Francisco Murillo Kevin Cahill

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Francisco Murillo

Kevin Cahill

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Privacy Post 911

On September 11, 2001 America suffered one the worst terrorist attacks that the nation has ever experienced. Four commercial airplanes were hijacked and crashed into three predetermined locations by the terrorists. The fourth was retaken by the passengers and managed to steer the plane from its destination. Countless lives were lost that day and the entire nation was shaken. A lot of questions quickly followed after the attacked, the main one; “how could have this have happened?” The weeks that followed were laden with paranoia and fear. Americans wanted to feel safe again and were willing to sacrifice their personal privacy as the price. The Patriot Act was the solution to their needs. The law was passed under the Bush administration, which granted government agencies to tab and listen to what Americans were doing. The privacy of all Americans was now being violated by the government, but exactly is privacy? Privacy can be broken down into three components; space, object, and thought. These components that Americans considered their personal right to keep to themselves was now being viewed by the government. The respect of privacy was dramatically different before the events that occurred on 9/11. Before the attacks, citizens did not have to worry if their conversations were being monitored or if their emails were being screened. Americans fully practiced their right to privacy. Is the concept of privacy the same in different countries? How do our neighbors to the North, South and across the Atlantic interpret privacy? How do their unique cultures practice this concept? We need understand how privacy works and how it is practice to understand how it changed after 9/11.

In order to understand how privacy changed after the events of September 11, 2001 we need to understand what privacy is and what does it exactly mean. Privacy is defined as “the quality or state of being apart from company or observation” I am a twenty-one year old Mexican male and I was born into a Catholic family. To many people that means that the house that I grew up in did not have closed doors and privacy did not exist. I define privacy as the right to not share anything with anyone. I practice it by keeping my thoughts to myself and not sharing certain aspects of my life with people. Privacy in America is something that is highly valued and people are willing to take a life if private property is being violated. Laws have been written to protect people and their privacy. In a culture where privacy is akin to gold it is ironic that people choose to make their lives transparent in social media. On a larger scale the world and all of its different cultures form a quilt with each “patch” being different from the next in its interpretation of privacy. Privacy ranges from culture to culture, country to country. In America thick walls are a necessity when living home with several people, while in Japanese homes walls are literally paper-thin; nothing is a secret. It’s important to understand how our cultural counterparts practice privacy.

The concept of privacy is made up of three different components: space, object and thoughts. Space is something that is highly valued in the American culture. Space is something that is often recognized as property. To many defending this by any means necessary is something this is truly important. Private property is something that everyone is familiar with, it can be loosely defined as an area of land that belongs to someone in which they are free to deny access to anyone and do whatever they like as long as it legal. Laws have been instated where people can take defending their property into their own hands and in many cases people have taken this task as their own and have removed people who were trespassing. Court cases have been held in order to determine if defending one’s private property was lawful. Privacy is something that is highly valued to people of the American culture. Taking force into their own hands to defend it is not uncommon.

Privacy can also be manifested as something as an object. What that object is how it is kept private varies. Choosing to not share what’s yours or simply not making it visible to the public is a form of practicing privacy. Laws have been written into the constitution that defends the rights of the people from having their possessions ceased by law enforcement under circumstances and like privacy in the form of space, it has had several cases where the lines of privacy were cleared. Technology has provided a new factor in the realm of privacy. Many of the things that are created and stored away are now digital. This means that objects such as emails, photos, and even personal information are stored can be stored thousands of miles away in servers that are located in a basement of a building. Before if someone had a photograph that they did not want to share with the world that person could either throw it away or store it somewhere safe where only they could have access to it. Technology has changed the way we view privacy and what we do to protect our privacy online. iCloud is a service that Apple offers to their customers as a safe place to store their digital files and only the owners of those accounts have access to them. The “cloud” in reality is a several servers providing storage for thousands of users via accounts to their storage. Recently Apple’s iCloud service was hacked and several photos from different accounts were leaked to the web, are our personal objects safe in the digital realm or are we better off relying on “primitive” ways of object storing. What is being done to protect our privacy online?

Privacy has a third form and unlike the first two, third may not be so difficult to protect. Something has keeping a secret is form of thought based privacy. Information in the form of thoughts that are treated just the same as a photograph or private property. What one chooses to think about is completely up to that person. He or she is not required to tell anyone anything. Since the thoughts are not tangible they are protected from people getting to them. However, if one decides write down their thoughts are an object and can be treated the same; they do not have to shared or discussed with anyone. This is a form of privacy that we practice on a daily basis and it is often overlooked since it happens so naturally. It’s important to understand what privacy is, how it might manifest itself and how to protect it so that it remains private. Fortunately there are several laws that protect people from having their privacy breached.

