Glenn Greenwald: Why privacy matters

Glenn Greenwald: Why privacy matters

There is an entire genre of YouTube videos devoted to an experience which I am certain that everyone in this room has had. It entails an individual who, thinking they’re alone, engages in some expressive behavior — wild singing, gyrating dancing, some mild sexual activity — only to discover that, in fact, they are not alone, that there is a person watching and lurking, the discovery of which causes them to immediately cease what they were doing in horror. The sense of shame and humiliation in their face is palpable. It’s the sense of, “This is something I’m willing to do only if no one else is watching.” This is the crux of the work on which I have been singularly focused for the last 16 months, the question of why privacy matters, a question that has arisen in the context of a global debate, enabled by the revelations of Edward Snowden that the United States and its partners, unbeknownst to the entire world, has converted the Internet, once heralded as an unprecedented tool of liberation and democratization, into an unprecedented zone of mass, indiscriminate surveillance. There is a very common sentiment that arises in this debate, even among people who are uncomfortable with mass surveillance, which says that there is no real harm that comes from this large-scale invasion because only people who are engaged in bad acts have a reason to want to hide and to care about their privacy. This worldview is implicitly grounded in the proposition that there are
two kinds of people in the world, good people and bad people. Bad people are those who plot terrorist attacks or who engage in violent criminality and therefore have reasons to
want to hide what they’re doing, have reasons to care about their privacy. But by contrast, good people are people who go to work, come home, raise their children, watch television. They use the Internet not to plot bombing attacks but to read the news or exchange recipes or to plan their kids’ Little League games, and those people are doing nothing wrong and therefore have nothing to hide and no reason to fear the government monitoring them. The people who are actually saying that are engaged in a very extreme act of self-deprecation. What they’re really saying is, “I have agreed to make myself such a harmless and unthreatening and uninteresting person that I actually don’t fear having the government know what it is that I’m doing.” This mindset has found what I think is its purest expression in a 2009 interview with the longtime CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt, who, when asked about all the different ways his company is causing invasions of privacy for hundreds of millions of people around the world, said this: He said, “If you’re doing something that you don’t want other people to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.” Now, there’s all kinds of things to say about that mentality, the first of which is that the people who say that, who say that privacy isn’t really important, they don’t actually believe it, and the way you know that
they don’t actually believe it is that while they say with their
words that privacy doesn’t matter, with their actions, they take all kinds of steps to safeguard their privacy. They put passwords on their email and their social media accounts, they put locks on their bedroom and bathroom doors, all steps designed to prevent other people from entering what they consider their private realm and knowing what it is that they
don’t want other people to know. The very same Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google, ordered his employees at Google to cease speaking with the online Internet magazine CNET after CNET published an article full of personal, private information about Eric Schmidt, which it obtained exclusively
through Google searches and using other Google products. (Laughter) This same division can be seen with the CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, who in an infamous interview in 2010 pronounced that privacy is no longer a “social norm.” Last year, Mark Zuckerberg and his new wife purchased not only their own house but also all four adjacent houses in Palo Alto for a total of 30 million dollars in order to ensure that they enjoyed a zone of privacy that prevented other people from monitoring what they do in their personal lives. Over the last 16 months, as I’ve
debated this issue around the world, every single time somebody has said to me, “I don’t really worry about invasions of privacy because I don’t have anything to hide.” I always say the same thing to them. I get out a pen, I write down my email address. I say, “Here’s my email address. What I want you to do when you get home is email me the passwords to all of your email accounts, not just the nice, respectable work one in your name, but all of them, because I want to be able to just troll through what it is you’re doing online, read what I want to read and
publish whatever I find interesting. After all, if you’re not a bad person, if you’re doing nothing wrong, you should have nothing to hide.” Not a single person has taken me up on that offer. I check and — (Applause) I check that email account religiously all the time. It’s a very desolate place. And there’s a reason for that, which is that we as human beings, even those of us who in words disclaim the importance of our own privacy, instinctively understand the profound importance of it. It is true that as human beings, we’re social animals, which means we have a need for other people to know what we’re doing and saying and thinking, which is why we voluntarily publish
information about ourselves online. But equally essential to what it means to be a free and fulfilled human being is to have a place that we can go and be free of the judgmental eyes of other people. There’s a reason why we seek that out, and our reason is that all of us — not just terrorists and criminals, all of us — have things to hide. There are all sorts of things that we do and think that we’re willing to tell our physician or our lawyer or our psychologist or our spouse or our best friend that we would be mortified for the rest of the world to learn. We make judgments every single day about the kinds of things that we say and think and do that we’re willing to have other people know, and the kinds of things that we say and think and do that we don’t want anyone else to know about. People can very easily in words claim that they don’t value their privacy, but their actions negate the authenticity of that belief. Now, there’s a reason why privacy is so craved universally and instinctively. It isn’t just a reflexive movement like breathing air or drinking water. The reason is that when we’re in a state where we can be monitored,
