A lot of debate has erupted in the aftermath of the Edward Snowden revelations. And no matter what each of us are arguing about, there seems to be one unifying topic that rips through the heart of everyone’s concern: Are we no longer able to have the luxury of keeping certain things private?
At the risk of sounding pessimistic, the answer is probably not – although I’m not entirely sure we had that luxury to begin with. Additionally, and this time at the risk of sounding like a conspiracy theorist, the reason for this is the social construct we have created for ourselves, specifically, our economical and political practices that have run amok.
Snowden showed the world how the United States has essentially taken the liberty to collect as much data about us if they so choose, whether we know it or not. And even though we now know, they still haven’t stopped.
They say this data collection process was not used on US citizens, which turned out to be false. They also tell us that the laws of the United States allows security agencies to collect any and as much data as they so choose if they feel a foreigner on US soil poses a security threat. This means, should the rest of the world decide to visit the US at some point in their lifetime, the “land of the free” would be able to amass information on 96% of the world’s population, most, or rather majority of it, would be irrelevant.
Many argue that it is what keeps their country, and probably the world save. But let’s look at the evidence. From what Snowden has leaked, it has become evident that all an authority figure in a security agency has to do is say, “Yeah, what the hell, let’s just collect some info on this guy!”. No evidence or probable cause is required for surveillance. The Head of State of both Brazil and Germany have been subjected to this invasion of privacy. The EU parliament weren’t spared either.
Even a guy with the same name as a suspected terrorist wasn’t spared, which is the equivalent of saying, “You know what? I knew a Bob who was in the KKK. And there’s a Bob who works in the coffee shop I eat at. Wait a sec? Same guy?”
It is becoming increasingly evident that people with power do what they like just because they can and not because they must.
Google tells us that if we don’t want them reading our emails for analytics purposes so that they can sell it as a marketing database, then we shouldn’t use gmail. How many office e-mails are powered by gmail? Where is this supposed choice they seem to so charitably assume?
What about Facebook who essentially say the same thing? Not happy with our terms, then don’t sign up.
None of them may force us to join. But a lot of these giants utilize the fact that we have become dependent on these tools to function in society as well as to connect and interact with the world. Essentially, their argument – without being too over-simplified – is that if I don’t want my privacy invaded then I shouldn’t e-mail my Aunt overseas.
Many people seem to defend these perpetrators by saying that if you have nothing to hide then there’s nothing to worry about. Well firstly, even if I have nothing to hide, I should, at the very least, have the right to say so before having my privacy stripped away from me. Privacy is not for someone to take before leaving us with the responsibility of trying to take it back.
Furthermore, things we may not consider private may not be the same as others, which means that even if we don’t believe in the specifics of the right to privacy, the fact that we believe privacy is our right means we should stand together with the populists to fight against the establishments who choose to strip away our privacy for personal gain without due democratic process.
Of course I acknowledge that privacy is not an absolute privilege. I’m aware I can’t just demand the right for total privacy. But considering how cavalierly big names invade our privacy is not only surprising but alarming.
The fact that they do it in secret or without explicitly informing us tells us that they are aware we wouldn’t approve. The fact that giants such as the NSA and Google demand privacy while they invade ours, shows us the depth of hypocrisy clouding their own reasoning.
That my friends is something we should think about.