Just before the WikiLeaks story broke, I was interviewed about online privacy for the Pros and Cons article in Digital Life Magazine. I stated that you can look at it from three different perspectives: as an individual; in a relationship between two or more people; and as a government. In the interview I spoke mainly about online privacy for individuals. Afterwards, I got several responses.
“You certainly have more faith in the government than I do,” was one response to me saying that if the government is looking at my e-mail, there must be a good reason for it. Security is generally good, but this response correctly indicates that it can also have many other pretexts. One example of such an excuse is camera surveillance on our highways. The images are stored for several years. This is for security in the Netherlands, so they say. But the question is how storing these images for years contributes to the general security. I can only see that camera surveillance is necessary for tracing defaulters in the short-term, for example, and traffic offences.
“Security sometimes comes before privacy,” explains somebody in an e-mail to me. He had been receiving telephone calls and e-mails from this same anonymous person every day. Those intimidating texts and threats led to stress and anxiety. Because who was behind it? What do they want from you? How serious is it? After an official complaint, the telephone number was legally traced and these incidents stopped. Simply getting the number from the right provider was sufficient.
Online privacy is partly your responsibility too; you have to be aware of who you are and what you’re sharing with the rest of the digital world. In social media you can protect what you want to protect, on Facebook even at an individual level, for example deciding friend-by-friend who can see your profile. This gives you a feeling of control and security. People who don’t think, and put things on the Internet blindly, should stop and consider this very carefully.