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Time for a rethink on obsolete concept of privacy



Date Published: {J}

What point is there to privacy? None, if you would believe Google CEO Eric Schmidt. "If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know," he said in a recent interview with CNBC, "maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place" – a disarming dismissal of the idea that there might be a few activities that are better done without a crowd around. This would be an entertainingly radical notion coming from a sociology student. From the head of a corporation that could probably amass more detailed information about you than your government, doctor, employer and family put together, it’s . . . a little scary.

But isn’t it true? Though we are deeply attached to the idea that there are some things we can – must – only do in private, this ‘right to secrets’ is also what allows us to say different things to different people, to conspire and collude, to be dishonest. If everyone could know everything you did and said, getting away with any crime would be impossible.

It’s a mind-blowing idea, but we could create that world right now. Even now much of our written communication is stored not in drawers but on computers. Government already retains information about our phone communications (when, to whom, etc.), and with today’s technology it would be a trivial task to archive what we actually said as well. We have cameras in just about all public spaces – why not add microphones too? But I say public spaces; is there really any such thing as a private space?

A huge number of crimes, the overwhelming majority of sexual ones, take place in people’s homes. They should therefore be monitored as much as any other space. If there is anywhere at all to hide, that is where the crime will be committed. Privacy is not a concept you can partially eliminate.

I don’t mean that there should be people somewhere constantly monitoring all this. For a start it’s a logical impossibility – we would all have to spend all our time watching each other watch each other. Instead the information would be indexed, so that it can be searched just as efficiently as Google searches the Web. And within certain legal constraints searching it should be open to everyone. In this way, the ability to lie about what you did would become a thing of the past.


Take note of what I’m actually saying though: We can create a world where it would be possible to solve every crime. That does not mean we can prevent every crime. It might eliminate the ones that make for good TV, the carefully planned robberies and murders, but a greater part of human harm is much more spontaneous – much more stupid.

There would still be savage attacks, drunken brawls, mindless assaults. It would not stop those who no longer care about consequences, the deranged gunman or the suicide bomber. There would still tragedies of inattention and ineptitude, car collisions and child neglect. But premeditated crime, and indeed all forms of corruption and deceit, could be completely eliminated. We could live in an honest world. The only price: Our outdated concept of personal privacy. It might well be worth it.

That, or Eric Schmidt of Google is full of crap.

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Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past



A photo of Galway city centre from the county council's archives

People’s living conditions less than 100 years ago were frightening. We have come a long way. We talk about water charges today, but back then the local District Councils were erecting pumps for local communities and the lovely town of Mountbellew, according to Council minutes, had open sewers,” says Galway County Council archivist Patria McWalter.

Patria believes we “need to take pride in our history, and we should take the same pride in our historical records as we do in our built heritage”. When you see the wealth of material in her care, this belief makes sense.

She is in charge of caring for the rich collection of administrative records owned by Galway County Council and says “these records are as much part of our history as the Rock of Cashel is. They document our lives and our ancestors’ lives. And nobody can plan for the future unless you learn from the past, what worked and what didn’t”.

Archivists and librarians are often unfairly regarded as being dry, academic types, but that’s certainly not true of Patria. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she turns the pages of several minute books from Galway’s Rural District Councils, all of them at least 100 years old.

Part of her role involved cataloguing all the records of the Councils – Ballinasloe, Clifden, Galway, Gort, Loughrea, Mountbellew, Portumna and Tuam. These records mostly consisted of minutes of various meetings.

When she was cataloguing them she realised their worth to local historians and researchers, so she decided to compile a guide to their content. The result is For the Record: The Archives of Galway’s Rural District Councils, which will be a valuable asset to anybody with an interest in history.

Many representatives on these Councils were local personalities and several were arrested during the political upheaval of the era, she explains.

And, ushering in a new era in history, women were allowed to sit on these Rural District Councils – at the time they were not allowed to sit on County Councils.

All of this information is included in Patria’s introductory essay to the attractively produced A4 size guide, which gives a glimpse into how these Rural Councils operated and the way political thinking changed in Ireland during a short 26-year period. In the early 1900s, these Councils supported Home Rule, but by 1920, they were calling for full independence and refusing to recognise the British administration.

“I love the tone,” says Patria of the minutes from meetings. “The language was very emotive.”

That was certainly true of the Gort Rural District Council. At a meeting in 1907, following riots in Dublin at the premiere of JM Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World the councillors’ response was vehement. They recorded their decision to “protest most emphatically against the libellous comedy, The Playboy of the Western World, that was belched forth during the past week in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under the fostering care of Lady Gregory and Mr Yeats. We congratulate the good people of Dublin in howling down the gross buffoonery and immoral suggestions that are scattered throughout this scandalous performance.


For more from the archives see this week’s Tribunes here

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Archive News

Real Galway flavour to intermediate club hurling battle in Birr



Date Published: 23-Jan-2013


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Archive News

Athenry fail to take chances as they bow out of Junior Cup



Date Published: 29-Jan-2013

Athenry FC 1

Kilbarrack United 2

(After extra time)

For the second year in succession Athenry were done in extra time in the FAI Junior Cup as last season’s beaten finalist’s came from behind to snatch an excellent game in Moanbawn on Sunday afternoon.

On a heavy pitch that was only playable following extensive groundwork by club officials all morning, the home side were by far the better side in the opening half, but failed to take advantage of a number of opportunities that came their way.

An Alan O’Donovan penalty gave them a merited advantage just after the restart, but thereafter were on the back foot as Kilbarrack took over, but for all their pressing, the home rearguard were dealing comfortably with their forays.

However they were struck a body blow just six minutes from time, as big striker Keith Kirwan was left all alone at the far post to head the equaliser and from that point on the Dubliners were the better side.

They started off the extra time in the ascendancy and enjoying all the momentum before striking for a good winning goal on 104 minutes. A strong bench allowed them to make some necessary changes and it was not a facility that was available to Athenry manager Gabriel Glavin.

With Gary Forde and Gary Delaney out through suspension following their sending off against OLBC in the previous round, and Seamie Crowe injured, it left their bench rather threadbare with just a number of young squad players available.

Playing with the aid of the slight incline and any wind advantage going, the home side had a Connor Cannon effort on target in the opening minute, while John Meleady was just over with a flick at the other end.

Meleady then tested Andrew Walsh who saved comfortably, before the goalkeeper pulled off a brilliant double save on 14 minutes.

Firstly he went full length to push away a Meleady shot and was then back on his feet to parry David Jackson’s close-range rebound.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Sentinel.

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