutely no different. Before this Ted Talk, I was completely unaware of how in danger my privacy was, but now with this new consciousness I refuse to not move so that I do not feel my chain. I will not only feel them but resist against them while my free speech is still relatively free.

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  3. People present themselves very differently in the public sphere versus the private sphere. If people are watched every second of every day than society will not be able to progress in terms of rights and privileges for minorities. According to the ted talk by Glenn Greenwald, when people know they are being watched, “the behavior that they engage in is much more conformist and compliant”. When he states this, Greenwald demonstrates that online, if people think there is the possibility of them being watched, they will be more likely to change their behavior and not be able to express themselves. When Greenwald talks about this surveillance, he discusses the effect that mass surveillance has on a society. Believing there is the possibility of someone watching is much more effective for controlling a society than “brute force”. He states that “it creates a prison in the mind”. This prison correlates to the inability of people being able to express themselves. This inability causes people to become less resistant, less resilient, and less unique. People begin to drift towards the middle and conform to societal norms accepted by the government. I am not saying that the government is always wrong, and that people should never trust the government, but I am saying that without change, without unique people, and without control over personal parts of our own lives, we cannot continue to move towards a more accepting and more inclusive society. Minorities have already gained ground in this area, but more work needs to be done. If we are stuck in the prison of our own minds because we believe we are being watched, this progression of rights will not continue to happen.

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  4. One of my English teachers in high school used to always say that the most uncomfortable situation to be in as a human is to be standing when everyone else is sitting. This ties closely to Greenwalds point that “human shame is a very powerful motivator.” That same english teacher argued that when all eyes are on us, watching us do something against the norm, we feel the most vulnerable. I thought the example Greenwald brought up about the prison, and creating a system in which each prisoner couldn’t be sure if they were being watched or not was interesting when analyzing the point we are at in global technological privacy. We are not aware of when we are being watched, which creates a sense of uneasiness. The last thing we want is for what we do when we think no one is watching to be exposed. The shame that would come with that is enough to make most people conform to ideals and a way of living that the powerful want us to. This is the danger of surveillance. However, I feel there is a bright side to this. Through all of the surveillance, I believe we are being taught to accept the idea that we are often being watched. I think this is leading to a longer leash in terms of what we are willing to let other people see, and it allows us to network with more ideas and more honestly. The idea that the government is some sort of tyranny that controls everyone through surveillance is becoming laughable, as younger generations who grew up with this technology develop a sense of comfort with being watched.

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  5. After listening to Greenwald’s discussion of how privacy matters, it was interesting to listen to the fact that privacy only happens in our heads but we don’t realize that we will only take action as long as no one else is watching what we are doing. The idea of how Greenwald mentions the idea that those who engage in bad acts have a bad reason to want to high and care about their privacy than those who are not doing anything wrong have nothing to hide and no reason to be afraid of the government from monitoring them. Greenwald further continues the idea that those who say that privacy isn’t important, that they are actually the ones who will do anything to keep themselves safe. This was an interesting point to think about because usually we say things so that others question us, so the idea that this idea is true, makes us wonder how about those who actually do think that privacy matters? Another idea that Greenwald mentioned in his ted talk when he mentioned how Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced in an interview in 2010 that “privacy is no longer a social norm”. This statement is important because in today’s society, the term privacy is not taken literally because there will always be some sort of invisible authority that will always know our every move on our phones and internet. Another significant concept that Greenwald brings up in his discussion of Bentham’s idea of architectural design and Foucault’s model that illustrates that every institution seeks control for human behavior. Both concepts tell us that wherever we are that mass surveillance will always follow us. Overall, the definition of privacy will never be taken for what it is literally defined because we will always have someone or a system tracking our every move.

