Sunday, June 30, 2013


As a matter of historical analysis, the relationship between secrecy and privacy can be stated in an axiom: the defense of privacy follows, and never precedes, the emergence of new technologies for the exposure of secrets. In other words, the case for privacy always comes too late. The horse is out of the barn. The post office has opened your mail. Your photograph is on Facebook. Google already knows that, notwithstanding your demographic, you hate kale.
Jill Lepore, in her article in The New Yorker titled "The Annals of Surveillance," delves into the history of spying.  Though the ease and scope of surveillance grew enormously with the development of new technologies, spying has long been part of human history.  With the advent of literacy and mail delivery in one form or another, came the opportunity for outside scrutiny of letters that were intended to be private correspondence between sender and the person to whom the letter was addressed.   So it went, and so it goes, as communication technology expands and offers ever greater opportunities for spying.

Google, Facebook, email servers, internet service providers, and other sites on the internet know a great deal about me, as do government agencies whose services I use.  As I became part of online social networks, I gradually gave up any notion that what I wrote on the internet or spoke on a phone was private.  Thus, I was not surprised to learn that government spy agencies may be spying on me.  The technology is there, and it will be used, for good or for ill.  One reason Osama bin Laden managed to avoid capture for so many years was that he stopped communicating by phone and switched to couriers.

Since I subscribe to The New Yorker, I'm not certain Lepore's article is accessible to non-subscribers, but I recommend the piece to those of you who can read it, which I hope is everyone who so chooses.

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