Outlaw Privacy

“In our country, do we want to allow a means of communication between people which […] we cannot read?”

Leaders often seek to contain and control information following serious crises. This is the working theory that brought us the Patriot Act following 9/11 and spawned the offense-as-a-defense mass surveillance policies that we live under today.

Yesterday, following the horrifying attacks in Paris, David Cameron used the emotional moment to argue for an extension of surveillance capabilities. His suggestions would effectively outlaw the few useful options we have left for communicating easily and privately. Applications we use everyday like WhatsApp or Snapchat that encrypt and protect our communications by default would be forced to strip those protections.

“I think we cannot allow modern forms of communication…to be exempt from being listened to.”

Some might look at Cameron’s claims and use the old adage, “I have nothing to hide.” That’s not the point. To have nothing to hide is a privilege, and one that can be quickly taken away.

The sad irony is that as leaders propose new controls to contain and surveil speech due to fear of ambiguous futures, the same ambiguity can quickly turn for compliant citizens. We may have nothing to hide today, but what about tomorrow? Why do we fear terrorist attacks and not more likely events that could condemn our current views?

It’s fallacy to claim we need more control because of an uncertain future. That same future could just as easily condemn our current views and turn our new systems against us. The algorithmic nature, the global scale, and the lack of sensitivity in those systems are, to me, much scarier than single attacks.

 We live in an era that lacks the clarity of the past– in actors, motivations, and the divide between domains- but that does not mean we need to respond with overbearing control. Building the societal resilience we need hinges on trust and that trust will come from decentralized organizations and ensuring private communications—not burning the small haystack of protections we have left to find the needles left.

To use the Charlie Hebdo attacks, cruel acts against free speech, to strip us of our remaining abilities to speak freely is a crime.

To follow the same path and further outlaw protections on free speech, will leave only outlaws speaking freely.

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