How much privacy are you willing to give up for security? This conversation has dominated the headlines in recent months and participants in a recent poll on the ASIS LinkedIn Group were nearly split on what has precedent – security or privacy concerns. The question below generated nearly 100 comments from practitioners worldwide.

In a Pew Research poll, 62% said it was more important to allow the gov’t to search for possible terrorist threats even if it meant giving up privacy: Security vs Privacy–Which Side Are You On? 

ASIS 2013/(ISC)2 Security Congress speaker Raj Goel, CSSP, weighed in with the following blog post:

“Those who ask you to choose security OR privacy and those who vote on security OR privacy are making false choices. That’s like asking air OR water? You need BOTH to live.

Maslow placed safety (of which security is a subset) as second only to food, water, sex, and sleep. As humans we crave safety.

As individuals and societies, BEFORE we answer the question “security or privacy”, we first have to ask “security from whom or what?” and “privacy from whom and for who?”

Until 1215, every Prince, King, Emperor, and Conqueror thought he had divine right and was either a god or a manifestation of god. The Magna Carta, for the 1st time in recorded human history, stripped Kings and Emperors of their divine right. Why? Because the nobility had enough of the incompetencies and cruelties of the ruling monarch.

In 1628, Sir Edward Coke established in English Common Law that “a man’s home is his castle” in 1791, The U.S. Bill of Rights gave us the 4th amendment, “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Each of these articles gave us, the citizens, the commoners, rights that were hard-fought by a small-band of revolutionaries. Franklin, Jefferson, Washington, Madison, Adams and countless others bled so that the masses could watch “Keeping up with the Kardashians” today.

Today, every techno-geek with classified access, every system administrator, every spymaster and bureaucrat in the information acquisition, analysis and marketing machine presumes that he/she is god. The internet has become a tool of the despots – and EVERY country and EVERY corporation is becoming The Stasi.

During the cold war, the U.S. & the West demonized the USSR and the communists for denying their subjects/citizens property rights; freedom of speech; freedom of thought; freedom of religion.

Today, U.S., UK, AU, NZ, CHINA, Russia, India, everyone nation spies on it’s citizens. They all do it in the name of SECURITY and protecting the citizenry from terrorists.

That’s funny…I don’t recall the U.S. constitution or ANY other government’s charter that required it to guarantee its citizens 100% safety or 100% security. Defense of the common good – yes. Decent infrastructure – yes.

Freedom from crime and terrorism is possible…but only if you live in a jail cell. As for privacy – privacy of thought is a basic human right. Hell, we prized ourselves in the west for fighting for the dissidents such as Solzhenitsyn & Sakharov. We even gave some of them Nobel peace prizes and visas to the West.

Today, the U.S. government (and others around the world) jail more dissidents, whistleblowers, and freedom fighters than ever before. And corporations such as Amazon, Apple, Google, Adobe, Sony, Disney, etc. deny us basic property rights by “licensing” software and media to us.

I submit to you that one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter. Washington, Gandhi, Bolivar, Manning, Snowden. To every elected politician, president, senator, prime minister and king, honest dissent is seen as subversive.

Before you answer the question “security OR privacy”, ask yourself the question – from whom; for who and for how long.

When Vladimir Putin praises PRISM and the NSA, then I think we have a problem.

When Steve Wozniak points out the similarities between the cloud and the communists, I think we have a problem.

In every generation, a new King John, a new Khrushchev, and a new Solzhenitsyn is born. It’s our job as citizens to defend the rights given to us by our respective constitutions and demand that they be conferred on our weakest citizens, not just the strongest or the wealthiest.

Feel free to have a reasonable (or unreasonable, as long as good beer or bourbon are involved) debate with me at ASIS 2013 in Chicago or wherever you catch me next – Hague, Helsinki, Washington DC, Chicago, Curacao, New Zealand – I will be bringing my opinions and research to a conference near you.”

Join the conversation in the LinkedIn Group and plan to attend one of the security/privacy related sessions at ASIS 2013.