"Welcome to the real world"
16 February, 2019
It’s been six years now since the Snowden leaks opened our eyes, gave us a good hard slap and made us question whether we can really trust our governments not to continue their suspicionless mass surveillance. Six years on, I think it’s safe to say too many of us are still on the fence – or worse, we’ve been blissfully unaware this whole time. This should concern us, because in some countries the situation has become even worse.
What millions of us have won from this rude awakening is a new appreciation for just how far states are willing to go to ensure national security and to remain in control of their citizens. It will be more one than the other, depending on which side of the debate you stand. But one thing is beyond doubt: we’re living in a time when, even if our governments seek only to protect us, there’s only so much they can do. Our daily reliance on proprietary software and infrastructure most of us don’t really understand has meant we each – that’s me, you and your granny – need to take steps to protect ourselves. The hard truth is that the government won’t be there when the next huge data breach sees millions, if not billions, of user names and passwords leaked onto black-hat hacker forums.
This is why we need to wake up, smell the coffee and learn how to use the kinds of available privacy and anonymity tools that even the government themselves would swear by (and try to stop the plebeians from using, because of course they should have lower expectations of privacy “for their own good”). This boils down to a compromise that none of us even had a say in to begin with, one which is sold to us again and again with no real results: We’ll protect you from terrorism and child abusers if you give up your privacy and security – really, it’s as simple as that.
But it’s not. The benefits of this compromise are simply not realised. Unfortunately, as a result, we continue to waver our civil liberties while blindly trusting an illiberal government, and enter on a downward spiral towards increased surveillance and reduced privacy and security. But this can change with a new government, one which respects citizens’ rights to privacy and would seek to scrap the embarrassing Investigatory Powers Act. There are still more changes which need to be made if we’re to truly take back some respectable level of privacy in this country; a country which steps perilously close to surveillance of Orwellian proportions; a country which has introduced the kind of legislation that authoritarian states would seek to adopt.
Much needs to be done, but the right changes are there for us to take if we care enough to take them. First we each need to open our eyes to the programs that are in place, learn about how they affect our civil liberties, and question whether we really want to carry on in this flawed trade.