where we can be watched, our behavior changes dramatically. The range of behavioral options that we consider when we think we’re being watched severely reduce. This is just a fact of human nature that has been recognized in social science and in literature and in religion and in virtually every field of discipline. There are dozens of psychological studies that prove that when somebody knows that they might be watched, the behavior they engage in is vastly more conformist and compliant. Human shame is a very powerful motivator, as is the desire to avoid it, and that’s the reason why people, when they’re in a state of
being watched, make decisions not that are the byproduct of their own agency but that are about the expectations that others have of them or the mandates of societal orthodoxy. This realization was exploited most powerfully for pragmatic ends by the 18th-
century philosopher Jeremy Bentham, who set out to resolve an important problem ushered in by the industrial age, where, for the first time, institutions had become so large and centralized that they were no longer able to monitor and therefore control each one
of their individual members, and the solution that he devised was an architectural design originally intended to be implemented in prisons that he called the panopticon, the primary attribute of which was the construction of an enormous tower in the center of the institution where whoever controlled the institution could at any moment watch any of the inmates, although they couldn’t watch all of them at all times. And crucial to this design was that the inmates could not actually see into the panopticon, into the tower, and so they never knew if they were being watched or even when. And what made him so excited about this discovery was that that would mean that the prisoners would have to assume that they were being watched at any given moment, which would be the ultimate enforcer for obedience and compliance. The 20th-century French philosopher Michel Foucault realized that that model could be used not just for prisons but for every institution that seeks to control human behavior: schools, hospitals, factories, workplaces. And what he said was that this mindset, this framework discovered by Bentham, was the key means of societal control for modern, Western societies, which no longer need the overt weapons of tyranny — punishing or imprisoning or killing dissidents, or legally compelling loyalty to a particular party — because mass surveillance creates a prison in the mind that is a much more subtle though much more effective means of fostering compliance with social norms or with social orthodoxy, much more effective than brute force could ever be. The most iconic work of literature about surveillance and privacy is the George Orwell novel “1984,” which we all learn in school, and
therefore it’s almost become a cliche. In fact, whenever you bring it up
in a debate about surveillance, people instantaneously dismiss it as inapplicable, and what they say is, “Oh, well in ‘1984,’ there were
monitors in people’s homes, they were being watched at every given moment, and that has nothing to do with
the surveillance state that we face.” That is an actual fundamental misapprehension of the warnings that Orwell issued in “1984.” The warning that he was issuing was about a surveillance state not that monitored everybody at all times, but where people were aware that they could be monitored at any given moment. Here is how Orwell’s narrator, Winston Smith, described the surveillance system that they faced: “There was, of course, no way of knowing whether you were being watched
at any given moment.” He went on to say, “At any rate, they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live, did live, from habit that became instinct, in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard and except in darkness every movement scrutinized.” The Abrahamic religions similarly posit that there’s an invisible, all-knowing authority who, because of its omniscience, always watches whatever you’re doing, which means you never have a private moment, the ultimate enforcer for obedience to its dictates. What all of these seemingly disparate works recognize, the conclusion that they all reach, is that a society in which people can be monitored at all times is a society that breeds conformity and obedience and submission, which is why every tyrant, the most overt to the most subtle, craves that system. Conversely, even more importantly, it is a realm of privacy, the ability to go somewhere where we can think and reason and interact and speak without the judgmental eyes
of others being cast upon us, in which creativity and exploration and dissent exclusively reside, and that is the reason why, when we allow a society to exist in which we’re subject to constant monitoring, we allow the essence of human freedom to be severely crippled. The last point I want to observe about this mindset, the idea that only people who
are doing something wrong have things to hide and therefore
reasons to care about privacy, is that it entrenches two very destructive messages, two destructive lessons, the first of which is that the only people who care about privacy, the only people who will seek out privacy, are by definition bad people. This is a conclusion that we should have all kinds of reasons for avoiding, the most important of which is that when you say, “somebody who is doing bad things,” you probably mean things
like plotting a terrorist attack or engaging in violent criminality, a much narrower conception of what people who wield power mean when they say, “doing bad things.” For them, “doing bad things” typically means doing something that poses meaningful challenges to the exercise of our own power. The other really destructive and, I think, even more insidious lesson that comes from accepting this mindset is there’s an implicit bargain that people who accept this mindset have accepted, and that bargain is this: If you’re willing to render yourself sufficiently harmless, sufficiently unthreatening to those who wield political power, then and only then can you be free of the dangers of surveillance. It’s only those who are dissidents, who challenge power, who have something to worry about. There are all kinds of reasons why we
