Why I Think Privacy is Worth Fighting For
Privacy is becoming more and more of an issue these days. It is now being debated in legislative bodies, the United States Congress being a recent example with the USA Freedom Act (this bill makes the NSA go to the telecommunications companies for phone metadata rather than letting them keep it in house and requires a warrant for access on specific individuals) just a few weeks ago. A number of people take vastly different stands on the issue. I have been very vocal with my friends that we should have it, but I haven’t really said much about why. Why is important because it can show us where someone is coming from and inform us to make better decisions and communicate effictively, regardless of the positions that we take.
The idea of privacy is something that I have always been used to. For the first 12 years of my life, privacy to some extent existed. Up until 9/11 the NSA really didn’t have a program in place for mass surveillance. It wasn’t until after 9/11 that the idea of the government actively spying was something that I thought about. I remember joking with my best friend over the phone that only God and whoever was tapping our phone call knew what we said. So we had a little fun by being sure to sprinkle in words like bomb, terrorist, or anything else that flagged our harmless conversation as something to waste their time on. It wasn’t until 2006 that we actually had proof the government did anything like this when it became known that AT&T had been giving the goverment customer phone data. The majority of my life has been spent with the idea that privacy existed, and for a good part of it, it has. Life feels different knowing it isn’t there anymore, and not in a good way.
My desire for privacy is also fueled in part by knowing what life without it is like. I have always enjoyed history, especially war history. The conflict that always got my attention was World War II. World War II’s story didn’t end in 1945; it extended through the Cold War. This led me to read about Communism. Communism is a horrible system because it requires you, among other things, to think in lock step with everyone else. This isn’t the case with just one area like business, but includes politics and religion too.
Christianity has had a lot of hardships in Communist countries. With privacy you can still work around a government like that. You talk about your views freely in the privacy of your own home, and no one hears you but those present. Meetings could be held in private and the government can’t do much about it. Now we know from history that the Soviet Union was more agressive about forcing their ideology than that. Corrie Ten Boom in her sermon “The Greatest of These is Love”, mentioned that in her journies through the Soviet Bloc she would give a sermon into the microphones in her hotel rooms. These microphones were not hooked up to a public address system in case you were wondering. They would have someone actively listening, and the person listening in would also be recording what he was hearing. This would then be passed on to a superior to review, which Ten Boom knew would happen. For whatever reason they didn’t arrest her. In Romania, the intelligence service wasn’t as permissive and would put people in prison for just discussing unpermitted religious views.
I see this as aweful. People should be able to hold different viewpoints without threat of imprisonment, torture or death. Privacy enables us to do that when the law is against the idea of liberty of conscience. Without privacy, just look to the Soviet Union for what can happen without privacy.
Blackmail is something that I fear. I’m sure all of us have done things that we are not proud of. I’m also sure we would prefer to forget those mistakes. Most of us probably haven’t done anything that we could really be blackmailed with. What I fear happening is someone in either the legislative or executive branches of government being blackmailed. Instead of representing the people who elected them, or representing right ideas, whoever has information against an official could inform government policy instead. We could be trying to fight legislation we strongly disagree and make no headway because the officials in office are willing to do anything to hide their secrets rather than let them come out. If you think political officials don’t have secrets, you should take a look at Watergate and the Monica Lewinsky scandal. While you are doing that, keep in mind there is probably a lot more that goes on that we don’t hear about. A surveillance state would only make blackmail a more common occurance because only certain people get to know everything about everyone.
Privacy can help ease stressful social situations. There have been several times where I have been in situations where I cannot freely speak my mind without getting into a major argument or losing possible friendships. Privacy gives me a chance to actually express my thoughts whether it is to God in prayer or a sympathizing friend. We should be careful not to abuse privacy for gossip, but I need it to vent in an appropriate environment. Without privacy, my stress levels would be much higher.
Christianity is largely dependant on privacy. Jesus would often go and pray alone. Many in the Bible would do the same. I don’t pray in public the same way I do in private. In public there is a lot I will never say in prayer that I will when it is just God and I. The courage that many a saint has had came from private sessions with God. Private prayer is so important that it can be had in a public situation. For example, look at Nehemiah for example before Artaxerxes. Would I pray the same way knowing anyone else could hear me? Would you? For me it is important to also have a place where I can speak audibly as I am praying in private. Without being able to speak I find I often lose focus. That is something I really missed in college as I really didn’t have very many moments where no one else could hear me. The walls in the guys dorms were thin, and you could hear conversations from other rooms even when you didn’t want to. Doing well spiritually I think is dependant on having private prayer, and private prayer for me is best when I can speak audibly with no one else to hear me.
Everyone has problems. I don’t think anyone wishes that all his problems became public. I have sought counsel many times, but there are some things I would only take to people I could trust to keep things private. I have also had friends that have come to me with the same expectation. Privacy is important for counseling that involves what that person is really concerned with. Have you ever asked for counsel from someone that you wanted kept private? If you answered yes to that question, then you value privacy too.
Is it worth fighting to keep privacy if we know we are going to lose it? Whenever I hear that question or something like it, this verse comes to mind: “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” James 4:17. The men at the Alamo didn’t fight because they thought they would win, and the Spartans at Thermopylae didn’t fight because they thought they could win. They fought because it was their duty, and it gave those they were fighting for a chance to win the wars in which they were fighting. Those places I mentioned were only specific battles in wars that had many others. Yes the Texans lost the Alamo and the Spartans Thermopylae, but because they fought at those places they bought enough time and gave something for their sides to rally around to push the enemy back and win their war. Fighting a losing battle is never vain, especially when it is for the best of reasons.
Some people argue that we shouldn’t fight a Sunday law because we want Christ to come back soon. But Christ won’t return because the world passes a Sunday law. Even if it was, I couldn’t live with the fact that I let something like that happen, and I didn’t even put up a fight. That’s not just a personal code of honor, James points out that is sin. The war between Christ and Satan is already won, but the reason we are still here is that there are people that can be saved that have not been reached yet. God gave us time to reach them, and we are to fight for as much time to do that as we can. I’m not saying we fight to delay the Second Coming, I’m saying we fight to keep the window of evangelism open as long as possible. If we reach everyone that we can, then we go home. By fighting the Sunday law and trying to reach people, we actually stand a chance of getting home faster than we would standing by to let the law pass.
In the United States privacy is supposed to be guruanteed by the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. The First Amendment of that same document protects the free exercise of religion. This portion of law has been our strongest argument for preventing Sunday legislation before legislative and judicial bodies. If we let the privacy issue go, it sends a message that we are open to fundamental rights change for the supposed good of the nation. In 1888 there was a bill to enforce Sunday as a rest day on a national level, and one of the arguments on the floor of the Senate was that such legislation would be for the good of the nation. It wouldn’t take much for an old argument to be revived. By not fighting on the privacy issue we are already surrendering ground on the fight against Sunday legislation. This does not affect only those in America because we know from prophecy that America leads the rest of the world to enact similar legislation. The fight here isn’t just for these rights in our country, but throughout the world.
Privacy is something that has only recently been thought about. There is still a sense of it in our everyday lives in the free world by being able to pray in private and counsel in private. Right now the consequences are not readily apparent. Blackmail will change that. Dissenting views will not only be banished from the press, but also from our homes. The courts will not hear us plead for liberty of conscience when the time comes. Some of this is inevitable, but we can fight to make the best of the situation and try to save those that have yet to be reached. This is where I come from in the privacy debate. I am a Christian, historian and techie that desires to benefit others, and in my eyes keeping privacy is one way of doing that.