Here in China, privacy is something that is a little different than what Americans might be used to. One notices this when shopping for tailor-made clothes at the most popular fabric markets, where the fitting room is a piece of cloth an employee will hold up for you as you change in a corner of the shop or in the hallway. One notices this in the men’s room at the beautiful place where we meet for church in Shanghai, where there is a floor-to-ceiling window just right next to the urinals. Privacy is also an issue in phone calls, emails, and other communications, where we recognize that active surveillance is a possible. In this regard, America and China are becoming much more similar, though many Americans don’t seem to be paying attention. There is much America needs to learn from China and much I wish America would emulate, but reducing personal privacy isn’t on that wish list of mine.
I’ve been big on privacy ever since I was a teenager and maybe before. As a teenager, I took great comfort in Doctrine and Covenants 6:16, where we read that “there is none else save God that knowest thy thoughts and intents of
thy heart.” Whew, what a relief! No matter what, my personal, silent prayers would be private between me and God. No one could snoop. Satan, our sly Adversary, could not know my thoughts and could be excluded from my prayers. Privacy from that most sinister enemy. Whew!
Sadly, years later, some of that comfort has evaporated. Now, in light of certain modern revelations (from non-LDS sources) I am once again nervous about what the Adversary can know and do. Satan doesn’t have to be a mind-reader to totally invade my privacy, because at a minimum, Satan’s got my metadata.
Metadata has become a more important term in our vocabulary since Edward Snowden revealed just how much snooping the US government is doing on its own citizens. The US government has defended its invasion, claiming that we still have our privacy because they aren’t usually actually listening in on our conversations, just getting “metadata” about who we talk to, when, and for how long. Just data about the conversation, not the actual contents. Metadata. So it’s nothing to worry about, right? And when it comes to our thoughts, our wishes, and our secret prayers, that’s all Satan has to go on, too. Just metadata.
Turns out that metadata is something that Americans should want to protect if they value personal privacy. Metadatter matters. Joe Mornin at Mornin.org has an essay, “Why Metadata Matters,” that explains just how little privacy we have left when a powerful agency (or demonic being, for that matter) has access to our metadata. He also has provided valuable legal analysis on metadata and the Fourth Amendment in the Berkeley Technology Law Journal. Also look at a related article at Wired. Something to consider.
So Americans, I think it’s time to be a little more worried about your personal privacy. Should you be worried that Satan has your metadata? Yes. But why? If you don’t believe in the Satan of biblical lore, is there any problem? Yes, there is, but it depends on which Satan you mean. There’s the demonic being that may or may not be purely mythical, and then there’s S.A.T.A.N., the Security Administration That Answers to Nobody. I don’t trust either of them.