The one question that could change the privacy debate

Privacy, Security

How important is it to ask the right question? Our Security Advisor Sean Sullivan thinks it’s so important that it can either help or hurt your cause.

Most anyone who has debated the issues of government surveillance and online tracking by corporations has likely faced someone who dismisses concerns with “I don’t have anything to hide.”

This is apparently a very popular sentiment. 83 percent of respondents in the United Kingdom answered “No” to the question “Do you have anything to hide?” in a new F-Secure survey.

“You might as well be asking people – are you a dishonest person?” Sean wrote in our latest Threat Report (like goes to PDF). “The question is emotionally charged and so of course people react to it in a defensive manner – I think it is perfectly natural that 83% of people said no.”

Sean suggested another question that reframes the debate: “Would you want to share everything about your life with everyone everywhere, all the time, forever?”

Think about just your Google Search history. Seriously, take a look at it — here’s how you can see it (and delete it).

“And my prediction was proven correct – 89% of respondents did not want to be exhibitionists,” he wrote.

Both questions, he notes, at the core ask, “Do you think privacy is important?” One does it in a way that’s accusatory. The other in a way that’s explanatory.

Sean suggests that we all have things in our past we’d rather forget and asking the right question can get people to see that quite quickly.

There’s reason to pessimistic about privacy given that there has been substantial change in U.S. government policy since the Snowden revelations began. But even that may change soon with bipartisan revisions to the the law that began legalized mass surveillance.

This imperfect attempt to limit the NSA’s bulk collection is a promising start of a major shift away from methods that have done more to stifle digital freedom than to achieve the unachievable goal of creating a world without threats, if it’s indeed just a start.

Maybe we’re starting to ask the right questions.

[Image by Ashleigh Nushawg | Flickr]

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