In a World of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, Suddenly Now We “Care” About Privacy?

Big_Brother_WatchingAs details have emerged about the story from The Guardian which “shocked” the world by revealing that the NSA had been collecting the phone records of millions of Americans and tracking their internet activity, something struck me—when did people suddenly start to care about their privacy?

Now I know it makes for a great headline to get people riled up and talking (because the government is a great boogeyman to fear), but to be honest, most of those I’ve talked to weren’t really bothered by this story.

Sure if you follow a lot of liberal blogs, Facebook pages or Twitter accounts you’d think the world was coming to an end.  But in the real world, outside of the internet, most people either didn’t care or knew it was happening anyway.

After all, isn’t this basically what the Patriot Act has been—a tool the government can use to push the envelope when it comes to our Fourth Amendment rights?  After 12 years, suddenly now people want to act shocked?

Besides, when did people start caring about their privacy again?  Have these people seen Facebook?  Twitter?  YouTube?  Google+?  Instagram?

I can’t pull up my Facebook these days without seeing a barrage of self portraits (seemingly the same picture over and over again of the same people) just taken at different angles or with different Instagram themes.  I know who many of these individual’s family members are because they’re tagged in a special section under “Family.”  I know about quite a few of my “Facebook friends” frequently fluctuating “relationship statuses,” and it isn’t out of the norm to know if some of these people actually took a shower today.  Because trust me, they’ll tell me if, and when, they did.

That’s if the pictures of their dinner haven’t overwhelmed my Facebook wall to the point where all of the other information gets pushed aside.  Did you know Jenny ate a meatball sub for dinner last night?  Well, I do.  Without that knowledge I might not have been able to sleep last night.

Hell, I know where people are without even talking to them.  It’s easy.  People seem to enjoy tagging themselves damn near everywhere.  Not just a random location, the exact location where they currently are.  Oh, you’re at the gym right now?  The one on Main Street and Fifth?  That. Is. Fan—tastic.  Hopefully nobody on your Facebook list of friends is a stalker.  Because, everyone on your Facebook is a close personal friend, right?  All 400 (or more) of them I bet.  Quick, list 400 different names—I dare you.

And if Facebook isn’t your thing, there’s always the other options.  Hashtag yourself away on Instagram or Twitter, or try and become an internet celebrity by posting a few videos on YouTube.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying people don’t have legitimate concerns about the possibility of the government tracking phone records.  It’s a discussion I think needs to be had because enough Americans are concerned about the issue.

I just find it a little ironic that in this day and age where people willfully and publicly parade themselves, their food and their locations all over the internet—suddenly people are in an uproar over their privacy.

Allen Clifton

Allen Clifton is a native Texan who now lives in the Austin area. He has a degree in Political Science from Sam Houston State University. Allen is a co-founder of Forward Progressives and creator of the popular Right Off A Cliff column and Facebook page. Be sure to follow Allen on Twitter and Facebook, and subscribe to his channel on YouTube as well.


Facebook comments

  • mojones1

    I think we need to recognize that there are plenty of people who do not use FB, Twitter or even the internet. I do think that people should be a lot more selective about what they share online and in texts.

  • Tom

    because we all willingly submit to the government having access to our
    phone records, emails, and internet searches just because we use twitter
    and facebook!!!??

    on this crap is wrong and we better all know it and do something about
    it or it will only get worse. It sucks that it has happened under Obama, oh
    well, no one is perfect and he is a politician not a savior so let’s
    keep things in perspective, PLEASE. I am NOT supporting him or anyone
    when it comes to violating privacy rights. If it was wrong when Bush did
    it, it’s still wrong when Obama does it. It’s wrong, period!

    • mojones1

      You are absolutely right Tom.

      • Tom

        I try to be objective when it comes to politics. I voted for Obama twice. It’s not that I regret doing so, but when something is wrong it is wrong. Doesn’t matter who does it. Seems pretty simple to me.

