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C H A P T E R 9 o PRIVACY LOST The plethora of books that proclaim its death imply that privacy has been slowly wasting away over time. It is as if there once was a Garden of Eden of privacy, an unspoiled world that was free of prying eyes where people went about their daily life hidden in a shroud of anonymity . Only after taking a bite out of the forbidden fruit of the technology age with its databases and surveillance cameras were people cast out of paradise into a world that exposed their nakedness. One privacy advocate admits the existence of this view: A further central, and more controversial, assumption in the privacy debate is that privacy is something that ‘‘we’’ once had, but now it is something that public and private organizations employing the latest information and communications technologies are denying us. This theme is represented in a large corpus of polemical literature in which Orwellian metaphors and imagery are prolific, even though ‘‘1984’’ came and went without any palpable change in the attention paid to privacy questions. Continually over the last thirty years publishers in North America, Britain and elsewhere have been attracted by this more polemical genre. The contexts may change, the technologies may evolve, but the message is essentially the same: Privacy is eroding, dying, vanishing, receding, and so on. Despite privacy laws, conventions, codes, oversight agencies and international agreements, some have argued that privacy is something of the past, to the extent that one prominent business leader could proclaim, in a much-quoted statement, ‘‘You have zero privacy anyway ; get over it!1 PAGE 130 130 .......................... 10897$ $CH9 08-31-04 10:09:39 PS Privacy Lost 131 • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • Privacy in Early America Is there any truth to the idea that privacy has eroded over time? Historical accounts of early American life tend to challenge this notion. David Flaherty’s Privacy in Colonial New England, an exhaustive study of life among Puritan settlers in New England, provides some insight into the state of privacy in early America. The Pilgrims, who sailed from England on the Mayflower and landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620, established the Puritans in America. The primary purpose of their trip to the New World was to escape religious persecution by the Church of England. The Puritans, for whom religion was a cornerstone of life, believed in a rejection of worldly values and strict adherence to the principles of the Bible. Failure to adhere to inflexible rules of community behavior could result in punishment by the church and possibly an eternity of torture in Hell, according to fireand -brimstone sermons given by Puritan ministers like Jonathan Edwards. To ensure that members of the community were not tempted by the Devil, the church encouraged neighbors to be on the lookout for sinful behavior. The clergy encouraged people to spy and inform on those who violated community standards. As a result, very little in daily life escaped constant surveillance and prying eyes in Puritan communities. According to Flaherty, while privacy was desired, it was in conflict with the expectation of community scrutiny. Puritans were encouraged to subordinate privacy to the more pressing purpose of collaborating in the creation of a City Set upon a Hill for the edification of the rest of humanity. The implements of this communal spirit were a pervasive moralism, the concept of watchfulness, the encouragement of mutual surveillance, and the suppression of self to community goals. A search for privacy could be a threat to the spirit of the community, which was so strong in early generations in the New World. Towns should be established and run in a collective, cohesive, and communitarian fashion. Parents should carefully regulate behavior within their families for the suppression of evils and the advancement of Puritan ideals. The Puritan concept of the righteous life should be enacted into statutes, and these laws properly enforced, even if this enforcement required some lessening of personal privacy through the use of surveillance techniques.2 One method the Puritans used to enforce these ideals was the use of surveillance networks such as the town ‘‘nightwatch.’’ Village residents PAGE 131 .......................... 10897$ $CH9 08-31-04 10:09:39 PS 132 Chapter 9 • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • who served in this capacity would wander around looking for people outside after dark, a prohibition in many towns. Watchmen on the lookout for disorderly or suspicious activity, such as drinking or skipping church, could tap into a network of informants who were paid to...


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