Monday, September 3, 2007


It seems privacy will go -- is going -- in two directions. On one hand, we are developing greater capacity to peer into people's bodies and minds, to speculate about their childhoods based upon adult behavior patterns, to see through their clothes with X-ray machines when they enter airports, and so forth. It is probably only a matter of time until many of our hopes, lies, fears, and beliefs are electronically readable. This is the direction of greater openness, as demonstrated in the frank confessions of people on websites like MySpace and Facebook. People seem to be embracing this openness, or at least taking it head-on and making the best of it. Thus they set themselves up for great interactions with other likeminded individuals, and also for great abuse by people who do not share their orientation and/or will use it against them.

The other direction is the opposite. This is the direction of closedness. As data become more openly available, people are more concerned about those who would abuse it. Thus we have medical privacy laws that did not seem necessary for previous generations; these are part of an age when, say, a would-be employer could abuse access to that information by using it as a basis for denying employment. Most people now seem to have concerns about revealing their Social Security numbers, whereas it had previously seemed that only the paranoid were concerned about letting anyone else get those numbers. Of course, people have always told tales or used the available information against one another.

If trends like those of the medical records and Social Security numbers are any guide, it seems that it becomes increasingly painful to be open with one's private information -- and yet, at the same time, that the amount of potentially available information about oneself increases. I expect that we are moving into a time when extremely sensitive personal information becomes available, but is no longer made readily known to potential friends -- that, instead, it is available only to authorities and criminals, who will ignore it at best and use it against you at worst.