Long before Edward Snowden made his revelations about the workings of the NSA, privacy was a source of anxiety to many Americans -- and to many people around the world. Most of us have a sense that our privacy is something to be protected. Most of us also have a sense that our privacy is under threat from violation. For most of us, though, those senses are vague. What, exactly, is privacy? And what, exactly, do we mean when we talk about it?
In the video above, three prominent thinkers discuss the past and future of privacy in the United States. Privacy, they point out, has always been contingent on the culture and the technology of the people who aim to preserve it -- and to violate it. "Government intrusion was not a factor, I would say, until the turn of the 20th century," the law professor Robert Ellis Smith notes. After all, he points out, private information needed to be recordable, through telegrams and telephones, before it could be recorded. And it wasn't until the development of programs like Social Security, public assistance, and educational loans and grants that the government, for its part, became a large collector of citizen information. It wasn't until we had computers to store vast amounts of information that we started to worry about what our leaders might do with that information.