Privacy? What privacy?

There are privacy threats much more deserving of attention than the supposed dangers of Facebook.

by Kate Nelson

What you’ve always suspected is true: Facebook is indeed making it easier for people to stalk you.

That mini-feed showing you updates about your friends and vice versa. The fact that soon anyone – literally anyone (well, as long as they’re in your network or on your friends list) – will be able to see information you’ve voluntarily placed online. Complete violation of your privacy.

For those who think the recent changes to Facebook have invaded their privacy, I offer this wake-up call.

Let me first shed some light as to the reality of the great American illusion that is the right to privacy.

The Constitution guarantees no such thing. The closest cousin to such a notion is the Fourth Amendment, which protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government. Additionally, state laws give one the power to sue over certain privacy issues.

So what does all this rambling mean to you? Well, this right so many Americans consider inalienable is far from it. Given the current socio-historical context and the constant evolution of technology, privacy simply does not exist in the romantic way so many of us view it to and hope it would.

Consider these examples, quite close to home.

On Sept. 1, the New York Times revealed that the U.S. Education Department gave the FBI data from student loan applications over five years. Deemed Project Strikeback and debuting after Sept. 11, 2001, the arrangement involved the Education Department handing over information like names, addresses and Social Security numbers at the FBI’s request.

In what the Daily deemed the “largest breach in the University’s data security in years,” two computers laden with student information were stolen in August. This included roughly 13,000 Institute of Technology students’ records – complete with names, addresses, phone numbers, University ID numbers and more.

Even more atrocious, 603 of these students learned their Social Security numbers had been stolen only after receiving letters from the University detailing how to prevent identity theft.

These threats to privacy and their effects are very real and are much more deserving of attention than the supposed dangers of Facebook. The notion that our “private” information is available to virtually anyone seeking it is not a possibility – it’s reality.

And I’m not talking about pictures of drunken endeavors uploaded during a Sunday hangover. The information so readily accessible is that which we mindlessly provide – through registrations, subscriptions, surveys, medical examinations and transactions – and assume will be handled in a professional and secure manner.

The solution to this issue is not joining another group about how stalkerish Facebook has become, nor is it cutting up your credit cards, canceling all your accounts and moving into the woods. Rather, it would behoove all of us to practice greater caution about to whom we give what information and to gain a better grasp of just what privacy is – and isn’t – today.

Kate Nelson welcomes comments at [email protected].