    • disqus_ccJa2ttJT2

      People need to stop saying “it happened under Obama.” This has been going on a long time, but nobody seemed so outraged in, for instance, May of 2006.

    • Michael

      Supreme Court of the United States, 1979 (Smith v. Maryland):


      The installation and use of the pen register was not a “search” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, and hence no warrant was required. Pp. 739-746.

      (a) Application of the Fourth Amendment depends on whether the person invoking its protection can claim a “legitimate expectation of privacy” that has been invaded by government action. This inquiry normally embraces two questions: first, whether the individual has exhibited an actual (subjective) expectation of privacy; and second, whether his expectation is one that society is prepared to recognize as “reasonable.” Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347 . Pp. 739-741.
      (b) Petitioner in all probability entertained no actual expectation of privacy in the phone numbers he dialed, and even if he did, his expectation was not “legitimate.” First, it is doubtful that telephone users in general have any expectation of privacy regarding the numbers they dial, since they typically know that they must convey phone numbers to the telephone company and that the company has facilities for recording this information and does in fact record it for various legitimate business purposes. And petitioner did not demonstrate an expectation of privacy merely by using his home phone rather than some other phone, since his conduct, although perhaps calculated to keep the contents of his conversation private, was not calculated to preserve the privacy of the number he dialed. Second, even if petitioner did harbor some subjective expectation of privacy, this expectation was not one that society is prepared to recognize as “reasonable.” When petitioner voluntarily conveyed numerical information to the phone company and “exposed” that information to its equipment in the normal course of business, he assumed the risk that the company would reveal the information [442 U.S. 735, 736] to the police, cf. United States v. Miller, 425 U.S. 435 . Pp. 741-746.

      • Tom

        Did you defend Bush when he pulled this crap?

      • Michael

        Data mining yes, wiretapping no. There is a bright line between those two issues, the former is acceptable, outlined by statute and with precedent

      • One was for so-called “pen-trap” orders. To obtain from a telephone company the numbers dialed to and from a particular telephone, officers must get a pen-trap order from a judge. They do not need to show probable cause, but must certify that the information is needed for an ongoing criminal investigation. The reason for the lesser standard is that these records are far less intrusive than wiretaps and physical searches.
        The pen trap needed clarification an it doesn’t apply to the Verizon case unless they are saying there is an ongoing criminal investigation of all of Verizon’s customers.

      • Michael

        The got a court order. It was signed off by The same judge who ruled all of the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional so hardly an Obama lackey either.

      • Blanket warrants are not constitutional which is what that warrant is. The aca is a separate issues and I also believe its unconstitutional as well. I never said anything about lackeys where did that come form?

      • Michael

        If there is no expectation of privacy, there isn’t even a requirement for a warrant. The warrant was required because the companies wanted to withhold the records for their own purposes, but they are e owners and the controllers to the data. There is no personal right to privacy over the data.

        The lackey comment is to show that our government has strong checks and balances. If you want someone monitoring the Obama White House as a check, there isn’t a much better outside, unbiased monitor than Judge Vinson.

      • Even under the pen trap they have to prove that the individual number and any numbers being call from it or number calling to that number have to be part of a criminal investigation or they can’t get the data. In the case of say gmail I enter into a contract with google an the privacy policy allow google to release my info to any third party only under a few specific circumstances so if the government wants them the have to either suspect me of a crime and if its under the guise of the pen trap that have to prove its part of an ongoing criminal investigation which seem to not be the case with the massive amounts of data they are collecting.

