Here’s the article by TIME magazine breaking down the salient facts about PRISM — the US Government’s program of collecting data from web servers to hunt down spies and whatnot.
Whenever a story like this breaks out, people get all flustered and flummoxed about privacy. It is an outrage — they say — that the government would access our private data like this. How dare they?
It’s moments like this that show the extent to which our debates about privacy, rights, and liberties are locked firmly in the past. The belligerents in the battle are the citizens (whose privacies, rights, and liberties are infringed) and the State (who is big, evil, needs to be controlled, and likes to infringe the liberties of its citizens). It’s an idea stemming from the time when we had to win concessions from evil tyrants and tyrannical governments — a time when saying something controversial and unpopular was a revolutionary act. A time when people died, man. People died.
That time — for the vast majority of people who read this — is not today. We are awash with idiot opinions and people who feel that utterances in breach of taste and decency are somehow edgy and radical (cf. the discussion of rape jokes by comedians).
Each day, we hand over a vast amount of our private data to companies who are thinly regulated. If I hand over my data to a government agency, there’s a stack of legislation and protocols and guidelines for the management of my data. When that data is misused, I have a dozen avenues for redress. When I use my mobile phone to update my Facesbook status, five or six companies (if not more) take a slice of that information and have barely any restrictions on how they use that information. If it leaks, I have no idea how to sue. Hell, I’d have no idea whom to sue.
People freaking out about PRISM are effectively saying: ‘It’s okay for Google, Facesbook, Microsoft, Apple, Angry Birds, the guys behind Farmville, WordPress, my Internet service provider, my phone carrier, the phone manufacturer, and all the advertising companies who mine their data to have information about me, but I will freak right the freak out if the government [the only person in this whole mess whose use of data is regulated] dares to get a copy.’
Look how many people cheered on the Anonymous groups that released customer data from PlayStation or whatnot. That’s all good, provided that Anonymous isn’t the government.
Even sodding Derryn Hinch thinks that he can decide what private information should be public domain. So long as he isn’t the government, people seemed fine with it.
It is a brain dead argument that we’re having in which people’s responses are motivated by adolescent problems with authority rather than any kind of coherent argument. People aren’t worried about privacy; they’re worried about authority. If they were as worried about privacy as they should be, there would be legislation to restrict the use of private information by companies like Facebook, Twitter, Google, &c. The government is the least of your problems.