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YouthSpeaksOut! is a monthly public affairs program in Mendocino County California, hosted by high school students. 60 minute. Produced by Dan Roberts.
Today our topic is “Youth don’t worry about privacy- why we should.” We all have cell phones, as do most of you. This allows us to make or receive a phone call wherever we are, whenever we want. To our generation this seems to be nothing special. To many of you in the audience this is a huge shift from corded phones, and some of you still wonder where all the public phone booths went. While cell phone reception is imperfect up here in this mountainous region, we never have to travel far to get a signal.
All of our cellphones have the ability to text. To text is to send a short written message from one cell phone to another. You can see people doing it at stoplights all the time. A recent survey said that, nationally, teens text an average of 3000 times a month. We do not text that much, but we do know how convenient the service is for getting information or connecting with our friends. We have been told by an elderly fellow that there are a number of people in our community that have never texted- he also claims to have lived for 15 years without any telephone service and suffered no ill effects.
All of our cellphones are smartphones, quite a leap beyond old-fashioned cell phones. Smartphones incorporate sophisticated computers allowing us access to the internet wherever we are, as well as listen to music, play video games, take photographs, and stay in contact through social media like Facebook, Tumbler, and Twitter. To our generation this seems to be nothing special, smartphones are the norm.
The ability to contact and be contacted wherever you are can be life-saving, or at least reassuring to parents and friends. In an emergency, a cellphone that is on can be located through its GPS app. Being able to do this is good news if you're trying to track someone else's phone or need someone to find you by tracking your phone (maybe you're lost). This can even come in handy for government agencies trying to nab criminals. But it can be bad news for those who put a premium on privacy because if you can track your cell phone, others can track it as well.
We could define privacy as the state or condition of being free from being observed or disturbed by other people. People who graduated from high school more than 35 years ago probably read George Orwell’s novel 1984. He wrote the book in 1949 about a tyrannical state led by Big Brother who employed futuristic means of spying on citizens, and constantly rewrote history to reflect the governments viewpoint. The vision of cameras and recorders in every room monitoring people was disturbing. When the actual year 1984 came along, many readers felt relieved that the Western world appeared to have retained freedom and privacy.
Edward Snowden is a computer professional who worked with material from the U.S. government’s National Security Agency, known as the NSA. Last year he began revealing a great deal of information about how much the NSA spies on people and other governments around the world. After he left the country and found refuge in Russia, he leaked details about the massive amount of data the NSA tracks on American citizens, through their phones and computers. And those who had read the novel 1984 came to recognize that we have been under a great deal of surveillance. The difference is that instead of cameras in our rooms, most citizens keep an elaborate tracking device in their pocket- the smartphone.
Every year the Queen of England gives a Christmas message on the BBC, and a political figure is allowed a message on BBC4. Last Christmas Edward Snowden was chosen and here is what he said-
PLAY Snowden (1:39)
Edward Snowden is an activist who is opposed to mass surveillance. He is worried that our generation will never know privacy rights because of our technological equipment. Many people say that if you are not doing anything illegal, then government surveillance should not be a problem. Many young people do not worry about their cellphone use, texting, or what they post on social media. Many see no problem if advertisers track them and sell personality data to other companies. These are some of the topics we hope you will discuss with us when we open the phone lines later in the hour.
Privacy extends to other parts of our lives as well. In California a minor may receive confidential family planning services, including contraception and abortion. And this can, upon the minor’s request, be kept confidential from their parents. There are now laws sealing records of minors who are treated for substance abuse along with other medical records. Students have some privacy rights about their educational records, and they now have the right to review those records.
Much of the research for this show came from two websites. The American Civil Liberties website, that’s www.aclu.org has a wealth of information about privacy rights and legal actions underway. The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s website, that’s www.eff.org, offers vast knowledge about surveillance risks when using digital equipment like smartphones and computers.
If you think that you do not need to worry about any of this because you do nothing illegal or political, you should at least consider the serious problem of identity theft. Many people in our rural community have experienced identity theft and been presented with bills for goods or services they never received. Some young people have been refused employment because of something offensive they posted on Facebook. And in our last show on “Bullying” we addressed the abusive actions that some young people take on Facebook and Twitter.
There is much to talk about and we do hope you’ll join us when we open the phone lines in 20-30 minutes. Our number will be 707 456-9991. So let’s go around and describe how we feel about privacy and our smartphones. Do the benefits outweigh the risks?
We’re going to open the phone lines now. The phone number is 707 456-9991. Everyone is welcome to call, and we’d especially like to encourage the youth, their parents, teachers, and concerned friends in the listening audience. Please call in if you have questions or insights about privacy in the digital age.
Do you worry that someone may be tracking and recording your phone calls and internet use? Are there any actions you have taken to protect your privacy?
Should we just accept that after the events of 9/11 that we need to forego privacy for the safety of all Americans?
Did you read George Orwell’s novel 1984? Do you think that our society has approached the situation with Big Brother and Oceania? If so, is there any hope of turning back?
Have you ever had your identity stolen? Was it easy to rectify the problems?
Do you agree with Edward Snowden that the youth of today will never have a sense of privacy? Do the benefits of cellphones and computers outweigh the degradation of the 4th Amendment? Should the NSA be reined in?
Please call in and be part of this conversation.