“Privacy matters. Data privacy protects us from electronic crimes of opportunity–identity theft, stalking, even little crimes like spam. Privacy gives us the right to meet and speak confidentially with others–a right that’s crucial for democracy, which requires places for political ideas to grow and mature. Absolute privacy, also known as solitude, gives us to space to grow as individuals. Who could learn to write, draw, or otherwise create if every action, step, and misstep were captured, immortalized, and evaluated? And the ability to conduct transactions in privacy protects us from both legal and illegal discrimination.
Until recently, people who wanted to preserve their privacy were urged to “opt out” or abstain from some aspects of modern society. Concerned about having your purchases tracked by a credit-card company? Use cash. Concerned that E-ZPass records might be used against you in a lawsuit? Throw coins at that toll booth. Don’t want to show your ID at the airport? Drive. Don’t want your location tracked minute by minute? Turn off your cell phone. And be in a minority: faced with the choice of convenience or privacy, Americans have overwhelmingly chosen the former. Companies like TJX haven’t even suffered from allowing their customers’ personal data to be leaked.
Now, however, abstinence no longer guarantees privacy. Of course, it never really did. But until the past two decades it was always possible to keep some private information out of circulation. Today, although you can avoid the supermarket savings card, the market will still capture your face with its video cameras. You can use cash, but large cash transactions are reported to the federal government. You can try to live without the Internet–but you’ll be marginalized. Worse, you won’t be able to participate in the public debate about how your privacy is wasting away–because that debate is happening online. And no matter what you do, it won’t prevent your information from being stored in commercial networked systems.”