Privacy and Legitimacy

Between the infamous Patriot Act and the ceaseless rumors your iPhone or Android may be tracking your every move and message – it’s tough to feel secure in today’s increasingly technologically integrated world.

Internet giant Facebook seeks to create “real name” culture online where anonymity is minimized and as much as possible information is publicly shared. Facebook’s new style broadcasts things automatically, making the assumption the user wants their every activity in the public record.

Scalia, the conservative Supreme Court justice, has said he doesn’t believe the Constitution guarantees any right to privacy at all, despite the 4th amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Who can be trusted with our privacy? The short answer is – no one, trust yourself.

Private companies can effortlessly pre-program spyware into all of the devices they sell, unless the government regulates this activity and bars them from doing it. And even then (assuming the regulation was ever strongly enforced to begin with) we have to generously assume Federal agencies won’t exempt themselves from the restrictions. (In other words, the FBI might argue they can invade your privacy for security reasons, but Verizon or AT&T doing the same would be illegal).

Shall we just let the free market decide? After all, businesses will lose customers if it becomes public knowledge they don’t care about your privacy.

Or is there actually some action we can trust the government or businesses to take here?

Two issues at the heart of this matter are trustworthiness and legitimacy.

People may trust phone companies enough to handle their privacy, or they may trust the government. Suppose that trust is violated however – then the issue becomes about legitimacy. Is the violator’s authority to invade your privacy legal?

If they are a business, probably not.

If they are the government, they will probably get away with it if they can argue it was for “security” purposes.

There are really only a few ways to challenge the law – in court, politically, or by force. The legal begal routes change the actual laws, but force (i.e. rebellion) acts on the idea that the law is illegitimate, thus unworthy of being followed.

In all three cases the government status quo has a significant advantage.

Opposition by force is especially a double edged sword. Forceful resistance to the police would cause the government to delegitimize the offending group – having the media portray them as lawless, dangerous criminals not worthy of the protections regular citizens are ensured by law. Not to mention the federal military is the strongest force on earth – so resisting the police doesn’t seem the wisest idea anyway considering the back-up they can call for.

Law enforcement frequently is portrayed as justified and socially legitimate even when the law being enforced is unpopular, unnatural, ineffective or when the force used to enforce it is excessive.

Most troublesome is the idea that our political system itself is illegitimate. That it is all but a puppet show tyrants perform to lull the masses to sleep and keep them unaware of the fact that they really have no control over how the strings are pulled.

An illegitimate political system would render the court and legislation options for change useless. How then, to challenge illegitimate laws? If not through the might of superior force, the only approach would have to be to restore the legitimacy of the political system.

 

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