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  6. What I found most significant about this TED talk was the assertion that the “us vs. them” mentality, or “tribe mentality”, is a obstruction of personal freedom. Glenn Greenwald begins his discourse by reiterating a phrase that I’ve personally said and heard repeated several times: “I don’t care about internet surveillance because I have nothing to hide”. As suggested, I didn’t find this sentiment to be problematic prior to watching this TED talk. I didn’t see internet surveillance as a threat to my personal freedom because I saw myself as being apart of the “good” tribe, the people who follow the rules and therefore are able to fly under the radar. But Greenwald describes this “nothing to hide” mentality as being a manifestation of the socially-constructed “good vs. evil”/ “us vs.them” binaries. These dualistic concepts cause internet-users to subconsciously categorize ourselves and others based on how conformist one’s behavior is. Consequently, as Greenwald points out, this causes us to believe that “the only people who seek out privacy are bad people”. So rather than blaming the government and/or big tech companies for invading our privacy, we place the blame on the “other”, or those who don’t conform to orthodox behavior. And while Greenwald didn’t explicitly claim this in his talk, it’s safe to assume that the government and these large companies want us to categorize internet users as such rather than attacking the ethics of internet surveillance itself. He mentions that the Google CEO has claimed that “if you’re doing something you don’t want other people to know, maybe your shouldn’t be doing it in the first place”. This assertion is highly hypocritical and transparent since later the CEO banned his employees from talking to a internet news site that published private information on him gathered from Google. The irony! In essence, we need to hold the government and tech companies responsible by recognizing and supporting everyone’s right to personal freedom rather than dismissing those who desire privacy as being dangerous and harboring threatening secrets

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  7. As the role of the internet in our everyday lives has significantly grew throughout the twenty-first century, issues regarding online privacy have become more important as well. In his 2014 TED talk, “Why Privacy Matters,” Glenn Greenwald raises some unique ideas regarding privacy and the dangers of disregarding its importance. Greenwald begins by discussing a prevalent narrative in which there are two types of people, “good” and “bad,” and only those who are “bad” need to hide things. He later refutes this common narrative by stating that, “we as human beings, even those of us who in words disclaim the importance of our own privacy, instinctively understand the profound importance of it… All of us, not just terrorists and criminals, have things to hide.” Here Greenwald does a great job exposing the hypocritical nature of the aforementioned predominant narrative by reasoning that it is in our nature as humans to value privacy and that even “good” people have things they wish to keep secret. This string of reasoning reveals a fundamental aspect of human nature, and in doing so, suggests that there might not be as big of a difference between “good” and “bad” people as was previously expressed. This is an important distinction to be made. Both “good” and “bad” people have behaviors and online activities to hide, the difference between the two lies in the severity of deviance of these behaviors. In sociology, deviance is defined as a behavior that violates a norm and causes a negative reaction from other members of society. This definition can be applied to Greenwald’s description of shame, as he labels this concept as he described it as a negative reaction by members of society that individuals do everything in their power to avoid. Greenwald states that, “human shame is a very powerful motivator, as is the desire to avoid it, and that’s the reason why people, when they’re in a state of being watched, make decisions not that are the byproduct of their own agency but that are about the expectations that others have of them or the mandates of societal orthodoxy.” Here he describes the power of shame in shaping human behavior in times of surveillance. While it may be hard for some to come to terms with the idea that their actions are beyond their own control, this is often the case when being observed by others. Building off these ideas, if psychology strongly supports the notion that human behavior is significantly influenced by surrounding humans, do any of our public actions truly represent our pure, unadulterated sense of self? Or rather than a pure sense of self, do we have multiple identities that vary with who else is present in a given moment? While a case could be made for either, the influence peers can have on our sense of self shows the vast importance of privacy in the expression of identity. In what was previously thought of as a safe space where individuals could freely project their sense of self, the internet is now a place where individuals are largely influenced by the fear of being watched.

