[FoRK] Why didn't privacy matter before 1700s? (was: iPhone users' precise locations)

Jeremy Apthorp nornagon at nornagon.net
Tue Jun 22 19:04:37 PDT 2010

On 22 June 2010 23:25, Russell Turpin <russell.turpin at gmail.com> wrote:
> Two possible answers.
> First, there was an explosion in information technology. The centuries
> between the end of the middle ages and the start of the Enlightenment
> saw the spread of writing as something used by the ordinary person.
> Where computers were once expensive and their use reserved to a few
> with special training, so too was paper and ink. Try finding a diary
> or pedestrian letter prior to the 16th century. By the end of the 18th
> century, ordinary tradesfolk and workers are penning letters, writing
> diaries, keeping written accounts of their spending, etc. With the
> rise of information persisted in a written record, there came the
> social and legal question of access to it. Note the explicit call out
> of "papers" in the 4th amendment.
> Second, there wasn't much concern with surveillance, and very few
> tools for doing so. There was nothing that would record an image or
> sound. Being seen or heard typically meant by another person with
> unaided eye or ear. Spyglasses became navigation and military tools
> after Galileo invented them, but were not something an ordinary person
> would own, or even the local constabulary. So knowledge of events and
> even of personal identity was located only in those who were there to
> witness the events and people concerned.

Good answers, and I suspect the true reason is some combination of
these (and perhaps others).


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