Privacy is very complicated. It includes not wanting someone to acquire information about you, not wanting someone interfering with or censoring your actions, not wanting someone intruding in your space, not having someone acting in a discriminatory way with respect to your beliefs, and not having someone take or use your property without your permission. Invasions of privacy are particularly concerning when one party operates outside the law or holds significantly more power than another.
Mass state surveillance is growing, seemingly driven by the false choice of perfect security or perfect privacy. And yet such state surveillance undermines our societies as much as anything from which we might need protection.
“When you outlaw privacy, only outlaws have privacy.” [Phil Zimmerman]
A too typical response to state surveillance is “I have nothing to hide”. You might not, but others do, and quite legitimately too.
“Arguing that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say.” [Edward Snowden]
In short, while the motivations behind mass state surveillance are undoubtedly sincere, the response is undoubtedly wrong.
In 2016, the UK passed the most intrusive surveillance bill of any democracy in history, and the Trump administration is reportedly considering similar expansion. Other governments want or already have access to data about everyone’s phone calls and digital communications.
The word surveillance originates from French, from sur- ‘over’ + veiller ‘watch’. It’s the situation in which someone or some entity ‘above’ watches those ‘below’.
Governments aren’t the only ones watching over us all 24/7. Commercial surveillance invades our homes, our relationships, and our lives. The analyses of the collected data and sometimes the raw data itself are then sold to others. Surveillance Capitalism, as this practice is called, makes money for a great many technology providers including internet service providers (ISPs), mobile phone operators, and social network services.
Data is used to make decisions about our health, homes, work, education and more, in ways we cannot understand nor control. Invisible software algorithms (step-by-step sets of operations applied to our data) are influencing what you read and don’t read, what you watch and don’t watch, who you meet and don’t meet, what you do and don’t do.
What you think and don’t think.
When the vast majority of your digital life is spread across a few companies (see decentralization) the power moves from you to them. They know who you are, where you are, how you got there, what you do, when you do it, and who you do it with. Your digital life is then directed by the technological architecture and policies they develop to make more money out of you.
Wouldn’t it be great to rebalance the power, to have a tech team on the side of people?
Technologies don’t have to affect our lives like this. We can defend ourselves from commercial surveillance and avoid the all-seeing state. We can have better control over our privacy and our lives with Tech We Trust. The Digital Life Collective researches, develops, funds and supports this tech.