Lately it seems like a lot of the people I subscribe to are starting to coalesce into a vision of the future that I’ve been sensing but not quite seeing clearly for a while now. I’m a big fan of privacy, of keeping my shit to myself and meting it out in controlled doses only to people I know and trust.
Well, and to you, gentle reader.
Today three very interesting things came across my feeds at the same time:
1. Global Guerrillas explains why there are Protests Everywhere and how they’re likely to continue for a long time. Summarized: governments are big, slow and increasingly ineffective. They’re concerned with borders when the people they rule over are increasingly connected, working and thinking globally, and therein lies friction.
2. Charles Stross explains why, though our political leader might and representative parties might change, the system can be considered a permanently elected party whose goals never change, and so it matters less who is in charge: the policies and actions are the same. This means democracy has broken down, and increasingly this leads to more spying and surveillance by the state. He imagines an ugly future, “if you want to see how ugly, look to the Arab Spring and imagine it fought by finger-sized killer drones that know what you wrote on Facebook eighteen years ago when you were younger, foolish, and uncowed.”
3. Which brings us very neatly to the latest Penny Arcade strip. It discusses the insane case of a kid in the USA who made a sarcastic comment online, was reported to the police, and is now in jail. He was playing an online game, a discussion got heated, he said some things. In the Penny Arcade strip, it is said “I was fucking feral at nineteen. The shit I got up to […] They would have put me in jail.”
Three things summarized: A giant losing its power, unlimited data about everybody, and the things we said that we didn’t mean.
This is why privacy matters. This is why the argument if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear is crazily dangerous. It’s not about the stuff you’ve got being kept private – it’s about the people watching you deciding they don’t like you. If someone with more power than you decides he wants to fuck you over, everything you’ve ever done or said is his ammunition.
This is not a new idea. In the 1600s (fucking four hundred years ago!) Cardinal Richelieu said If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him.
We post our lives online. Everyone who has ever had an online argument with a mean bastard knows even our most innocent comments can be twisted out of context and used against us. Give that bastard a badge and the power to jail us while he digs ever deeper for the words he needs to sink us, and we live freely only as long as we are allowed to.
And it’s being done by machines, and the machines get it very, very wrong. Google’s idea of the music I like, the things I enjoy, and the stuff I might want to buy are laughably inaccurate. If the machine suddenly thinks I’m dangerous…
This is why privacy matters. This is why massive surveillance is bad. Because there are bastards out there, and while they don’t know who you are today, if they decide they want you taken out, you’re going to lose.