The other day, while rushing into a midtown office building to keep an appointment, the security guard at the desk asked where I was going and when I told him, he raised what turned out to be a camera eye at me as I went gliding by. “Hey, did you just take a picture of me?” I asked. And he, “Yes.” Now I’m already around the corner at the elevators, “But you didn’t even ask.” And he: “I’m not supposed to.” Why does this exchange bother me? Perhaps because, along with a steady erosion of our civil rights has come a steady erosion of any sense of privacy. Now, the fact that I’m writing this on a blog would seem to indicate that I’ve tossed all sense of privacy to the wind as I go whirling along here, but that is far from the way that I see it. Ironic? A bit. But I do believe in privacy. I do I do I do.
So, as a poet, who has certainly written poems about her life, what do I mean by privacy? Privacy means I don’t have my photo taken without my permission. Privacy means I choose which words of mine are seen/read by others. Privacy means no one but the person I’m speaking to is privy to my conversation. Privacy means I don’t get frisked by the police because I am about to ride the NYC subways.
But in our era, that’s an impossibility. Every time I enter my bank and use my ATM, I am being photographed. Every time I search online for a product, I will be barraged with ads offering me similar products, at least for the next few weeks. Has my phone been tapped? I’m probably too uninteresting and unthreatening for anyone to bother. However, I know that because I am a white woman, my chances of being frisked by NYC cops is probably nil. And my chances if I were a black or Latino man, well . . . are much much higher.
There’s a difference between the photo I choose to post and the ones that someone takes of me without my permission.
There’s a difference between what, from my private life, I choose to fashion, transform, into a poem and someone else chooses to steal and use.
It’s not only the lack of privacy; it’s the lack of much conversation about it. Or at least, not enough conversation. Whatever happened on 9/11, it has had one overwhelming effect, helped along by the medium I am using at this moment to communicate: the balance between security and privacy has shifted heavily in the direction of security. Perhaps, in this medium, it’s the balance between the marketplace (the right to sell) and privacy has also shifted in favor of the former.blog/technology-and-liberty/civil-liberties-digital-age-weekly-highlights-682012
The title of this post is taken from one of the profile questions to a popular dating site. It’s a hopeful sign that many people still balk at answering the question.