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Privacy is a Biological Imperative? 181

Posted by Zonk
from the only-for-some dept.
sevej writes "As a lead-in to an article in the August 2007 issue, Scientific American recently published an interview with Carnegie Mellon computer scientist Latanya Sweeney regarding the trade-offs between security and privacy. Dr. Sweeney provides a refreshing counter-point to Sun Microsystems CEO, Scott McNealy's 'famous quip', 'Privacy is dead. Get over it.' She advocates the idea that privacy is not primarily a political expediency, but rather a biological one. Suggesting that technological design doesn't have to take a 'soup OR salad' approach, she calls for changes in the way present and future computer scientists are trained. Dr. Sweeney is quoted as saying, 'I think if we are successful in producing a new breed of engineers and computer scientists, society will really benefit. The whole technology-dialectics thing is really aiming at how you should go about teaching engineers and computer scientists to think about user acceptance and social adoption [and also that they] have to think about barriers to technology [from the beginning].'"
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Privacy is a Biological Imperative?

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  • Yarrrr! (Score:5, Funny)

    by LiquidCoooled (634315) on Friday July 13, 2007 @09:19AM (#19848381) Homepage Journal
    I told ye I had grog in me veins.
    Yo ho ho a pirates life for me!

    Avast!

    Ohhh, you said Privacy
  • If someone is a biological imperative, we would be proactive about defending ourselves to protect our biological functions. If you're cold, you shiver. If you're still cold, you put on clothes. If you don't, you die.

    If you're thirsty, your mouth gets dry. You drink water. If you don't, you die.

    There is no biological response, yet, to keeping your information private. When you get a new credit card, do you read the contract that is included with the application? It's all there. When you install new software, do you read the contract? It's all there.

    If you don't like a contract because it gives up what you consider private information, don't sign it. If you feel you need the item or service, find an outlet selling it that won't breach your privacy. It's quite simple. If there is no outlet for that service without giving up what you deem important, find out why. Many times it is State-intrusion in a market that creates a monopolistic cartel of providers. Don't blame that market for the privacy issues, blame your government that created the cartel (mercantilism, not capitalism).

    Privacy to me is useless. I can't think of one reason why I need or require complete privacy. If someone wants to peep on my wife and I in bed, I close the shades. Big deal. Financially, it already makes little to no sense to have personal credit or a good personal credit score, because of past government interventions. I still track my credit report monthly, and am alerted to changes. If someone wants to try to steal my identity, let them try -- I already have an inexpensive insurance plan against identity theft. Privacy, to me, is irrelevant in my life.

    What is important is the freedom for me to work the way I want to work, and have fun the way I want to have fun. If either of those issues "become public," so be it -- they're who I am. If someone doesn't want to work with me because of what I like to do, so be it, they're free to associate or disassociate with me. What do I have to hide?
    • by the_humeister (922869) on Friday July 13, 2007 @09:38AM (#19848603)
      Actually, those examples you gave in the beginning of your post still indicates a reactive response. Being proactive means you bring a sweater along when you see a predicted decrease in temperature on the weather report, or you bring along a bottle of water because you know it's hot and you'll be thirsty.

      I can't think of one reason why I need or require complete privacy. If someone wants to peep on my wife and I in bed, I close the shades.


      I find that funny. So why do you close the shades then if you don't need privacy? What exactly are you hiding? If you had nothing to hide, you'd keep the shades up!
      • by Torvaun (1040898)
        I have no shades on my bedroom window. The ones that were there when I moved in broke, and I haven't cared enough to put in new ones. The only issue I've had is that the sun wakes up well before I'd like to, but with a north-facing window, even that's not that big of a deal. Besides, I'm a hairy 220 lb. 5'7" man. My potential voyeurs are already too busy looking at goatse.
    • There is no biological response, yet, to keeping your information private.
      Yes there is. Many animals (not just the humans) will hide to defecate (ever had cats at home?). The same thing often goes for mating.

      Many monkeys will go berserk if you just stare at them, and staring at a charging feline will very often stop it dead on it's tracks; this is why thai farmers will wear masks on the back of their heads, it will stop tigers from attacking.

