Privacy is Power

February 7, 2017

Why the fight for privacy matters.

The desk I’m typing this on is a little wobbly. I adjusted the legs yesterday to be a little shorter after noticing the reason my wrists were hurting was because they were bent upward at an uncomfortable angle. My office at home is now clean and empty, after spending several hours the day before throwing away empty boxes of electronics that I for some reason found value in keeping.

I also finally fixed our “broken” bathroom door, which for the last three months wouldn’t shut all the way for some complex reason that I never took the time to investigate. Turns out it was a loose screw. Righty tighty.

Being in an existential crisis is surprisingly good for doing things around the house.

My latest bout with my brain’s reality was about the project I’m working on: a notes app that focuses on privacy. It encrypts your notes on your device before it sends it to the server. Why? For your privacy. Why? I don’t know.

And so it begins.

What’s the point, I cry.

What if this whole privacy wave we’re all swimming in ends up being shallow? What if this war we’re waging ends up being a cold war between ourselves and those we aim to hide information from, and it one day ceases to be the looming threat it is today? What if this monster we claim is out to eat our information turns out to be just a shadow?

The whispers begin pointing at me.

What if I’m putting all this time into this for nothing? I mean, do you even care about privacy?


But here, after being pushed to the bottom, I found a small strand of reason, and it reasoned with me:

Privacy isn’t about you. It’s about all of us. To worry about privacy today, even though you may have no compelling reason to, is one of the largest contributions you can make to the future of humankind and the nature of governance.

Privacy is about power. Many of us have taken a middle school course on civics, and the functioning of the U.S government. You know, three branches of government and checks and balances, or you may remember it as, like that’s ever going to come up.

Enter February 2017, when a federal judge single-handedly obstructed a controversial executive order. Oh.

We owe this balanced functioning of a government to the strong paranoia of several individuals 240 years ago, enacting what can be described as even ridiculous measures to ensure some abstract functioning of a government that hadn’t even begun yet.

None of these individuals reaped any tangible benefits from their actions and contributions in their lifetime. But without them, our lives and reality today would be very different.

Many of us are today exhausted worrying after our privacy, not knowing how to keep up with the newest trends in encrypted messaging apps or which new wire-tapping programs can monitor which type of software on what port over what technology.

And after the initial burst of adrenaline from hide-and-seek wears off, it’s easy to feel worn out, especially because we aren’t seeing any tangible benefits to our efforts.

But privacy isn’t just about you or me, and what immediate returns we may see on our investment. It’s about the future of power. Of ensuring a system of checks and balances between ourselves and our governments and other large entities. There is a reason the information we produce is so cherished by these entities, and they will fight till the end to make sure our information is in their control. And because these entities are already so much more powerful than the collective privacy conscious, self-doubt and defeat is a reoccurring event.

Battles may be lost, but never doubt the significance of this cause. A paranoia is in the air, like the paranoia of 1776. Don’t ignore it. Don’t believe it isn’t real. Don’t believe it’s not important.

You are creating a better future for the people of 2217.

And as humans who live comfortably today on the contributions and sacrifices of those before us, we owe it to contribute just as much to ensure a better life for our descendants. The fight for privacy will wage on for the next hundred years, and it starts with the actions, sacrifices, and decisions we make today.

Thanks for reading

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