I’ve long been saying that privacy need not be sacrificed for security, and it makes me delighted to see that public attitudes are aligning with this view. A Pew survey revealed that a “majority of Americans (54%) disapprove of the U.S. government’s collection of telephone and internet data as part of anti-terrorism efforts.” The anti-NSA surveillance sentiment is even stronger in other countries, as is shown in this chart below.
According to the survey, “74% said they should not give up privacy and freedom for the sake of safety, while just 22% said the opposite.”
As I wrote in my book, Nothing to Hide: The False Tradeoff Between Privacy and Security (Yale U. Press 2011):
The debate between privacy and security has been framed incorrectly, with the tradeoff between these values understood as an all-or-nothing proposition. But protecting privacy need not be fatal to security measures; it merely demands oversight and regulation.
It is often said that people don’t care much about privacy these days given how much information they expose about themselves. But survey after survey emphatically concludes that people really do care about privacy.
A common argument I hear is that young people just don’t care about privacy. If they cared about privacy, why would they share so much personal data on Facebook? Why would they text so much? Why would they be so cavalier about their privacy? Privacy will be dead in a generation, the argument goes.
This argument is wrong for several reasons. Studies show that young people do care about privacy. A few years ago, a study by Chris Hoofnagle and others revealed that young people’s attitudes about privacy didn’t differ much from older people’s attitudes. A more recent study sponsored by Microsoft found that “[p]rivacy and security rank as college students’ #1 concern about online activity.”
But what accounts for the behavior of sharing so much personal data online? First, young people—especially teenagers—might not be thinking through the consequences of their actions. It doesn’t mean they will never care about privacy; they might care about privacy at a point in the future.
A new poll by Common Sense Media reveals some interesting data about privacy and youth. The poll was conducted by Zogby International:
Over at the New York Times’s Bits blog, Brad Stone writes:
Researchers call this the privacy paradox: normally sane people have inconsistent and contradictory impulses and opinions when it comes to their safeguarding their own private information.
Now some new research is beginning to document and quantify the privacy paradox. In a talk presented at the Security and Human Behavior Workshop here in Boston this week, Carnegie Mellon behavioral economist George Loewenstein previewed a soon-to-be-published research study he conducted with two colleagues.
Their findings: Our privacy principles are wobbly. We are more or less likely to open up depending on who is asking, how they ask and in what context.
In today’s Wall Street Journal, Gordon Crovitz has an op-ed arguing that we’ve gotten over privacy:
We seem to be following the advice of Scott McNealy, chairman of Sun Microsystems, who in 1999 said, “You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it.” And the observation by Oracle CEO Larry Ellison: “The privacy you’re concerned about is largely an illusion. All you have to give up is your illusions, not any of your privacy.”
These comments could be dismissed as technology executives trying to minimize complaints about technology. But whatever we say about how much we value privacy, a close look at our actual behavior suggests we have gotten over it. A recent study by AOL of privacy in Britain found that 84% of people said they would not disclose details about their income online, but in fact 89% of them willingly did.
Is privacy an issue of concern to voters in the 2008 presidential election? Which candidates do voters think will best protect privacy?
These questions are addressed in a new poll by the Ponemon Institute. According to Bob Sullivan’s discussion of the poll in MSNBC’s Red Tape blog:
One of the most common attitudes of those unconcerned about government surveillance or privacy invasions is “I’ve got nothing to hide.” I was talking the issue over one day with a few colleagues in my field, and we all agreed that thus far, those emphasizing the value of privacy had not been able to articulate an answer to the “nothing to hide” argument that would really register with people in the general public. In a thoughtful essay in Wired (cross posted at his blog), Bruce Schneier seeks to develop a response to this argument:
MSNBC journalist Bob Sullivan, in his blog Red Tape Chronicles, writes:
Ask Americans something like, “Should the government be allowed to read e-mails and listen to phone calls to fight terrorism?” and you’ll get a much different result than if you ask, “Should the government be allowed to read your e-mails and listen to your phone calls to fight terrorism.” . . . .
In 2002, The Pew Research Center for People and The Press asked just those questions — and by simply dropping the word “your,” the number of people willing to support such government snooping jumped by 50 percent. Only 22 percent were willing to let the government peek when it was personal, but 33 percent were willing when it sounded like only someone’s else privacy was at risk, said Scott Keeter, director of survey research for Pew.
More interesting results from a recent national telephone survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. The report states:
The survey further reveals that the majority of adults who use the internet do not know where to turn for help if their personal information is used illegally online or offline. The study’s findings suggest a complex mix of ignorance and knowledge, fear and bravado, realism and idealism that leaves most internet-using adult American shoppers open to financial exploitation by retailers.