      • Michael

        The privacy policy is just that- a policy. It gives Google an incentive to not voluntarily and over the data (which is what necessitates the warrant as it did with Verizon for the same reason), but under the logic of Smith v. Maryland no it does not give you a ‘reasonable expectation of privacy’ in the legal sense any more than you telling your best friend something ‘in secret’ precludes them from running off to the police (he may resist because he doesn’t want a reputation as a narc, but he doesn’t have any protection nor is your privacy being violated under the 4th Amendment when the government eventually forces him to relay the nature of the conversation). Smith v Maryland is the key not because this IS pen registry, but because of the underlying logic in interpreting the 4th Amendment. When you use a third party and know they are monitoring certain data, you lose privacy rights for that data unless law specifically protects it. Even wi telephones initially there was a lot of questions over how privacy rights would work (because e cables weren’t physically in your property), and that led to wiretapping laws in the 1930s, which established the norm for the expectation of privacy found in Katz. Many of the same people who ruled for privacy in Katz ruled the same logic didn’t apply in Smith because e norms and protection weren’t there, and the person using the phone should have known at the data was being recorded by somebody.

      • You are talking a warrant versus a specific person in that case. In the Verizon case it’s not one person it’s their whole customer base the Maryland law doesn’t seem to apply. By law if I talk to someone on the phone they have to inform if they don’t they are in violation of the law. Also he data stream from a cell phone could possibly be construed as a “cable” and subject to the wire tapping laws could it not? And just having a privacy policy in a contract implies the expectation of privacy otherwise why put one in the contract if its effectively irrelevant according to that case. And how does that open the door to them tanking banking records because that contract holds a very similar privacy policy.

      • Even though the Maryland case says the numbers are not private the officers or government still have to obtain a judges order and even though they do not need probable cause they still have to prove to the judge that there is an on going criminal investigation in relation to the number or numbers they are requesting, so by taking all of those records from version they had to prove to a judge that they had an on going investigation that required all of the numbers of Verizon’s customers. And what you’re asserting is that Verizon’s customers were all being investigated in a criminal case.

      • Dissenter13a
        Judges are just politicians, who had to spend a lot of time on knee-pads to get their gigs. If Judge Vinson is what “judicial oversight” is, it is worse than useless.

      • Michael

        Vinson is 73 years old and now retired. I doubt he did this thinking it would get him elevated to the Supreme Court.

  • Jay Mats

    we are all having soo much fun with our new toys. Just like kids at Christmas.
    Not seeing the true ramifications that it brings.

    • J Phipps

      I’m so tired of all these conspiracy theorists using the term “Sheeple.” Do you not see the irony there?

  • Here’s the difference. I choose when I’m online what I share and with whom. I should have the right to expect privacy according to my agreements with the various platforms I use. When I mark something as private, I have an expectation of privacy – even from the government. What the NSA and their co-conspirators have done is overwritten my expectations. If I put something out there publicly then the Government can have it. If I put something out their privately, then the Government shouldn’t get it without court order. That includes just information about who I contacted and not the content. This is part of the discussion we had in the wake of 9/11 when the Patriot Act was being debated. Whether its the war on Terrorism or Drugs, this is America and in America the government doesn’t (or shouldn’t) have the ability to spy on Americans without cause and court order.

    • Michael

      You don’t ‘put something out there’ as ‘private.’ It is put there or it is not. You may not be wishing to broadcast it to everyone, but when you post it not he Internet, using someone else’s server and someone else’s website to host the response, you lose the expectation of privacy in a legal sense. Even your phone records (not the content, but the record itself) has no expectation of privacy

  • Gerald

    That silly old Fourth amendment and those old fogey Founding Fathers. Allen, you are incredible (in a bad way) for a guy with a poly sci degree.

  • 3vi3

    So, because some people disrespect their own privacy, the rest of us should just accept blanket surveillance? Posting a friends-only photo of my dinner plate is tacit consent to government review of my phone records for what they think looks like terrorist patterns?

  • Bob

    Are we not kidding ourselves? From the time we are born the Govt. tracks us, we have a birth record, we go to DR’s, we eventually get a S.S. number, we pay taxes, we get married, we get divorced, we buy cars and pay sales tax on that, we buy property, some buy stocks, and some just use banking. We have credit cards, utilities. So unless you are an off grid hermit….you have been tracked and watched your whole life……and suddenly this is news?

