Death of Privacy: Will it just be Digital? (opinion).
In any generation it is normal for people to look forward, into the future. People consider what life might be like for the next generation, within their mind’s eye. That process, one hopes, generally includes a perpetual wish for things to get better; develop and improve. Common sense tells us that this is how concepts of law and order came into existence.
Equal rights between the sexes and the right to vote. Equality of opportunity for all races and nationalities. Acceptance of religious and cultural differences. Tolerance and respect that is born into existence, consciously, through the will of a human majority. Often fought for over long periods of time and with great hardship.
Senior citizens alive today who lived through the second world war are perhaps the most poignant example of that process. Those people’s experiences are a living example of a curious part of the aging process: Within our relatively short lives, we are presented with the opportunity to – not only ponder possible futures – but also to see if those tomorrows come true.
‘From the time of Magna Carta, to the civil wars and revolutions of the 17th century, through to the liberalism of Victorian Britain and the widening and deepening of democracy and fundamental rights throughout the last century, there has been a British tradition of liberty – what one writer has called our ‘gift to the world’.
Those are Gordon Brown’s words from a speech made in 2007, and they do an excellent job of describing the practical outcome of our human ability to wander through time. Revealing the way that people have fought to improve society – not only for themselves – but for the lives of following generations also.
During the 17th century, people began fighting for legal provisions to protect privacy. A popular emerging belief that was fought for at length and slowly passed into law. Civilization was doing its job well, it would appear, and was attempting to become more civilized as time passed. Proof that the time travel effect was working its magic on society in powerful ways.
Not long ago in the US and the UK (and the rest of the Western world), invasive policies at the hands of socialist regimes and dictatorships (the Kremlin or Communist Party in China for example) were staunchly frowned upon. Those were the illegal and uncivilized actions of nations that we looked down on, and felt sorry for. Cue the moody and harrowing music.
Now, things have reached a dangerous impasse. The privacy that citizens had come to expect is being quickly stolen away in favour of new control mechanisms. Terrorism that is the direct result of Western foreign policies (that the vast majority of their populations were against all along) is the main reason touted as the ‘necessity’ for this huge loss of personal privacy.
In Britain, the snoopers’ charter was just passed by the House of Commons, which means that it now only needs to go through the House of Lords. If successful there (and it will be) ISPs will have to retain all British web browsing histories for a year. In Australia similar legislation requires ISPs to help the government snoop on their customers for two years.
In the US things are similar, with the NSA and a range of government agencies able to look at people’s communications thanks to programs like PRISM and the Five Eyes; surveillance practices that are still the norm three years after Snowden’s whistleblower revelations.
Cybercrime, and a fear of being vulnerable to attack by lone wolves, terrorist organisations, or state actors, is another reason for that loss of privacy. Governments are deciding that they need broad surveillance powers to be able to combat the threat of cyber criminals attacking vital national infrastructure.
One example of that type of cybercrime occurred in Ukraine, where cyber criminals managed to cause power outages. Leading to a fear that hackers could one day, perhaps, cause a catastrophe at a nuclear power station resulting in a loss of life: Or, at least, power outages closer to home.
While hacking does pose risks, the other side of the coin is that it can also be seen as a way for society to fight back against the invasive political will. Politics is closely tied to wealth and the will of a corporate minority. No matter how you look at it, that corporate will has a huge effect on politics. A two-horse race that has been heavily lobbied on both sides hardly seems like a glamorous option; nor does it feel like real democracy. Certainly, allegations of corruption contained within the recent Guccifer 2.0 hacks, if proven to be true, demonstrate that cyber criminals can actually work for the people. As well as against them.
With that in mind, the ability to hack into the computers of government agencies or party leaders (for the reason of exposing corruption) is one of humanity’s last hopes for regaining control of how policy is decided. Democracy as it was intended, and along with it a renewed respect for the freedom and privacy of the general population. Rights that need to be prised out of the hands of the corporate hidden hand and its proxy governments.
The death of privacy?
In the UK, William Hague has only recently announced his opinion that nobody has an absolute right to privacy,
‘In a world where private information can quite often protect the taxpayer, or stop a multitude of crimes, or save lives, in my view there can ultimately be no absolute right to privacy. There can be many powerful constraints on intruding into that privacy, but there has to be what there has been in the past, a sense of shared responsibilities between service providers and governments to protect both security and privacy as best they can.’
Am I the only one that thinks everyone has an absolute right to privacy, until, at least, they have been proven to be strongly suspected of committing a crime? Once under investigation for a crime for which there is evidence of their involvement, by all means may a court rule that the person should be investigated – including a search of their digital presence.
As it stands, however, the death of privacy that is currently being forced upon Western nations feels in danger of exploding; and spreading into the real world as well (as opposed to remaining in the digital realm).
Just recently, when talking about the San Bernardino massacre, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump voiced his opinion that,
‘We need to make sure every single person involved in this plan, including anyone who knew something, but didn’t tell us, is brought to justice. These people need to have consequences, big consequences.’
That opinion demonstrates his will for a worrying alteration to the kinds of freedom and privacy that people within society are entitled to. He is literally saying that a person becomes a criminal simply for minding their own business. The description of a world where ‘live and let live’ is outlawed and you are prosecuted for silently going about your day.
Could this belief amongst the political elite be a sign of where invasive digital policies are taking us?