      Animals need privacy, too, and will make sure they get it.

      • Anybody who has lived in an apartment building with cats in it knows that cats'll mate pretty much anywhere and anytime they want to.

        As to animals attacking when you stare at them, they're not attacking because they want to be alone, they're reacting to what they perceive is a threat.

      • by IANAAC (692242)
        I'm going out on a limb and say that humans do not have a biological need for privacy, rather it's cultural.

        All you need to do is look at how the idea of privacy is communicated among various cultures. Some languages don't even provide a word for privacy.

        • by Skreems (598317)
          Not really. You know that behavior when you pass a stranger on the street and avoid looking directly at each other, essentially pretending the other isn't there? That same behavior is observed in primate populations over about 100 individuals or so. It's thought to be a coping mechanism in a group where you can't know every individual. Anyway, it's definitely something built into primates at the very least.
      • by cyngus (753668)
        You are drawing a misconclusion here. Animal tend to seek seclusion when they defecate because they are vulnerable at this point. Where a predator to spot prey making #2 its a good opportunity to strike. Yeah, if you have to cut and run, you have to, but with the unfortunate consequence that you might literally get fecal matter on yourself. Another potential evolutionary behavior is to find a spot "off the beaten path" to deposit material which, in the long run, will effect your biological health. So, priva
        • Animal tend to seek seclusion when [...] they are vulnerable
          Exactly so. Privacy is a biological imperative, because lack of privacy makes you vulnerable.
        • by El Torico (732160)
          Is there a possibility that the need for privacy is an extension of the vulnerability compensation technique that you pointed out?
    • by Hoi Polloi (522990) on Friday July 13, 2007 @09:44AM (#19848679) Journal
      If you consider privacy to be a trivial matter then why is the removal of privacy one of the first things done to prisoners, cult members, or hostages to break them down mentally? Forcing someone to strip is a form of this (that is why genitalia is referred to as "privates", right?). By removing privacy you break down the wall between a person's sense of self and those around him. You make them feel completely vulnerable and helpless. It is a form of abuse. Just because you have "nothing to hide" right now doesn't mean you always will or maybe you are just an exhibitionist by nature.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Sperbels (1008585)

        If you consider privacy to be a trivial matter then why is the removal of privacy one of the first things done to prisoners, cult members, or hostages to break them down mentally?
        Let's not forgot new soldiers in boot camp. Removing their privacy forces compliance and conformance.
    • by hal9000(jr) (316943) on Friday July 13, 2007 @10:02AM (#19848893)
      The article in this slashdot story [slashdot.org] seems particularly relevant to your position.

      While you claim the information is all there in contracts, most contracts are written in ways that only lawyers, or those trained in legal rhetoric can understand (just an observation). So it's not as clear cut as you think and that is the problem. Too many people view the world only through thier own set of blinders and don't/wont'/can't see beyond them. Training computer scientists to consider the impact of technology and how it affects users wether that is in UI desing, privacy and security, stability, what ever, is certainly a benefit. Unlike any other discipline that I can think of, programmers and designers have a huge impact in how technology is used or not.

      While we are all used to the file system structure in Unix and Windows system, does it really make the most sense for an average user who hasn't necessarily been trained to think in heirarchies? Probably not. And if you reply with "Well, users should learn to think that way, damnit" that shows you don't understand the nature of the problem.

      There is a visceral response most people have when their privacy is invaded, very much akin to fight or flight. Whether that is nature or nuture is immaterial. The result is still there. If you know that your privacy may be invaded, perhaps the shock is less, but it is still there. Do you really think if I provided you with your personal information like your financiual history, sexual history, book buying habits, you would not have a reaction?

      Awareness it s good thing.
    • by Control Group (105494) * on Friday July 13, 2007 @10:11AM (#19849025) Homepage
      What do I have to hide

      The hundreds of tiny embarassments that everyone is guilty of.

      Society to date has depended on much of what one does being private - everyone knows that 90% of men masturbate (and 10% lie about it), but it's not polite to discuss or exhibit, and it's embarassing to be discovered. This is, perhaps, irrational, but it is also the way things are.

