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Desktop Witness: The Do's and Don'ts of Personal Computer Security

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When asked 'who are you?', people in different cultures tend to define themselves fundamentally differently in terms of what their respective culture considers to be most important. In cultures where one's professional and economic status is most important, people say 'I am an engineer', or 'a priest at St John's church', or whatever one's profession is. In cultures where family ties and ancestry are most important, people say 'I am John's son', or 'Hsiu's grandson'. Hardly anywhere does one answer the 'who are you?' question by asking 'in what context?'; societal pressures in most societies force most individuals to have largely one-dimensional personas.

The all too human yearning for security and for acceptance by others often makes some of us internalize and accept our immediate community's prevailing standards and beliefs as gospel without using any of our own judgment, and viewing with suspicion those that dare question those beliefs. Most in pre WWII Germany accepted Nazism because it was the 'in' thing; similarly, most ruthless dictators have a considerable number of followers, and so do most quasicharismatic leaders of assorted oddball cults even if some of these leaders have mesmerized their followers into committing mass suicide - as has happened time and again.

The yearning by most people to have someone else 'spoon-feed' them what is 'right' and what is 'wrong', and to relieve them of the burden of deciding that for themselves, is, I believe, very strong for most people. It is no surprise, then, that the notion of privacy for others (as opposed to privacy for oneself) is very threatening to many; after all, it implies that someone else may have different views - God forbid - and that privacy may get in the way of the rest of the community knowing that!

For related reasons, citizen privacy is certainly threatening to most any government because it could keep dissent from being identified and being nipped in the bud. Even democratically elected governments that pride themselves in their purported respect for citizen privacy have a catch-all exclusion such as 'except as lawfully authorized ...'. In short, privacy is OK as long as you believe what the state (or the community) believes. Stated differently, you can choose any color as long as it is the one that is approved.

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