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  8. After listening to Glen Greenwald’s TED Talk Ted talk titled “Why Privacy Matters” he reminded me of the power privacy can have on the control of the masses. It is not just about someone being able to watch you through the lens of your laptop as you search on the web, but more so to do with the power of making someone think that you are being watched at all times. Personally, this has been a factor in my life for as long as I remember, whether it be my parents, during the holiday season, telling me that Santa Claus is always watching, which influenced me to behave because I wanted presents and even more recently in the dining hall when I dance in my room alone in comparison when I am dancing out at a party or a gathering and I feel my actions change significantly because of the self-consciousness that arises from feeling watched or judged. The power in the idea of constant surveillance has the power to influence entire populations into conforming to whatever the social norms are in order to fit in and not look suspicious by other members from that society. When Greenwald said “… mass surveillance creates a prison in the mind that is a much more subtle though much more effective means of fostering compliance with social norms or with social orthodoxy, much more effective than brute force could ever be.” This idea of mental imprisonment has been a topic of discussion for much of this year as well as the modern age, with people like Kanye West discussing the idea of “Free Through” with the use of stereotypes and modern media to influence society perception of good, bad, weird, and acceptable has been instilled into our minds since birth, the dangers of this however is there is a developing dialogue that good people only do certain things and bad people have a basic set of characteristics and actions. This is dangerous because to categorize people as good or bad by society standards influences people to act a certain way to fit these roles that may not be inherently theirs. Ultimately making people conform to a social position, and live by those ideas, rather than by their own. With the use of new technology and the realistic idea of constant surveillance through our devices, people’s power is in the hands of the person that controls the media and the surveillance of the people and the media. This is because the person that controlst the media can control what the masses should or should not think about topics revolving the security of privacy of the masses. Meaning if the overseeing powers wanted to control the privacy of the masses they would just have to present an idea of privacy to the masses via the media that would become an acceptable nor after a period of time. So, the overseeing powers of the media and the privacy of the people would then have control over what the masses should believe is good and bad, what they are exposed to on any given day, and the overall expectation of privacy of that said society. This gives all,but little of the power of the masses to the governing groups of a country or society. Which is why people like Greenwald, Snowden, and other journalist investigating the media, and those who hold this power are so important, because without them no one would ever know the extent in which those that control the media actually control the people, and even more terrifying we may not even know how this influences us as society, let alone individuals. Something else that did catch my attention about this Ted Talk was that after looking at the views with approximately two million people watching this talk, I realized how small of a percentage that is of the digital world, and how much smaller that is of the actual world with governing powers officiating them, This ultimately made me wonder how many people know about how governments and the media monintor and control what we do everyday, and how much we don’t know about what they are doing? Even more scarier is that if they control the media we see, and filter out are individual exposure to the media and our accessible information how much do we not know about the world we live in, and how these overseeing powers are influencing and controlling us?

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  9. As the internet continues to merge with human activity and human-generated content, discourses around privacy begin to rise as more then often, we are not the sole owners and voyeurs of what we produce online. More and more institutions and agencies around the world, particularly in the US, begin to cease control over whatever is that we make available online, which comes through the ability to monitor and view our content. Edward Snowden suddenly became world known for deliberately posting on the World Wide Web thousands of US government documents and files that were either concealed from public reach or recognized as government secrets. Such created immense uproar not only at a national level but at a global scale. Naturally, these military-focused documents contained information related to or from other countries as well, creating the possibility for government intel vulnerabilities pertaining both the US and the rest of the world. One of the biggest impacts of this incident or rather, historical mark, was that it led the public to weight weather these government-based agencies should be held to the same level of accountability with regards to their doings the same way its citizens are. More specifically, under the assumption that agencies like the CIA and ASA can legally monitor and view their citizens’ doings online, why is that they can rightly disclose and conceal their own activities. Oppositely, such incurs the idea that citizens should be awarded the right to privacy over their online activity, such that no one is able to invigilate it. Otherwise, it would raise concern over the underlying right to freedom that we so often put emphasis on. Being constantly watched and supervised by another entity has the ability to significantly alter one’s behaviors and actions, especially those that are carried online. In the Ted Talk titled Why privacy matters, Glenn Greenwald discusses some of the outcomes that come with the constant monitoring that many US agencies have over their citizens. Greenwald remarks: “Conversely, even more importantly, it is a realm of privacy, the ability to go somewhere where we can think and reason and interact and speak without the judgmental eyes of others being cast upon us, in which creativity and exploration and dissent exclusively reside, and that is the reason why, when we allow a society to exist in which we’re subject to constant monitoring, we allow the essence of human freedom to be severely crippled.” One is granted freedom at least from an internal perspective when they know no external agency is able to make itself aware of the individuals’ doings. It is scientifically accepted that human behavior changes upon the notion of supervision or superlative control. In that case, one would be bound to act and behave within the assumed, or expected guidelines of that other entity, in such a way that drives conformity. Such would occur even if there are no expectations over how one is to behave online, which even tends to not be the case most of the times. The feeling that comes with the notion of someone else’s eyes over your activity is often followed by discomfort. Freedom then becomes a property, that innately, one is able to restrict another from experiencing. It could potentially introduce discourse around performance, and rather online user activity has the ability to become performative as it is guided and bounded to pre-established guidelines and norms. Ideally, if no one is held to the same level of accountability over the external access to personal information, then everyone should have the ability to maneuver within online platforms without the supervision of an external agency.