should want to avoid that lesson as well. You may be a person who, right now, doesn’t want to engage in that behavior, but at some point in the future you might. Even if you’re somebody who decides that you never want to, the fact that there are other people who are willing to and able to resist and be adversarial to those in power — dissidents and journalists and activists and a whole range of others — is something that brings us all collective good that we should want to preserve. Equally critical is that the measure of how free a society is is not how it treats its good, obedient, compliant citizens, but how it treats its dissidents and those who resist orthodoxy. But the most important reason is that a system of mass surveillance suppresses our own freedom in all sorts of ways. It renders off-limits all kinds of behavioral choices without our even knowing that it’s happened. The renowned socialist activist Rosa Luxemburg once said, “He who does not move does not notice his chains.” We can try and render the chains of mass surveillance invisible or undetectable, but the constraints that it imposes on us do not become any less potent. Thank you very much. (Applause) Thank you. (Applause) Thank you. (Applause) Bruno Giussani: Glenn, thank you. The case is rather convincing, I have to say, but I want to bring you back to the last 16 months and to Edward Snowden for a few questions, if you don’t mind. The first one is personal to you. We have all read about the arrest of your partner, David Miranda in London, and other difficulties, but I assume that in terms of personal engagement and risk, that the pressure on you is not that easy to take on the biggest sovereign
organizations in the world. Tell us a little bit about that. Glenn Greenwald: You know, I think
one of the things that happens is that people’s courage in this regard gets contagious, and so although I and the other
journalists with whom I was working were certainly aware of the risk — the United States continues to be
the most powerful country in the world and doesn’t appreciate it when you disclose thousands of their secrets on the Internet at will — seeing somebody who is a 29-year-old ordinary person who grew up in a very ordinary environment exercise the degree of principled
courage that Edward Snowden risked, knowing that he was going to go
to prison for the rest of his life or that his life would unravel, inspired me and inspired other journalists and inspired, I think, people around the world, including future whistleblowers, to realize that they can engage
in that kind of behavior as well. BG: I’m curious about your
relationship with Ed Snowden, because you have spoken with him a lot, and you certainly continue doing so, but in your book, you never call him Edward, nor Ed, you say “Snowden.” How come? GG: You know, I’m sure that’s something for a team of psychologists to examine.
(Laughter) I don’t really know. The reason I think that, one of the important objectives that he actually had, one of his, I think, most important tactics, was that he knew that one of the ways to distract attention from the
substance of the revelations would be to try and personalize the focus on him, and for that reason, he stayed out of the media. He tried not to ever have his personal life subject to examination, and so I think calling him Snowden is a way of just identifying him
as this important historical actor rather than trying to personalize him in a way that might distract attention from the substance. Moderator: So his revelations, your analysis, the work of other journalists, have really developed the debate, and many governments, for example, have reacted, including in Brazil, with projects and programs to reshape a little bit the design of the Internet, etc. There are a lot of things going on in that sense. But I’m wondering, for you personally, what is the endgame? At what point will you think, well, actually, we’ve succeeded
in moving the dial? GG: Well, I mean, the endgame for me as a journalist is very simple, which is to make sure that every single document that’s newsworthy and that ought to be disclosed ends up being disclosed, and that secrets that should never
have been kept in the first place end up uncovered. To me, that’s the essence of journalism and that’s what I’m committed to doing. As somebody who finds mass surveillance odious for all the reasons I just talked about and a lot more, I mean, I look at this as work that will never end until governments around the world are no longer able to subject entire populations to monitoring and surveillance unless they convince some court or some entity that the person they’ve targeted has actually done something wrong. To me, that’s the way that
privacy can be rejuvenated. BG: So Snowden is very,
as we’ve seen at TED, is very articulate in presenting and portraying himself as a defender of democratic values and democratic principles. But then, many people really
find it difficult to believe that those are his only motivations. They find it difficult to believe that there was no money involved, that he didn’t sell some of those secrets, even to China and to Russia, which are clearly not the best friends of the United States right now. And I’m sure many people in the room are wondering the same question. Do you consider it possible there is that part of Snowden we’ve not seen yet? GG: No, I consider that absurd and idiotic. (Laughter) If you wanted to, and I know you’re just playing devil’s advocate, but if you wanted to sell secrets to another country, which he could have done and become extremely rich doing so, the last thing you would
do is take those secrets and give them to journalists and
ask journalists to publish them, because it makes those secrets worthless. People who want to enrich themselves do it secretly by selling
secrets to the government, but I think there’s one important point worth making, which is, that accusation comes from people in the U.S. government, from people in the media who are loyalists to these various governments, and I think a lot of times when people make accusations like that about other people — “Oh, he can’t really be doing this for principled reasons, he must have some corrupt, nefarious reason” — they’re saying a lot more about themselves than they are the target of their accusations, because — (Applause) — those people, the ones who make that accusation, they themselves never act for any reason other than corrupt reasons, so they assume that everybody else is plagued by the same disease of soullessness as they are, and so that’s the assumption. (Applause) BG: Glenn, thank you very much.
GG: Thank you very much. BG: Glenn Greenwald. (Applause)

