Computers, Privacy & the Constitution

Prublic (second draft)

-- CarolineVisentini - 26 Apr 2015

Private + public = Prublic. I think that it is where our society is situated today. Over the course of the 20th century (maybe starting with spooks in the World Wars) we lost the opportunity to organize and protect ourselves to give a response to the surveillance and data obsession conducted both by Governments and now by companies. Our privacy has become a public asset. The way forward might be lost if we do not react fast enough.

From the time when civilization gathered in cities things have been changing fast: more data and information was generated and shared. Cities have been changing human behavior mainly in the last 500 years, in the Western Hemisphere. When tribes became towns and then cities and countries, humans were able to gather knowledge and information from each other and accelerate the social development – people were not more isolated in the countryside or in tribes.

Today, my friends and colleagues are stuck in their timelines, news feed, instant messaging, and picture sharing. There may be psychological reasons for that and companies are profiting from this momentum. They are deeply interested in checking what their friends are doing, as well as sharing what they eat or drink and who is their tribe, regardless of the fact that a simple sharing may be harmful to their privacy, to their future. I really feel that they have no idea of what they are doing, but their counterargument is: the service is for free, I do not want to be social excluded, and I am not doing anything wrong, so there is nothing to hide.

Our Environment

In the famous Nineteen Eighty-Four book written by George Orwell, the idea of a “big brother” based on social control through cameras became a reality in our lives. The “control” of the fiction can be compared to the “silent social control” that we face today: a reality on which we have traffic and security cameras, facial recognition, smartphones with tracking devices and batteries that never turn them off, or even televisions that “hear” and record our conversations, capturing whatever we do wherever we go. Our environment results from the unification of all of the above in one and unique network, that gives unlimited power to the ones who control it.

The capacity of those few (companies or Governments) who control the databases and the superorganisms (aka computers, servers and other connected devices) to manage and control society becomes tremendous. Mr. Snowden made this crystal clear in 2013. The short-story is that it has become very cheap to process and store data. With that, the amount of personal information generated and gathered is pouring and the society is not organized to react to that.

The capacity to unveil personal information is very powerful. Managing to merge that with a lot of other related facts such as climate, time, prices, among other things, and to correlate and compare them (which we also call linkability), provide the controllers with the ability to predict and define our next steps. Predicting sounds like the ability to read the unconscious of people, to know what someone is aiming to willing to do. Machines are already able to read, store, process and react to data, and from that data they are creating information about us. Personal consumption can start to derive from an exogenous will.

The State is one clear beneficiary of this environment. Its welfare provision created a reason for society to giveback. Initially, it was taxation. Now, we also handle in our personal information as a bargaining chip for that alleged welfare. For the State, controlling all of the information that circulates through the Internet is a huge asset. It needs surveillance, thus the need to have our information available. After decades, they found a great value deal for any alleged welfare given.

The Way Forward

The question is: Am I part of that? and the answer would be: We are all loosing the game already. The ultimate question might be: Is this generation the last one able to change that pattern, in which machines train us to consume specific products, to follow Governmental will and to accept data obsession. With the time running away fast, the few ones born prior to the Internet revolution and to the data obsession, the ones who have seen things from another point of view but also interacted a lot with this “new” framework, are the links to a possibility of change.

This silent war is not lost yet. Now, we shall create an awareness culture around the tech and cool gadgets offered, as well as the online and “free” services available online, to recreate our society with concepts that were once given, but were long ago taken from us from States: our privacy and freedom. With these in hands, consumers and citizens will be empowered to make informed choices about their own lives. This may be too romantic for some, but I strongly believe that some steps could be taken by those (including myself) who are close to understand where our society is stuck at.


Webs Webs

r6 - 26 Jun 2015 - 19:50:01 - MarkDrake
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