Dear Dilbert: Please tell your pointy headed boss that privacy is not dead yet

Scott Adams recently penned an essay on why he thinks privacy is dead. Here’s why he’s dead wrong.

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There are other bits of information that are not public but are accessible to government and some private entities – like social security numbers and driving records. My bank or insurance company can easily find these things out; my neighbor, not so much. There are good reasons for that too. In this case, there are laws regulating who can legally get at this information and who can’t.

In fact, there are laws regulating the government in this regard. Uncle Sam can’t just pull any information he wants about you for any reason; he’s got to have a good reason, and he’s almost always got to prove it to a judge.

That doesn’t mean law enforcement doesn’t abuse this privilege to get at information it has no right to see, or that judges don’t agree too easily with these kinds of requests. Both of those things happen. But again, that’s selective disclosure – it’s not public information – and it’s regulated. Abuses are the exception, not the rule.

Adams goes on to talk about surveillance cameras and license plate cameras in toll booths that can track your location. Again, this is not information that should be shared widely – and if it is, the organization that’s sharing it usually catches some heat. (Though location privacy is an extremely large hole in our legal fabric, one that needs to be sewn up, and soon.)

Then Adams loses it entirely by talking about how the whole concept of an Orwellian Big Brother is passe.

The Big Brother concept seems a lot like the bogey man. It isn't a real risk to law-abiding citizens; it just feels like one. Some would argue that while the government of the United States in its current form is unlikely to flagrantly abuse your private information and get away with it for long, that situation could change, as it did in Hitler's Germany. I would counter by noting that any argument that uses a Hitler analogy is self-refuting.

For the benefit of the absolutists reading this, I will agree that the odds of the U.S. Government becoming Nazi-like are non-zero. But you have the same odds of being hit by a meteor, and you don't modify your life to avoid meteors. Likewise, you probably shouldn't modify your life because you fear the government might go Nazi. Just relax, enjoy the promise of technology, and stop worrying about Big Brother.

First, I think the citizens of China, Iran, Syria, North Korea, Eqypt, Turkey, Libya, Pakistan, and the other governments that have used the Internet to track down enemies of the state would all disagree with him. “Law abiding” exists entirely within the eyes of whoever is defining the law at that moment. Hitler is dead, but fascism and its close cousins are alive and kicking.

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