Private Matters

Jokes about the NSA reading your email are pretty common place today, but most of us assume that the government agency would have no interests in our daily lives. The numbers beg to differ.

Several web and telecom service providers released reports on the number of user accounts that have had their contents sent to government agencies for investigation, Mashable reported Thursday.

The numbers are a little different for Verizon, Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Tumblr, Microsoft and AT&T. All of the data was collected under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). As Mashable explains:

“The act allows for extensive electronic evidence to be gathered about people suspected of being involved in terrorism or espionage, and requests are made through a special court whose findings are generally secret” (Orcutt, 2014)

And with such high numbers, it raises the question of what it takes to be suspected of being involved in terrorism or espionage? Just how many terrorist attacks will this privacy invasion prevent?

MIT Technology Review

MIT Technology Review

MIT Technology Review

MIT Technology Review

MIT Technology Review

MIT Technology Review

Seeing these numbers means that the nature of privacy is changing. To be fair, it changed the moment that the internet became widely accessible, but now we can see that there is little people  can hide from the all-seeing federal government without paying a hefty price.

ProPublica reporter Julia Angwin ventured to say that privacy is now a luxury good in the opinion pages of The New York Times this month (2014). Angwin focused more on the data mining aspect of the internet, but still her point stands: privacy is important to Americans but not a reality.

This idea of buying privacy isn’t exactly new. Sprawling estates, guards and advances security systems are something familiar only to the elite. The less fortunate are stuck with flimsy walls and cramped quarters, which are hardly conducive to a secretive lifestyle. But Angwin raises some good questions in her op-ed. The internet is often seen as an equalizer. In America, there is a fairly good chance for all to access it. But, as Angwin explains:

“As more privacy-protecting services pop up, we need to consider two important questions: Can we ensure that those who can afford to buy privacy services are not being deceived? And even more important, do we want privacy to be something that only those with disposable money and time can afford?” (2014).

Angwin said she spent $2,200 trying to protect her privacy last year (2014). And after wading into the ethical dilemma of paying for privacy, she cites government food regulation as a potential model to this question. But what do we do when our traditional outlet of protection is one of the biggest privacy violators?

Now is the time to act. The internet is still fairly new. While regulation isn’t always the answer, we need to take a serious look at how our data is collected, why it is collected and to what end it is used. If we discuss these problems now, we have a chance to lay a good foundation for the future. Privacy concerns are only going to get stickier from here.


Angwin, J. (2014, March 3). Has privacy become a luxury good?. The New York Times. Retrieved from

Orcutt, M. (2014, March 13). Tech companies reveal national security data requests. Mashable, Retrieved from


4 thoughts on “Private Matters

  1. It’s crazy (and a little sad) that it can take over $2,000 to protect your privacy. Privacy is definitely a luxury, and the things is, I’m not sure who actually has it. I have to say, I am one of those people who assume that the NSA would have no interest in my daily life (and by extension, my internet activity), so reading your post was a wake up call.


  2. $2,200!? It seems like a lot, but if you think about how much hackers are able to do, precautionary actions make a lot of sense. I agree, though, it is strange to think about how you have to pay for you privacy. Instead of paying so much would it not be better to keep your information offline? No, how would I online shop?


  3. Frighting stuff. This goes to show that our right to privacy is not a very secure right at all. The internet is still the wild frontier of human communication; we need to start understanding the rights we should have in the virtual world.


  4. I find the concept of privacy as a “luxury good” slightly ironic, considering those with the most luxury goods take the highest privacy risks. But this does leave your average middle class internet user (much, but not most, of the world) stuck. Definitely something we should be worried about.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s