I know as much about the current NSA/social media scandals as one can glean solely from reading people’s twitter updates and headlines of articles they post on Facebook… which is to say, very little. I know that people are mad at Google and Facebook for handing information over to the government, and people are buzzing about how intrusive and spyey the NSA is, and I’m not even 100% sure whether these are the same thing incident or two different (but similar) ones. What I know is, there’s a lot of talk about privacy and how much access government agencies should have to our personal lives. The reason I don’t know more is chiefly because I don’t care that much.
Often when someone says “I don’t care about that issue” it comes with an implied “and I think it’s silly that other people do.” This is not that kind of “I don’t care.” I’m glad people are paying attention to privacy issues, because I suspect it’s more important than my personal intuitions would have me believe. So this post is partly an invitation for people who are concerned about privacy issues to educate me, if anyone feels so moved. For the rest of this, I’m going to lay out why I’m not really bothered by the idea that the NSA or CIA or whatever could see all of my internet browsing activity, or, hell, have a camera in my house.
A large part of it is privilege. As a white American-born woman, I am probably in the least vulnerable demographic for coming under unwarranted suspicion about… nearly anything. (Being suspected of troublemaking and rulebreaking is one area where males in our society have it worse than females, starting all the way back in preschool.) Apart from a speeding ticket or two (and assuming I don’t get raped), I can basically assume that the law will be kind to me. I recognize that’s not an assumption that most people can make. Furthermore, I don’t have any secrets, at least not of the kind that would be of any interest to a government. I’m not a political radical, I don’t generally partake of illegal substances, and all of my scandalous activities and beliefs are out on the internet for anyone to see. (Speaking of which, I and the rest of the Polyskeptic compound are putting on our second burlesque show! You should come see it if you’re in or near Philly.) I can’t imagine what the government could find out about me through monitoring my internet usage that they couldn’t find out just by reading my blog. (And yes, I recognize that being able to be public about burlesque and polyamory and atheism and being a sexologist is also a mark of privilege.)
My feeling of invulnerability could change when I have a child. Although it’s not common, there are poly families who have children taken away from them because of their lifestyle, even if there is no abuse or neglect going on. That’s something that will always be a niggling worry in my mind, once there are children about. But it’s still not going to raise a personal privacy concern, because I’ll still be open and public about my lifestyle. That’s a choice I made, based on principle and facilitated by privilege, and so I have very little to fear from a search of my private activity online. If the US is ever taken over by fascists (and no, it hasn’t happened yet, whatever you might say) who persecute atheism or non-monogamy, my family will be in deep trouble. I’m okay with that.
But my relative indifference about privacy has another root, weirder and more personal. Never, since I was a child, have I been able to really believe in privacy for myself. Maybe because I grew up believing in a God who was always watching, but I’ve always felt the same level of embarrassment in doing something privately that I would feel if there was someone to see. Up until I turned 20 or so, I pretty much avoided doing things in private that I wouldn’t be okay with someone else seeing, and even since then, it’s always a struggle with that irrational self-consciousness. (As you can imagine, this hampered my sexual growth considerably as a teenager.) So I find it hard to relate when people describe being creeped out or disturbed by the idea of someone spying on them.
All of this is to say: because of my assorted privileges, values, and weird mental quirks, I’m not bothered by governmental privacy invasions. But I’m not going to go around telling other people not to be bothered by it, because I realize that my privileges, values, and weird mental quirks are far from universal. I mostly wanted to write this to explore my own feelings, like, “Huh, lots of people whose opinions I generally respect are bothered by this, but I’m not at all; I wonder why.” But coming to the end, it occurs to me that I’m also writing a template for how I’d like to see other people respond in a similar position. If lots of people whose opinions you generally respect are bothered by something and you’re not, maybe take a look at the personal factors that give rise to your indifference. Doesn’t mean you have to become an activist: this is the first and probably the last I’ll write about privacy issues, because I have many other causes to put my efforts behind. But maybe take a stab at recognizing how the landscape could look very different to someone else, and avoid getting in their way.