Author: Kevin Mason

100 thoughts on “Glenn Greenwald: Why privacy matters

  1. This man says the why i regret to have a facebook account and another social media sites, bad i was too young to get the importance of privacy.

  2. Thank you…!
    I hope any kid hears that message and grows up knowing that "this is not a crime to protect his privacy, but a must".
    Kids who are told that privacy doesn't matter are more likely to be the next [monsters] or start forcing others to give up their privacy; or they become the most manipulated, paranoid, fearful and vulnerable persons… I'll fight to protect mine and tell my kids to do so!

  3. the whole reason we fear privacy is because we are submitting to another human essentially which we dont know closely. (corporations, government, whatever) and this is perfectly natural since our limbic system wants care and security for survival. that is right too, we shouldn't submit to other individuals. but in my view, where the technology is moving, we are all eventually bound to be a single entity, a network of individual brains communicating on a much more efficient bandwidth and language. just like cells form a body and work for collective prosperity, cells are not submitting themselves to other cells but work for the collective entity they form together. We are not individual humans, just a stage of collectiveness.
    Well of course, those who love the primal instincts and wild west style uncertainties in life, there is the option to 'tune out' from this altogether. dont use the internet to share at all.

  4. Why do we want privacy: little secrets we want to keep to ourselves or just confide in friends and families, great ideas for our inventions innovations books revolutions, not illegal activities but quite an embarrassment shame, its sensitive and we just don’t like judgmental eyes or supervisions like having bath doing things in a toilet drinking bingeing something smoking having fun with friends, enjoy ourselves….
    No one want to others to read their emails letters messages, listen on their phone calls, install cameras in their houses or know everything they do… this is not just about privacy but also safety, security, personal freedom and much more

  5. Okay, people have reason to hide legitimate behavior. That does not translate to a constitutional right not to be surveilled. Enact laws to limit the government's surveillance power if you care that much about it.

