Privacy is the new Green

About forty years ago, something remarkable happened: people across the western world began to realize that just because something has always been done, sometimes it may be better not to do it any more.

  • Just because we’ve always drilled for any oil in the ground that we could find, sometimes it may be better to leave in the ground (and thereby not destroy a nature park above).
  • Just because we can easily throw things in the trash, it does not mean we should keep doing it (but instead we should recycle, which takes a lot more effort).
  • Just because somebody’s factory has always spewed smoke in the air and poisoned the water, it does not have to be that way, and we could push for laws that would stop them.

And so the Green Movement was born. The remarkable thing was that as a society, we voluntarily put limits on activities that we had always been doing, and accepted the downside: higher prices and more hassle for consumers, and less business for companies. We did this because we decided the side effects of these polluting activities were simply not worth the benefits any more.

On-line privacy is like that. Those of us who want less surveillance and more privacy (that is most of us) are basically saying the same thing that our forebears said about nature:

  • Just because you can track us, that does not mean you should.
  • Just because you catch more terrorists by backdooring encryption (a dubious proposition, but let’s pretend it’s true for a second), that does not mean you should.
  • Just because you can sell us cheaper stuff by tracking our every move, that does not mean we want that.

We are saying: the side effects of tracking and surveillance are simply not worth the supposed benefits, just like cutting the forests and polluting the waters are not worth the additional oil.

The counter-arguments to on-line privacy also parallels those against the Green movement. To be more green and pollute less means less business, higher prices, perhaps fewer jobs, and so forth. To be more private means that Facebook wouldn’t have as large a business as they do now, and we would have to pay cash for it, instead of paying with our privacy. As a society, we have a tradeoff to make here, and most of us are clearly on the side of Green and private. Those on the other side fought, and still fight, tooth and nail against every environmental regulation, just like they do now on the privacy front. But, while they are powerful, there are more of us, and we can defeat them.

The Green movement should give us heart: by and large, it succeeded, against what at the time were tremendous odds. Cars, power plants, factories in the western world are so much cleaner than anybody had any good reason to expect back in the sixties. Even China is working hard on getting greener.

If the Green movement could succeed, the privacy movement can succeed as well. In some ways, it may actually be easier: while we are limited in what we can do about a polluting factory, such as demonstrating in front of it, and calling our representative, on-line we can also run Ad Blockers and choose not to use products or use websites from the worst privacy offenders. We can even run Tor. And still demonstrate and call our representatives.

Privacy is the new Green.

All we need to do is fight and not take No for an answer.