National Catholic Register

Blogs

Illusion of Online Privacy

Sure, God sees it ... but what if your neighbor saw what you do online?

BY Tom Hoopes

| Posted 1/14/10 at 12:12 PM

 

“If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place,” said Google CEO Eric Schmidt on CNBC

He’s right, right? Or should Catholics join everyone else who says “Gasp! The horror!”

Don’t get me wrong: I do not feel that anyone has a right to store, review or publish anyone else’s Internet history, nor should they. That’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is: Isn’t it true that we shouldn’t be looking at stuff online that we don’t want anyone to know about?

During the 1987 debate over the nomination of Robert Bork, writer Michael Dolan got a copy of Judge Bork’s video rentals and published it in the Washington City Paper. The list didn’t show Bork in a bad light: the titles listed on Wikipedia include a contemporary hit, a Marx Brothers movie and a Hitchcock classic.

But to publish the list at all invites a judgment of Bork that’s irrelevant and possibly misleading as to who he is.

I suspect most Internet history evaluations would yield the same irrelevancies that would invite pointless speculation. “Why did he visit that site? What was she reading that article for?”

But whereas those questions from you (or from Google’s marketing department) are intrusive, the same questions from St. Peter at the pearly gates are going to be a little different.

He may ask: “Now, I’m not saying that you sinned in reading David Letterman’s Top 10 Voicemails on Jeff Zucker’s phone … but wasn’t someone paying you to be doing something else just then?”

Or worse, he might ask: “What in heaven’s name were you doing going to Birthday Suits dot Com at all?”

Eventually, your Internet history will be corporate property — that is, the property of the body of Christ, at your particular and our corporate judgment, when all the deeds we do in the dark will be brought to the light.

But perhaps it will be even more spiritually beneficial to consider that, indeed, your little exploration of Birthday Suits dot Com won’t necessarily be a secret kept between you and your confessor in this life, either.

Said our Google friend: “If you really need that kind of privacy, the reality is that search engines — including Google — do retain this information for some time and it’s important, for example, that we are all subject in the United States to the Patriot Act and it is possible that all that information could be made available to the authorities.” (But don’t forget, whether or not it’s subpoenaed, Google can and will use it for its own purposes.)

Bono of U2 wrote in the New York Times about protecting artists’ music and made another point that elicited gasps: “[W]e know from America’s noble effort to stop child pornography, not to mention China’s ignoble effort to suppress online dissent, that it’s perfectly possible to track content.”

Indeed, we do know that.

We have seen how the devil works too many times to fall into the same trap again. (But of course, into it we fall all the same.) He whispers “No one will ever know.” Then we take the bait. Then everyone knows, and we’re naked and ashamed.

Hate it if you will, but “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place,” is not a bad moral precept for the 21st century.