  6. Decisions made out of shame are not free and shame has no positive outcomes at all. Invasion of privacy is inexcusable and unforgiveable, people who commit this crime should be put in jail.

  7. Individual Privacy(CCTV & Surveillance)
    P: Only the croocks/villans and deviants needs to fear monitoring by the government.
    N: A good government will represent it's people rather to spy them.
    Pls help…

  8. Excellent pedagogical demystification of the association of privacy with the reprehensible, which leads to immobilism and self-censorship.

  9. so snowden is the villain …. before him …. we did not have this feeling of having our every online move possibly watched and scrutinized

  10. I think it's like gun rights. A good government trusts the people with the means of disobedience and even rebellion. It does not insist that people be incapable of resisting it should it grow tyrannical.

  11. freedom of speech, that is, specifically, regarding the state's right to control what you say, exists in the USA not because they want you to actually have that freedom. it is because when you already control what the populace thinks, you don't need to control what they say.

  12. For those interested in Bentham’s Panopticon dystopia I wholeheartedly recommend John Twelve Hawks “Against Authority “ pamphlet (I downloaded it from google for free and the fiction novel “The Traveler” from the same John Twelve Hawks…. which he himself admitted was fast and broadly surpassed by Snowden’s revelations…:(

  13. The things he's talking about are the reason why I don't post on YouTube under my own name. Is anything I'm saying extremely controversial or even antisocial? No – but I don't need these comments to be connected to me permanently years down the line.

  14. Excellent talk. I may not be doing anything wrong or illegal, but what I do is still my business and nobody else's. And that IS the point. It's not about having anything to hide. It's about that my lawful thoughts, feelings, and activities are NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS and I reserve the right to share these with whomever I want and for whatever reason I want, be it an arbitrary reason or not. And as for the reasons? Those too are MY BUSINESS. Privacy matters, people.

  15. 5:25 passwords are to stop people with malicious intent from getting into your stuff, just because I have a password on my facebook account doesnt mean its private, infact everything I publish there goes for public.

    Lets say I gave away my facebook password, anyone could publish the most horrible things with my account.

  16. Hmm…

  17. Privacy matters says Glenn; so why is that he is currently linked to a hacker in Brazil? And a network of spies in the Congress trying to destabilize a legitimate elected government in Brazil?

  18. Yes Glenn, privacy matters. Yet you recently used stolen information to defend a corrupt politician in Brazil and incriminate a judge and a prosecutor. How can you be involved in the hacking of their phones when you defend privacy? Care to explain why you are the one who decides that some do not have the right to privacy? How come Moro and Dallagnol don't have the same right?

  19. nice presentation I am working on a paper regarding the potential with global Blockchain interconnectivity pros and cons and one of the concerns I will need to address is privacy in addressing privacy i must in my mind address the origin or roots of privacy im on to train of thought linking a sense of privacy to the quantum experiment of observation

  20. This man is a hypocrite saying that privacy is important! Here in Brazil he wants with a criminal invasion of justice data to end Operation Car-Wash just because it is arresting left-wing politicians who have set up the greatest scheme of corruption in the history of mankind! Here in Brazil we think he, Snowdem and his team from the INTERCEPT site are in the service of the left and Russia!

  21. Nice to see Mr. Greenwald defending the right to privacy when nowadays he's leaking his fantasy on Car Wash Operation only to try to get a convicted fellow out of jail. LULA is the head of a criminal organization and he is right where he belongs.

  22. Então esse puto defendia a privacidade antes de invadir a privacidade de juízes e procuradores que lutam contra a corrupção? Explique isso melhor.

  23. The tyrant issue pales in comparison to the risk of humanity maturing in a way of life that it can't back out from. Like a black hole, a point of no return. Life will then be completely pointless, even for those goodie goods in government and their decendants.

  24. So this guy is giving speeches about why privacy matters. Meanwhile, he is using hackers material to invade the privacy of Brazilian authorities. This guy is a big fat joke.

