Running off various conversations and perusing Boingboing, I've been wondering about the scope of privacy with all the new technology that is emerging. And the debate is getting shrill on both sides. You have people who don't ever want their pictures taken and posted, even if they are in a public setting. And you have others who contend that this first group are a bunch of wackos who don't understand technology and its penetration. And of course, tied up in all this is something of the debate over open source, DRM, Google scholar, and copyrights.
I don't have any clear answers on this, only a few observations. First, I'd love to see how Japan handles it. Second, I have to admit that the shrillness on the pro-tech, pro-open source side (for extreme lack of a better description) seems to me more galling than the other anti-tech side, if only because they've already accepted the increased influence of technology, but don't really understand why people get squeemish about it. It's that lack of empathy to a pretty understandable human reaction that I find disturbing.
Third, the pro-tech side seems to feel like measures to opt-out of programs like Google Streetview are sufficient. If you have the ability to get out of these things, then you shouldn't really complain. But I don't think that's enough. In basic photography, it's considered good etiquette that, if you take someone's picture (where they are clearly identifiable), you should ask them if it's okay for you to use it. Now, there's some question as to whether you do this before or after taking the shot, etc., but you are using someone else's image, which they may or may not be cool with. Simply as a respect matter, it's a nice thing to do.
The issue with opting out when you start discussing advanced technology is one of knowledge and accessibility. When shooting a movie or a photo, you can usually make immediate contact with the individuals to ask them for permission. At the very least, it is easier to make a good faith effort, because people are more likely to notice what you're doing. But with these other techs, it's difficult to know when you're online. In the same way that the recent Supreme Court case on gender discrimination was horribly decided, it seems galling that someone be reasonably expected to know when their images or identity are placed on something as vast as the internet and take legal and moral responsibility.
And this goes to an interesting question, not simply between the rights to property versus religion versus speech, but what we mean by public and private. Can we meaningfully "switch hats?" Do different protocols apply when we, say, run to the shops versus when we make political speech? To a certain extent, yes, in that political speech is governed by the first amendment, whereas running to the shops is governed by property. But to any observer, figuring out what is public and what is private is difficult to know, the moreso when you have the boundary of advanced technology taking the place of meetings and interactions between individuals.
In the end, my political sensibilities fire up. There is certainly a danger on the anti-tech side of too much privacy, of an inability to disclose anything for fear of embarrassment. This applies especially, I think, to government action and oversight, and you'll find no one more supportive of monitoring of public actions and roles. But, in the impulse to "democratize" (again, so not the right word) that is given by the Internet, the push against monolithic controls and eavesdropping which is such a common refrain amongst "Web 2.0 or 3.0"-ers must be tempered with the knowledge that "Big Brother" is not always a single organ. There can be just as much tyranny of the group, or just simply lots of individuals, as there is tyranny by one body. Just as there is a chilling effect when one group takes it upon itself to interfere excessively with other peoples' business, we have to be concerned about the stifling of expression and creativity if everyone is watching everyone else, particularly in public spaces. We watch celebrities because we are attracted to their public personas, but at the same time, most of us know enough not to want to have to constantly be putting up those personas. That's an issue that requires much more thought than is presented by the polarized debate.