June 16, 2013

In quest for security, many sense Big Brother

Mainers worry that a true sense of privacy could become a casualty in a world that's increasingly intrusive.

By North Cairn ncairn@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer Holly Fent, shown cutting the hair of Peter McDonald of Scarborough at Hair It Is on St. John Street, recognizes that she can be a trusted “ sounding board,” but technology has eroded the personal touch that helped protect privacy for the previous two centuries.

Gabe Souza / Staff Photographer

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"But the constant exposure in the long run can be difficult," he said, particularly if people have to be hypervigilant about every conversation or interaction. Spontaneity dissolves; trust dissipates, he said.

"If you think everything you say can be made public, will you feel free to say it out loud?" Henchal said. "I think it is much more difficult than it was in the past."

Lynch. the psycology professor, said the incremental loss of privacy poses the risk of becoming an avalanche of intrusion.

Not so long ago, parishioners confided in their priests and ministers, seeking guidance. Then, many turned to psychotherapists and counselors for help.

Even today, many women reveal their secrets to their hairstylist, rather than other confidants.

"People talk to their hairdressers," said Holly Fent, co-owner of Hair It Is in Portland. "I'm a safe place; I'm a sounding board. Sometimes they just want someone to listen."

The one-on-one, in-person exchanges kept the numbers of people who knew one's secrets low.

But the personal touch that characterized much of American life for two centuries has disappeared with more technology, experts have pointed out. Now, many people don't know even the names of their neighbors, and their friends may be defined by Facebook.

"Privacy doesn't have the same meaning as it did," said Brooker. "Privacy for me is not what it was for someone living in the 1950s. ... Now, even devices in the home gather information."


The sudden skyrocketing sales of Orwell's mid-20th century classic "1984" could be one indication of how Americans view the NSA surveillance program. Sales on Amazon of the book about a country held hostage by a shadowy totalitarian dictator known as "Big Brother" had increased nearly 6,000 percent by midweek.

Even President Obama referred to the book in his defense of the NSA program. "In the abstract," he said, "you can complain about Big Brother and how this is a potential program run amok, but when you actually look at the details, then I think we've struck the right balance."

Still, many people say they find it disturbing that they unwittingly have likely been among those being heard, monitored and tracked. The revelation by 29-year-old whistleblower Edward Snowden, an employee for defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, of the federal government's intrusion into the private lives of Americans has reawakened concerns over issues of privacy, secrecy, safety and security.

It also serves as a reminder that what people choose and want to keep private evolves with concerns over national security.

"It's the first time I've been frightened by something like this," said mental health counselor Jennifer Lunden, founder and executive director of the Center for Creative Healing in Portland.

Lunden, whose profession is predicated on the need for and guarantee of confidentiality, trust and safety for clients, said she is concerned about who would be targeted for surveillance or for wiretaps.

"That could be activists," she said. "It has been activists."

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the NSA's phone surveillance, undertaken under provisions of the Patriot Act. The routine combing of virtually every call placed within, from or to the U.S. violates the First Amendment right to free speech and the right to privacy guaranteed under the Fourth Amendment, the lawsuit argues.

"The bottom line is our system is based on checks and balances," noted Brooker, a constitutional specialist. "The framers (of the Constitution) would be appalled at what's taking place," he said, adding that they were far more wary than present-day leaders of the way government might overstep its bounds.

"This unchecked power is balanced by the need to do everything necessary to protect Americans," Brooker acknowledged. But how best to achieve that balance is neither simple nor clear, he said.

"What are we willing to give up as citizens to fight terrorism?" he said.

Lynch said notions of privacy have changed significantly, especially in the wake of terrorism. 

"There are many of us who don't care about privacy," he said. "So many people seem not to mind. They want to be secure." 

North Cairn can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:



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