The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Tag: newseum

The Balance Between Privacy and Security

On the whiteboard, there are several phrases that are indicative of opinions that side with either privacy or security. Most notably, there is a quote from Benjamin Franklin that reads “those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” In this quote, Franklin seems to express a pro-privacy viewpoint, and is saying that people who give up the essential right to liberty and just blindly go along with any policy that takes away privacy in the name of security should have neither privacy nor security. There are also other snippets that express pro-privacy viewpoints, such as “don’t take our freedom away” and what seems like “…fear of freedom being taken advantage of.”

On the other hand, some phrases supported a pro-security argument. “As much as necessary to feel safe” suggests that the writer is willing to give up all of their privacy if it meant adequate security, which is similar to the view that Marcus’s dad holds in Little Brother. Another quote that stuck out was “we have nothing to hide,” which is a major argument that pro-security activists use. If we have nothing to hide, then theoretically we shouldn’t fear surveillance, but who’d want surveillance watching our every move, even if the actions are completely normal?

Another thing I noticed about the whiteboard is that for the most part, people used it as a medium for expressions that had nothing to do with the topic at hand. Many people just wrote their name or their Snapchats, or the numerous generic quotes about love, hate, and life. On an unmoderated forum, it’s in human nature to say whatever they want as long as they know that they will remain anonymous. It also shows that a lot of people simply don’t really care about the whole privacy vs. security debate, and would rather write something completely irrelevant to the question than express their opinion on the topic.

The High Price of Safety

I believe that the whiteboard exhibition at the Newseum was nothing less than a work of art. While it appears to be a forum for people to share their viewpoints, it also shows the array of opinions held by different people with different mindsets. Just in the given display, we see one person uncomfortable with sharing his location and personal texts while another finds it reasonable for the government to go through his phone records and texts. Another still uses a quote to imply that giving up your privacy for security makes you unworthy of both privacy and security. Such conflicting viewpoints serve to be an illustration of just how difficult it can be to find a reasonable compromise.

To answer the question asked by the display, I feel that I am comfortable with giving the government as much information as they need as long as it bears no repercussion in my day to day life. If the the government can guarantee that the information will remain confidential, I don’t see why I should be bothered about a stranger going through my phone records. The only flaw I see in adopting the aforementioned approach is the implications of the false positives. Given the current state of technology and surveillance, the number of false positives generated would cause a majority of people to face intervention by the government even when they are innocent. This can be problematic as it directly counters the ideas of safety and security since these victims can feel targeted by the very government they chose to protect them.



Compromising: The Best Solution to a Difficult Problem

On the privacy versus security display at the Newseum, the responses to “What would you give up to feel safer?” run the gamut from those who feel that they have nothing to hide, to those who believe that privacy is too important to sacrifice.

However, the Benjamin Franklin quote in particular caught my eye since I had never heard that before, and I thought that was a striking way of summarizing the pro-privacy position, especially hundreds of years before the advent of electronic surveillance. After a quick Google search, it became clear that his quote has been misused. He wasn’t speaking about government surveillance at the time; instead, Franklin’s letter was about a tax dispute between the state legislature and the colonial government during a period of French and Indian attacks. In fact, the “essential liberty” Franklin was referring to was not an individual liberty, but actually the freedom of the government to provide security to the people. In this way, Franklin’s argument has been fundamentally misunderstood; if anything, he is clearly in favor of the government ensuring the security of the people, although his stance on the relative importance of privacy is unclear.

The majority of responses on the board though don’t fall strictly on one side of the debate. They think it is best to strike a balance between surveillance (i.e. security) and privacy. Even the most radical advocates of privacy or surveillance must recognize that this is the most likely outcome in reality, since outspoken members on both sides will push back against the efforts of the opposite side once they try to tip the scales too much in their favor. I thought this was the main takeaway from the exhibit: there are people with strong convictions on both sides of the argument, and they will all fight for what they think provides the most benefit. Even if only one side can be correct in theory, in practice, we must strike a delicate balance between surveillance and privacy to keep everyone happy, free, and safe.

Newseum Privacy vs Security Debate

I thought that this photo was very interesting since it captured a lot of the same thoughts that was as a class had after reading Big Brother. It also reminded me a lot of those word maps/clouds that show the frequency of words in a given text. I saw the word privacy pop up a lot, but I didn’t see so much about Security. Another very interesting thing on the board that was kind of hard to read was the Benjamin Franklin quote. He said that “those who give up essential liberty for a little bit of security deserve neither security nor Liberty.” I thought that this was a very powerful quote that relates to the topic, and I also think that Cory Doctorow would very much agree with it. I think that the governmental agencies that collect data get a bad reputation to a certain extent. I think that it is very unlikely that I have an FBI agent devoted to monitoring my life. What is more likely is that my data is being used to create a large sample of data which may be helpful to them. I forget the name of the trick, and I can’t find it online, but I know that in accounting if the number of 1’s that start the numbers in the books is off by a few standard deviations, then it is likely that someone has cooked the books. Terrorism may be much more difficult, but there may be situations like these where it is useful to have metadata.

What do people find important in the debate over security vs privacy?

The question that was asked on this display at the Newseum was similar to the one we were asked on the first day of class. We were asked if we agreed or disagreed with giving up our privacy for more security. This question takes it a step further, and asks specifically what people would give up for that extra security. There were some expected responses that I saw, like “Text messages + phone records”, “Freedom”, and also a few other random answers that didn’t really contribute to the purpose or message of the display. There were two that I saw that stood out though. One was “as much as necessary to feel safe”. The other was the Benjamin Franklin quote, that said “Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty or safety”.

