Privacy must fight back to prevent totalitarian regimes
Aug 29, 2013
Privacy vs. Totalitarian Regimes: Concrete Alternatives Needed to Protect Basic Rights amidst Rising Surveillance and Data Circulation
The complaint made by Edward Snowden in May of this year cannot be entirely surprising - not for several generations that were born and grew up with the Cold War and a whole pop culture linked to the imaginary of espionage, conspiracies, and large totalitarian plots. Because of this, as much as the shock to accept that the king is as naked as always imagined, the 'free world' - read all spectra that have democracy and fundamental rights as basic principles - is slow to react. The reaction is not the fruitless attempt to convince legislative bodies to curb the excesses of companies that finance their campaigns. What civil society needs to do is offer concrete alternatives to dismantle the set of "threats" that "justify" the violation of basic rights such as privacy and the right to a fair trial.
According to Cisco, which holds more than 60% of the market for routers and data transmission hardware, in 2017, the amount of data equivalent to the production of all the films made in history will circulate on the Internet in just three minutes. The gigantic nature of the scenario is the cradle from which all the aberrations that the NSA uses to have created the largest individual surveillance apparatus in the history of humanity (click here to get an idea of the extent of the NSA's reach - remember to zoom out until you can see the continents or you won't have the precise idea). As gloomy as it may seem, the chances of you, as a user of digital devices, having had some of your communication scrutinized by the NSA is an incredible 50%, with this ratio being much higher if you reside in the United States.
A lot of pressure was put on the American 'Big Brother', but it is very unlikely that there will be an adequate reaction. American diplomacy is experiencing a very delicate moment on fronts where the reaction is much more urgent than protecting the privacy of its citizens - at least according to a good part of the American electorate, where almost 60% think the attitude is acceptable: Syria, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, and China are headaches with a much more immediate risk. Not surprisingly, most of the initiatives to put the NSA under control are being slow-cooked in Washington.
The pressure on data holders only increased after Snowden's denunciation and a symptom of this was the closure of the obscure email service Lavabit, which offered a service with encrypted data. The note is relevant because Snowden, while planning his data leak to the British newspaper The Guardian, would have used Lavabit's services. According to Lavabit's CEO, Ladar Levison, "no data service in the US today is safe from the NSA's advances". And before the fact becomes a justification for a beaten and useless anti-American speech, it is worth thinking whether, once proven efficient, it wouldn't be the case for the NSA's knowhow to help boost the US's export balance. This, of course, besides the fact that numerous other countries like China, Russia, and several other dictatorial democracies do not have similar apparatuses.
Academics, researchers, journalists, opinion makers, and technology companies that do not have megalomaniacal ambitions need to unite now to develop practical alternatives to American espionage. Technological development was key in the vertiginous impulse of the digital revolution and a fabulous economic growth linked to it. Journalists like Jay Rose, Jeff Jarvis, and Andy Carvin, who played a major role in popularizing digital tools for emerging audiences, need to use their influence to charge technology giants and the fantastic creative capacity of Silicon Valley startups to direct research towards digital tools that can guarantee transparency and privacy at the same time. Apparently, it is a contradiction, but in the last decade, scientific and technological development has managed to surpass even the most enthusiastic forecasts.
The price to be paid for non-action is the consolidation of a police state where the government - in fact, a pseudo-state within the government - acts according to its need using its thesis of holocaust as a blank check to be able to overcome any obstacle - like laws, for example. Waiting for an ethical attack on the government's conscience is basically the same as waiting for the next scandal. The creative capacity of society usually has a lower cost to itself than that charged by government proposed changes, which usually come after negatively marked events. The time is not for waiting - it is for action.