Why I Choose Privacy

Sabrina Banes

This essay is adapted from one originally published on my personal website, missbananabiker.com.

I publish my work under my full name. I write about my life without holding back, except where innocent people might be harmed as a result of my writing about them.

You might wonder why I advocate so passionately for internet privacy when I tell the whole world all my secrets without restraint, when I am completely open about, for instance, being an abuse survivor who is this year celebrating my twentieth year of freedom.

1. I have always had the option of keeping my secrets. For years, while I was being abused, I was forced to keep secrets, and then I continued to do so because I was afraid of people’s reactions to hearing about what I had survived.

I personally don’t care any more if you think I’m a weirdo because I am a weirdo, and I’m fine with that. In fact, my weirdness is what I have to offer the world.

2. So my weirdness and my truth are things I talk about because it’s what I have to contribute, and because I’m tired of the forced silence which isolated me.

Now I want to exercise my own free speech. I want to tell people about my experiences. I hope that maybe some of you will get ideas from all this for how to spark change in your own worlds, even if all you do is teach your kids that they have the right to establish firm boundaries. Particularly firm physical boundaries, like getting to decide who to hug and when.

3. But privacy is important. I have the right to be a private person if I choose to do so, and for about eighteen years I did choose to do so. I did that for my own safety. I have a right to preserve my own safety.

4. When it comes to the state spying on me, I admit I don’t have much “to hide.” There are things I would be a little embarrassed to know about if you learned them, but for me personally at this moment in time, concentrated state surveillance is not my biggest fear.

5. I personally am more afraid of all the trackers from Facebook and Amazon and other companies with which I do business. And that’s why I flush my cookies with the frequency of a true paranoiac and use all sorts of browser extensions to protect myself to whatever degree I can.

6. But there are people, a lot of people, who have a genuine reason to fear state surveillance. I could easily be one of them. And I think it’s important that you all read, for instance, about a really gross spying bill called CISA that passed the US Senate with only twenty-one votes against it. We are not fighting this spying. We are letting it happen.

7. Here’s what Edward Snowden has to say about that bill: “What it allows is for the companies you interact with every day – visibly, like Facebook, or invisibly, like AT&T – to indiscriminately share private records about your interactions and activities with the government.” Actually, the bill requires those companies to share your info with the NSA. Seriously.

8. Now you understand maybe why I am paranoid about my business-facing cookies.

9. If the government spies on citizens without our consent, without our knowledge, without valid reason, we all lose something precious. We lose the right to be flawed people. We all become criminals by default.

10. As an abuse survivor, I’ve lived under circumstances like that, where every move was monitored. And I have to tell you, living under a microscope is definitely not being free. When you have to account for every hour of your day to your abusive father, when you have to find places to hide contraband items like rock music cassettes, when you have to keep secrets as a matter of survival, you are not free.

As a former preacher’s daughter, I can tell you that I’ve also lived in a fishbowl, and fishbowls are not free places either. When your whole church discusses whether your parents are being profligate with their money by taking their thirteen-year-old daughter whose classmates call her “Bugs Bunny” to an orthodontist, that’s not freedom.

11. As an army brat, I was raised to believe that the US government is some sort of heroic institution that exports freedom and democracy to the rest of the world. The first lessons I learned in my US Department of Defense school were about freedom and its importance.

12. Partly because I am an abuse survivor, I value justice. It’s just super important to me that people be treated fairly and humanely and that their basic rights be respected.

13. I have always wanted the United States to be a nation that values freedom. I have always thought that the most important line ever written by our founding fathers was not in the Constitution but in the Declaration of Independence: “...that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

14. With the spying, our government and others are taking our liberty and chilling our pursuit of happiness. By spying on us, they’ve put us in a position where we are constantly trying to cover our tracks. Even flushing your cookies is evidence you’re suffering from a chilling effect. You shouldn’t have to cover your tracks unless you’re hiding from something.

15. This is also why you should be very, very worried about treaties like TPP, TTIP, and TiSA. The aforementioned spying bill, CISA, lays some of the groundwork in the US for those treaties, helps foster an environment that would allow the American government — and, with the treaties, corporations and governments around the world — to encroach on everyone’s liberties even more.

16. As someone who has survived tyranny, the most important thing to me is never living under it again. As someone who is free with my opinions, it’s important to me that I have the right to be free with my opinions.

17. Internet freedom is a women’s issue. Have you read the 1972 Johnnie Tillmon piece from Ms. magazine, Welfare is a Women’s Issue ? You should. It explains why access to food and shelter are vitally important to women.

18. Internet privacy is also vitally important to women. If your abusive partner has installed a keystroke logger on your computer, you have no freedom of association, expression or movement. To leave such a partner, a person would need to get to a computer at a public library or internet cafe, establish an anonymous identity, make private phone calls and check-in to a safe location without being tracked. The effect of one partner spying on another can be absolutely devastating, and the ability to escape such spying is crucial to survival.

We need these tools to survive situations like the one above, situations which are all too common. People who want to make strong cryptography illegal, like FBI Director James Comey, are saying they don’t want us to have the tools we need to in order to escape life-threatening situations. That’s not just misguided; it’s tyrannical and frightening. Comey is behaving like an abusive partner, trying to make some rule that you aren’t allowed to stop him from reading all your emails and text messages. He and people like him are trying to make it illegal for people like me to survive this world.

19. The government and some of the bigger corporations have basically installed keystroke loggers on us, except they’ve done it in tricky ways we don’t discover until after our privacy has already been compromised.

20. Edward Snowden recently said on Twitter, “Surveillance is not about safety. It’s about power. It’s about control.”

You could replace the word “surveillance” with “abuse” and you’d have the same statement. This is why a free Internet is so important to me. This is why the right to privacy is so fundamental in my opinion. Because we all deserve to be free from those who would hold us captive, whether those folks are abusers or stalkers or just the good people who’ve built a surveillance apparatus that makes the Stasi look like amateur hour.

We all deserve that freedom. Anyone who is a survivor should value that freedom, and anyone who has suffered oppression should viscerally understand why, and anyone who is human should do whatever they can to protect that freedom.