Why does privacy matter online? This philosophy generally falls into one of two camps – the strong belief that internet surveillance on such massive scales is inherently wrong, or that privacy is just an afterthought provided you have nothing to hide. Glenn Greenwald would argue this line of thinking – seeing the digital world as black & white – is potentially very dangerous.
Greenwald was one of the very first reporters to write about the Edward Snowden files, bringing to light revelations about the United States’ extensive surveillance systems aimed at private citizens. In a recent TED Talk, Greenwald makes a powerful argument that those of us who are unmoved by the shrinking margin of privacy in America have every reason to hide.
In a notorious interview in 2010, Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg stated, “Privacy is no longer a social norm.” While many powerful figures of Zuckerberg’s stature have suggested privacy is otherwise irrelevant in the digital age, only recently he purchased all the adjacent property near his new home with the obvious intent to secure a zone of privacy.
Greenwald suggests that all of have things we’d rather not publicized – it’s not a simple classification of being a terrorist or plotting a criminal act. Our emails contain sensitive documents we share with our spouse, our physicians and therapists that we’d be mortified were it to be released. Privacy does matter on an instinct level, despite our social nature.
The fact of the matter is that humans behave differently when aware they’re being watched – Greenwald illustrates that surveillance drives compliant behavior, thus making it a more powerful tool than brute force. If monitoring individuals causes them to behave submissively, we should be sure that surveillance is an attractive tool to tyrants.
Greenwald closed his speech with a quote from social activist Rosa Luxemburg: “He who does not move does not notice his chains.”
To watch the entire TED Talk, visit the official TED site.