Privacy is Not Political

You would think this goes without saying. Pedos are bad. Breathing is good. Water is wet. Yet here we are. Every week on Surveillance Report, we have a “politics” section. This is where we discuss privacy news directly related to politics: the Pegasus scandal, laws that were passed or proposed, or pretty much anything privacy and security related that involves a political official or decision. And yet, without fail, there’s always political opinions in the comments. “Capitalism is what made this possible, capitalism is bad.” “You’re not being tough enough on Trump for this decision, you’re placating the Alt Right.” This is a big problem with the community, and a major reason my Matrix room has a “no irrelevant politics” rule. So this week, I want to talk about why I personally choose to be apolitical on The New Oil, and why I believe privacy is a non-partisan issue.

Privacy is a human right (see Article 12). Period. Full stop. End of story. A human right, by definition, is a “moral principle” that is “commonly understood as [an] inalienable, fundamental right ‘to which a person is inherently entitled simply because they are a human being.” (Source) You don’t have to earn human rights, and they don’t change based on your skin color, country, preferred language, or what you had for breakfast that day. You can be an a**hole and still deserve human rights. We can disagree on who should be president or what the tax rate should be, but you still deserve human rights regardless of how much I think you’re wrong. That’s how human rights work. That’s it. End of blog. Go home.

Now, of course, there are certain rights that actually can be suspended depending on the context. For example, your right to freedom can be largely suspended if you’re a criminal. In the US convicted felons can’t vote or own guns despite both of those things being mandated in our Constitution. The right to free assembly and protest was temporarily suspended at the initial onset of the pandemic here in the US. This is a highly controversial subject, but it’s worth noting as we have this discussion: some rights can be revoked or suspended based on certain criteria.

The problem I’ve been encountering in the privacy community is that many of us seem to be wanting to drag irrelevant ideas into the privacy space. Now to be clear: I’m not telling you what to think or how to behave. Some of you may find this hard to believe, but I am an incredibly political person in my personal life. I vote in local elections, I read the news (lots of different news sources with lots of different biases), and I frequently engage in discussions with people from all across the political spectrum to understand why they think the way they do. But the fact is that even the people I dislike on the other side of the aisle deserve privacy. I may think that my mayor is a clown or that more than one of our past presidents deserves to be in prison for various things they’ve done, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t think that the people who voted for them don’t deserve privacy. And that’s why, as The New Oil, I choose to be apolitical. Because privacy doesn’t care how you voted.

Let me pause again for a second to say that personally, I don’t believe “apolitical” is a real thing. I think it’s a lie people tell themselves so they can avoid thinking about the hard and frustrating dilemmas facing us in the political arena, and I think anyone who truly lives an “apolitical” life is either in denial about how politics affects them or so privileged that they can minimize the effect to the point of ignoring it (or both). My move to be apolitical as The New Oil is, itself, a political statement. The statement that I hope I’m making is that privacy is for everyone regardless of your political affiliation. It is owed to Republicans, Democrats, Tea Party members, Libertarians, and Independents.

Having said that, there’s a time and a place. Politics is an unavoidable part of privacy because there are laws that either protect privacy or weaken it and may or may not give the average person control over their data. Those laws also get broken – both by corporations and the governments who pass those laws – and therefore there are punishments (that are usually weak, symbolic, and ineffective). That’s not even touching on things like cyberespionage, the ability to effectively crack down on cybercrime, the Five Eyes, and more. Politics plays an important role in privacy whether you like it or not and whether you care about politics or not. Whether you like the person who’s in office right now or absolutely hate them, sometimes they do good legal/privacy things and sometimes they do bad legal/privacy things and both the good and the bad deserve to be talked about.

This brings us back around to the beginning. Am I telling you not to talk about politics in privacy spaces? No. Well, keep it out of my room, but otherwise no. People are still people. I’ve said before that I have a lot of interests besides privacy. I’m super into scifi, true crime, video games, etc. The person you’re talking to on Matrix or Mastodon is still a human being, and just because they’re into privacy doesn’t mean that they can’t also be an intelligent, educated person who’s also interested in politics. Political conversations are important to have, and if you want to have them you should. The problem is that people seem to think that those of us on a pedestal – like me and Techlore and Michael Bazzell – should somehow also weigh in politically, that we should go on record to condemn or endorse certain politicians, but that’s not what privacy is about. Sure, we can – and do – say that a politician has done some good or bad things for privacy, but to take an unnecessary political stance alienates half of the humans who might watch or read our content – humans who deserve human rights like privacy.

This is about reaching people with a message they need. If I was more vocal about my political opinions on Surveillance Report or this blog, there would definitely be a lot of people who say “I don’t appreciate this guy always bashing on my political opinions, it bugs me too much and I’m done listening.” Again, just because I don’t agree with someone doesn’t mean they don’t deserve privacy. That person deserves privacy even if I don’t share their views. By taking a political stance, I’ve pushed away someone who might’ve otherwise heard about privacy and started valuing it and protecting it.

Being political also does a massive disservice to fairness. Recently on Surveillance Report, we talked about how Trump was attempting to use legal pressure to get the New York Times to reveal their sources in a certain story, but even after Trump left office the Biden administration continued the lawsuit for another three months. By taking a side and saying “well of course [Politician] was suing the news, it’s because he’s a piece of crap and he’s an enemy of democracy and freedom and privacy and blah blah blah,” I’m completely ignoring the fact that it’s not just [Politician] doing these things. It’s every president, both parties, and a large number of senators and representatives. Privacy is not a partisan issue. It’s under attack by every political side and nearly every politician, from local to federal laws. Back in the 1960s, the government was surveilling both the KKK and the civil rights movement. Privacy invasions don't take sides, why should I?

I didn’t plan for this blog to be a defense of my actions, but it seemed the best example. I don’t like using hypotheticals when concrete examples exist. The goal here was not to defend myself, the goal was to defend privacy. Privacy is truly non-partisan. And again, that doesn’t mean you can’t talk politics. People are allowed to have opinions and expertise about more than one thing. That also doesn’t mean I won’t talk about how laws and politicians are shaping privacy in the world today, cause that intersection certainly exists and needs to be discussed. What it does mean is you need to remember that privacy is for everyone, and sometimes there’s an appropriate time and place to just stick to that message. I personally have found in my own political experience that one-on-one, in-person conversations are the best kind of political discussions to have. Nobody feels attacked or ganged-up-on, it tends to be more civil and more intelligent, and frequently both sides – both myself and the person I’m talking to – tend to walk away going “oh, I learned something new” or “I hadn’t considered that opinion before.” Doesn’t mean you’ll change anyone’s mind, you should never go into a discussion attempting to change someone’s mind because that’s when it turns into a competition and that’s when people get heated and angry. When someone like me is blasting out privacy-specific information to hundreds or even thousands of people, that’s not the time for me to be injecting my personal political opinions. It’s too easy for someone to misconstrue what I meant and take it as an attack, or for the nuance of the discussion to be lost. It’s too one-sided, and it’s too easy for someone to go “oh, this is just another libtard/MAGA-head, no point in listening to what they have to say” even though what I have to say may actually be extremely relevant and important to them. There’s no use making things overly political when they don’t have to be. Because privacy is a human right, and human rights don’t care about your political leaning. Human rights are for all humans.

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