I need to swot up on my origami, it seems.
I never considered myself to be paticularly fond of conspiracy theories – quite the contrary, I have always maintained that one should never explain with conspiracy what can as easily be explained with idiocy. Which makes it all the more frustrating to be accused of ‚wearing the tin foil hat‘ in discussions about the NSA/GCHQ (et al.) surveillance scandal. What I find almost as irritating as the fact of the ubiquitous breach of my privacy is the reaction of an alarmingly large number of my fellow citizens:
We have nothing to hide
As if that would make it right to spy on each and everyone of us.
Since it is pointless to try and start a security vs freedom debate with them, I instead like to ask those people: „But you do seal your letters, you do lock the bathroom door when you wee, you do close the curtains when you have sex – why? if you have nothing to hide?“ But somehow they manage to remain unperturbed.
Can I watch then?
„Not being pervy, just trying to ensure your safety and security – the bathroom is a dangerous place, you know.
„And by the way, I’d like to have cameras installed in your house to ensure the security of your kids in case you might be abusive, or even a paedophile.“
Of course that is usually where I get very indignant reactions from them (not only from those that would not get the sarcasm). But an awful lot of people would not make the jump to our government’s surveillance programmes: Obviously it is something else entirely if I invade their privacy. What is an appalling idea if I were the spy is perfectly acceptable if it is a government agency. The reason seems to be that people would not believe me that I had their well-being in mind nor (if they were trusting enough) that I could indeed ensure the safety and security I promised. They’d be absolutely right of course.
But here’s our governments doing the same thing and people accept both that it is all for our own good and that they can indeed protect us. Which is strange considering how mealy-mouthed they are about it all (nobody would want to buy a product the salesperson told them so little about). I have yet to learn even of one instance where the surveillance programmes of our governments, rather than old-fashioned policing, did really foil an attack plan. If it the programmes were that successful you would expect the agencies to brag about it, wouldn’t you? Or at least name one good example to silence the critics.
To make matters worse, quite a bit of the measures seem curiously ill-suited for the task they claim to be designed for. Take the latest Snowden leak on the ‚DISHFIRE‚ programme for example. Does anyone anywhere truly believe terrorists would consider coordinatig an attack by texting? (OK, I know it is more about networks and contacts and suspicious behaviour). And 200 million a day? Even given the texting sprees of your average teenager that makes for a lot of targets. More than anything the idea here seems to be along the lines of ‚gobble up every last scrap of information we can get and see if cannot introduce some pre-crime policing‘.
What the ’nothing to hide‘ faction fails to understand is that, when it comes to ’security matters‘ / terrorism, effectively our governments shifted the burden of proof to lie with us. Keeping tabs on all of us is equivalent to turning us all into suspects. And do not be misled into thinking it is just the ‚bad guys‘ that are monitored: The NSA’s ‚three hops‘ method is likely to include almost everyone. If you don’t want to do the maths yourself you can try this little tool on The Guardian website. Remember, the figure you will see is only for the people that one individual (you) connects to through the three degrees of separation. Now if we asume a conservative estimate of 50 flagged targets in the UK…
The agencies do not even have to tell you that or why they flagged you. You may land on a no-fly list (because someone you called once in the last year knows someone that called someone who is flagged a target) and never know what happened. So don’t give me that ’nothing to hide‘ crap. You may want to (re-)read this startlingly modern text by – yes, indeed – Immanuel Kant, maybe that will get you out of, if not your self-incurred tutelage maybe at least your current complacency.
Or you could just carry on as you were, and I go and swot up on my origami: Hats are a lot trickier to make with tin foil than with paper…