All Along the Watchtower

Allstate’s Senior Vice President of Public Relations Marci Kaminsky opened the floor at the Newseum’s Knight Conference Center for a discussion on “Transparency in the New Economy” by reassuring the audience that the talk was planned in advance of the recent privacy debacles concerning the IRS and the NSA. The irony of the lecture’s scheduling serves as a reminder that the issue of privacy in a technology-driven world, although more or less physically intangible, gains momentum and yields real repercussions for Americans every day.

In a capstone to illustrate the growing importance of the issue of privacy, the headlining debut of Heartland Monitor’s 17th quarterly poll disclosed a prevailing discomfort among Americans about information sharing, as well as the lag time in innovation between increasingly “smarter” technology and adequately stringent privacy measures. In presenting the data, Edward Reilly, global CEO of Strategic Communications at FTI Consulting, highlighted a key finding of a “negative gut reaction to big data” among 1000 respondents surveyed between May 29th and June 2nd of 2013—just 4 days before the controversial release of Edward Snowden’s report on the government’s PRISM program in The Washington Post and the Guardian.

We know what is going on when we go online, but we do not really know if that means we should change it. Perhaps the most surprising—and maybe even reassuring—statistic of the day showed an overwhelming 79 percent of Americans believe that the recent IRS scandal is only a reflection of a “typical or ongoing practice” among various administrations on each side of the political bar. Only 16 percent really thought it was a “first time occurrence”. It seems that we have a practical tolerance for a certain level of surveillance at an organizational level, but a hypersensitivity to reports of constant collection of mass data by the government through consumer services like Verizon and Google. Perhaps it is the idea of the behavior that scares us more.

We have though, for the most part, already objectively come to understand that privacy can never truly be all-encompassing in today’s reality. Whatever the motive, our information is being used “somewhere, by someone”—and we are partially complicit. The question now rests in our wherewithal to take some responsibility for what we have already put out into the public domain, and whether or not the government will choose balanced parameters and standards for accountability.

Source: Diplomatic Courier