I’d like to talk a little about the recent leak that confirmed the NSA has been monitoring american conversations.
- I have been concerned for a while now about the concentration of private data into a few corporate hands. This prompted me to start Responsible Analytics in 2008, and has been responsible for my own ficklness with depending on accounts with these large companies. Even without the NSA peeping in, just the corporate exploitation of this data should be worrisome enough.
- This issue hinges around the expectation of Privacy by the average citizen. Did citizens signing up for Facebook, Gmail, Yahoo Mail, Hotmail, expect their “private” email and messaging to be accessed by NSA? The law has defined privacy as the “Reasonable Expectation” a citizen would have, so whether it’s a violation should be judged by that.
- The recent CNN poll claiming 56% of american’s support the NSA’s actions: I’m not surprised, but I am saddened. I believe the American public does not understand the long standing privacy implications of this action being deemed acceptable, nor understand the legal, technical, and business implications for both americans and the rest of the world, in NSA being able to monitor these systems. But as Congress itself has been slow to understand anything remotely technical, I am not suprised other people have a hard time.
But I do understand it, and over the years, I have spent a lot of time thinking, reading, and talking with folks about this type of thing, here are my thoughts:
- Our digital devices track everything about us. Saying it’s OK for anybody to collect data from them destroys our potential for any privacy, ever. It means the choice will be 1) technology or 2) privacy. I believe the rational choice would be a middle ground between the two, much like what most americans probably believed they were making when they purchased these devices. The reality is that, today the choice is, as neil postman put it, a Faustian bargain, trading privacy for technology. And while that is up to each of us to make, what about those, like me, whom have a school email account I am required to use, run by a company whom gives the NSA access to it’s system? Where is my choice? It is to either go to school, or have privacy. No one in a “free” country should ever have to make that choice.
- It puts at risk citizens of all nations to surveillance by US Intelligence. Why care about that? It means that future web companies (like Facebook, Google, Yahoo) will have big incentives to not start there businesses here in the US, as doing so will subject their worldwide user base to the surveillance of one nation. This is a huge issue. It also means the sales of devices that depend on these services, will extend such tradeoffs when they are purchased. This then retards society from technology and creates a new class of users, those with the tech will be those willing to trade away privacy. In an evolutionary sense, it means future products and services would be more willing to trade more of the same. Bye Bye Choice, Bye Bye Freedom.
- Letting the NSA collect data violates our rules that the military cannot be used domestically against citizens. The NSA is not the FBI. They are military in nature, and military in technology. This is the digital equivelant to an M1 Abrams tank, an armed apache helicopter, coming into our cities daily. When the FBI, a police operation, wants to tap something, they have to do it in a small, targeted scale. It requires warrants, it requires effort. In short, it is closer to the letter of the law. What NSA is doing, would technically require martial law to be declared in order to fully do it legally. This should concern the hell out of anyone who likes the constitution.
I’m sure I will have more thoughts about this in the future. I’d just like to close saying this: I believe the goal of a government should be to enable it’s citizens to enjoy a good, free, life. That means doing work that enables opportunities for it’s citizens, that creates a fertile ground in both rights and economic opportunity for imagination to be indulged, and dreams to be realized, among all of it’s people. And I don’t see the NSA’s actions to be in line with that at all.