  • Aimee Barfield

    If you use Facebook, they own all your content, whether you have it set to friends only or not. It’s right there in your user agreement. Unless you own and operate your own dedicated server whatever platform someone else owns your content. Yes I know we al do not read the user agreements but it’s spelled out every single time. You’d have to be a Luddite and off the grid.

  • Mike Taylor

    It’s not about privacy, it’s about policy… And random vilification. What you POST online is public, what you do in your daily life that happens to involve an online connection is your business. And they are looking to have access to things like your camera phone whether or not you are actually taking a picture. Or your phone’s microphone, whether or not you are actually on a call. Where does one draw the line, exactly?

  • Linda

    People seem to forget that there WAS a court order, at least on Verizon!

    • It was a blanket warrant and those violate the fourth amendment. A warrant has to be specific in what is to be seized, why its being seized and what the probable cause is for the warrant.

  • djulien

    I think the tide turned with the so called Patriot Act. That strengthened the national security state and diminished our liberty. Why wasn’t there outrage from the majority and from the main stream media after the Patriot Act was passed??

  • Jan Sicars

    Theres a difference between sharin my life willingly with my friends and sharing my life because some unauthorised bast…. are reading my mails an record my phonecalls.

  • 4-Q-2


    The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no WARRANTS shall issue, but upon PROBABLE CAUSE, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

    What part do you need explained to you????

    • disqus_6AeSbMRBY2

      D’ya remember a little thing called The Patriot Act? Where was all this righteous indignation then? All I heard then was nonsense like “well, if you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to worry about.”

  • 4-Q-2

    Allen Clifton….You are a sorry excuse for a Texan to surrender your (AND MY) rights so FREELY…

  • This guy sounds like a mouthpiece for the Obama administration. My emails and texts and phone calls are intended for the person I send them to period emails texts and phone calls are no different than sending a letter to someone via the US post office. This far reaching government needs to be put in its place and be brought back in line with the limitations that the constitution placed on it.

    • Bine646

      Thought it was common knowledge these platforms were under survillence by the govt- patriot act was passed yrs ago n irs flat put said they were looking

      • I agree that we knew they were looking but I think that the assumption was that it was in line with the fourth amendment which has been proven to be incorrect and a lesson on why we shouldn’t assume anything. I know the patriot act was passed years ago. What I was saying is that they used provisions in the patriot act to sidestep the fourth amendment.

        I would be curious as to the ramifications of contracts since using sites like google and Facebook are contracts as well as contracts with cell providers. Especially since the privacy policies talk about third parties being entities other than the individual and the provider.

      • Bine646

        Idk about the contract thing, would be a question for the Illysa chick on this site (one of the writers).

        The scary thing about the monitoring is the ndaa which was passed- very broad definition of terrorist and terrorism- cant wait till they start locking people up for that

      • Scary indeed

  • Jess Manuel

    If this is such a big deal, how come nobody is storming the White House or Congress? Nothing will change, the govt will still continue to spy on our asses.

  • John1966

    I sense a HUGE amount of Obama love permeating all through that. I vividly remember Obama and ALL the liberals excoriating Bush for doing a FRACTION of the civil rights abuses Obama is doing now. Whatever is in that Kool-Aid is pretty strong. To equate VOLUNTARY internet postings with COVERT SURVEILLANCE is the height of arrogant liberal irrationality. How stupid do you think we are?

  • eyeonhudson

    You’re an idiot. Have you read the Terms of Service, Privacy Policy, and other governing documents of your contracts with those private entities? You probably haven’t. They are long, full of legal boilerplate, and written in a way as to intentionally obfuscate their actual meaning.

    Have you read the agreement you have with the Government? It is much simpler. It says “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause,
    supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place
    to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

    It’s not a valid comparison.

  • Robert

    I’ve been fighting against this crap since 2001. Where the hell were the rest of you? Oh, suddenly it’s OK since this president has a (D) by his name?