Like understanding what privacy is, it is also important to understand how things were before the events that took place on September 11, 2001 so that we compare to what happened after and why the mentioned factors changed. The practice of privacy by the people for the most part was the same as it is today. People liked their privacy and they didn’t like it being violated. The nation had experienced a terrorist attack on home soil before and the target was the same building that was the target as 9/11 terrorist attack; “The epicenter was the parking garage beneath the World Trade Center, where a massive eruption carved out a nearly 100-foot crater several stories deep and several more high. Six people were killed almost instantly” (FBI 2008). The government reacted to this attack swiftly to ensure that the people who committed the terrorist plot were captured. The government wanted to prevent any further attacks and to also prosecute them to the full extent of the law. Once the one of the terrorist behind the attack was captured, the rest soon followed, “Salameh, a Palestinian, was arrested when he went to retrieve the $400 deposit he had left for the Ryder rental van used in the attack. Ajaj and Ayyad, who both played a role in the construction of the bomb, were arrested soon after” (History Channel 1993). The government became more vigilant for any possibly threats to the nation and it’s people, but laws at the time made it difficult to streamline investigations, “interpreted as forbidding pure “intelligence” information from being collected for law enforcement purposes, and – conversely – made it difficult to share criminal justice-derived information with other agencies” (Chertoff). It’s important to understand the shift to a more regulated and tighter airport security change as well. Designated areas that only airport personnel could access were not screened, “In May 2000, [Department of Transportation Inspector General] agents used fictitious law enforcement badges and credentials to gain access to secure areas, bypass security checkpoints at two airports, and walk unescorted to aircraft departure gates” (Taylor and Steedman 2003).

It is important to understand that technology was drastically different a decade ago. The way we communicated with the world changed with the introduction of the Internet, “One of the first real revelations found in the science and technology of the 1990s was the emergence of the Internet, the World Wide Web and email as the glue that would bind the global village together” (90s Technology). The introduction of the Internet brought on an era of information sharing; suddenly the answer to just about anything was only a few clicks of a mouse away. Communication was not limited to emails; new technology allowed for cheaper and smaller cellphones. Smaller more affordable cellphones meant that more people in the general population could afford to own one resulting a spike in cellphone owners, “In 1990, just 1 percent of Australians were estimated to own a mobile phone. In 1995 this rate had increased to 13 percent and by 1999, around 45 percent of Australians owned a mobile phone” (Communication 1970-s). The introduction of more affordable cellphones and the email made communication a lot easier but it was not limited to those two means. The pager was a popular piece of technology during the 1990’s, “5 or 6 years ago Motorola saw US$1.5-2 billion in pager sales; analysts now think that figure will be only $430 million for this year, down from $700 million last year. In the early to mid-'90s pagers were the obvious choice for anyone who needed constant contact” (Pagers on…2001). As the technology industry grew bigger our world grew smaller. Thanks to technology someone in North America could send a birthday email to someone in Africa in a matter of seconds. Since the advancement of technology made it easier to communicate, the government took advantage of the tools to keep tabs on people of interest, “Government spying is nothing new. Briefcase recorders in the 1950s led to transmitters hidden in shoes in the 1960s. By the early 1970s, bugs hidden in tree stumps intercepted communication signals” (Spy shoes to Drones). New technology that benefits people will also benefit the government and their surveillance needs.

Reflecting on how things were in the years prior to the 911 attacks provide a contrasting perspective of how things changed in the following months after the attack. Privacy was something that was highly valued and protected by Americans. Citizens who felt that their government was overstepping their boundaries of surveillance did not hesitate to voice their opinions on the matter. The thought of the government making privacy of their citizens transparent to them was something that would not happen without upsetting people. For American citizens to voluntarily give up their privacy rights to the government could have only been the result of an event that scared the entire nation and on September 11, 2001 that event happened. September 11, 2001 is a date that will be remembered as one of the worst terrorist attacks that the nation and possibly the world have ever experienced. Members of a Muslim extremist group known as Al-Qaeda hi-jacked four commercial jet planes and crashed them into the Twin Towers in New York, “On September 11, 2001, 19 militants associated with the Islamic extremist group al-Qaeda hijacked four airliners and carried out suicide attacks against targets in the United States” ( Staff 2010).

The events of September 11 left the nation feeling scared and vulnerable. American citizens did not feel safe in their homes anymore for fear of another terrorist attack happening. Americans wanted to feel safe again and they demanded their government to provide that comfort. The government came up with the solution that its citizens wanted; that solution was the Patriot Act. The Patriot Act is a law that congress passed that granted the government to practice investigative techniques akin to those practiced in law enforcement, “Congress simply took existing legal principles and retrofitted them to preserve the lives and liberty of the American people from the challenges posed by a global terrorist network” (Dept. of Justice). The people’s need to feel safe again was not the sole driving force behind the passing of the Patriot Act, members of congress barely had time to review the explicit bill before they had to cast a vote. The Bush Administration was in power during the time of the 9/11 events and by using aggressive tactics they ensured that the law was passed if there means were unethical, “The Bush Administration implied that members who voted against it would be blamed for any further attacks - a powerful threat at a time when the nation was expecting a second attack to come any moment and when reports of new anthrax letters were appearing daily” (American Civil Liberties Union 2010). Congress did not really have a choice but to vote in favor of the Patriot Act due to the bullying of the Bush Administration.

