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"Everyone is becoming like a Stasi agent"

Ralf Hütter from the Gods of modern music, Kraftwerk is interviewed in The Guardian today, being interviewed by John Harris. 2 good people.

A quote that the subeditors pulled out for special attention was ""Everybody is becoming like ... a Stasi agent, constantly observing himself or his friends."

It struck a chord, and made me think about the whole privacy debate. As well as the clear points of discussion: the searching of peoples' Facebook/Myspace profiles for tidbits by future employers (or indeed, them asking for your username and passwords! Insane!), other peoples' photos of you being trawled for teenage photos of puking at parties (or indeed, you being hounded in your teenage years by a newspaper, purely because you were involved in an horrific incident in your youth)  there is the more subtle point of unwitting public coercion in the removal pf one's own privacy, as well as everyone else's.

One friend of mine was very careful until a short while ago not to have her picture on the internet, or using her short nickname instead of her full name. She's now given that up, bowing to the inevitable. Her privacy has been lost because she has many well meaning and lovely friends, who have named her, over and over again in photos, particularly on Flickr. Including me, over the years (Sorry, by the way!).

I eventually managed to push McK in to the position where he restricted the pictures of the children to 'F&F only' on the aforementioned photo application, because they are not in a position to give their permission for everyone else to see them yet (in fact, when offered the opportunity to have a charming video of her doing some Olympic sports put on a big screen for everyone to see, Nora balked at the idea completely - which I hope illustrates that privacy is important to kids, and that their decision in the use of their image is extremely important).

Those two examples aside, we are surround by a generation of people who are Facebook statusing / Twittering and photographing the minutia of life. not just their own life, but their friends, associates, co-workers, people they see on the bus... nameless strangers are commented upon for being obese, having red hair, BO, being ugly... or, to take the Stasi line slightly more seriously, anything out of the norm is ripe for being filmed, photo'd and commented upon. Each little cluster of social activity surrounding a slightly unusual event is somewhat akin to far too many people dialling 999 around the scene of an accident.

As we've seen with Twitter recently, the fringes around the central events in Iran are generating enormous amount of useful, semi-useful, genuinely pointless and outright wrong tweets around the hashtag #iranelection. The natural human reaction to want to join in turns an event outside the norm in to a mass spectator event, where the spectators, now used to interacting, want to join in as much as possible. Sometimes, inadvertently, getting in the way. Note, please, I'm not condemning it, naturally. I'm thinking out loud that the useful immediacy of the medium brings with it the inevitability of a collection of flotsam sticking itself to an event, which may or may not slow it down... the jury's out on that one.

So we are willing participants in the disclosure not only of our own previously private events, but potentially, everyone else's - in the flawed and confusing half-picture that that inevitably brings. the interweb's ability to open up communication seems by its nature liberal, but that could be because we are all self selecting. In at atmosphere of reduced employment, and increased people-traffic, where tensions arise, those half pictures, and personal intrusion in to other peoples' privacy is potentially incendiary.

I'm not keen on "What if" scenarios, but... if I'm transposing the social conditions surrounding the Wiemar Republic in to 2009 (bear with me ;)... the emergent right wing has the possibility of reporting on, and increasing public hatred of Jews, Gays, etc. The good news obviously is that the opposition would have access to the same tools, but, with public pasts, revealed not just by the individual, but by everyone else in passing, that puts an enormous number of people in much more vulnerable positions than they might have been otherwise. Need to find photographic evidence of a dissenter? No problem. Who are their family and friends? Dead easy. Trace their whereabouts and generalised haunts? Again... not much of a problem if you know where to look.

Those who are watching #iranelection on Twitter are gripped by the very human struggle, and feel a kinship with our friends fighting for their democratic rights that it is probable would not have existed in the past, when this would have been a distant news item. It's happening before our eyes, and we're all desperate for people we can actually see, a hair's breadth away from us, to win the day. The willingness we have to lose our privacy for the greater good can have enormous, and at times global benefits, but we must accept, we are also in uncharted territory, where the actions of the un-secret 'police' are revealing pasts and propelling futures in to being that we're not really sure we wanted, or know how to deal with.