I worry sometimes that personal privacy may be fading…

In the book American Prometheus the life and philosophy of J. Robert Oppenheimer are discussed and reviewed. Oppenheimer led the Manhattan project during WWII. Once that project had achieved success he realized that in the end nuclear bombs weren’t deterrents. They were end of the world weapons. He advocated releasing that technology so that everyone could have it.

Oppenheimer was wrong for the right reasons. Freely available nuclear options in this age we live wouldn’t be a good thing. Terrorists seeking revenge for slights and perceived abuse in the end would release a nuclear device. Two wrongs never make a right. Taking one wrong and making it 1000 wrongs is also a pretty thing.

But the other side of the American Prometheus was a man who gave everything. Oppenheimer led the largest scientific project America had ever undertaken. He brought together men and women that represented not just the brightest minds of America but in the end the brightest minds of the free world. From that he molded greatness.

I do however admire Dr. Oppenheimer. He was a man of beliefs and ethics. Ethics are critical as we head into the next age of the IoT world. Abuse is so possible on a scale the world has never seen before. Literally we could watch someone every minute of every day from the minute they are born on. Not like in the movie “The Truman Show” a live action show about a person who great up in an isolated world removed from everyone. In the end we are now talking live action Truman Show. Everything you do watched.

The good news is in the end there are good things here. We could in the end reduce violence in many forms. Repeat offenders wouldn’t be as likely. After the first time they would be in jail and have a chance to be rehabilitated. Domestic abuse would plummet through the floor. That is where the ethics come into play.

How is too much? When does the presence of data and the need for data to protect people pass their rights to privacy? It is in the end about privacy. You aren’t trying to catch the honest people. My father used to always say “lock the gate to keep honest people honest.” So we aren’t in the end trying to catch honest people. But we have to watch everyone all the time to make sure we don’t miss bad things.

Today you get a letter in the mail with a picture of your car and a notice that you were speeding or that you didn’t stop at a red light. Someday you will get a letter showing you dropping trash out of your car window and a fine for the city picking that up. Or the image of you cutting someone off on the highway. Or aggressive driving on the highway. Taking over the controls of your automated car and driving like a lunatic. Rather than letting the automatic car safely get you and all the other people on the road with you to their destinations. Imagine that ticket. Your steering wheel locked in automatic mode and you as the owner not allowed to drive the car manually. Repeat offenders could be forced into the back seat. The car unwilling to start with a person in the drivers seat.

It could quickly and fairly soon become that way without privacy Ethics. It is critical that there be laws that govern both the privacy of a person and the privacy of the information they create. The same is true across borders for data. Data must belong to the creator. The fluctuating Intellectual Property (IP) laws around the world allow for the nation state to seize information within its borders. We need a set of Ethical rules and governing laws that support people and IP privacy. The Ethics of information in the end may be the best solution to avoid a world where privacy simply means something that used to be.


Scott Andersen

IASA Fellow.