first_imgBy ANDY ANDREWSLos Alamos World Futures InstitutePrivacy, what is it? The word quickly becomes complicated in its meaning depending on how it is used.In examining the word, I find the bubble model is useful in building a mental model. Imagine the world is a really big bubble filled with smaller bubbles, each of which may be filled with yet smaller bubbles until you reach the smallest bubble, the human being.Inside the world bubble and all the smaller bubbles is a fluid called information. It is extremely complicated because a single human bubble may join lots of larger bubbles and larger bubbles may join or align with other bubbles, sharing some of the fluid. And various bubbles may have improper tendencies toward other bubbles.If you search for “privacy definition” on Google you find it to be “the state of being free from public attention” or “the state or condition of being observed or disturbed by other people.”If you have to go to the bathroom, you want privacy. As individual bubbles we want our private parts hidden from observation, usually. Obviously there are exceptions and under certain circumstance we have rules and laws governing exposure. As people bubbles, we understand this. It is part of our upbringing and culture.If you go to the Cambridge English Dictionary, privacy is “the state of being alone, or the right to keep one’s personal matters and relationships secret or known only to a small group of people.”To the individual bubble this might be about what you like and dislike since if someone you like knows a not so nice aspect about you, he or she may reject you. So our private parts are not just physical, but also include information in our brains and our operational programming.If you go to Miriam Webster you find a list of synonyms that include “aloneness, insulation, isolation, secludedness, seclusion, segregation, separateness, sequestration, solitariness, solitude.”If you look at the definitions, it is clear that the focus is on the individual.But if you look at the second definition in Miriam Webster you find a single work: SECRECY.The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is about unauthorized search and seizure and “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects.”This is privacy. You cannot invade a person bubble, the individual or his or her stuff, simply looking for something. But what is that stuff and what is that something? Is it physical or is it informational? And when is it you think that something is private, but the universe of bubbles has ruled it is not private?According to Wikipedia, individual privacy is a concept of western culture, and the United Kingdom and the United States in particular. But is it about physical or informational privacy?We build houses or live in apartments or other structures and they all have doors. In our “homes” we can install cameras to see who is approaching our “private” space. If we own a retail business, we can install cameras to view what customers are doing. We do it for theft protection. But can we install cameras in the dressing or restrooms? What privacy is the individual allowed?On television today, crime shows often depict law enforcement scanning video footage (ok, it is really digital recordings) of a crime scene to identify the bad guy or gather an image of a license plate or some other clue.As we watch, we accept the procedure as good because it deals with emphasizing goodness and stopping badness.We do not mind being watched when we are in public because by entering public we are willing to give up our privacy, some of it anyway. After all, the people monitoring the video cameras do not know who we are.When you go to the store and buy something, do you pay with cash, check, or credit/debit card? If you use other than cash, the store is collecting information about you. Let us say it is just your name, but the video cameras also have your image. Now they know that J.J. Schmedlap bought an XYZ at 0001 hours on March 32nd, 2117. Is that important even though it is an invasion of your privacy? Obviously you want an XYZ and by making the purchase you are agreeing that information about you does not have to be private. You only want a green apple for a snack.The store is gathering information about its customers, including you. It can track your purchases and identify your likes and dislikes. It can then suggest or market other products to you slanted by what it knows about you. Possibly it can infer where you live and it knows who you are. Most of us will take the attitude of “who cares” and move on. But in this innocent process we are giving up information – personal information. And we trust the recipient to keep it private because it is between them and us.Til next time….Los Alamos World Futures Institute website is Feedback, volunteers and donations (501.c.3) are welcome. Email [email protected] or [email protected] Previously published columns can be found at or