The Virtue of Privacy

This opinion poll showing a slim majority of Americans don’t mind their phone records being tracked by the government is disgusting and depressing:

It’s not as simple as “If you’ve done nothing wrong, you have nothing to worry about.” The very idea of privacy and right to privacy even if it’s for something as mundane as your secret cookie recipe or that you call American Idol voting numbers, is of utmost importance to the concept of the unalienable right of liberty as humans.

On a related side-note, it’s being investigated that the government is using the billions of phone records sold to them from major telcos (see my blog: The Audacity of Dictator Bush ) to investigate reporters and leak sources. Even if bush was a great guy, what about Cheney? Or Rove? Or any of the hundreds of people who work in the White House? Or the RNC? Or the next administration? How can there be any guarantee that this collection of private information won’t be used by someone for nefarious or personal aims? How can there be any guarantee that this information that is one of several types of private information gathered on innocent citizens without court orders or oversight or check and balance, won’t be leaked to corporate interests?

63% of Americans think collecting phone records is an OK way to fight terrorism, but are they thinking about the threat of what else this information can be used for? Monitoring our press. Monitoring liberal activists and protesters. Investigating political opponents. This kind of information is a powerful tool to anyone who has an iota less than perfect intentions and a modicum of access. This is information that is too easy, in fact waiting to be abused by people with power.

People being incarcerated without charges and access to legal council. Innocent citizens being phone tapped without court order or oversight. Billions of phone call records collected without oversight. CIA secrets being “declassified” at will without using proper channels of review. These are all things the office of the president have done, that we know of! And these are things that have been done by the Executive Branch alone under the name of “war powers,” because we’re at war. Do people not recognize that this “war on terror” is a never-ending war? It can not be won. There will always be terrorism and to think that there can be a winner against it is naive at best and contrived at worst.

Ever read Orwell’s “1984”? A fictionalized account of a fascist, totalitarian government that uses (among other very familiar techniques) the concept of eternal war to keep citizens in fear and retain absolute power to violate civil and basic human liberties and rights in the name of security and safety.

Why is privacy to vital? So important? Even to people who technically have nothing to hide?

Because as human beings, unique individuals, we have as one of our unalienable rights as termed by our country’s Founding Fathers, the right of self sovereignty. The right, simply for being born human, to be free from oppression, free from government control, free from unlawful search and seizure. This is a basic right, the cornerstone of liberty. It is valid and necessary especially if all someone has to hide is how often they talk to their mother or what they’re buying from the store tomorrow.

No one, especially the government which by its very existence has inordinate power and control over the citizenry, has the right to pry into the affairs of a sovereign citizen. The ability to abuse and misuse information about a person is to easy by those who have power–all effort to limit how much those in power can know about the individual citizens becomes extremely important in a free society that supposedly values liberty and democracy. The individual has the ultimate right to give up whatever information about themselves they choose to divulge, it must not be taken or stolen or bought and sold without the individual’s express and informed consent.

When the government has the ability to know everything it wants to know about you, the government has an abusive and corruptible level of power that can not be easily returned back to the people, generally not without revolution and a complete recreation of the government for and by the people.

It doesn’t matter if you “have something to hide” or not. Secrecy and privacy is a default right and freedom we have as individuals, and it must be protected at all costs. When the government has all the knowledge, it must be feared. When the people retain their liberty and privacy, they are to be respected.

Unfortunately there’s no good privately available voice scrambler tools, that’s easy to use, that I know of. And aside from using pre-paid cell phones bought at a convenience store every month or so, there’s little a person can do right now to make sure their phone usage is not being monitored. Oh, at the moment, I think using Internet Phone services, and telcos like Qwest, are decent, but the government has taken more than an inch…who knows when they’ll grab that mile, if they haven’t already!

Of course, I say again, we had all the information on the 9/11 hijackers before 9/11 we needed to arrest them, and we didn’t have these phone tapping and monitoring and tracking programs. So spying on millions of innocent citizens doesn’t seem to be necessary. And how effective is it anyway? Think Al Qaeda terrorists are signing up for AT&T landline phone service wherever they go?! No, they’re using pre-paid cell phones, the Internet, many and various methods of communication. So what real purpose does the administration have on court order-less wiretaps and phone record acquiring? At best it’s a misguided attempt to look involved in security, like ridiculously increasing airport security checks on citizens while cutting 9,000 border patrol jobs and making it easier for someone with a dirty bomb or bioweapons to waltz across the Mexican border.

This administration cares about corporate interests. They’d much rather allow their industrial buddies to hire cheap, illegal immigrant workers than to do anything about securing the Mexican border.

But I digress.

Privacy on the Internet. I heavily recommend these products:

GPG4Win — Free software package for Windows using GnuPG encryption for e-mail and files. May be a little tough to get used to initially, but highly worth it!

Steganos — Internet and PC security and encryption that must be bought, but is SO user-friendly and easy to use and extremely effective. If you have the money, this is a must have!

GnuPG — Highly effective open source encryption software for all platforms.

PGP — The one-time default encryption and security tool; used to be free. Not costs, still effective, but not near as nice and user-friendly and complete as Steganos.

Enigmail — If you use Thunderbird e-mail client, use this plug-in to add security and encryption into your mail.