Over the last 24 hours, millions of Americans have just come to realize that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been collecting the phone records of millions of Verizon customers. The response, at least of those who enjoy the liberty of being online to voice their opinion, has been one of shock that the government would engage in such practices.
Almost on cue, those who tend to propagate the view that "Privacy is dead" have began their response to this recent literal privacy breach of phone records and the symbolic breach of America's conception of the privacy it enjoys. It is very easy to throw one's hands up and just accept that this is the way it is. It is very naïve, though, to assume that instances such as these are not occurring regularly and that more people than you realize are actually viewing the information that you may believe is completely private.
The naysaying about privacy, though, is old and tired. Privacy is only dead if we let it be. Privacy law is largely shaped by how the public treats its own privacy. If the response is minimal outrage with no action taken by individuals in America to preserve their privacy rights, then it will be dead with no hope of resuscitation.
Taking steps to preserve privacy does not have to consist of grandiose gestures. Those who lead the pack in trying to preserve privacy must be supported. Letting them advocate about privacy alone without meaningful pubic support will not move the needle. The next time you read about reform to ECPA or see a headline about a data breach of email addresses at a company, perhaps read the article and communicate to your elected officials regarding the matter. The academics, advocates, lawyers and victims in these matters are not just raising a stink. These are conversations about our liberties and our civil redress when it comes to the things that we may view as most intimate.
In the everyday sense, just take the time to become more concerned about your privacy. Understand and apply your privacy settings on websites. Create the distinction of what should be public information you share about yourself and what should be private. Stop feeding into the "need to be in the know" culture. We do not need to know about everybody's business all of the time.
At least, just ask why. This New Republic piece brings up that critical question at this point.
It is understandable that having a coherent grasp of the ins and outs of online privacy can be difficult. In many cases, it requires technical knowledge that we cannot expect most people to have. This instance is one that most people can understand and nearly everyone can grasp what it means for our liberties.
Ask the "how" and the "why" questions. Be indignant. Most importantly, ask what you can do to preserve our privacy rights in the future.