Last week I presented at a workshop on Smart Sharing at the European Parliament organised by the European Data Protection Supervisor. My co-presenter, Gabriela Zanfir, told the following story when asked by the audience why privacy is important. I very much liked the example. That’s why I am sharing it here.

In the late 20th century Romania was ruled by the dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu, with the help of his brutal secret police, the Securitate, and its half a million informers. In the 1980’s there was a big shortage of food and fuel in Romania. As a result the Romanians suffered from hunger and cold. The Romanians feared the Securitate so much, that the were afraid to even talk among each other about the fact that they were hungry and cold. The risk that an informant would hear them and accuse them of criticising the government was simply too high. A study by a Romanian psychologist Radu Clit later found that the Romanians suffered most from the fact that the couldn’t even talk about the fact that they were hungry and cold. Even more than that they suffered from being hungry and cold itself!

Gabriela Zanfir wrote a paper ‘Big Brother’ in a Post-Communist Era – A Radiography of the Protection of Private Life in an European Romania describing this, and other, cases. Her paper was also cited in the ACLU Amicus Brief in the Amnesty v. Clapper Supreme Court case. This also contains references to the original work of Radu Clit.