We’re headed for a surveillance society and that’s OK

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe brouhaha over NSA’s PRISM project that involved spying on Verizon customers and asking Silicon Valley giants for access to their customer records is a bit of false indignation, if you ask me (what, you didn’t ask me?).

First, there have been warnings for years about our loss of privacy. Secondly, and may more importantly, what bureaucrat in an era of downsized government spending, wouldn’t jump at the chance to spend only $20 million and be able to get better information than ever available in the past?

It cost less to build PRISM than the city of Pasadena pays for street paving.

We asked for this

TechCrunch’s John Biggs sums it up nicely in We Asked For This when he says:

We asked for this. We asked for this when we traded password protection for single sign-in. We asked for this when we chased social network after social network, creating a deer trail that could lead a hunter to our crushed-grass bed, still warm. We asked for this when, almost a decade ago, we traded some privacy for some security and got neither in the bargain.

Biggs is spot on in pointing out that we traded privacy for convenience first (pre-9/11, with the rise of the Internet and early social media) and then privacy for security when terrorists shocked us out of our desire to have a life the government can’t see. Anyone shouting loudly right now is either uninformed or politically motivated…or just dumb. Seriously.

Biggs goes on to say:

We give Amazon a list of things we like and do not like and are amazed when it offers up a slew of products that will strike the perfect chord of our fancy. We are like a drunk blundering through a crowd of pickpockets. That we are not poor and naked already is a testament to either the goodness of humanity or the ineptitude of the criminal class.

He’s right. The fact that we haven’t known about NSA’s PRISM until now is surprising. The discovery that they’re doing what they’re doing isn’t surprising. I’m not sure it should be news.

Surveillance society

ISAF handout image of Petraeus and BroadwellLet’s face it, where we’re headed was recently called a surveillance state by CNN’s Bruce Schneider. Read his piece as it points out how easily even expert web users with a great deal to lose were tripped up by the forces of Big Data and analytics. The surveillance state sounds ominous, but whether we like it or not, the Big Data cat is out of the bag and it would be impossible to get it back in.

We’re living in an age of greatly reduced privacy. Even the CIA Director was unable to keep his personal life a secret, and he had access to every trick. Ubiquitous surveillance is here to stay. Schneider puts it this way:

In today’s world, governments and corporations are working together to keep things that way. Governments are happy to use the data corporations collect — occasionally demanding that they collect more and save it longer — to spy on us. And corporations are happy to buy data from governments. Together the powerful spy on the powerless, and they’re not going to give up their positions of power, despite what the people want.

If this sounds dire, it doesn’t have to be. Instead of focusing our righteous (or unrighteous, I would argue) indignation on our government, an organization with a declining budget trying hard to keep people safe in the ear of pressure cooker bombers, I recommend we focus our energy on accountability. We have oversight structures for the military and for our spying agencies and they need to be powerful and demanding.

We can’t turn back time, but we can turn up the surveillance of the surveillers.

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Categories: Privacy, Security

Author:Jeanne Roué-Taylor

I'm fascinated by disruptive technology and its impact on our world. I manage sales operations for an excellent startup with a unique team of highly experienced data scientists.

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  1. Big Brother Is Watching: What Did You Expect? | Wholeheartedness - June 18, 2013

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  2. Surveillance Society | Markgrenader - July 25, 2013

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