The Patriot Act gave the government power to leave no stone unturned in the privacy of its citizens. The government had the power to search through personal records of people they felt were suspects and they did not a warrant to do so or even let the person know of their preach of privacy. “The result is unchecked government power to rifle through individuals' financial records, medical histories, Internet usage, bookstore purchases, library usage, travel patterns, or any other activity that leaves a record” (American Civil Liberties Union 2010). During the time that the Patriot Act was passed a new community was rapidly growing, that community was found on the web. More and more people were using the web to find educate themselves and get what they wanted in a matter of seconds, “if we take all of this data together, it becomes apparent that we are a society that is increasingly fixated on finding instant gratification” (Tancer 79). Tancer saw what the Internet was turning society into. They became to make themselves transparent in their online presence. The government saw importance and the power of the Internet as well as the increase of online traffic and saw this as a prime location to do surveillance, “The attorney general is making a full-court press on the Internet. They want to do a lot of data mining and investigations on the Internet, and because they are looking for a needle in the haystack…” (Olsen 2001). To protect their online presence many people will use encryption to protect themselves and keep their data private from other people, corporations and even the government. Entrepreneurs saw the need for data encryption and made a business out of it. The government however was opposed to anyone having stronger encryptions than their own so limitations were placed on the market, “One major line of criticism concerns the limitations the U.S. government has put on the export of strong encryption programs” (Etzioni 84). Both Etzoni and Tancer see a trend that is coming from the online community, people want a demand for instant gratification while keeping their searching private from the government. The government sees the importance of the Internet in America’s lives. The Government surveillance is looking into people’s searches without probable cause because of the power that the Patriot Act, which many argue that it goes too far according a poll conducted by Gallup, “only one-quarter of Americans (26%) believe the Patriot Act goes too far in restricting people's civil liberties in order to fight terrorism” (Saad 2004). The Patriot Act was the answer that the American people wanted for their safety problem, solution however gave the government the power to take a look at the lives of their citizens and investigate them as if they were the very group their citizens wanted protection from.

Privacy is something is directly influenced by the culture it is practiced in. If an American citizen were to travel to Cairo, Egypt he or she would find himself or herself shocked by the lack of personal space. Americans value their privacy. As stated earlier American culture promotes the personal space and the protection of private property. It’s important to compare how privacy changes in cultures outside of the United States. Privacy in Cairo, Egypt is different from Sao Paulo, Brazil and they are both considerably different from privacy in America. The American privacy culture is focused around the privacy of space and property. America is a very conservative state when compared to its European counterparts, which results in a high value of privacy. In a city that is heavily populated such as Cairo, Egypt privacy is virtually non-existent, In every Cairo apartment building is the bawab, the building guard. He knows the comings and goings of every resident on the street. And to this day when a young woman is getting married, families of the groom will interrogate the bawab about the potential bride” (Fadel 2013). In the American privacy culture this would be treated as a violation of personal privacy and the person whose privacy was invaded could pursue legal action if the chose to. Sao Paulo, Brazil is one of the biggest cities in the world and it’s privacy culture is a perfect example of how conservative the American privacy culture is, “Paula Moura works with NPR in Brazil. The country is just a lot more touchy-feely, she says. "I've been to other countries and nobody touches each other. It seems there is space for everybody. Personal space is bigger in other countries. Here it's not” (Navarro 2013). In America the practice of data mining has become very popular amongst companies. Companies use data mining to send advertisements that are “tailored” to a particular person based off the results from their data. In America companies do this without checking in with the government or without getting consent from the person whose data they are analyzing but in Europe that is not the case, “Personal information cannot be shared by companies or across borders without express permission from the data subject…Companies that process data must register their activities with the government” (Sullivan 2006). It’s clear that the way that people, companies and government changes between cultures.

It is clear that there are several factors that influence what privacy is and how it is practiced and perceived. Cultural differences provide a window to how other nations practice privacy and/or if it is even existent allowing us to reflect on our own privacy culture. The events that happened on 9/11 had a tremendous effect on privacy but it also showed how fear effects privacy and how we protect it. Etzoni’s view on putting the good of the people above everything is ethically sound but how much of our privacy are we willing to give up and will surrendering of privacy be the same in different cultures?


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