Egos and anti-viruses: why privacy matters

Step aside Kanye West, there’s a new presidential candidate in town. That’s right, it’s none other than real life James Bond villain and self proclaimed “eccentric millionaire,” John McAfee. Exciting news, no? If the name rings any bells, it’s likely because John (is it ok if we call you John? I feel like we’re on that level…) is the anti-virus software tycoon responsible for the majority of pop ups about unsafe sites and porn viruses on your dear old grandmother’s computer. It’s not everyday that we start an editorial ignoring our hip hop gold guru in favor of the elusive software connoisseur but we figured it’d be a good stepping point into some more important issues, notably privacy. While we aren’t sure what West will be running for in 2020 (we assume a national day for himself and mandatory leather pants for corporate, alongside some actual real ideas on race and social inequality), McAfee is planning on running under his own newly created “Cyber Party.” After receiving encouragement from “almost everyone” he knows, John is running on a platform criticizing the government’s online security and increasing surveillance. The man’s bizarrely odd lifestyle and past aside, he raises valuable points on issues of privacy, noting its loss and the illusion of security put forth by the government. Glossing over his confidence in his “huge underground” web following and the sure fact that he will indeed win, McAfee has hopefully reignited a spark in the realm of privacy rights.

We share some of McAfee’s concerns ourselves—after incidents like PRISM and the NSA scandal, the issue of privacy is real. We have lost great amounts of privacy to the hands of a government said to be our protector and for what? Claims that this mass data helps prevent terrorist attacks and violence? That if you haven’t done anything wrong you have nothing to hide? Privacy isn’t secrecy: we all know what happens in the bathroom, but simply because we know doesn’t mean we don’t want the door to be closed when we enter the stall. There are plenty of cases where innocent people, with “nothing to hide” have been falsely victimized (David Mery as an example). Even if people are not arrested or convicted, anything remotely “wrong” or “potentially suspicious” on someone means they are forever viewed through that light, regardless of the correctness of that interpretation.
Certainly there are benefits to having some of our data accessible by the government, but at what point is it too much? Law enforcement should be able to access phone records and files but only with sufficient merit and probable cause, not simply because some kid on League of Legends told another competitor in a fit of rage that he would “fucking kill him” (probably with a few extra exclamation marks and an array of insults comprised of more numbers than letters). Information is power. And when that information is in the wrong hands, it leads to one side, in this case, our own government, having an upper hand and an unfair role in various aspects of the game of life.

The mentality of “having nothing to hide” divides the world into two grups of people, those who are bad (terrorists, criminals) and those who are good, who use the web and information to Facetime, to share books or to plan their next trip. The “good” people have nothing to hide since they are, by definition, good. But by labeling ourselves as such, we are implying that we are nothing more than boring, harmless and entirely uninteresting individuals who hold never question the government. We should be free to critique our government without fear of being put on a list of potential threats. These “good” people? They have plenty to hide but none of it is illegal. It is often embarrassing or immoral, hurtful or just extremely personal. And for that reason they should want to hide it. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

The difficulty in this debate is that everyone is comfortable with differing levels of privacy and differing levels of government control and interference. And while John McAfee may not be the best candidate for the presidency at least he is attempting to spark a discussion on something that is immensely important. Powerful and divisive issues are never easy to solve. They take time—there may not be an answer anytime soon. But simply because it is a hard talk to have doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be having it.

If anything we can all at least agree that both the anti-virus genius McAfee and the egotistical and polarizing West will offer at least some more substance to their debates, whether now or in 2020, than the GOP darling Trump. Here’s to a McAfee-West 2016/20 ticket. I’ll be sure to get a bumper sticker for that.