Tuesday, June 11, 2013

"I've Got Nothing To Hide"

Glad to hear it. Neither do I.
I mean, really. If the government wants to know what my Internet is for, so what?

I'll tell you so what.

I used to think just like you, you know. That "privacy" was overrated, that since I'm not a criminal, I'd have no problem if some nameless faceless entity started scrutinizing my online output. Oh, dig deep enough and they'll find some pretty embarrassing stuff--there are posts on Usenet that I'm not proud of--but there's nothing there that could land me in jail, or anything. Ditto my telephone calls. I don't associate with terrorists, after all.

Nah. I, like you, don't care about privacy. I don't have curtains on my windows. I gotta tell ya, all my neighbours do, and they keep 'em closed. I'm quite sure all those bastards are hiding something. Not me. I've got nothing to hide. That's why I post my pay stubs on Facebook and upload the whole of my sex life to YouTube. You do that too, right? If you don't, what are you hiding? And my medical diagnoses--why shouldn't the world know I have a mental illness? It's  not as if they're going to discriminate against me with that knowledge, right?


Okay, so maybe I have a few things to hide, stuff I consider nobody's business but my own. But still. Since I don't actually upload my sex life to YouTube, I don't think it's subject to government surveillance. Hey, supposedly the government will only know the metadata anyway--that I called my wife's cellphone at 6:27 p.m. last Wednesday. We're told the naughty stuff I said is not known and unknowable. Government officials have said this, repeatedly, and I can't remember the last time one of those people was ever caught in an untruth, can you?

Privacy is not about "hiding' things. It's not about secrecy. It's about a volume of information we consider personal that we carry around with us and choose not to reveal. This information is different for different people. Some folks -- we've all met one, haven't we? -- revel in disclosing all sorts of info you'd really rather not hear. Contrariwise, many of us clam up when it comes to financial matters, which to me is rather odd, and political preferences, which to me is utterly bizarre. But what I think about the things others choose to leave private is irrelevant: if they disclose any of that information to me and I subsequently, say, blog about it, the consequences to me would be dire, and I would deserve every one of them.


But we're in a brave new world, right? A world where people tweet pictures of what they're eating, a world where people actually use a popular app called Foursquare to let prospective burglars know when they're least likely to be interrupted in their activities. The notion of privacy in such a world is, as Margaret Wente notes. as "quaint as buggy whips and hoop skirts". Corporations from Facebook to Google to Ma Bell have collected vast sums of information on you; Target knows when you're pregnant; to say nothing of your bank and Visa and...and...and...

Couple of distinctions, though. You handed all this info over willingly. Maybe not all that willingly, but ultimately you made the call. (You did read the Facebook EULA, right, the one that grants Facebook the right to use anything you post on your account, for as long as it exists on your account?)
You had to agree to those terms of service, which means you should have read them. If you didn't, and now you find them unacceptable, you can always delete your Facebook account. I'd miss it, myself...but I lived without it for thirty five years, somehow. I'm sure I could again.
Likewise, I could go further and stay off the 'Net if I was really that concerned about my personal information. That would be a very, very difficult thing for me to do, not least because I'm terribly afraid I'd find out in short order I have considerably fewer friends than I think I do. But again, I lived quite happily without an Internet for quite a long period of time. And I'm reasonably sure in giving it up, I wouldn't lose every friend I have.
Visa? How I'd love to live without that. A bank? That's damn near impossible these days, but I know a few people who manage to live and be happy without a bank account.

Whatever the Tea Partiers might think, you can't live without a government.

Moreover, those corporations can't do anything much worse than withdrawing their service to you...on their own. The government, working with these corporations, can make your life a living hell. Or worse, it could kill you. That may sound like a paranoiac's wet dream, It isn't. That sort of thing is frightfully common in, well, most of the world. And even here, if you happen to share a name with a known terrorist, I wouldn't try crossing the U.S. border. Or getting on a plane for a nice family vacation. Because to err is human, but to really fuck it up, you need a computer. Because people have this deeply unfounded faith in the data their silicon servants spew forth. Because if you try to protest your innocence too loudly, well, shit, you're resisting arrest! Oh, fun! Let's drag out the toys!

Or maybe you don't share a name with a known terrorist. Maybe you're just black. (People, I implore you: watch this video. If you ever thought racial profiling was exaggerated, you'll stop thinking that right quick.)

Yet another issue: if you ever do something the government doesn't like, that's all the excuse they need.
You don't do anything the government doesn't like, you tell me. Gee, that's too bad...I thought you cared about the environment. Maybe you hung up on the pollster calling on behalf of the Conservative Party of Canada. (The duration of that call, all three seconds of it, is on record.) The point I'm trying to make here is that there are certain things we know this government doesn't like--facts, reality, science--and quite possibly some things we don't know they don't like. And even if you're a 100% dyed in the wool Harperite, you have to concede his government won't last forever...and the next government will have an entirely different Shit List you don't want to be on. The government, no matter what political stripe,  should not have this power. They are servants of the people, not the other way around.
Edward Snowden did something the government didn't like, and he's living in fear of his life. As an ex-CIA employee, he has a pretty good idea of the lay of the land, and he's pretty certain he'll be laying under the land fairly soon. There are two possible lessons here. The one the U.S. government wants to you absorb is the usual: don't fuck with us. The one Snowden's pressing for is considerably more compelling: everybody fuck with them!  They can't throw us all in Gitmo, can they?
Why did Snowden come forward? Because, as he says, "I don't want to live in a society that does these sort of things".

Neither do I, sir. Neither do I.

And the justification they try to use? Terrorists! Oh, please. That's so 2001. Hell, toddlers were more deadly this year. While I will forever maintain that radical Islam is an issue that needs dealing with, I do not and can not accept the idea that martyrs for Allah are hiding behind every bush. Dubya used to tell us there were certain things we'd have to do "or the terrists win".  Well, we've handed over freedom lock, stock and barrel: I'd say they have won anyway. As Ben Franklin so memorably wrote, "those who would give up ESSENTIAL LIBERTY to purchase a little TEMPORARY SAFETY deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."

The absolute worst part about all this is that it's so secret, we can't even have a proper debate about what this is, what it isn't, and what it's for. If the mock debate we do have (short on critical facts)  gets too heated, the government can simply cite national security and shut it down--while doubtless putting the most fervent protestors on Santa's Naughty List.

Is this what you signed on for, living in a democracy? It sure as hell isn't for me.

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