      Maybe you don't want people knowing that you bought Hairspray on HD-DVD. Maybe you don't want people knowing that you're gay. Maybe you don't want people knowing you had an abortion. Maybe you don't want people knowing your great grandfather owned slaves. Maybe you don't want people knowing you smoke weed. Maybe you don't want people knowing you donate money to the Republican party. Maybe you don't want people knowing you did 3 years' hard time - whether or not you were actually guilty. Maybe you don't want your abusive ex-husband to know where you live.

      The other alternative is to make sure you stay both legal and conformant to all social norms. Which, even if possible, isn't the way most people want to live their lives.

      Given society as it currently is, those are your choices. Your personal crusade to change the social norms such that nothing legitimate is embarassing any more, though possibly impressive, is unlikely to bear fruit before privacy is eliminated.
    • If someone is a biological imperative, we would be proactive about defending ourselves to protect our biological functions. If you're cold, you shiver. If you're still cold, you put on clothes. If you don't, you die.

      If you're thirsty, your mouth gets dry. You drink water. If you don't, you die.
      If you're seen in an embarrassing situation, you blush.
    • There is no biological response, yet, to keeping your information private.

      Let me propose an experiment. Take some people you don't know particularly well, and open their mail. Make sure they catch you reading it. See how many pro-active responses you elicit. You can report back when you get out of hospital.

      Don't blame that market for the privacy issues, blame your government that created the cartel (mercantilism, not capitalism).

      Something about they way you phrase that leads me to imagine how you mu

    • ....What do I have to hide?......

      Honest people don't have anything to hide from other honest people. Privacy is needed only because there are some who do wrong by taking advantage of others. This includes those in government and business.
    • Various animals (squirrels, birds) hide food in order to survive the winter. If the privacy of their hiding places is compromised, they die.

      The same applies to some aspects of modern life-- e.g., products of human intellectual activity (e.g. most white-collar type work and its products) benefit (i.e. retain economic value) from some degree of privacy. A consultant's list of clients, or a dealers wholesale price, is perhaps as important as the squirrels cache of nuts. There may also be a situation where k
  • not having doors on the toilets?

    Not to mention orgies. (not just in factories and the military)

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by geekoid (135745)
      What?
      Not having doors isn't because the user doesn't want them, it's because the military doesn't want you to have privacy for some reason. Probably because the think gays in the military are uncontrollable hump machines.

      Sex(I assume you meant sex orgies) are a choice people make. Just because some people decide to share the privacy with may people doesn't mean it's not private. Just that the group you are sharing privacy with is larger. Biological doesn't just mean sex.

  • Uppity computer scientist thinks she can teach engineers more about those technology-dielectric things. I'll show her a dielectric - I'll teach her not to catch those technology-capacitor things!
  • Biology (Score:3, Funny)

    by PresidentEnder (849024) <<wyvernender> <at> <gmail.com>> on Friday July 13, 2007 @09:35AM (#19848567) Journal
    Your darn right it's a biological imperative. I can't get anyone to have sex and continue the species without privacy!
  • as I'm sure that anyone who has seen a pair of dogs shagging in public will agree.
    • as I'm sure that anyone who has seen a pair of dogs shagging in public will agree.

      I've shagged my share of dogs in public ... but my guess is you've seen that just a bit less often. The ones in public are the ones are who got caught with their proverbial trousers around their ankles.

      Dogs would prefer to do it privately. Hell, they don't want to be even smelled by strangers. Despite being pack animals (a live or die proposition in the real world), they'd also prefer to eat, urinate, defecate, give birth,
  • Privacy is important (Score:3, Interesting)

    by realsilly (186931) on Friday July 13, 2007 @09:38AM (#19848607)
    The human being needs space and to be able to have his/her own thoughts, feeling, and actions, be their own.

    Why should be give up our right to privacy? It is a Constituational right. But it is also a personal right. Stop for a moment to consider how much you want other people knowing about your bad habits. Opposite side, of that picture, do you really want to know how much lint come from your neighbors...... pockets?

