My good friend and fellow worshipper of the horsehide spheroid, Doug Hellinger, raised a serious challenge to my first blog on privacy and secrecy. I quote from his email:
I would have a very hard time giving in to what you seem to be considering the inevitability of a loss of privacy that greatly increases the vulnerability of movements of resistance (to a corrupt, criminal, repressive or unjust state, or to corporate dominance) to being undermined or of individuals to persecution for, say, their lifestyle choices. To quote a wise man who understands the need for social inclusion, what are we going to say to African Americans and women who are being spied on (as in the good-old Hoover days) as they resist the loss of their economic, social and legal rights? Fuck ‘em?
To which I replied…
Yes, we must accept that today's technologies which intercept and record virtually everything we do exist and that maximizing their use to defend the security of the nation is a foregone conclusion.
What we cannot accept is deferring to government all the decisions about what "maximum use" means. Whose recorded data is selected for analysis, by whose authority, to what end?
What triggers data selection beyond collection? What limits it?
When is a data selection operation ended? What happens to the selected materials and the judgments made of them?
Who gets to ask these questions? What are their powers to restrain abuse of the data collection system? How much of the process described above is made available to the public? And what options does the public have to impose modifications on surveillance theory and practice?
Not to mention, what are the threats to national security and how appropriate and how productive are the policies and actions taken to defend it?
Good answers to these questions are what we should be fighting for.
Fortunately, even as governments accrue more and better machinery to log all our communications, and through drone-supported cameras, our every movement, people are gaining new powers of their own.
Even as the Internet is targeted by a frighteningly narrow and self-interested oligarchy of brand name product manufacturers and global media producers, most bent on "winning" by killing off their competitors, it is itself producing a generation of independent recorders of events, and providers of interpretations and opinions.
This now multibillion computer, tablet, cellphone camera-carrying populace cannot only, like the government, record almost everything; it can communicate it instantly and globally. More people understood Edward Snowden in seconds than understood Daniel Ellsberg in decades.
The question, of course, is credibility, whose recordings will most people accept as true? The government's, the mainstream media's or "amateur video?"
With so many video recording devices in so many hands, the products of multiple "amateur" sources should allow the best mainstream media to deduce a best, most comprehensive approximation of reality ever available, simply by wisely selecting from them. Many of them are better and more believable than the best manipulations of propagandists for commercial as well as government interests. Some of them are fakes, cruel manipulations, which is why journalism -- more than ever -- must provide independent, professional witnesses on the ground as well as informed editors and commentators at the home office. If the institutional "mainstream" media continue to fail to do so, if they continue to save money on reporting and continue to scant facts, context and serious analysis, if they continue to simply pass on what government and conventional thinking call reality, the amateurs on YouTube will eat their lunch, and win credit and credibility from the people and force change and restraint on them and government as the price of giving to either of them even a small share of admiration and belief.
Communication, like almost everything else these days, has become battleground for the respective, all too often opposed, interests of the 1% and the 99%.
But to return to the word, yes, accept technology, but learn how to limit it, use it, control it, in support of rule of law, freedom, and lives of decency, dignity and opportunity for all.
I thank “the Duke” for accepting my appropriation of his private communication for my, and hopefully the reader’s benefit.