Austin Bay
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Personal privacy has all but dead and gone, and we're the worse for it, in my opinion. Privacy's long goodbye began with Gutenburg. Though the invention of the printing press eventually gave us the gift of mass literacy, it also made gossip permanent. The camera gave paparazzi an anti-privacy weapon worth a thousand words. The telegraph and then the telephone gave gossips instant intercontinental reach. Innuendo moved at the speed of light.

Privacy's shadowy twin, institutional and state secrecy, hasn't expired either, but for better or for worse, secrecy may be on life support. Gutenburg and the telephone contributed to secrecy's decline, but in the last two decades, innovative hackers have demonstrated that two post-World War 2 technological phenomena, digital computers and the internet, have made keeping secrets next to impossible.

In 2013, clever cyber thieves and former NSA contractor Edward Snowden demonstrated that the half-life of precious secrets, even those protected by barbed wire and robust software is measured in months, if not minutes.

Wiretapping is such a 20th century term. Phone hacking has supplanted it. In Great Britain, a private investigator now faces phone hacking charges for intercepting private calls made by British royalty. Last week, British prosecutors introduced evidence that in 2006 a private detective working for the now-defunct News of the World tabloid, pinched juicy voicemails left for Kate Middleton by her then-boyfriend (now-husband) Prince William. Another News of the World reporter may have phone-hacked Buckingham Palace.

The argument that British royals only exist for purpose of scandalous entertainment has merit. But think for a moment. If the British government can't protect the Windsors' cell phones, no one's conversations are private.

I'm afraid they aren't. In fact, audio hacking may be the lesser of two embarrassments. The FBI recently admitted that it can remotely activate a computer's built-in camera. The Feebs assure us they only trigger the candid camera if you're a mobster and they've a warrant (!). Once upon a time, the morning newspaper provided news lovers with ideal latrine and lavatory reading. Wi-fi made laptop computers latrine-compatible. After the FBI's revelation, latrines may witness a newsprint revival.

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Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
 
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