Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Privacy Lost Redux

A follow-up to yesterday's post on the ideas of privacy --

Jack Lail had some sound opinions on the topic in the comments of that post and after talking with some other friends I simply felt I had not been as clear as I had wanted to be and also some fire was lacking in my writing style too. That's a problem I often find in the blog-writing, that sometimes I try and lay out ideas and issues in a straightforward manner, and often lose some of the punch of what I wish to say as I see the post is running long. So read that post linked above and come back to read the rest of this one.

The ideas of privacy are still rather new to society - it was something that appeared after architecture changed and we started having hallways and doors in our homes rather than large open doorless spaces. And around the time of the American Revolution, our Founders were keen to establish a home, a residence, as our own private place, where government should not enter without permission.

James Madison wrote:

A popular government without popular information, or means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own Governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives."

As noted in the previous post and in Lail's comments, blaming a loss of privacy on the rise of technology and it's many advances is a grave mistake. To assume we have lost a right to privacy due to the vast recordings of financial institutions and communications equipment is a terrible assumption to make.

Adding to this error is the concept that business and government have greater rights of privacy and secrecy than individuals. Also, ideas of 'privileged communications' within government seems to have been the leading edge of this faulty concept. Secrecy is often vital to national security, but a nation governed by secrets is not vital to democracy. It signals a decline instead.

The secrecy corrupts the process of government at local levels too -- residents in Jefferson County, for instance, are left wondering for the reasons the Board of Education fired director of schools Doug Moody. Even comments from the public were not allowed at the open public meeting of their business.

Blogger Linda Noe writes last week an account of a Morristown City Council meeting and hearing on a local business and related sewer problems which was conducted once the council adjourned a meeting, and then returned to session to inform the public of their decisions on the issue.

Making decisions away from public view isn't the way it should be, but the public is just told to accept it. And we tend to do just that.


  1. Anonymous7:18 AM

    It's a technicality, but it's a fairly important one. I'm not certain Linda Noe understood the meeting she attended.

    She made it sound like a conspiracy because the appeal "wasn't heard." The reason the appeal wasn't heard is that the issue - money - was settled.

    And to my point, the city administration - not the city council - was attempting to recover money the city had spent trying to fix sewer problems related to Koch Foods.

    It was an administrative decision, not one for the council. The council "approved" the settlement, but that was all gratuitous window dressing. The council was not even involved in the decision, and the city administration could have settled the deal without input from city council.

    As far as the agreement, which was reached "away from the public view," it was perfectly legal. Council members are permitted to meet in executive session for discussion of pending legal matters.

    But, as I said, this is a moot point because council shouldn't have been involved in "approving" the settlement in the first place.

  2. Council can meet in session to review legal matters, but the law says decisions must then be made in public meetings, as the Open Meeting Laws state.

    Sad to think of an elected council approving decisions made by hired administrators as "gratuitous". They might approve or disapprove of such, but why even have an elected council if they have no oversight of hired administration?