Have you seen the movie, The Lives of Others? The 2006 Academy Award winner for best foreign film, the movie tells the story of authors and artists living under the Stasi in East Germany, when everyone spied on everyone else, all typewriters were registered with the government, and there was virtually no way to publicly protest the government. In a world with no privacy, there can be no public action. Privacy, in other words, is critical to civil society.
In February, I wrote this post about why we need rules for how, the heart of American civil society, handle our data and protect the privacy of everyone they work with. Protecting our individual privacy is critical not only as a matter of civil liberties, but to ensure our ability to act publicly. Privacy is critical to civil society.
Given the recent news about the role of the government and big companies in monitoring our online and phone interactions, realizing what we need to do to protect our civil institutions - our ability to freely associate, speak, and publish - seems ever more relevant. I'm not talking about just the work of the civil liberties activists, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Freedom of the Press Foundation. Data privacy should be a top policy concern for all philanthropic foundations and all nonprofits. Their future existence likely depends on it. Defining them by how they use our data is more important now than ever; they may well be our last bastion of protection.