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Spooks in our machines: What does privacy really mean?

Whoever invented the front door has a lot to answer for. After that we had locks on bedrooms, dressing screens, and an increasing expectancy that people should knock, and wait to be invited, before stumbling into our lives.
Not that anyone at this particular public relations agency in Manchester is complaining. None of us are naturists, last time we checked, and the pitfalls of modern society mean not having the option to use a five-lever mortice is bad for insurance.
But what does privacy really mean these days? Recent months have seen so many worrying revelations hit the news- most of which we suspected but could never prove- suggesting the concept is a complete myth. The sheer volume of technology we rely on has made it easier for powers that be to keep an eye over our actions. And it doesn’t help matters that we have never been more open with our information. Data Protection Act or not, we share what we’re doing, and where, every time we interact online with the location services turned on.
It’s important to be clear on something before this goes any further. Here at Smoking Gun PR, invasion of privacy, hacking, spying, and any other tactic used to gain personal information about a person is not condoned. But then what would everyone be saying if such measures weren’t being taken in some way shape or form. This week LinkedIn announced it was taking the U.S. Government to court over transparency, and rightly so. However, the number of accounts affected in the first half of this year by requests for data and details was 93, from a total membership in the millions.
The point being that we can’t have freedom, peace of mind, and privacy without some compromise. And, ultimately, many of the individuals expressing outrage do so from a moral standpoint. Few of us have anything significant to hide, other than from our close relations or work colleagues. Especially on the kind of level NSA and GCHQ would take an interest in. Mark Zuckerberg put it best yesterday; really the scandal surrounding this entire matter has been an example of how not to handle a country’s public relations, rather than the destruction of a liberal utopian society in which nobody monitors anything and the system is built on trust. Which brings us to the second issue.
Britain and America’s approach to coming clean about the entire affair- from insisting national papers destroy whistleblower’s laptops to a complete lack of concrete reassurances, combined with the U.K.’s further decision to propose (separate) censorship of the web- has been catastrophic. If we weren’t worried about the future and civil rights before, we certainly are now- not least as what’s currently quite clearly designed as a procedure to monitor tomorrow’s super criminals today could easily turn into a bona-fide surveillance state.
This problem goes much further than this, though. By not only failing to straighten out the story as to what exactly is going on, but also refusing to engage in rhetoric on how spying can and does offer protection for people, ignoring the need to consult with the population on this issue, and explaining nothing, administrations on both sides of the Atlantic have completely skipped over the most important chapter in the modern PR handbook. Namely transparency, and two way conversations- the only two sure fire ways to ensure damage limitation when the fires break out.

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