Thursday, August 15, 2013

How to Live in a Post-Privacy World

Ignorance is bliss, they say. Perhaps that's the best way to deal with our loss of privacy, which many of us had already known about but Edward Snowden's revelations confirmed. Sure, you can pretend that no one is watching you, that the US government is full of "good guys" who would never take advantage of such previously classified programs as PRISM or X-KEYSCORE, programs that record virtually everything you do when using a phone or computer. (Apparently, Obama, as stated in his recent press conference on topic, was going to reveal all of this to us eventually. It's just that Snowden did it before he got the chance.) But it's kind of hard to ignore the revelations - think about every phone conversation you've ever had or Web site you've ever visited or Google search you've ever made or picture you've ever taken with your phone or email you've ever written (sent or not) or ...

But maybe you trust the government. Howard Dean recently said in an interview with Breaking the Set that he trusts Obama with the NSA surveillance program more than he would Bush. I would, too. But why do I have to trust the government, again? Aren't there supposed to be checks and balances so that we don't have to trust the government? Well, proponents of warrantless mass spying by the government against its own people argue: if we don't give up all of our privacy and invite the government into our living rooms and bedrooms and chatrooms, we'll suffer more terrorists attacks. They ask: do you want privacy or safety?

Both, please. It's a false argument. Sure, giving up all our privacy would make us safer from terrorists attacks, hypothetically. (Though, in reality, they are more likely to make us less safe since they create a haystack of irrelevant information the government has to comb through to find the proverbial needle. No one here is arguing against focused, purposeful, lawful [i.e., with a warrant] surveillance against suspects. After all, that's what the Fourth Amendment says.) But I suspect we don't have to give up all of our privacy to stay safe. Many say that they, the extremists, hate us because of our freedoms. If the government takes them away, then don't the extremists win?

But at least the mass espionage is not illegal. The secret Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) has to grant warrants to NSA officials who want to examine the content of an individual's data. And how many times has FISC turned down a warrant request: 11 out of 33,949 (33 years)! Or 0 in the last three years (out of 4,976)! (Source.) No check. No balance. Just power.

But they're not looking at the content. They're just recording, just in case one of the 200 million or so Americans is a terrorist. But if it's being recorded, then all it takes is a perfunctory warrant request.

But I'm not doing anything wrong - I have nothing to hide! So? This tool can be used against political opponents or just people some people don't like just as it can be used against alleged terrorists. Snowden covered this in his interview with Glenn Greenwald. Anyone, given the plethora of information that is recorded, can create a false narrative of anyone (with some creativity). Using your "virtual you," you can be made out into a racist, a pedophile, a sexual harasser, gay, a thief, someone who hates his family, etc. It's all about leverage. That's how the spy game is played. If "they" get something on you that you don't want out, that's called leverage. And we all make mistakes (i.e., do embarrassing things we wouldn't want others to know). But in some cases you don't even need to do something embarrassing, let alone something illegal because with this technology one could easily give the impression of wrongdoing by combining the data from different mediums and from different times and, as Snowden put it, "derive suspicion from an innocent life."

How do you live in a post-privacy world? You don't. The trick is not to find yourself in one. Snowden said, "I don't want to live in a world where everything that I say, everything I do, everyone I talk to, every expression of creativity, or love, or friendship is recorded." I don't either. But all hope is not lost. Congress came within 7 votes of limiting the NSA's surveillance program, the program most of Congress had no idea existed. Considering the self-preserving instinct of Congressmen not to oppose the establishment and that many were bribed by the defense industry, I think that's pretty damn good and a hopeful sign.

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