Privacy is Your Responsibility
Guest post by Gabriel Custodiet
I appeared on the Watchman Privacy podcast the other day and invited host, Gabriel Custodiet (I think we can assume that’s not his real name), to write a guest post about privacy, a subject that, as you probably know, is close to my heart - in theory, if not in practice. (And therein lies the rub - privacy takes effort). Enjoy it. Plenty to ponder.
I’m Gabriel Custodiet. As a privacy author, consultant, and podcaster, I hear a lot of the following: ‘Help me be private.’ In the broader cultural sphere this plea sounds more like: ‘We need better privacy laws’ or ‘I have a right to privacy.’ There’s only one tiny problem with all of this: it’s metaphysically impossible. Privacy exists precisely when governments, fellow humans, and all third parties are not interfering with us: even to help. No one can grant you privacy; on the contrary, it exists when you are not being granted anything at all.
This explains why privacy is declining. We ask governments to give us more things and are somehow surprised when more things are taken. We ask governments to secure our privacy and in doing so erect bureaucracies that governs our interactions with our neighbours—something we could and should be handling ourselves.
Governments are all-to-eager to take the hint. They expand, they bloat, they erect spy agencies with budgets the size of small countries. They use your tax dollars to pay the $1,000,000 per month fee to run the NSA’s Utah Data Center. Just its electricity, mind you. You want a privacy law? The PATRIOT Act is a privacy law.
It amuses me how European Union citizens are shocked that they sometimes now have to give their real information to use online services that previously required no account. It turns out that when you pass a ‘privacy law’ like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that punishes companies for collecting information, those same companies start to disallow anonymous use for their own legal protection.
Stop to think about why in America tech companies have been eagerly helping various states to write their own privacy laws. Cui bono? But no, ignore all of that: go on and keep screaming about your ‘right to privacy.’ Oh wait, but give us a copy of your passport before you do that.
The only way to privacy is to do things yourself. Thomas Edison said that ‘opportunity is often missed because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.’ Doing things for yourself never was easy. Instead of a convenient invasive antivirus suite—which surveys your entire computer and reports back to the mothership—you have to practice good digital hygiene and learn to use a Linux distribution. Instead of outsourcing your basic website, you have to learn WordPress or HTML yourself. Instead of downloading spyware to ‘help you monitor your financial life’, you need to practice discipline or learn a basic LibreOffice spreadsheet. Instead of pulling out your phone for some Google Maps action you need to try to go a few places using that old dusty mechanism that you’ve sold for a shiny screen: your memory.
Some might think these methods inconvenient. As for me, I think having my personal information drained to be the much bigger inconvenience. Besides, you learn a lot more when you stop relying on the intermediaries, which in some cases are designed to make you compliant and useless.
Privacy means self-sovereignty. It means creating your own company to interact with clients instead of starting up a LinkedIn profile and haemorrhaging personal data to employers. It means giving up your credit cards in favour of cash, and keeping more cash, gold, and other assets secured and hidden on property you own. It means storing your personal files on a large hard drive instead of dumping them onto Dropbox to own them for you. It means testing the waters of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies in a self-custodial way instead of being squeezed by the fascistic lackeys of government in the financial sector. All while holding your own private keys, of course.
But privacy does not always require a heroic effort. You can start simply by not giving out your information so promiscuously. A basic rejection has long been missing in our interactions with others. ‘No I don’t give out that information.’ ‘Why do you need that?’ ‘Can I see your ID: just in case you’re a criminal?’ The bloke fixing your car at the garage doesn’t need to know your address. Even pull the license plate off beforehand, if you can. And pressing ‘next to continue’ reveals the actual mandatory information that a website needs of you.
Your privacy is your business. So long as we’re clear about that, I can feed you suggestions for things you must do yourself. I talk about methods of privacy through self-sovereignty in my podcast and in my privacy guide. Very few things are out-of-bounds at Watchman Privacy. Come on this journey with me, if you like. And my thanks to Dominic Frisby—who understands privacy better than most—for letting me speak to his audience.
Yours in peace and privacy,
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