Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Importance of Privacy Explained with Farts.

"Privacy is for the sake of others, as much as it is for ourselves."

There’s an episode of South Park where the town’s residents stop farting because they find out the gases are diminishing the ozone layer. To their dismay, holding in farts causes people to explode. So now the town is faced with a dilemma: keep farting- stinking up the place and hurting the environment, or stop farting and risk spontaneous internal combustion.

I cant help but feel this situation is kind of like the issue we have today regarding privacy and security. It seems that security and privacy are opposed to each other, just like farting and clean air are opposed. What’s the solution?

I don’t remember how the episode ended, but the analogy proves useful- albeit, removing the part about ozone depleting. What to do when farting is beneficial for health, but is unpleasant in public? You fart in private places like when alone or in bathrooms. But what does this have to do about privacy and security?

Farting is something done in private because it stinks. Its done in private not because it is illegal or immoral, just unpleasant. Today, many are quick to claim they have nothing to hide, as if their farts don’t stink. If privacy is not for the sake of oneself, it should be for other’s sake. Your private actions may not be as palatable as your public actions in much the same way as your farts are not as pleasant as your average body order. Privacy is for the sake of others, as much as it is for ourselves. It keeps the public space free from one’s dirty laundry stinking it up.

A foul order may be as disturbing or distracting as knowing someone’s personal dietary, consumer, bathroom, and hygiene habits. These aspects of ourselves which are usually kept private are help keep our public image as intended- to focus on trade and production. That is not to say one’s personal life is divorced from their public life- rather one’s public life should carry as less baggage as possible to foster economic and civil means. Knowing what one bought last week may interfere with the public interaction. In other words, someone’s public image is best kept simple and relevant to a persons occupation and goals in that arena. Knowing extra information about someone will only hinder and transaction or communication in the public sphere. Therefore, privacy is important for a well functioning public image.

One might contend that the issue of privacy is insignificant considering that the “watchers” are benevolent government officials and contractors who only are accomplishing a important duty: keeping the public “safe”. It’s safe to say that a quick Google search will reveal numerous articles and reports (some from congress and other government organizations) demonstrate that large surveillance systems do not help deter crime or terrorism. One example is the knowledge of an immanent attack before 9/11 known by most of the alphabet government agencies- yet the problem was a lack of communication and not spying.

The truth of the matter is the NSA’s massive dragnet surveillance is done for the benefit of those in power who want to quash dissent by pulling up someone’s “profile” of past private (spied on) activity and tarnishing their image. This is done by removing out of context ambiguous pieces of information, and twisting them to fit some precontrived straw man. This is done for control, not safety. Both the Boston bombing and the UCSB spree killing are examples of how the abundance of information does not change the outcome. The authorities either had access to or were informed of the perpetrators and their intentions, but did not further any investigation. The authorities could of done much more law enforcement with a lot less spying.  

All in all, privacy is what allows us to be fully rounded human beings by leaving space that is all one’s own- not directly allocated to others. Privacy in this regard is akin to a mirror image of oneself. Whereas commonly we look toward others, a mirror helps up look towards our self by means of a refection. Therefore privacy is a necessary time to reflect on oneself and make judgments and comments- helping one face the public world again just like a mirror helps you fix up before going out to see others. But just like farts, privacy is done alone away from other for both one’s own sake, and the sake of others.