Privacy & the Internet

Michael E. Kirkpatrick ·

This is an old bit of writing I found on my hard drive from October 2013. I think it’s still important, if not more so, today.

NPR: Your Digital Trail


Many people say “I don’t care if the NSA knows what I’m doing, I’m not doing anything wrong”. By and large those people can probably lead their daily lives and not worry a thing about it. But what happens when they do something questionable, something that gets other people interested in what they’re doing? Then their personal information, everything that’s been collected, is potentially at risk. And the minor indiscretions that they’ve had in the past — truly little things — come out because it’s all documented and archived in the cloud. Admittedly it sounds a bit conspiracy theorist, but humans don’t exist with perfect memory.

We exist in a world where people remember well what happened yesterday and last week and memory fades over time. If all of a sudden my life was in clear view forever, what would that reveal about me? Maybe the time I took an extra thirty minutes on my lunch break and made a purchase at the store. What about that stop sign I rolled through or the personal calls I take a work?

If we want to be a society that measures and records everything, we can. But human nature is to let time heal and forget. What matters about people is who they are in our minds and how we remember them. Just because someone we hold in high esteem could be exposed for minor indiscretions when we look at their entire record, should that matter? Maybe the fact that they’re not a good tipper but manage a large charity. Are there certain aspects of people’s lives that, as we would say, are really “nobody’s business”?

Having the freedom from constant surveillance — if you will — allows people to grow, to experiment and to learn. Free from consequences. There will always be consequences if you do something wrong, but many times those consequences are levied by your conscience and morals, not by other people.