Catherine Armitage April 07, 2012
"I think on this front we are at a rather crucial phase" ... A.C. Grayling on privacy. Photo: Kate Geraghty
GOOGLE, Yahoo, Facebook and other commercial organisations that mine data on people's private activities should be required to regularly ''send us a report on what they have got on us'', the English celebrity philosopher A.C. Grayling argues.
This would be a first step in reclaiming privacy so thoughtlessly given away in our seduction by social media.
History shows that ''complete anarchy'' surrounding the initial use of revolutionary communication technologies - from print to Morse code, radio and television - is brought to order by users themselves seeking boundaries, Grayling says.
''I think on this front we are at rather a crucial phase … I don't think the current situation is going to be let drift much longer,'' he says.
Known as much for his silver mane as his passionate atheism and dogged defence of civil liberties, he monitors mentions of his name through Google and Twitter alerts. So chances are he'll have read this before you do. But it's a matter of principle that he can't complain.
''I find people Twitter about seeing me walk down the street or in a restaurant or on a bus. I find that sort of thing a terrible invasion of privacy,'' he says from New York before heading to Australia.
Grayling knows this ''very uncomfortable feeling'' is a price he must pay for living in a ''noisy, messy, quarrelsome democracy''. He believes the press should be allowed to ''get away with a few things because it is a price worth paying'' for the ''very crucial, noble'' investigative work it does in the public interest.
The British government plans to extend state surveillance on the internet and to allow secret court hearings at the discretion of politicians in civil cases related to national security.
Civil liberties are under attack like never before, Grayling believes. It should be ''very thought-provoking'' that governments have the capability to hack into people's private digital information.
The challenge is to find an internationally agreed regime for safeguarding people's private information without damaging the ''very worthwhile anarchy'' of the internet and related technologies, he says.
A.C. Grayling will speak at next week's Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne. In Sydney on April 17, he gives a warm-up talk on the Sydney Writers' Festival.