Unless you’ve been in solitary confinement for the whole of 2013, you would know the big pink elephant in the news have been the ongoing revelations from the stash of intelligence data that Edward Snowden acquired during his work with the NSA. Working with Glenn Greenwald, Snowden revealed and continues to reveal the extent of global and mass data collection of data of private citizens in and outside of the United States.
Of course, the US government and its allies, their security agencies and supporters sing the same refrain – ‘we spy on you to keep you safe’. There is some logic to this, if not a lot of evidence of the ‘keep you safe’ bit.
In order to carry out it’s continuous espionage on the population of the world – really, the World! The NSA and in collusion with other national security agencies – GCHQ in the UK and others have bought and bullied access to the pipes that carry the raw data. Plugging into the heart of global telecommunications gave them unprecedented access to email, voice and other data. In the NSA’s own words – they wanted everything, all the time. In doing so, they have created huge distrust with the legal system and with the guardians of those pipes like BT, Google, Microsoft etc.
Greenwald and his associates – the Guardian newspaper group – chose a very shrewd strategy to drip feed the revelations to the public. The cynic in me would say it was to keep the story alive and sell papers, boost professional profile and ultimately sell more books. But actually I think the strategy was to keep the public persistently aroused to force the conversations that democratic societies need to have about the kind of relationship the State has with the population.
The world population is fickle. Our attention span is short and hugely contended for. Disasters, war, celebrity, entertainment, taxes, work, no-work, family and many other distractions these leave little head space to police the arms of governments that are struggling to remain relevant in an increasingly chaotic landscape.
I hate privacy
We are not private creatures and there is no such thing as privacy. There is just stuff that either no one is currently interested in or that we haven’t yet found a way to make public. Most things we moan about are really of no interest to anyone and we take slight to the mere possibility that they may be violated.
I hate privacy – at least in its current form. It fuels embarrassment and paranoia, stifles real respect and human emotional development, and it delays us from having grown up conversations about how a progressive society should work. I hate it because it fuels the clandestine and gives reason to all kinds of nastiness that people do to exploit it.
The opposite of privacy is not everything about everyone all the time – it is transparency. It is not glass houses and nudist beaches. It is openness and no barriers to a request to see what is going on.
I want to live in a world where I can find anything I want and do not have to feel I need to hide anything. The sheer volume of transparent content teaches restraint and discernment, encourages learning to understand what it means. I wager that it also teaches respect – if we are all naked and imperfect, we are much less likely to poke fun at the imperfections of others.
People most often hide things because they are afraid of the consequences of being discovered and in my near 40 years on this earth – those fears are hardly justified. I have seen this in both my personal life and in the things that I have observed. What might happen if we could do something about the fear – what might our world look like?
The enemy is not collecting data, the enemy is the misuse of data
What concerns me far more about the privacy debate is that we are debating privacy far more than the actions that the authorities take based on that data. I really don’t care that the US government has been listening to my calls or read my emails or can determine I tweet from my toilet. What I take objection to is that they might target a drone to blow me up whilst I’m on the toilet. Let’s debate that. My personal preference really would be that no one gets blown up.
The enemy are the extra judicial powers a President or prime minister has to order the assassination of anyone, anywhere- we are all innocent until proven guilty in a court. At least the last time I checked.
The enemy is going to war on false data, clandestinely obtained and then further protected by a veil of secrecy under the pretense of ‘national security’.
The enemy is the multi billion dollar security industry that thrives on secrecy and funds those who agree with its agenda of treating people like pawns and targets.
The enemy is the paranoid judiciary that chastises and sanctions people who , at great personal risk, shine the light of transparency on abuse.
The enemy is the callous media that muck rake the sensitive details of ordinary people in the name of ‘freedom of speech’ for the most puerile of entertainment and the most ignoble of aims – profit.
I don’t care what the eye sees nor what the ears hear, nor even what the brain thinks. I care what the hand does.
Protecting Privacy is hard, but promoting transparency is harder
If you think protecting privacy is hard, try being transparent. Transparency is very hard to do.
Just making everything you do open to even minimal scrutiny is hugely difficult, keeping it transparent is even harder. Transparency leads us to the conversation about responsibility. It takes us quickly through the blame game and we will come to the other side of that conversation because there is no hiding place for megalomania. Transparency leads us to accountability if we only it let.
So I am taking a really different tack on this. Instead of moaning about violations of privacy – what might happen if we strive to make everything transparent. The intelligence machinery will never ever be capable of containing the data of a transparent society. Let’s flood the infrastructure with openness and make irrevelant the mass collection of data.
What might happen if we tried these:
- Every one sending an email cc’s the NSA, GCHQ, the Police etc on each email they send. I’m sure we can find email addresses for them. Failing that send them to your MP.
- When your phone bill arrives, take a picture of it and send it as an email to the above groups.
- Every call you place auto dials the security services so you are always in conference (I can write software to do this if you are interested).
I’ll tell you what would happen – the world as we know it would end. The internet would crawl to a halt.What then?
The gutter scrapers of the world – most mainstream media outlets – will soon go out of business. When the football player who is having an affair writes casually on his blog that he is bedding multiple women and that his wife and he have talked about it, and you can see all the emails that he has sent, why would you even buy a paper to read it? At some point it would simply not be appealing. If you can see the wedding picture of any celebrity and actually *all* celebrities, you will quickly get bored of it – I know, I used to be wedding photographer!
But there are bad guys with bombs!
Now I know what you’re thinking – the bad guys are hiding their plans to kill us in our sleep. That may be some truth in this – at least the part that there are people who are currently bent on doing harm. The question we are not genuinely asking is “why?”.
What are they angry about? What have they tried to say peacefully that we didn’t acknowledge? What are we doing to continuously piss them off? Why is there an ‘us’ and ‘them’?
I’m not talking appeasement – and even if I was, so what!. I’m talking about understanding the unmet needs of people – individuals and groups. At the very least – to listen with an open mind and open heart. Then doing something about it – either help them meet those needs or help society balance the seemingly conflicting needs of its members. If that is not the central role of a government – I really do not know what is.
If the world did more of this deep and insightful inquiry and actively worked to address those concerns, we might find that most of the sources of global conflict and what we so readily call ‘terrorism’ is based on injustices have been allowed to fester and continue unabated for decades. Israel/Palestine, the impunity of corporations, the rapaciousness of empires, the greed and the broken systems and misguided thinking of limitless growth are all recognized sources of anger in many people in the world. Add to this the clash of economic classes, the pressure for disappearing resources and the deep abuse of political power. Oh and let’s not forget religion!
Might we find that most of the threats we fear come from real legitimate concerns of people who ordinarily seek to live in peace with everyone else? What might happen if we addressed those legitimate concerns satisfactorily?
And go easy on the labeling
We make things worse by labeling. We label certain countries and groups our ‘allies’ – giving carte blanche to their abuses (ahem Israel, Pakistan). We label fellow human beings ‘terrorists’ (ahem Nelson Mandela), making their very existence null and closing the channel on further inquiry. We make their genuine concerns irrelevant with little regard for the consequences of such ignoring. In a transparent society we would see why those labels exist and we would be able to question them. Transparency leads more often to engagement than privacy does.
To be continued…
I will be raging on privacy vs freedom vs ownership vs modesty vs ‘it is my right’
How might we get to a more transparent global society?
What/who will try and stop us?