    I say no. Privacy is needed for inner peace of mind. This includes the knowlege that you are not being watched 24/7. People are more stressed out stuggling to keep their private lives private rather than enjoying their lives.
  • I call BS (Score:5, Insightful)

    by $RANDOMLUSER (804576) on Friday July 13, 2007 @09:39AM (#19848629)

    ...how you should go about teaching engineers and computer scientists to think about user acceptance and social adoption...
    Nonsense. Engineers, computer scientists, hell, tech geeks of any kind build what those in power want them to build. If they don't, we'll find a geek who will. Do you suppose A-bombs, nerve gas, "weaponized" anthrax, etc. came about any other way?
    • by Elemenope (905108)

      No, I'm pretty sure the scientists and engineers thought long and hard about signing on to the A-bomb project, and without them it is likely that the bomb would not have been developed by the end of WWII if at all. Feynman in his memoirs talks a great deal about this.

      The 'if I don't build it, they'll just find somebody who will' idea is only true so long as it doesn't take a significant degree of inventiveness or special skills to complete. If the physicists on the A-bomb project quit, I don't think the U

      • I can't agree. The Manhatten Project was special in the speed in which it was developed. The fact that it (slightly) advanced science at the same time was incedental. Again, it was the people in power who collected the cream of the crop scientists to build it - quickly. Perhaps I should have used H-bombs or neutron bombs as an example, as they didn't present the level of challenge that the A-bomb did.

        My point remains - "educating" geeks to be socially responsible for what they build or invent doesn't
        • by geekoid (135745)
          Wow, do you enjoy limiting yourself in that manner?

          "slightly"? No there was a lot of stuff no person had ever done. Hell, building some of the test tools to determine critical mass alone was very advanced for the day.

          Why do you think geeks can't be in power? You may go through life thinking "Well, I'll just do what ever the man says and not think for my self." Not me.

          Some people believe those things are good to have;which brings up the point "Who the fuck are you to decide what is 'good' or 'bad'?

          Now, diffe
          • The people in power devote their lives and energies towards acquiring and keeping power. Geeks devote their lives and energies into creating things. That answers your question.
  • This is a nice selection of stories with the same idea:

    If we just control people precisely and carefully in then minutest possible detail, we'll have utopia.

    Privacy it a relatively modern concept. A few hundred years ago, it was unheard of.

    • That's not true (Score:4, Insightful)

      by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland AT yahoo DOT com> on Friday July 13, 2007 @10:10AM (#19849005) Homepage Journal
      privacy is about the sovereignty of the individual. It has been around for a very long time.
      government's took it away. The idea the the need for privacy dictated in law has only been around for a few hundred years.

      I also happen to believe that there are different types of privacy, and that privacy is implicit in any relationship.

      Meaning, If I choose to share information with a credit card company that's fine, but the data is still private between me and the Credit card company. Saying the credit card company can share your information implies that it's not yours anymore. It also mean information about you is being used and you have no control over it. Which is wrong no matter who is using it.
      Our founding father understood this, and made it so the government can not take those things that would be private to the citizens. While allowing people to choose who the bring into there person ring of privacy; Which can include everybody.

      • No. The grandparent is right. Privacy is a relatively new phenomenon, though it certainly predates your Founding Fathers. History didn't begin in 1776, or even 1492 you know.

        In Western Europe, it came about with the invention of the chimney. Before then, everyone in a large household, from the lords right down to the stablehands all slept together in one big hall, because that was where the fire and the heating was. When chimneys were invented, large dwellings could sustain multiple small fires and small ro
        • by Belial6 (794905)
          No, you are wrong. A secret is privacy. Secrets have been held for as long as humans have had society. Do you think when the local warlord made a secret pact to marry his daughter off to the warlord to the east, instead of the warlord to the west, that he wasn't very clear that he was keeping a secret? Whether he called it 'privacy' or not, he was very clear on the idea that letting just anyone know certain things about him would be very dangerous indeed.
          • by Kohath (38547)
            Secrets were a special case -- an exceptional thing. Ordinary folks had few secrets. Many folks had none. In contrast, modern privacy advocates suggest that secrecy is the norm and that everyone owes it to you to be 100% secretive about you and not even try to find out any info.

            Also, notice that the secret in your example is used to lie and deceive people. You might want to come up with a better example.

