Awhile back, Scott McNealy said "Privacy is dead, deal with it". That got a lot of play at the time, but fell into bit bucket over time.
Today, Bruce Schneier explains just how far reaching that assumption is:
Everyday conversation used to be ephemeral. Whether face-to-face or by phone, we could be reasonably sure that what we said disappeared as soon as we said it. Of course, organized crime bosses worried about phone taps and room bugs, but that was the exception. Privacy was the default assumption.
This has changed. We now type our casual conversations. We chat in e-mail, with instant messages on our computer and SMS messages on our cellphones, and in comments on social networking Web sites like Friendster, LiveJournal and News Corp.'s (nyse: NWS - news - people ) MySpace. These conversations--with friends, lovers, colleagues, fellow employees--are not ephemeral; they leave their own electronic trails.
We know this intellectually, but we haven’t truly internalized it. We type on, engrossed in conversation, forgetting that we’re being recorded.
This goes well beyond any legal worries over government monitoring. That sounds like I'm back burnering that issue, and - for the purposes of a larger point, I am. Let me start with an example.
I communicate with other Cincomers (and a variety of other people) via an IRC channel. I'm on that channel most of the time, and the traffic is all being logged - both by my IRC client, and probably by every other IRC client. Ten years from now, someone who I've had a falling out with could dredge up some extended bout of silliness we engage in from time to time, take it out of context, and embarrass me greatly. Heck, it might go beyond embarrassment - if it was stupid enough "bathroom humor", it might do actual damage.
IM is another communication channel I use, along with email. Email is persistent, and IM logs can be saved. There's no telling what someone could do with an out of context message (or, an in context one made under a presumption of privacy). As Bruce says above, we operate as if we're engaged in an "over the fence" chat, only these are all logged, and could come back to haunt us.
I'm grateful that I didn't have blogs, email, IM, and IRC chats to leave a paper trail on me when I was in college - today's students do though, and their transient acts of silliness - acts that would have dropped into the ether 20 years ago - could easily come back to haunt them in 2 or 3 decades. I fully expect politicians to get chased by decades old logs in the coming years, and for political battles at corporations to work the same way.
Unlike Bruce, I don't really think legislation will help much. I chat with people in other countries on the Smalltalk IRC channel all the time. US law won't mean anything to them. Likewise, overseas emails and IMs won't be affected by whatever privacy regime Schneier idealizes. Ultimately, I think we are going to have to internalize the new reality of a logged world. I'd recommend a book - James Halperin's "The Truth Machine". part of the world built in that book is a constant logging (video, audio, etc) of everything - mostly by people themselves.