, Gloucester, MA

August 5, 2013

Letter: Why privacy is important to us all

Gloucester Daily Times

---- — To the editor:

Amid revelations that our government is spying on us, you’ve probably heard someone say, “If you’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve got nothing to fear.”

But if you think about that for very long, you’ll realize it simply isn’t true. History, from ancient to very recent, is chock full of counter examples — good people who are wrongly accused, wrongly convicted, blacklisted or suffer at the hands of authority simply because they stand up for their beliefs.

Here’s just one example: Using DNA evidence, the Innocence Project has freed 311 people from jail, who had been wrongly convicted of a crime, 18 of whom had been sentenced to death.

So I was glad to see the unusual Times editorial “A sad victory for secrecy” on Tuesday, July 30. Although Editor Ray Lamont found a local connection in lauding Congressman Tierney for voting to defund the National Security Agency’s broad-based collection of telephone and Internet records, this editorial broke from the Times norm of addressing strictly local issues. Perhaps that’s because it’s such an important issue that affects every Times reader.

I would take this issue beyond the problem of secrecy and ask why, in this land of the free, do we give our government unbridled access to substantial details of our daily lives — whom we call, where we call from, all our Internet searches, where we are when we search, every email we send and probably more stuff we don’t yet know about.

This is an insidious invasion of our privacy. This situation seems upside down to me.

We let large companies collect vast amounts of data on us in return for the convenience of making phone calls, searching the Internet, communicating via email, text, etc. What we need is a government who protects our privacy by ensuring those companies keep that data secret and secure and don’t misuse it. Instead, what we’ve got is a government who secretly demands that those companies turn our private data over to them and then forbids those companies from telling us they’ve done so.

“What’s all the fuss about?” you might ask. Here are three reasons why privacy is important and collecting all these data is a very bad idea:

Amassing all these data in one place poses a far greater national security threat than any terrorist does. Imagine what you could piece together if you had all that data on somebody. Now imagine what an enemy could do with all the data on everybody. Recent events prove the government can’t keep it secret — or secure.

The temptation for abuse is irresistible. In every dispute between two parties, knowing what the other party is thinking and planning gives you a tremendous edge. Imagine how access to these data would give you a leg up on your competition, your opponent in a law suit, your ex-wife, you name it.

Huge corporations and people with means will pay anything for access to this treasure trove of information. Do you really trust every one of the tens of thousands of bureaucrats who have access to be able to resist taking the money?

Most importantly of all, privacy is critical to creativity. Nothing stifles creativity more than the fear that someone is watching your actions, listening to your conversations, tracking your whereabouts, cataloguing your internet searches.

Our country thrives on creative spirit. We export ideas. We invent things. We are cultural leaders. All that is now at risk.

Defunding the NSA’s records collecting project is only the first of many steps we need to take to stop this abuse of power if we want to continue to live in a free society.