Is it my fault?

Jeremy Keith writes about where the fault lies:

If I’m on the tube listening to my iPod—because, y’know, that’s exactly the kind of situation for which the iPod was invented—and somebody steals said iPod, which is illegal, is that my fault? If I publish my email address online—because, y’know, I actually want people to be able to get in touch with me quickly and conveniently—and it gets harvested by scum-sucking spammers who send unsolicted commercial email, which is illegal, is that my fault? If I utter my date of birth or my mother’s maiden name—because, y’know, I don’t believe that information should be a state secret—and somebody uses that information to “steal my identity”, which is illegal, is that my fault?

Nope. None of those things are your fault. In a similar way, another Jeremy, Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson, published his bank details in a newspaper in an attempt to prove that the furore over the UK government losing the personal data of 25 million people was a storm in a teacup. Of course, someone used those details to set up a £500 direct debit to a diabetes charity, so he’s now a monkey out of pocket. That act is basically theft; theft is illegal. Was that Clarkson’s fault? No, not really. He wasn’t at fault. What he was was imprudent, deeply so. (And deservedly so, I feel. Clarkson is one of my favourite presenters, and I have boundless respect for his knowledge of cars and engineering and his personal style; he knows a round brown fuck-all about technology, though.) Look, it works like this. If you believe that the world should be open (which I do), then you can’t insist that if someone takes advantage of that openness, it’s Someone Else’s Problem. It’s your problem if they take advantage of your data. If you want to be open, to publish, to break down barriers that stop us properly communicating, then that’s a great idea… but each person then becomes individually responsible for their own security. On the other hand, if you want someone else to make the hard decisions for you, to accept liability and take responsibility for problems, to protect you so you can go about your life unscathed, then that someone else gets to make the decisions about what you do with your data, and you don’t. If you ask your bank “should I publish all my bank details online?”, they’ll say: no, don’t do that. If you ask the police “should I leave my iPod visible on the tube?”, they’ll say: no, don’t do that (and that’s what the “byepod” posters are all about). If it’s the police’s responsibility to keep your iPod safe (by tracking down criminals who steal it) then they get to have some measure of control over what you do with it. If you demand the ability to do what you like with your stuff, then you have to take on some of the responsibility for protecting it. It can’t work both ways; you can’t have all the benefits of openness (I can publish my email address where I like!) and none of the deficits (someone else must solve my spam problem!). With great power comes great responsibility, as Uncle Ben tells us. It’s not about blame, it’s about prudence. It’s not about taking decisions out of fear, it’s about taking responsibility for life. We’re all grown-ups now. No more hiding under the bedclothes and letting Daddy protect you from the big bad world.

I'm currently available for hire, to help you plan, architect, and build new systems, and for technical writing and articles. You can take a look at some projects I've worked on and some of my writing. If you'd like to talk about your upcoming project, do get in touch.

More in the discussion (powered by webmentions)

  • (no mentions, yet.)