These two responses stood out to me because they seem to fall on the two sides of the privacy vs security debate. The first one reminds me of a few of the characters from Little Brother who were on the pro-security side. Characters like Marcus’s dad and Charles has the same mindset as this viewpoint. Marcus’s dad felt okay with complying with anything the DHS said as long as it made him feel like he was safer. If it cost him an extra 2 hours going to and from work, then so be it. Even the hassle of being stopped by police for no reason was not enough to faze him. As long as the DHS was trying to catch terrorists, any violation of privacy was okay.

The other response reminds me of the argument that Marcus, Charles, and Mrs. Andersen had during their class period. Mrs. Andersen said something along the lines of “our founding fathers intended for the constitution to change over time as viewpoints changed”. The Benjamin Franklin quote makes me feel as if this might not be entirely true, or at least not to the extent of what Mrs. Andersen said. I think they expected times to change, but some things were essential to a well-working government, and one of these was respect of the citizens privacy. On the other side, citizens shouldn’t even have to consider giving up their liberties, but if they were given that choice, the founding fathers still believed that their liberty is more important.


An Even Mix!

With an even mix of pro-security and pro-privacy statements, this display reminds me of how half-and-half the country is on the privacy versus security debate which always intrigues me. No matter where or when the question is asked excluding the aftermaths of a few terrorist attacks, people always seem to be divided evenly between both sides. Even the majority of aftermaths of terrorist attacks after November 11, 2001 seemed to have been met with mixed responses such as the ones shown on this display.

Now something else from this display caught even more of my attention. Giving me a feeling of déjà vu, what caught my attention was Benjamin Franklin’s quote: “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” The reason this lonesome quote stood out to me is because I have noticed that it serves as the backbone for many pro-privacy arguments including my own which I recently submitted in an essay.

However, as another classmate with the username, “BROWKM10,” has already mentioned, the context of Benjamin Franklin’s statement had nothing to do with privacy at all. If that is the case, some may question whether the quote has any relevance in a privacy versus security debate. I still say “yes, it does!” Regardless of its context, the quote has a meaning flexible enough to be applied to a 21st century debate on privacy versus security. If historians are saying how its context has been lost, then it shall stay lost because quotes are not restricted to their context.

Overall, I was a little surprised by how many people said they were willing to give up some of their private records to feel safe, but I was also pleased by how divided people were on this issue. I would rather see an even debate where I can hear a good bit of each side rather than a swayed debate where all I hear is a loud majority.

Privacy vs Secur–does it even have to be something versus something?

On the Newseum board, there are a lot of arguments for pro-privacy. At the same time, there is another compelling argument to take as much as it has to in order to make people feel safe. 

I feel like people come from many different sides when they are voicing their opinions; their personal experiences in their own lives have shaped their beliefs and has compelled them to draw themselves to one particular side of this argument. One interesting point to notice is: why does there have to be a fine line separating pro-privacy vs pro-security? I believe we can have a healthy mixture of both. It’s when people divide crucial and sensitive topics like this into two distinct sides, that conflicts arise. Security and privacy can go hand-in-hand in some cases, but immediately saying that it is a rivalry where one decision should be better than the other forces people to choose sides even though they have beliefs belonging to both sides. Some people are willing to give up a bit of their privacy because they value their safety over anything (maybe they haven’t experienced an invasion of their privacy and don’t know the frustration of that). Some people are very protective of their privacy and believe that our privacy should be something inherent like freedom of speech (however, they might not have directly experienced a terrorist attack or danger where they’ve feared for their lives and know that government intervention will save lives and prevent terrorism). 

In general, we do have a lot of positive vibes on the board, such as “love not hate” and “good not evil.” Also, I found the quote “living life is an honor, don’t take our freedom away” an interesting quote. Here, we see someone who values life and probably also safety, I’m assuming. In addition to that, they also don’t want their freedom to be taken away. Perhaps that’s referring to freedom of having a private life? Freedom looks like it comes in two ways: the freedom in safety and freedom of having a private life. Which one do you prefer? Maybe both?

Is There an Answer?

Looking at this display from the Newseum, the thing that stood out most to me on the board was the person who wrote that they would sacrifice “some privacy.” Personally, this makes me wonder what part of privacy this person was referring to. Were they referring to texts, phone calls, emails, their location, or something else? Where is the line drawn? When does safety overrule privacy, and when does privacy once again become the priority?

It seems to me that there is a very fine line between what we are and are not willing to sacrifice for safety. For example, one person wrote that they wouldn’t want the government to have access to their location. Another person wrote that they would sacrifice “as much as necessary to feel safe.” It is difficult, if not impossible, to define an amount of privacy that everyone is willing give up for safety’s sake. Something that makes one person feel safer, such as mass surveillance of internet search histories, may cause someone else to feel less safe and uncomfortable. In cases like those, who do we choose? Either choice causes someone to feel unsafe. Which person’s safety is of a higher value?

Perhaps the answer is that there is no answer. Perhaps it is impossible to have everyone feel safe at the same time. Some will claim that mass surveillance and legislation like the Patriot Act make people safer. They help the government to catch terrorists and others who intend to inflict harm. However, these methods make some people feel less safe. If the government or anyone else was to abuse this power, or misuse this data, there could be serious repercussions. Is there a line that can clearly be defined; this is an acceptable invasion of privacy, but this is going too far? Until we can answer this, the debate of security vs. privacy will continue.

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