Monday, June 23, 2014

Privacy and public photos

Privacy is an important part of our life. Maybe it hasn’t been always so for in premodern times and certainly in prehistoric times, people lived in small communities and it was difficult to keep anything secret for your environment (and I don’t mean your family, who actually belong to your private life, but the people in your hamlet, village or even little town). But societies and values change so today privacy is considered important by most people, although one can wonder whether there isn’t a difference between what people say and what they actually do. Time and again I am surprised how much of their most private and intimate facts people reveal to others and to the world on social media like Facebook and Twitter. But privacy is still an acknowledged part of the way we live. It is protected by law, although it is also often violated in secret by the same state that that makes the laws and pretends to maintain them. Violating happens openly in authoritarian and even more in totalitarian states, where it is part of the ideology that one has to live for the state and where one has to place one’s life in the service of the state. How baleful this can be is clear from cases like Nazi-Germany, Stalinism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe and the present North Korea. It doesn’t lead only to the end of the individual person with all his and her creativity, expression and feelings of happiness, but also to the backwardness of the state if not to its death. So there are good reasons to take care of your privacy, certainly in this time of the Internet where it has become increasingly easy to intrude into the private world of other people, both for states and organisations and for individuals.
Privacy is important for me, so I do my best to protect it. On the other hand, a part of the sense of living exists in maintaining relations with other people, known and unknown, and just for that the Internet is an excellent means. It enriches my life and enhances my possibilities, but just this is done by showing a piece of my private life to the world. Therefore preserving my privacy is a matter of keeping the balance steady: don’t tell the world too much but also not so little that I wouldn’t profit. But what is a good balance? In the end it’s pure guesswork and using your good sense. It’s a matter of feeling.
One of the things that can be abused on the Internet is a picture of yourself, especially one where your face can be recognized. For what is more private than your face? And maybe it’s just because of this that people publish their pictures on the Internet, as a wish to become a public person and to become known, belying the confessed idea that privacy is important. Possibly people don’t realize the dangers. Photos can be manipulated and so be used for discrediting people. They can be used for searching the Internet just as one can search the Internet for certain words. In this way it is possible to connect websites that have been written under different names or by different persons, if they show photos of the same person. Maybe these are yet the most innocent possibilities to misuse pictures. I am not an expert in this field, so I leave it to you to find out what can go wrong if you have your photo on the Internet. Anyway, I am distrustful so I don’t want to have my photo there, at least not one that clearly shows my face. (Keep it secret: actually there is one but I don’t tell you where; it’s difficult to find). I am a bit more careless, if you cannot recognize me as such, as the readers of these blogs may have noticed. But there are always people who want to see my face, for else they have the feeling that they don’t know me or that I am a kind of talking machine (actually it’s strange to think that my face tells more about me than all the texts I have written and photos I have published). If I trust them, I send them my picture by e-mail.
Makes this precaution sense? I always thought so but now I doubt. For what has come out? The NSA, the American intelligence agency, does not only monitor and collect photos openly published in the World Wide Web, but it steals them also from your e-mail. And it may be supposed that other secret and not so secret services do the same. Actually, it was quite naive that I hadn’t thought that before, and that I hadn’t realized that nothing is so secret or it is open to the world. Does this mean that I must not send vulnerable information by e-mail any longer? But then they have just achieved what they want: that people control themselves instead that they and the national governments do. That will be the end of creativity and of many other things we stand for in this world. However, it will not be the end of privacy, for this has already gone, by the activities of secret services and others who secretly collect information on the Internet (and by doing so in your home) and by the public behaviour of private persons themselves.

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