Why Privacy Matters (Proof-of-take #006)

Proof-of-Take: a dose of perspective and context in the world of Bitcoin

I have some bad news: you’re currently a prisoner. So am I. And the worst part is, we don’t even know it. Modern surveillance is our warden.

Privacy in most parts of our lives has been chipped away. We’re constantly being surveilled.

  • Some of this happens through straight-up, “1984” style government surveillance: The Patriot Act, the modern banking system and Edward Snowden / NSA.

  • Some of it happens by tech companies: Google stores your search history, Facebook profits from your data, and Ashley Madison records all of your infidelities 🍆.

  • And some of it happens via changing cultural norms. We’re in the age of oversharing. It’s expected for people to put their entire family albums on Instagram, their thoughts on Twitter, and not uncommon for emails and texts to show up on the front page of the New York Times.

So, what’s the big deal? You might be thinking “Yeah, I don’t love that the NSA is spying on me, and that Google and Facebook know everything about me, but I’m harmless, so I’m okay with it.”

This mindset is dangerously misguided. Because it has the logic exactly backwards. You’re not agreeing to surveillance because you’re harmless, you’re harmless because you’re being surveilled.

Today, we live in a Panopticon. The Panopticon was a surveillance invention from the 1700s designed for prisons. It’s an enormous tower at the center of the prison where those in power could, at any moment watch any inmate. Although they couldn't watch all inmates all the time, the inmates couldn’t see into the Panopticon, so they never knew if they were being watched or even when. They rationally assumed they were always being watched.

Science tells us that if somebody knows they’re being watched, their behavior changes. Today, we’re always being watched watched. So today, behavior is always being changed. And the worst part is that this happens subconsciously— we don’t realize this is happening.

I can’t say it any better than this TedTalk on Privacy by Alan Greenwald. If you remember one thing from this post, remember this:

Surveillance creates a prison in the mind that is a more subtle and effective means of fostering compliance with social norms or with social orthodoxy. It’s much more effective than brute force could ever be.

When we live in surveillance, we subconsciously decide that certain behavioral choices are off-limits, without even knowing we’re making that choice.

Whenever voting season gets close, a social pressure emerges. People proudly don their “I Voted” stickers, and those who don’t vote are often chastised by those who did. Sayings like:

  • “It’s your democratic duty to vote”

  • “People died so you could vote”

  • “What if everyone thought like you?”

I’m not here to argue with any of the above. But what if the energy channeled into promoting voting was instead channeled into privacy? Like voting, privacy is essential for our democracy, freedom of expression, and inalienable rights. And while we vote (or don’t) every two years, we need, and (surrender), our privacy every. single. day.

So what does this have to do with Bitcoin? Well, everything. Bitcoin is the love child of the 2001 Patriot Act and the 2008 Financial Crisis. Financial surveillance is one of the government’s most powerful tools. Everything from political donations to medical purchases is viewable by those in power. And as paper cash dies out, and all money becomes digital, that power grows exponentially. Bitcoin offers an alternative.

I’ll end on a more hopeful note from the TedTalk:

Humans are social creatures. We crave companionship, approval, and love from others.

But equally essential to what it means to be a free and fulfilled human being is to have a place that we can go and be free of the judgmental eyes of other people.

Thank you for reading! Like it? Hate it? Still processing it? Please share it with a friend or enemy, and tell me why I’m wrong. Let’s continue the conversation; the best way to reach me is on Twitter — I’m @CantHardyWait.