            It not really all that secret either. Local folks would know. Only outsiders wouldn't know.

            None of
            • by Belial6 (794905)
              "Also, notice that the secret in your example is used to lie and deceive people. You might want to come up with a better example."

              You just used the "If you have nothing to hide, why do you need privacy" falicy. You clearly do not understand the issue, and apparently do not understand what the word privacy means.
              • by Kohath (38547)
                No I didn't. You did. It's your example. Come up with a non-deceptive example.

                May I suggest a "surprise gift" example? Perhaps a business example: "The smith's son wants to build an inn, but didn't want others to know so he could buy land for less money". There are lots of non-deceptive examples.

                ---

                It doesn't change the fact that privacy as we know it now is not the normal state of being. It's a recent cultural phenomenon probably based on the declining perceived trustworthiness of the people we inter
                • by Belial6 (794905)
                  Um... That is the exact same type of example that I used. It is no more or less deceptive than mine.

                  Those same kids that grew up and mostly interacted with family, friends and neighbors, also were WAY more distrustful of people they didn't know than we are today. And no, it isn't quite hard to keep secrets from people when you sleep in the same room with them every night for 20 years. You just hide the tokens of affection offered by that suitor your parents disapproved of some place other than under y
  • "If you can't convince adults who've made up their minds, just indoctrinate the young to agree with us from the start."
    • by srobert (4099)
      Your quote sums up nicely exactly why I fear living out my older years in a world run by a generation that was raised to accept as inevitable that their parents, school teachers, the government, etc. could read their diaries, look over their shoulder while they're on the internet, equip their vehicles with tracking devices, listen in on their phone calls, and watch them with webcams every minute of their lives, for their "protection". My generation is teaching the one after it that they should have no reaso
  • by dpbsmith (263124) on Friday July 13, 2007 @09:48AM (#19848723) Homepage
    Do power players show their cards to each other? Why not? Because a poker game is a (somewhat) adversarial situation, in which disclosing information give an advantage to your opponents, which they are likely to exploit.

    A large number of human situations involve some degree of negotiation and are to some degree adversarial. Knowledge can be power, and knowledge can be money. You don't need to be a control freak to want to retain some degree of control.

    Not that I expect to get the better of a car deal, but I still don't necessarily want the salesman to know how much money I can write a check for today, and he doesn't necessarily want me to know the financial state of the dealership or his sales goal for the month and how many cars he's sold.
    • The converse is true as well: people are a lot more willing to tell things to their friends.
  • Every one of my cells' nuclear membranes and cell membranes would scream YES!!!, if they weren't so busy keeping to themselves.
  • My dogs get uncomfortable when you watch them poopie. Maybe there is something biological about the need for privacy.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by corgan517 (1040154)
      Screw that, I get uncomfortable watching my dog 'poopie'. I have biological need to not feel like vomiting.
  • >> She advocates the idea that privacy is not primarily a political expediency, but rather a biological one. Suggesting that technological design doesn't have to take a 'soup OR salad' approach,

    Nice soundbite. Has anyone got a clue if this actually means anything or is it just psuedo-intellectual drivel?
  • Privacy is all about information control, we forget that one of the main sources of power is control of information.

    When someone (person, company or state) knows all about you, it will be a matter of time when that information will be abused, cause although your life is transparent theirs is not.
    So Asimmetry of information gives those on top the best negotiating hand of cards, you might be getting all that convenience of service but will bite you back when you least expect.

    Some examples:
    - You sta
    • by rice_web (604109)

      When someone (person, company or state) knows all about you, it will be a matter of time when that information will be abused, cause although your life is transparent theirs is not.
      Why will their life not be transparent? I thought the whole "privacy is dead" thing applied to everyone.
  • by Zigurd (3528) on Friday July 13, 2007 @10:11AM (#19849033) Homepage
    Americans tend to mistakenly think in terms of rights granted by their federal constitution.

    This is an especially ironic error since the U.S. Constitution was written in terms that make it clear that rights do not come from a constitution. You have rights, period. The U.S. Constitution does not list your rights. It lists the legitimate powers of government.

