The internet has made it easier to do in many ways, but the decline of personal privacy has been here for a long time.
The decline started with the outbreak of the so-called Cold War when elements within the government decided that true differences in opinion about government and it's role could no longer be safely tolerated due to the threat of nuclear warfare.
And although the advent of computer technology (not just the Internet) made it easier to compile and cross reference data on individuals it also enabled a scope and magnitude
not previously possible.
In the good old days, the amount of data you could store was limited by physical considerations. All those folders and file cabinets took up space. And correlating the information contained in them took time and man
power. You had people stepping and fetching every time an information request got made. Clerks grabbing folders. Analysts poring over them into the wee hours. Secretaries typing up their findings. Proof reading...copies to be made...envelopes to be addressed...it was a very big deal to get something put together. And there was seldom time or personell available to go on fishing expeditions or look at things on a hunch or out of sheer curiosity. These were directed
Not any more. Electronic storage space is unlimited and dirt cheap. Correlation is a key click away if a database was properly designed. Statistical analytics have evolved into one of our most powerful tools. And our new understandings of complexity and chaos theory have opened up new vistas in detecting patterns in data sets which were previously impervious to analysis due to their huge size and complexity.
We've learned a lot more about how to look at things and understand them in the last thirty or so years. And the advent of the small 'personal' computer has been the handmaiden that made much of it possible.
And the same technology and mathematics that made it possible to crack the human genome and analyze and predict subatomic particle behaviors can also be used to analyze human behaviors and gather data on it.
And this data harvesting and analysis has not been restricted to governments. It wasn't long before businesses got in on the same game - largely because, for the longest time, there were no regulations on what data a business could collect. Please remember that civil rights regulations primarily exist to restrict the government. By extrapolation some have been extended to business activities. But not too many since business is seen as a "voluntary relationship" and therefor mainly bound only by whatever the parties involved have mutually "agreed' to. Which is why it's so important we actually read
those terms of service
and license agreements many so often (by design) just click through. What's in some of these agreements would surprise you. I actually make it a point to read all
of them - and they sure scare me sometimes. Which is one reason why I will not
participate in most social networks like Facebook or G+.
Right now, the NSA intercepts and performs analysis on ALL signal communications in the USA - and very likely the bulk of the rest of the world too. That wasn't possible as little as ten years ago. Thirty years ago even setting up a basic voice wiretap was a major headache. Today it can be accomplished with a keystroke at virtually no cost since the technology is already in place and the data is already in storage. Sifting through ten billion e-mails looking for keywords and patterns that could signal a security threat - or even just some politically inconvenient dissenting conversations or blog postings? Child's play!
So yes, we haven't had complete
personal privacy in a long time. But it hasn't been until fairly recently that we now effectively have no
privacy at all.
It's not so much an issue of "what privacy do we have" as it is "to what degree do we still have any
And unfortunately (for us) the answer is: none
Like the old CIA joke goes: In God we trust. Everybody else we polygraph or wiretap.
(And more recently - optionally waterboard.