Privacy lost or how to get the genie back into the bottle


John Milton’s epic poem ‘Paradise lost’ is a tour de force. Published in 1667 and spanning an incredible 12 volumes, it concerns itself with the apparent contradiction of an all knowing god with eternal foresight and the concept of free will. Theologians over the centuries have struggled to explain this and other contradictions. 

I was not always convinced by their arguments or able to follow their logic, but one thing was always apparent to me: Their sincerity and commitment to find answers for the common good.

Call me a pessimist, but sincerity and commitment, in the public arena at least, are rare commodities these days. The SBS evening news runs over a whole hour.  I rarely sit through it to the end nowadays for fear of having my ears bleed. Any topic, however complex or important, is reduced to a few sound bites. Like Apple and Microsoft disciples, our politicians defend their positions with little or no regard to logic or the common good.

My wife, having proof-read this far, reminds me that I am not a pessimist, just a grumpy old man. It’s true I fear and most probably the reason why Scott McNealy, the controversial Silicon Valley wunderkind from last month’s article was my hero.

When asked about the public’s concerns about privacy, he famously retorted “You have no privacy anyway. Get over it!”

I can virtually see your neck hairs bristle! Yes, we are all fiercely protective of our privacy. But know this: you will NOT get any privacy worth having if you trust politicians to tackle the problem for you.

Here’s why: Corporations may tell you that they are interested in protecting your privacy, but only from the prying eyes of their competitors! To them your personal details are like high grade iron ore to a miner. Indeed, they actually use the term ‘data mining’ for acquiring and collating your precious personal details.

Imagine how important your health records, genetic makeup, financial history/position, educational/employment history, (lack of) criminal record, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc are to companies like health/life insurers, financial institutions, employers, political parties, advertisers, etc.

Remember the News Of The World’s phone hacking scandal? If a subsidiary of a global behemoth like Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation engages in such conduct, are you really prepared to trust assurances from your bank, insurance or employer to respect your privacy?

Every time politicians propose tougher privacy laws, corporations lobby furiously and usually successfully, to stop the legislation or water it down. Let’s face it; the genie is already out of the bottle. Most of us have long ago lost control of our personal data. To get the genie back would require ALL of us putting sustained pressure on our politicians.

So, unless you are prepared to pick up the phone and shout into your local members ear: ” I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” you better get over it, because you have no privacy anyway!


If you expected this article to provide concrete steps on how to protect your privacy online rather than an impotent rant, I do apologise. However, after doing my usual amount of research for this month article, I realised that apart from the bleeding obvious there really isn’t much that you can do!

Lets except for a moment that the companies and government departments you need to deal with as a citizen of this country, are actually committed to protecting your privacy. It is a sad fact that their procedures and methods of safeguarding your personal details are for the most part woefully inadequate and are easily (and frequently) breached by even moderately competent hackers.