This cartoon is about new technology and privacy. With each new technology, there have been outcries that privacy will be lost forever. A while ago, I wrote a post collecting headlines and book covers that proclaimed “the death of privacy” throughout the ages.
Despite being under constant threat, privacy has somehow has managed to survive.
The story from history is not apocalyptic. Instead, with each challenge, people found ways to protect privacy. The new technologies of today certainly make protecting privacy difficult, but it is not impossible. Moreover, as this cartoon depicts, we should avoid being too nostalgic about the past. I commonly hear people mention how in the past, it was easier to have privacy because people could live in greater obscurity and not be captured on video or have their data constantly gobbled up and digested by computers.
Earlier times, however, were not necessarily as private as we might imagine them to have been. Most people, until the last few hundred years, did not have solitude in their homes. Houses often had one room with nowhere to retreat to be alone. Only the very wealthy had the luxury of having private rooms, and even then, they were still seen by their servants. People lived in smaller towns and villages where everyone knew each other’s business, where the whispers of gossip would rapidly waft through all the streets and alleys.
Technology certainly poses new threats to privacy, and an unprecedented amount of personal information is being collected today. But in bygone days, privacy was still quite a concern; people felt that their privacy was threatened. Back in 1890, Samuel Warren and Louis Brandies, two lawyers, wrote an article about the privacy dangers of cameras and the sensationalistic press. If they were alive today, with smart phones 24-hour TV news, they’d probably keel over in shock. But the threat to privacy they identified back in 1890 is quite similar as it is today – the main difference is that today, the threat is on steroids.
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This post was authored by Professor Daniel J. Solove, who through TeachPrivacy develops computer-based privacy and data security training. He also posts at his blog at LinkedIn, which has more than 1 million followers.
Professor Solove is the organizer, along with Paul Schwartz, of the annual Privacy + Security Forum events.
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