    So, when someone says, "You have no constitutional right to privacy." they are making a fundamental mistake. They are suggesting that your rights are enumerated, when, both implicit in the structure of the U.S. Constitution and explicitly stated in Amendements IX and X: "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people." and "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people."

    Privacy is a natural right. Without it, many other rights become a nullity.
    • by MenTaLguY (5483)
      Thank you for pointing this out. Sadly, part of the problem is that (contemporary) Americans generally don't understand the concept of natural rights.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by ragged claws (676321)
      Generally when one talks about Constitutional rights one is talking about the rights explicitly protected by the Constitution. It is a semantic argument, not a philosophical one, to say there is no Constitutional right to privacy.

      Perhaps instead of saying, "you have no constitutional right to privacy," one should say, "you have no right to privacy explicitly protected by the Constitution."
    • Americans tend to mistakenly think in terms of rights granted by their federal constitution.
      I have been a fan of Alexander Hamilton since I learned he opposed a bill of rights. From the Federalist No. 84:

      I go further, and affirm that bills of rights, in the sense and in the extent in which they are contended for, are not only unnecessary in the proposed constitution, but would even be dangerous. They would contain various exceptions to powers which are not granted; and on this very account, would afford a colorable pretext to claim more than were granted. For why declare that things shall not be done which there is no power to do? Why for instance, should it be said, that the liberty of the press shall not be restrained, when no power is given by which restrictions may be imposed? I will not contend that such a provision would confer a regulating power; but it is evident that it would furnish, to men disposed to usurp, a plausible pretense for claiming that power.


      I think Hamilton hit the nail on the head. Read the bill of rights and think of how many times those are blatantly, or pushed, or broken on a technicality of interpretation. Imprisoning journalists for their sources while questioning if they are, indeed, a "journalist." In many places you cannot freely assemble a large, peaceful group without a permit. Arguing if an assault weapon ban is legal because individuals aren't a milita. No need for warrants for email, etc. Holding people in guantanamo, abusing them, and not affording them due process because they are "prisoners of war" or whatever the current defense is. Then there's the whole civil rights movements: where does it say the government has the power to rescind the right to vote based on race or gender such that it was *necessary* to amend the constitution to rescind the government's power to do so?

      I would like to hear what Hamilton would have to say today with a few centuries proving him right...
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by smaddox (928261)
        The reading of the constitution has changed so much since the time it was first written that the federalist papers have far less bearing than they did then.

        The Ninth Amendment was formulated exactly for the argument Hamilton and Madison were making.

        The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

        Within 20 years of the writing of the constitution one of the strictest constructionists (Thomas Jefferson) went well outside the powers given to him by the constitution to negotiate the purchase of the Louisiana Territory. Since then, the powers have only grown

      • by Phrogz (43803)

        I would like to hear what Hamilton would have to say today with a few centuries proving him right...
        Probably: "See?!" Really, what else could you have to say?
  • And a necessity in modern society. If you want to give a biological imperative, I think it would be the opposite. We are wired to be communal. Humans are social beings, pack animals as it were... we banded together, lived together, fought together etc so we wouldn't be eaten by the bigger, faster and stronger. In modern society we have to pursue privacy. Desmond Morris in the Human Animal explained it better than I, but one of the things is that is it very hard for one human to ignore another human. We have
  • ...by the industrial revolution, economics, politics and The Media. I'm not sure a biological imperative means anything these days besides a bathroom trip.
  • Just think of all the hot chicks you can hear breaking up with their boyfriends. You can totally catch em on the rebound with your,"Hey I'm just passing through, and my job is an FBI agent." routine.
  • by FuzzyDaddy (584528) on Friday July 13, 2007 @10:38AM (#19849423) Journal
    Training engineers and computer scientists to consider privacy issues would be a good start. The natural instinct of an engineer is to collect as much information as possible, and to make it as accessible as possible. Mostly this has nothing to with human privacy (I don't think my PCB minds having thermistors all over it...). But it's a fundemental approach to gather as much information as you can, even if you don't know what it's going to be used for.