  25. I'm sorry but at the end of the day security is more important than privacy. Would you feel safe if I told you that from tomorrow there would be no centrally organised security in your country? Yes they are both important, but on the balance of things I'd rather people who were plotting terrorist attacks and violent crimes etc were caught and put away asap. Idealistic values have to be balanced with pragmatism.

    He's also massively conflating privacy and security in this talk…the reason I wouldn't give him my email address password etc isn't because of something I've got to hide…its because I don't want to be a victim of identity fraud. The reason we put locks on our doors is to stop people stealing our stuff or harming us…not because I'm hiding some deepest darkest secret!

    Also its not like there's some guy sitting there in the NSA reading your emails and listening to your phone calls…..they could if they wanted to for sure, but they're not going to unless your'e doing something obviously bad. So his whole argument that people change their behavior because they know they're being watched falls apart because duhh you are not being watched!

    If I want to have some privacy and not be judged by other people…well I feel that I have that. I don't feel especially watched or under surveillance all the time to have to change my behavior some how.

    And anyways…freedom always has to come with limits. This ties into the rights vs responsibilities argument but some examples… I am free to driver on public roads with an insured car (my right)…I have the responsibility however to OTHER PEOPLE IN SOCIETY not to drive drunk. I have the right to religious freedoms including dressing how I want, praying how I want and worshiping who I want…I have the responsibility however to OTHER PEOPLE IN SOCIETY not to enforce my beliefs on them.

    We exist in a social contract with other people in our society. It is those who try and break that contract who are going to be punished for it.

  26. The Panopticon – Just knowing that you MAY be being watched affects your behavior.

  27. “If you’re doing something you don’t want other people to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.” — Eric Schmidt, Google CEO, 2009

    What a fucking dirtbag!

  28. The guy is using hackers to free the biggest corruption leader in Brasil , what a shame that he goes to Brasil to get involved with people that are clearly involved in a big crime

  29. Gleenfraudde will be PROCESSED PREMIERE and CONDEMNED by CRIME of RECEIVING and disseminating CRIME product. After it will be DEPORTED and thus EXPULSION of BRAZIL by CRIME AGAINST THE NATIONAL SECURITY LAW.

  30. I am not saying Privacy is not Important. It is important. But here is my argument.

    "A harmless, unthreatening and uninteresting person who have actually nothing to hide, will still hide his information to the other individuals. The logic I understood is when someone have access to my data alone, I dread about it. But when someone have access to millions and millions of other user's data along with mine, my data will be simply useless and boring. Still, why I do need to worry?"

  31. You used to defend privacy and now you’re using hackers to attack honest people in Brazil, like Sergio Moro for instance 😡😡
    You are ‘bad people’.


  33. Glenn o povo brasileiro agradece por sua contribuição com a divulgação da verdade política no Brasil!
    STF, SENADO, MINISTRO, GOVERNADOR, DEPUTADO, PREFEITO, VEREADOR, todos sabem dos crimes de Sérgio Moro, atuou na Lava Jato como um criminoso, mas se mantiveram calados, coniventes, pois, tem o "rabo" preso.

  34. Glenn Greenwald is a liar. He is very dishonest person. His videos should be removed from YouTube.

  35. So, why privacy matters?


    "People can very easily in words claim that they don't value their privacy, but their actions negate the authenticity of that belief." – Glenn Greenwald

  36. This guy is a criminal, hacking government phones to create false scandals and help left wing Parties in Brazil, including the one he bought a deputy career to his husband David Miranda

  37. People should be careful when they listen to seducing speeches of people like him. Some people only fight against corruption and tyranny to establish their own. Like what he Is doing in Brazil

  38. one observation a lack of privacy in general has almost been an unwritten dogma with LGBTQ people. They have militantly broken down public private behaviors and mandated that your very personal business is not only essential to your public persona but they have unwittingly demonized people who do not agree with this.

  39. Then he comes to Brazil to spy, steal private messages from prosecutors and judges trying to liberate the most corrupt political figure that was judged a sentenced by 19 judges and exhausting all the appeals he had as constitutional right. What a liar.

  40. Ele precisa responder sobre isso:

  41. We are increasingly aware of privacy problems, but "the only thing to fear is fear itself". -Franklin D. Roosevelt

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *