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Thinking Biblically About Privacy in a World Ruled by AI

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We live in a world of irony. We are willing to post some of the most intimate details and events of our lives online. We gladly sign up for freemium services, like social media and email, that require us to consent to various forms of data tracking in exchange for a free premium service.  

We love how our devices just know us, as AI [artificial intelligence] empowers them to learn our habits and predict what we will want to see, taste, and even read. 

Yet we also feel uneasy and uncomfortable about this. 

We know that data can be harnessed maliciously. Even as we share everything about ourselves online to garner more likes, shares, and followers, many claim a right to privacy and even support laws and regulations that protect us and our data. 

The irony is rich, but honestly, we are okay with it for the most part because of the benefits that the tradeoffs afford us each day. 

But how are we to navigate these questions about the right to privacy, and how much is too much to share online? How do we know when to stop using certain services or when it is okay to sign up for another? These questions aren’t easy and aren’t explicitly addressed in Scripture. But we can make some judgments based on the overall themes found in the Scriptures and apply those to our questions. 

We must see the Bible not as our answer book but as a guide that helps inform us of the best way to live in accordance with God’s design and in his grace. So let’s start with some foundational truths in our pursuit of privacy in the age of AI. 

Complete Privacy Is a Lie

Our God is sovereign over all of creation. Nothing escapes His reach or evades His watchful eye. He knows the number of hairs on our heads (Matt. 10:30) and our passing thoughts. When the Bible talks about God being omniscient or all knowing (Ps. 147:5; Isa. 40:13–14; 44:7–8), it does so to show a distinction between God and human beings, to show that we as God’s image-bearers are not gods. 

There is only one God, and He is able to know all things, even the things we keep secret. We cannot hide anything from him, nor should we want to. As His people who know His grace and love, we can be both fully known and fully loved. To paraphrase Tim Keller in his powerful book The Meaning of Marriage, being fully known and not loved is one of the scariest things we can experience, and being fully loved without being fully known is a scam. 

This rings especially true in a world obsessed with data and privacy. In many cases, we are known by thousands of companies and marketers, but not loved. There is always a bottom line or a quota to be met. For all of the promises companies make about seeking our good and benefiting our lives, those promises will always come second to profit. 

Nothing we have ever thought or done will escape God. But while God knows everything about us, He still loves us. God doesn’t seek to know us to meet a bottom line. He seeks to know us because of His great love, shown to us in the person and work of His own Son. We cannot hide anything from Him, and that is for our good. 

Data as Property

One of the most common ways we think about privacy is through the lens of personal property. This concept is behind much of the privacy legislation that has been enacted over the past few years, because it ties your privacy to your property. Just as someone can’t just take your possessions or steal from you legally, this logic is extended to our digital possessions or property such that you must give permission or access to others to use this data and others are accountable to how they use it. While Christians will apply these truths in a variety of ways to privacy rights, we must keep certain truths central to our thinking about privacy. 

Exodus 20:15 gives us some insight into how we are to think about personal property rights, even in our digital age. The eighth commandment states, “You shall not steal.” The Ten Commandments sum up the entire law in the Old Testament, thus we know that these commandments hold a lot of concepts together. The eighth commandment has a lot packed into it that can guide us as we think about issues of privacy. 

First, we see that we are to love our neighbors and not take advantage of them, because the context of the commandments and the law is each person’s being created in God’s image. Everything we have has been given to us by God, thus we are not to take or steal things from other people. By stealing what has been given to another, we do two things: deny the dignity of the victim and also proclaim that we must provide for ourselves outside of God’s law in contradiction to Matthew 6:25–34, where Jesus tells us not to be anxious about anything because God knows everything we need and will provide. 

Second, we see that there is a sense in which the things we have been given by God are our personal stewardship and property until the time of Christ’s return (Matthew 13). We have been given everything in this life, including our very lives, in order to glorify God and love our neighbor (Matt. 22:37–39). This property has been entrusted to us and thus is not fair game for others to take from us or for us to take from those around us. 

In our digital age, we increasingly have digital possessions, and property rights are naturally extended to those things as well. We own digital rights to access content like movies, TV shows, books, and games as well as digital tools and services. Just because something is digital doesn’t mean that it can be taken from us without our permission or manipulated toward selfish gains. With the rise of our ever-expanding digital world and the data collected on us each day, we must think wisely about how we wield digital assets and property in ways that honor God and help us to see the dignity and worth of every human being regardless of their perceived value in our society. 

Wisdom in Sharing

It is unwise to share all of the details of our lives with the wider world, especially in the age of AI. Because we know that AI feeds off data, we need to be wise with what we share and how we share it. 

In the world there are bad actors, false prophets, and dangerous people. The Bible speaks of wolves in sheep’s clothing who seek to deceive us (Matt. 7:15), and false prophets will claim to be part of the church but are deceiving the people around them. When Jesus sends His followers out on mission into a world desperately in need of hope, He says, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matt. 10:16). 

We are to be innocent, not hiding sin and shame, but also wise. This wisdom is something we cultivate in our hearts over time. 

We have a mandate to be wise in how we go about our lives in a sin-torn world. We should not openly share all things with all people but in wisdom openly share the most precious details of our lives with the church. 

Nothing in this life is truly hidden because we worship a God who knows all things, but we also are called to live in a radical community with one another. In wisdom, we can be transparent with one another because we know that our lives are defined not by our personal information but by the personal sacrifice of Christ on the cross. He gave everything up for us, even though we betrayed Him and rebelled against God.

As we model radical transparency with one another, we will be able to fight sin and darkness together in light of the new family that God has created. 

 

–Taken from The Age of AI by Jason Thacker. Copyright © 2020 by Jason Thacker. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com.

Jason Thacker serves as creative director and associate research fellow at ERLC. In his role as creative director, he oversees all creative projects including design, video, web, audio, and print media. His new book, The Age of AI: Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Humanity, releases March 2020 with Zondervan. He writes and speaks on topics including human dignity, technology, and artificial intelligence. He is a graduate of The University of Tennessee and Southern Seminary. He is married to Dorie and they have two sons.
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