Why Free Speech Is Even More Important Than Privacy

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Supporters of the EU’s horrific “Right To Be Forgotten” (RTBF) generally make the implicit (and sometimes explicit) argument that privacy must take precedence over free speech.

As a privacy advocate for many years (I created my ongoing PRIVACY Forum in 1992) you might expect that I’d have at least some sympathy for that position.

Such an assumption would be incorrect. At least in the context of censorship in general — and of RTBF in particular — I disagree strongly with such assertions.

It’s not because privacy is unimportant. In fact, I feel that free speech is more important than privacy precisely because privacy itself is so important!

It’s all a matter of what you know, what you don’t know, and what you don’t know that you don’t know.

Basically, there are two categories of censorship.

The first consists largely of materials that you know exist, but that you are forbidden by (usually government) edict from accessing. Such items may in practice be difficult to obtain, or simple to obtain, but in either case may carry significant legal penalties if you actually obtain them (or in some cases, even try to obtain them). An obvious example of this category is sexually-explicit materials of various sorts around the world.

Ironically, while this category could encompass everything from classic erotic literature to the most depraved pornography involving children, overall it is the lesser insidious form of censorship, since at least you know that it exists.

The even more evil type of censorship — the sort that is fundamental to the “Right To be Forgotten” concept and an essential element of George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four” — is the effort to hide actual information in a manner that would prevent you from even knowing that it exists in the first place.

Whether it’s a war with “Eastasia” or a personal past that someone would prefer that you not know about, the goal is for you not to realize, to not even suspect, that some negative information is out there that you might consider to be relevant and important.

Combine this with the escalating RTBF demands of France and other countries for global censorship powers over Google’s and other firms’ search results, and it becomes clear why privacy itself can be decimated under RTBF and similar forms of censorship.

Because if individual governments — some of whom already impose draconian information controls domestically — gain global censorship powers, we can’t possibly assume that we even know what’s really going on in respect to negative impacts on our privacy!

In other words, RTBF and similar forms of censorship can act to hide from us the very existence of entities, facts and efforts that could be directly damaging to our privacy in a myriad number of ways.  And if we don’t know that these even exist, how can we possibly make informed evaluations of our privacy and the privacy of our loved ones?

To make matters worse, much of this applies not only to privacy issues, but to an array of crucial security issues as well.

Attempting to maintain privacy and security in a regime of global censorship designed to hide facts from the public — irrespective of the occasionally laudable motives for such actions in some specific cases — is like trying to build a skyscraper on a foundation of quicksand.

You don’t need to be an architect, a computer scientist — or a privacy expert — to recognize the insanity of such an approach.

–Lauren–
I have consulted to Google, but I am not currently doing so — my opinions expressed here are mine alone.

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