There are many reasons why US American’s don’t care too much about using privacy oriented digital services. A few of the most common I hear are “I have nothing to hide”; “what would they do with my data anyway”; and the implication that “I trust the government to do the right thing with my data since they’re hunting terrorists” or “Google’s motto is ‘don’t be evil’ after all, and they make such great products!” (No one says that, but it’s the implication behind accepting NSA spying, corporate data collection, etc.).
I do take issue with all of these arguments, but for today I’d like to assume that all of them are correct, and there really is no valid need for any privacy protections whatsoever for those of us living in the USA. Instead, I’d like to offer three forward and outward looking reasons that we should all be using all the privacy enhancing software that we can anyway.
Reason No. 1: Future Proofing
While we might trust the government and corporations of today, there is no guarantee that they will continue to be so trustworthy in the future. The very nature of digital data is such that we’re creating what can potentially be a permanent record of our activities and beliefs. The victims of McCarthyism probably didn’t think that they’d be persecuted for their beliefs when they started out, but if the McCarthy witch hunts were repeated today, imagine how easy it would be for them to prosecute someone with the tremendous amount of digital evidence that they could pull from Facebook, Google, Apple, and your phone provider. By using privacy enhancing services today, we’re helping prevent that giant backlog of “evidence” should some rogue government of the future decide to persecute us for our race, religion or creed. We also lessen the ability of a large corporation to manipulate us, should Google sell out to a less ethical company, or something of that nature.
Reason No. 2: Future preparation
Closely related to No. 1, is the fact that if for some reason in the future we DO ‘need’ the protections afforded by things like encrypted communications, then there will be no time to develop them from scratch. By investing (time, money, and interest) in privacy focused technology today, you and I can ensure that it’s available in the future should we need it. Whether that’s due to a government run amok, becoming a corporate whistleblower, or just a vindictive and very tech savvy ex. If we wait until we desperately needs these protections to start encouraging developers, then there’s no way that the technology will ever exist.
Reason No. 3: Caring for our neighbors
In my opinion, this reason is the most compelling, but it builds on the others so I’ve saved it for last. While those of us who live in the US and various other parts of the world have a tremendous amount of freedom and safety for today and the foreseeable future, it is absolutely true that there are many people already living under oppressive government regimes today. In many countries around the world, people face imprisonment, fines, or even execution based on who they associate with, what they watch and read on the internet, and even the opinions that they hold or express. As someone who believes that freedom of speech and association are unalienable human rights, I find this to be a terrible injustice. These people need privacy focused tech to protect them TODAY. That said, most of the countries where this is going on are not exactly tech hubs like the US. Google, Apple, Facebook and Twitter are all American companies. While many of them may have large user bases outside of the developed world, as US Americans we have a particularly good opportunity to influence the direction of both these larger companies and smaller privacy focused startups. By throwing our support behind them, we enable the development of technology that can literally save lives right now in countries that don’t enjoy the freedoms that people living in the US do.
I hope that if you’re apathetic towards privacy measures that these three things have helped you think about some reasons why you might want to adopt some of the privacy technologies that I recommend here on this site, or decline some of the invasive requests from services that you already use. If you have any further thoughts, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!