There continues to be considerable speculation about the implications of the recent Ashley Madison data breach. People whose real identities were supposed to have been hidden are being unmasked. Many have evidently a great deal of explaining to do to their current spouses.
Data security is suddenly in the headlines again. But will this incident, following on the heels of so many incidents, really cause people to take significantly greater steps to protect their on-line privacy?
I doubt it.
And that is a problem for privacy campaigners, who could get discouraged and question why they bother to continue to lobby for higher privacy standards in the face of so much public apathy.
Simon Davies has recently blogged about why he’s stopped worrying whether the public cares about privacy. And he believes that other privacy advocates should stop worrying about it, too. In his words:
"It seems to me we’ve been collectively sucked into the mindset that privacy protection somehow depends on scale of adoption. That populist formula is killing any hope that this fragile right will survive the overwhelming public lust for greater safety and more useful data.
The struggle for human rights – or indeed the struggle for progress generally – rarely depended on the involvement of the majority (or even the support of the majority)."
So, he argues, despite public indifference and dwindling support from funders, privacy activists should continue with their campaign to create a sea change in data protection practices.
But, in a society where the pace of change is dictated by the strength of the proponents of change, how can privacy activists continue to motivate themselves when they appear to be encountering a huge wall of public indifference?
Janet Daley recently commented on the danger of the activist trap: “If you are surrounded by a crowd of people whose opinions are identical to yours then together you can make a great deal of noise. But what you don’t hear is the silence of those outside the crowd.”
The answer has to be for small bands of activists to bind themselves together and continue to try to get their voice heard – but in the knowledge that their message is not an easy one to get across.
And this requires a very considerable degree of privacy leadership – from Privacy International, the Open Right’s Group, Big Brother Watch, medConfidential and Liberty. And from various individuals (including Simon Davies) whose vox pops are featured when journalists strive to balance their stories with contributions from all sections of the privacy world.
Campaigning groups don't have to be large to ensure that their voice is heard - at least by the media, who often try hard to achieve "balance" in their reporting. Whether the public will take sufficient notice of what the campaigning groups have to say is, of course, an entirely different matter.
So, the answer to my question as to whether enough people are worried about data protection for privacy activists to continue is that is doesn’t really matter how many people are worried. Given effective leadership by a few passionate people, their privacy campaign will continue - no matter how bleak the prospects are of success.