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Taking Responsibility for Your Privacy Part 2: Social Responsibility

In Part 1 of Taking Responsibility for Your Privacy, we talked about the ways in which we can each take responsibility for our privacy, including focusing on the benefits, our innate potential of “response-ability”, and resisting the tendency towards apathy. In Part 2, we discuss the deeper and more expansive change that is possible when we translate our personal responsibility into a larger sense of social responsibility.

Social responsibility means that you as an individual can act to benefit your community or society as a whole. Grounded in ethical theory, social responsibility speaks to an obligation to advance social goals. Privacy isn’t dead unless we let it be, but if we want it to thrive, we need to understand how to become socially responsible about privacy.

The multiplication of merit

Social responsibility harnesses the power of individuals who come together with a common goal – what Buddhist sutras call “the multiplication of merit.” As a community, we enhance each others’ motivation and intention when we work together.

We can make a collective effort to promote and protect individual privacy rights. As community members and citizens, we can take actions to be informed about privacy and data security issues affecting our lives. We can share our privacy awareness with others and participate in the political process to ensure that the government and companies respect our privacy. Active civic engagement rather than being a “spectator” citizen enables this larger movement.

“It’s a full on job looking for examples of human social responsibility” Colin Greenwood, bassist for the band Radiohead

Being mindful of the social, cultural, and economic impacts of privacy issues will have a positive impact on our society. We can help create the world we want to live in. A world where our interactions with technology are thoughtful and informed.

Here are some activities can you take to advance social goals related to privacy and data security:

1.Encourage by example

Living your privacy values is a place to begin. Undertake and uphold positive actions towards the social goal of respect for individual privacy. Exemplify privacy awareness and conscious privacy practices to your friends, family and colleagues.

2.Present a non-partisan view

Privacy is a non-partisan issue. It is not inherently conservative or liberal. Regardless of political affiliation, you can participate in the debate about privacy and data security issues.

A recent survey of 1,000 voters across the U.S. concluded that citizens from all political persuasions are concerned about data monitoring and surveillance. The study showed 90% of Democrats, 94% of Republicans and 93% of Independents cited government surveillance as a concern, and 63% of all survey respondents said the issue will impact how they will vote in the future. Additionally, 82% of respondents would support legislation protecting data privacy and 41% stated the legislation should include a prohibition against “blanket” government data monitoring or capture.

Consider and offer these questions to others for open discussion:

• What are your beliefs on how government should regulate privacy and data security issues?

• How important are these issues to you?

• How satisfied are you with the way government is responding to privacy and data security issues?

3.Engage the political machine on privacy

Follow politicians speaking out on privacy issues.

You may or may not agree with their views, but by discussing the societal effects of privacy loss and proposing legislation they are increasing the dialogue around privacy issues. Senator Al Franken and Senator Patrick Leahy are both actively engaged in privacy issues.

Keep tabs on the White House Big Data report.

In January, President Obama called on the administration to conduct a review of big data and privacy. He asked for an inquiry into how these areas affect the way we live and the way we work. The Big Data report will cover how data is being used by universities, the private sector, and the government. John Podesta, Counselor to the President has 90 days to review and make recommendations.

Monitor privacy legislation in your area.

California is currently the leader in privacy legislation. Legislation is tracked on the Attorney General website.

Write to your senator or congressperson.

Express your views on privacy and data security issues. To find your state’s representative, you can refer to these directories for the House and the Senate.

Follow privacy advocacy organizations.

When you have an understanding of your own privacy values, engage with causes whose positions align with your beliefs. Some good places to start include:


Future of Privacy Forum (FPF) (You might also want to read my post on location privacy and the FPF’s opt out program.)

Taking social responsibility is part of developing your privacy practice. With a little effort, your actions can become shining examples of human social responsibility.

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