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  10. The more we become so invested in the internet, we realize what a huge hold the government has on us. Edward Snowden was attempting to free us from that prison but still, we are here today. The huge debate of protection vs privacy has been increasingly controversial especially with the groups of people who resonate with the ideology that only people who have reasons to hide desire privacy. The desire for privacy has never been about hiding what people are doing but it has become that scapegoat and the reasoning why the government desires to infringe upon our rights. I think what was most interesting to me was Greenwald’s explanation of common misconceptions about what the government classifies as a bad person and what we consider a bad person. He says that we think of people who are terrorists and hackers etc. but what the government thinks is a person who a threat to their power which can be anyone looking to make the positive change that is what may be best for the people which are the government’s job. I found everything he posed to be logical and made perfect sense. The implications of thinking that only people who are hiding things want privacy made it so that it doesn’t take away from that idea of the collective good he mentions that people who challenge the government have provided. it keeps the democratic processes going and keeps America is that the pace we know it can be.

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  11. Before watching this TED talk I felt pretty neutral on the issue of internet surveillance. It’s obvious that a system of surveillance is a suppressive means of control, but not for the reasons I thought. The reason why we don’t notice how we are being suppressed is because we don’t make any efforts to change. It’s easy to think that mass surveillance is undetectable but it will still contrain us. Because of mass surveillance we have internalized choice making that is not made with our own agency. As Greenwald states, “mass surveillance creates a prison in the mind”. This prison is a means of maintaining social norms in a way that is subtle and unnoticed by most. It is a way of creating rules for what is “wrong”
    The Q+A section brought up a lot of thoughts that were similar to mine while watching this Tedtalk. I too was wondering what abolishing mass surveillance would look like, and It makes me wonder if it’s even possible to do so. That is, if we want to keep the internet of course!

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  12. In our world privacy is something that is almost inaccessible when it comes to the internet. Greenwald mentions that most people who say that they have nothing to hide on the internet actually do they just may not realize it or admit it. He makes a very interesting point when he says that, “There are dozens of psychological studies that prove that when somebody knows that they might be watched, the behavior they engage in is vastly more conformist and compliant.” This is very important because it shows that humans act differently when they know that they are being observed by other humans. This shows how people may not make decisions based on their own agenda but rather on people’s expectations of them and what they think they would do. This explores the idea of mass surveillance and how it restricts people from doing things and making people increasingly compliant as society becomes more based around surveillance. Greenwald also mentions the very popular book 1984 by George Orwell explaining how it is the basic framework for the topic of mass surveillance in the modern age. The idea that people don’t have anything to hide and aren’t effected by corporations or people watching them is a very complex topic because we have never lived in a society that doesn’t contain these topics. No one has ever lived in full privacy so how would you know that you only make decisions based on yourself and not on other people. To conclude, people may not be aware of their own activity that they may not want others to see and human behavior is as an instinct based of off other people watching them.

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