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The Issue Is Accountability, Not Privacy

One of my favorite movies was on the other day -- "Enemy of the State" with Will Smith. In the end of course Will Smith the individual wins out. He is better than the bureaucratic machine and its All-Seeing Eye.

We are in the midst of a national and international freakout over privacy. But we long ago accepted that privacy was dead. We signed that agreement when we signed up for Facebook, Google, LinkedIn and all those other sites that collect our information and keep it in some mysterious place we’ve never heard of.

If we were worried about our privacy it seems that ship has long ago sailed. Do we not have health records in the doctor’s office and/or hospital? Do our employers keep files on us? Our schools?

What about those apps where you “check in” no matter where you are, like Foursquare. (I assume I am the Queen of the McDonald’s drive-through right now since my addiction to the egg-white and and white cheddar sandwich, hold the turkey bacon please, now reigns supreme.)

Forget Foursquare – how many times does your iPhone ask, “Can I use your location?” when you open an app, like a directions app that gets you from where you are to the meeting you are late for?

People check Facebook first thing in the morning before they brush their teeth.

The same people also take pictures of themselves and share them on FB, Instagram, Twitter. Some of those pictures are not suitable for work consumption and so for example even the Internet companies will warn you, please don’t post graphic profile pictures.

YouTube has made it way too easy to take a video of every imaginable thing and put it online.

So we don’t care about privacy. In fact many people don’t consider an event an event until they have posted a photo online.

We care about national security. We are willing to give up privacy to have it. What is the alternative? Do we want to be invaded or cyberattacked first, and then have to fight to gain what we had? Of course not.

It is commonplace for movies and TV shows nowadays to demonstrate the Surveillance State. How it forms a virtual dragnet, an invisible web that we don’t want to talk about but that we rely upon every single day.

We are grateful to the military and the government for our security. I believe that.

Abuse of power is another matter. Accountability for that. We demand it. And we want to trust that everything is OK, but when it’s not OK and we can’t ignore it anymore, then we have to do something.

That’s where the national psyche is right now.

If I had to guess what people are feeling it is something like this:

We can’t tell exactly who is responsible or where it went wrong – but something is very wrong.

We don’t like the direction things are going in.

We don’t like the feeling that we’re not being told the truth.

We don’t like it that innocent Americans are being targeted, railroaded, surveilled apparently at whim.

We don’t like it that government is not accountable.

That magical promise of transparency – where is it?

We have seen abuse in every imaginable social institution, from religion to education to healthcare and yes, in government too. In the family.

We cannot tolerate it.

It is time to shift the communication focus away from privacy, where it does not belong and cannot rest, to accountability and abuse of power.

Who is watching? Are they truly independent? What are their findings, where is the accountability and where is the reward for doing right?

When an institution abuses its power and is called out – the right thing to do is to communicate accountability. It is accountability that engenders public trust. When trust is earned, then power can be exercised.

Communication is a critical tool for any organization, institution or individual. But it doesn’t help unless it hits the mark. The issue right now is not a fear of losing privacy. It is a bigger fear that we have lost control of our lives to the Machine.

* As always, all opinions my own.


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