Lewis Harrison on Privacy Issues and Big Data

One of the important issues that we deal with in Lewis Harrison’s Applied Game Thinking is related to what is ethical or moral concerning privacy issues. Most democratic societies assume a certain right to privacy on the part of the individual. In spite of this personal privacy has been eroding since the late 1800s and has accelerated with the advent of new technologies. The amount of information about you that is available to corporations, governments and other organizations is mind-boggling. Most of this information is not the result of some government or corporate conspiracy or a plot organized by “Big Brother” as described in the book “1984” by George Orwell). Rather it is the result of the ordinary choices that each of us make in daily life. As we interact with the community and society, we are conducting numerous transactions that are being recorded. Maybe we made a phone call, or used a credit or debit card, went on-line to check our e-mail, used a discount card at a supermarket, drove on a highway through a toll booth, used the photo ID on our driver’s license to gain entry or to prove who we are or even researched the book “1984” by George Orwell on-line.
Each of these activities produces data about who we are and what we do. Most of it is recorded, organized and stored. One American Corporation has claimed to have consumer data on 95% of American households. In addition, many companies have some form of electric surveillance of their employees.

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As information gathering and “Big Data” becomes more prevalent in the world the master decision maker sill need to develop knowledge of present changes in technology as well as future trends. It is hard to predict such a thing. As early as the 1990s one could purchase a tiny microphone capable of recording a whispered conversation from across a street. Cameras become smaller all of the time and many technologies are merging. And then there is biometrics – the science and technology of measuring and statistically analyzing biological data.
Anyone can get the tools to invade your personal life and if you are on the “grid” even once than consider your privacy to be “toast”.
Of course there is some recourse for all this snooping. In recent years a new element has entered the field of information management. Rather than getting access to information the goal is to keep others from our information. There has been much debate between those who wish to enact privacy of information laws and those want to be buy and sell it as they please. It seems that in the end anyone can create walls to protect information and highly skilled hackers can breach those walls.
An interesting solution to this tug of war between “Big Data” and privacy was purposed in the 1990s book by David Brin, “The Transparent Society.” Brin, a Physicist and Science fiction writer, points out that as much as ordinary individuals fear the loss of privacy through technology, governments and the most wealthy and powerful individuals and corporations have the same exact fear, even if for different reasons. His solution is to simply do away with all restrictions. As crazy as this might sound and as unlikely as it is ever to pass, most people and most organizations – private or governmental have something to hide.
Brin points out that privacy is doomed and transparency would give all of us the power to know who knows what about us and thus keep those in power from abusing that power. I am sure there are many valid arguments against Brin’s idea, it is presented in general terms so he doesn’t discuss what would happen to “transparency violators, or how they would be held accountable. There is also the obstacle of the age we live in (the early part of the 21st century). A time where violent criminals, as well as economic, political and religious terrorists have learned to use informational technology to further less than ethical or moral agendas. Nevertheless it would make an interesting conversation I am sure.

Of course the point can be made that if everyone has access to the same information this would serve as a deterrent to those who would violate the common laws of “information courtesy.” A similar point is made by those who believe in the right to bear arms. If everyone has the freedom to own a weapon those with bad intentions are deterred from using their weapons to harm others out of the awareness that others with arms would use their weapons against the violator. Of course there are many arguments as well against the validity of this type of thinking.


So ultimately the question is this, “is it best to limit access to our private information, or better to have total transparency.” There is a saying, “Just because I am paranoid, doesn’t mean there isn’t someone out to get me.” There is no easy answer to the dilemma of information dispersal and how it may serve us or harm us. The more information any of us has, the more power we have access to. Privacy seems like a logical idea. After all do we really want a database that has our DNA stored it, even if it is a useful tool for fighting disease or crime? Yet it seems that no matter how secure information may be someone with a strong enough intention will somehow get to it. Since information is power, we always have the choice to limit the actions we take that leaves a paper or digital trail. This is an important issue for individuals, governments, and international organizations of all types and forms.

Do you know how to use information for power and influence? If not how would you make the world a better place with
Click below to observe a nine minute video interview Lewis did with the Award winning journalist Phyllis Haynes on why people suffer:

Lewis Harrison is the author of sixteen books including
“Spiritual, Not Religious: Sacred Tools for Modern Times” a book of concerned with personal development, human potential, stress reduction and business excellence.

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I have been contacted by many people who have studied with me over the last four decades. Many have an interest in my current ideas on personal development and human potential. These notes are being organized into a series of books titled the”Teachings of Lewis Harrison” of which Volume One is “Spiritual, Not Religious: Sacred Tools for Modern Times.

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