    There have been two main technological obstacles to ubiquitous surveilance. The first is getting the data from the sensor to some central location. Universal wireless networks have taken care of that. The second is the storage and filtering of all that data. That problem's been solved with cheap storage and better computers and software. So, in building other things people want (cell phone systems, computers with enough storage and power to handle video, etc.) we've put all the tools in place of a low cost, universal surveilance system.

    Even the last minor hurdle - powering the sensors - is being overcome with "energy harvesting" technology. It's not enough to power video cameras yet, but the market forces will certainly push it in that direction.

    The days are over when we could safeguard our privacy by technological limitations (the "who's going to bother looking at what I'm doing" defense). So perhaps it is time for the engineers and the computer scientists to start considering the privacy issues from the beginning, as a technology issue.

    We work hard to build devices that don't electrocute or maim us. It's time we started considering social harm as well, and not leave it all to the politicians.

  • I think it's cool that we (USA) can have a Comp Sci Phd at one of the most prestigious Comp Sci schools named "Latanya" (whose picture in the article confirms she is black and female).
    On the other hand, part of her interview was about racism/sexism she encountered at MIT in the 70s.
  • http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id =998565 [ssrn.com]

    I got that from a previous slashdot story. It brings up some good points to think about.
  • Of all the people I know, it's the computer engineers and software programmers who are the most privacy concerned. I'm not sure what this article is talking about (I didn't RTFA), but in my experience it's the non-technical who don't understand (like politicians, and business people) that don't care and need to be educated.

    Look, all the socially conscious engineers in the world won't do you any good if the people signing their pay checks are demanding spyware, massive personal ID databases, and the like.
  • Longhouse, anyone? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Baavgai (598847) on Friday July 13, 2007 @12:21PM (#19850709) Homepage
    This is absurd. Take a little look at history before you start talking about lions and such.

    The idea of privacy is a very, very recent. Most societies have a point in their history where everyone in the community lived together, ate together, maybe even slept communally. Even if there were walls, the neighbors would usually know when Jones' were working on making another kid.

    If modern humans enjoy privacy, it is the effect of social change and perhaps overly comfortable living. Certainly not biology.
    • by sjames (1099)

      The idea of privacy is a very, very recent. Most societies have a point in their history where everyone in the community lived together, ate together, maybe even slept communally. Even if there were walls, the neighbors would usually know when Jones' were working on making another kid.

      And in all of those cases, privacy existed! There were always places to go to be alone with your thoughts. It's just that people had different ideas of what they wanted to be private about.

      Perhaps the more important aspe

    • by Reziac (43301) *
      But longhouse dwellers usually had an individual private place, away from the village, that no one else knew of (nor would be welcome there).

      You can watch the same behaviour with little kids who share a room: each child exhibits a strong need for a place, no matter how minimal, that is their OWN and is free from snooping by siblings, parents, or anyone else. Privacy is personhood; the concept that you matter as an individual, and not solely as a member of the transparent group.

      I've often said that the most
  • I'm past 50, so my perspective may be a little different.

    Basically, I think privacy is largely ignored, especially in the U.S., and it's appalling. Heinlein touched on privacy as a persistent societal mode in some of his works, notably 'Methuselah's Children'.

    I think we need a new social contract that encourages and respects privacy. I don't care if Britney is wearing panties, or who's cheating on who, or what my neighbor paid in taxes last year. NONE OF MY BUSINESS! And none of what I do...in private...is
  • ... either up her own ass or somewhere else. The real biological imperative is instant gratification: it's been repeatedly shown that people will sacrifice privacy for as little as a piece of chocolate. Now, you might feebly argue that they're willing to do that because they don't understand what they're sacrificing, but then there can't be much of an instinctive imperative if they have to sit through a class in order to grasp the concept of privacy, now can there?

    People make the dumbest most contrived ar
  • According to TFA, we apparently need privacy for stalking and for running away from our mistakes. This is not just the problem of a scientist from one field (here, CS) making statements relating to another (biology) but rather that the analogies are not valid. The first (stalking, as in prey) is not just privacy, it's secrecy. The second (moving far away to start over) is not just privacy, it's avoiding responsibility and making amends for mistakes made.

    I agree with the premise but these examples are about

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