Privacy: Is it dead?

October 1, 2019   ·   0 Comments

By Anthony Carnovale

I’ve been off social media for about a month now; I don’t miss it. In the short time since I’ve turned my back on Twitter, pulled the shutters on Instagram and closed the book on Facebook, I’ve come to feel a little more grounded. I feel more like the me before I became @anthonycarno. I think, deep down, we all know what social media is doing to us. We just can’t seem to give it up. 

I quit Facebook because I started to see what all the likes and shares were worth – not much. I quit Twitter because I got tired of the sanctimonious nonsense. Instagram is just another platform for a person seeking instant gratification. It all seemed so shallow and vain and juvenile. It reminded me of my children when they’re so desperately trying to get my attention: “Daddy, look at me! Look at me! Please, look at me!” Well, I grew tired of looking at all of YOU. 

I also started questioning people’s motivations when they shared something online. People grieved; people celebrated. I asked myself: are they grieving or are they just looking for sympathy? I remember a post where a family member admitted that that she was considering having a preventive double mastectomy (inspired by Angelina Jolie). I knew she wouldn’t do it; she was crying out for people’s attention. People liked her post. They told her how brave she was; how inspiring she was. In the end, she didn’t do it. 

I couldn’t help but laugh when the moderator of a local Facebook community group posted anonymous requests on behalf of members of the group; people looking for medical advice; marriage advice. I get that people need help, but to share your secret with the moderator of a Facebook group was confounding to me. Who was this guy? Why did these people feel that they could trust somebody they didn’t even know? When I asked the moderator about his role, and if he thought it was strange that people put so much trust into him, he banned me from the group. 

I remember a 10K run around Island Lake. I was just about finished when I had a thought, a good idea, and I immediately wanted to share it on Facebook. I stopped in my tracks.  Why was it necessary for me to post a thought, a thought that I had in my own time, my own space, in my own head, with people I hardly knew? 

I remember gasping when a local teacher declared on her Twitter feed, “Privacy is dead, people. Get used to it!” I tweeted back that it was the stupidest thing I had ever heard. 

My question is this: what happened to privacy? If experts believe that privacy is important for our personal growth and development, why do so few of us value it? When did privacy became something worthless? 

Around the same time I abandoned social media, I was walking along Broadway. I spied people in their cars, people walking to and from. It was a beautiful day. As I stood waiting for the light to change I noticed the CCTV cameras that are mounted at the intersection of Mill Street and Broadway. I was surprised to see them there. I wanted to know why they were there.  They had an ominous presence. I had been thinking about surveillance cameras and privacy for some time. It was a good time to start asking questions. 

I looked for information on the Canadian Privacy Commission and the Ontario Privacy Commission websites. If a citizen had concerns about the governance of surveillance cameras in public spaces, they provided a list of questions that could be directed to local elected officials. Here are a few: are there any signs posted notifying the public that the areas are being monitored by CCTV? Was there ever an official announcement made to the public that the cameras were going to be installed? Did the public have the chance to raise any issues or concerns regarding the installation of the cameras? Was there anything like a ‘Privacy Impact Assessment’ completed before the cameras were installed? Does the town have a written policy governing the use of surveillance equipment?; Who has access to the footage?

I’ve started to ask these questions. I’ve spoken to the BIA and the Orangeville Police Service. I have spoken to the by-law office and elected officials. Their response to the above questions, and their lack of concern for our right to privacy is discomfiting (I will share these responses in a future column). It would appear that very little thought has gone into the implementation and governance of this surveillance equipment. Very little thought has gone into my rights to privacy. 

Personally, I’ve grown weary of being watched. There are cameras at gyms, parking lots and retail stores. Every website I visit uses cookies; every app I download has access to my personal information. Google reads our emails; Amazon sells my data. 

Knowing that the cameras are downtown has changed my behavior. I am now aware that my actions are being recorded. I’m being watched, surveilled. I’m annoyed. Think about it: what’s the first thing you do when a camera is pointed at you? You change. 

 I know some of you are rolling your eyes at me. You’re saying: privacy doesn’t matter if you have nothing to hide. I think we all have something to hide. We close the door when we go to the bathroom. We leave the room for an important phone-call. We have passwords on our phone. We draw the curtains at night. We have important conversations when they kids are in bed. We find a quiet place to speak to a loved one. We keep our visits to the doctor a secret. Just today, did you pick your nose? Change clothes? Have sex? Take a shower? Sing off-key in the car on the way to work? Or, maybe you sent an email or text message, a racy photo on Snapchat, or said something inflammatory about your boss. A flirty message to an old friend. 

We all want privacy.

Some of you think that surveillance is a good thing if it fights crime and keeps us safe. In fact, there is little evidence to suggest that surveillance cameras curtail crime. And there are those of you who just don’t care (one former councillor admitted to me that the town needs more cameras). 

If you think privacy is not important to you, consider the words of Edward Snowden: Arguing that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide, is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say. 

Perhaps that teacher was right. I get that privacy as we knew it, is dead. However, I don’t have to accept it. And neither should you. 

I want to know who’s watching me. 

Readers Comments (0)

Please note: Comment moderation is enabled and may delay your comment. There is no need to resubmit your comment.