Computers, Privacy & the Constitution

The Edible Road Back to Privacy

-- By LeoFarbman - 05 Mar 2016

Let’s take a second to talk about the food industry.

During World War II, the American food industry changed forever. Large corporations took on the task of figuring out how to engineer nonperishable processed foods that could feed the troops. This wartime success was subsequently followed by a strong marketing effort to bring the new and exciting processed foods into the American household. At the time, this was dandy for all: Mrs. was able to go work, Mr. still had a meal on the table when he got home, and no time, energy or money was wasted. The corporate takeover continued with further executive support. As prices started to rise in the 1970’s, President Nixon double downed on this trend to decrease overall food costs. His administration decided to boost the yields of a small handful of commodity crops at whatever the cost. This successfully led to a decrease in the price of food overall, but that decrease primarily came from the processed foods, sweetened beverages, and feedlot meat that could be produced with corn and soy.

These industry and cultural changes were met with little resistance at first, but beginning in the late 1980s, a number of food safety scandals opened people’s eyes to the way their food was being produced: Mad cow disease here, E.coli there, salmonella, and a slew of other bacterial infections had the people thinking about how their food was prepared. Since then countless articles, novels, and studies have been published lambasting the food industry and the effects they have on the American people. Studies have connected the methods of industrial food production with agricultural policy, food-borne illness, and childhood obesity. It has been over half a century and progress is still tremendously slow, but the food movement well underway led by a group of social groups fighting for “good food”.

Once the Ball Gets Rolling

Take a step back and look: the corporatization of food isn't much different than that of the collecting and selling of our metadata. Both have become a staples of the modern American economy. Both are backed by large industry with vast lobbying power. Both took advantage of and manipulated the uninformed American consumer. It is hard to stop the ball (of big money) once it gets rolling.

As soon as Steve Jobs’ lost control of Apple’s metadata (due to the infamous Business Judgment Rule) alongside the growth of Gmail and Facebook; our metadata became more valuable than of our fundamental rights. The food industry has also consistently tarnished our fundamental rights (of food and health) in the name of capitalism. Now they do it in the name of national security. Not only does the government not care to stop big business, but they want the metadata themselves.

Is a Privacy Movement Inevitable?

“The food movement implicitly proposes that we enlarge our understanding of both those terms, suggesting that not just “good value” but ethical and political values should inform our buying decisions, and that we’ll get more satisfaction from our eating when they do” - Naomi Starkman, Civil Eats

Over the last five years or so, the food movement has made more headway than ever before. Even though meal time is historically low and the price of produce keeps rising (while that of soda declines). The food movement started from a myriad of disconnected advocates fighting for different changes. Even though these groups are mostly small and from privileged section of the population, the food movement has become political. The Food Policy Action’s (FPA) National Food Policy Scorecard was recently formed to rate members of Congress on their food and farm votes, a handful of soda tax laws have been enacted to successfully cut down on soda consumption, and California created the California Food Policy Council (CAFPC) to develop and promote statewide policies that will create a healthy food and resilient farms. Furthermore, First Lady Michelle Obama has advocated for change in the food industry by speaking at food industry conventions trying to change the conversation from “personal responsibility” to a more pointed attack at how the corporations are marketing their products. As the social mindset for “good food” started to spread, the political action began.

It must therefore be a social movement that succeeds before a political one. Just like the food movement, a small niche is positively fighting for privacy rights. However, pro-privacy sentiments need to permeate our society more to see change. More smaller groups need to attack the issue from different angles. The recent attention to Apple and their CEO Tim Cook, followed by public support by Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook, is crucially important. Even though the actual suit may not have any substantive impact due to backend access to metadata, it has become a topic of conversation and questioning. This marks a similar moment to the food safety scandals of the 1980s. The privacy movement is even more youth oriented than that of food; pro-Snowden opinions skew towards the youth. The future shows promise.

Unfortunately, the government doesn't seem to feel much of the pressure to act differently. They are on the other side of the Apple suit and are on the verge of an unprecedented extension to the breadth of NSA’s ability to look at private American conversations. On the other hand, the Senate passed a critical piece of legislation in January, the Judicial Redress Act, that will extend U.S. privacy rights to Europeans.

It’s taken over 70 years for the food movement to make some small, but substantive progress. We can only hope it takes less time to regain our privacy.


Why in writing for the web would you dump URLs at the bottom of the text in a source list instead of making links with them, so the reader can use them to gain context in the course of reading?

So the purpose of the essay is comparison. On one side is a consumer movement about food, which has a purity proposition: partly about the chemistry of what we eat, and partly about the ethics of how we grow and process it. On the other side of the comparison is the subject this juxtaposition is supposed to illuminate.

But the value of the exercise lies in the detailed evocation of relevant correspondences. This can take us only so far, before the reader will need to cross back over and use those correspondences to increase her understanding of the actual subject. But even this first step is not very completely taken here. Little is really said about our subject, and what is for some reason hinges on "metadata," without explanation of the reason that fabled distinction is so important. Your comparison mostly also crosses a line between market activity and state activity subject to constitutional limitation, but without acknowledgment or analysis of that difference.

The route to improvement is rebalancing: more space for the subject to be explained, less to the comparand intended to catalyze the explaining.


Webs Webs

r3 - 28 Jun 2016 - 11:04:59 - EbenMoglen
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