Privacy, Privacy, Privacy

The following is an old article i wrote way back when Edward Snowden was doing his thing, and as that website no longer exists i’m re-publishing it here for you to enjoy — or maybe not.

So are you sitting comfortably?

Then i’ll begin…

To be quite honest, i really don’t care about the NSA and GCHQ trawling through loads and loads of data and building ever bigger data farms, employing more and more staff while driving the U.S.A. & U.K. budget deficits ever higher.   I think the whole thing is quite amusing.

Take this article for example… ‘Google patents ad tech linking restaurant to taxi ride’.

I would hazard a guess that Google has far more information about people’s internet habits, email contacts (and contents), purchasing history, etc., than the NSA do.   If you could go and have a look through Google’s data farms you would find billions, maybe even trillions, of people’s emails; and not just the meta data but the full contents.   Every email on gmail is in a Google server farm somewhere, all of it: contents, contacts, meta data, ip addresses, and the full contents of the email message itself.

For Google to be investing into this ‘ad tech’ thing, and other future technology to such an extent, shows very clearly how much information they already have on people and their habits and contacts and whereabouts; and it also shows how much more information they’re likely to collect in the future.   There would be absolutely no point in patenting and developing these kinds of schemes if they didn’t already have access to any of the information needed to make them work.

The above Google example was just one example.   You can look around the internet and find many more examples of this kind of corporate data farming going on: social media corporations like facebook make the NSA look like rank amateurs at data collection and exploitation.

So why all the hoo-hah about the NSA and the government doing the same thing?

Nearly everyone is more than willing to hand over whatever data and personal information the corporations want from them, whenever they want it, simply at the claim of…

‘This helps to improve our services and give you,  the consumer,  a better experience while shopping at’

…followed by the ubiquitous, biblical fashion and length, terms and conditions that no one ever reads but we all tick the boxes accepting them anyway, accepting that the corporations can do whatever they like with our data just as long as they sell us the latest knick-knack or service at a good price.   We really don’t care when it comes to corporations gleaning as much personal information from us as it’s possible to glean.   The lengths that the corporatocracy go to to extract every last nuance of data from our lives is extra-ordinary, but we all turn a blind eye to it.

So what difference then that the government, essentially another corporate entity, does similar things in order to improve their services and provide you the citizen a better, safer experience living in your country?

There is no difference!!!

I suppose some might argue that corporate data farming isn’t being done at the tax payer’s expense — which is a fair point — but it is done at the consumer’s expense and either way you, the citizen/consumer, are paying extra for goods and services from the government/corporation to fund the data farming which the government/corporation would argue allows them to keep the prices down and offer you better goods and services for a better price.   Once again…

There is no difference!!!

So it’s a little retarded to allow a big supermarket to track your every purchase by giving you 1% off everything you buy with your loyalty card (that 1% having been added to the price of everything in the shop to fund the loyalty card program in the first place), and then to bitch because the government knows who you phoned last week when your phone company already stores all that information already.   And all that information can be stolen at will by any hacker or simply sold to the highest bidder by any poorly paid, disgruntled employee.

You see, the problem isn’t really whether the NSA should be farming all this data or not, because every organisation that wants to profit from and exploit you is doing it legally anyway and have been doing so for a very long time.   The NSA are mere amateurs at what corporations are expert in doing.   The problem is that our illusion that we actually have any privacy in this new information age has just been shattered for most people.   For some of us, we never had that illusion in the first place, so we really don’t care about what Snowden has revealed because we already knew that it was going on years ago.

And i just noticed that while i was busy writing all the above the BBC have also been busy writing…

‘After Snowden: How vulnerable is the internet?’

…which makes interesting reading.

I think that it’s fairly clear from this article that the NSA is only sifting through information that private corporations already control and have in their possession.   So why is it that people don’t think twice about allowing their private data to flow through private corporations, like ‘Level-3 Communications’, that they know nothing about, know nothing about who owns them or what their ultimate motive is?

As i alluded to earlier, if you’re willing to give all your private information to a corporate entity then you can’t really start bitching on about your privacy being eroded.

The one thing that stands out for me in the above article is the last few paragraphs…

“The Snowden revelations may lead to a change in how governments and large organisations use the internet.   There has been talk of the internet “breaking up” so that, for example, communications which start and end in Europe only travel along European cables.

“Data is power, and data is money,” security expert Bruce Schneier, who has analysed the Snowden documents for journalist Glenn Greenwald, told the BBC.

“These discussions about who has control of data are bigger than the NSA, bigger than surveillance, and they are the key questions of the information age.”

But technology experts say this would make business more difficult to carry out online and may make the easy global access to which we have become accustomed a thing of the past.

“I don’t think we know what the internet is going to transform into because of this,” Mr Schneier said.

I very much doubt for one moment that anyone is seriously considering ‘breaking up’ the internet in this way.   Too much is invested in this global entity.   And it’s not just about corporate global reach, but also the personal global reach of people.

I, like many other personal internet users, love the global reach of the internet.   I don’t want what i write in the UK to be limited to only those in the EU because some idiot is worried about their privacy being invaded.   I want what i write to be open to any computer anywhere in the world, and if that means the NSA and GCHQ’s computers, then so be it.   If people want total privacy then maybe i would suggest that you go away somewhere without phone lines and other modern conveniences and revert to living in the 18th century because modern life isn’t private and was never meant to be private.   The internet was designed and started up to share ideas and thoughts, and it’s doing that perfectly well and doesn’t need fixing because the NSA and GCHQ decided to poke their noses into some of those ideas and thoughts.   As far as i’m concerned they’re just as welcome to my ideas and thoughts as anyone else.

Now let’s look at these two paragraphs in particular…

“Data is power, and data is money,” security expert Bruce Schneier, who has analysed the Snowden documents for journalist Glenn Greenwald, told the BBC.

“These discussions about who has control of data are bigger than the NSA, bigger than surveillance, and they are the key questions of the information age.”

As it’s says, these discussions are bigger than the NSA and surveillance.

What i believe it comes down to is this thing that we have about privacy.

Before the internet we did most of our shopping in public, and we were all quite comfortable displaying our shopping habits in front of the whole world every Saturday.   Everybody used to be able to see what everyone else was buying, and everyone was comfortable with that.

Then comes the internet, and suddenly people had access to items that they didn’t have access to before and could purchase them without anyone they knew knowing about it: the sex toy industry has boomed into a multi billion dollar industry since internet shopping came online.

And somehow people have got themselves into this idea that when they purchase something on line that they have total privacy.   While they may be able to purchase the latest ‘Rampant Rabbit’ dildo vibrator, with batteries and water based anal lube in discrete packaging so the postman and their housemates won’t know, they seemed to have overlooked that every corporation that handled any part of the communications that made that transaction occur would know.   They completely ignore the fact that all their financial transactions would be kept in historic corporate records for many years to come, available to any hacker, spy or law enforcement official who wishes to have a look at it; or any disgruntled, underpaid employee who wants to sell it.

We used to use snail mail to communicate, and this was considered private, but i have known people who steam open people’s letters and others who claim to have opened them by mistake (when it was clearly done on purpose).   We accepted the risks of our snail mail being lost in the post, delivered to the wrong house, stolen, steamed open, opened by mistake (or not as the case may be).   Yet when people send an email they expect it to remain between the sender and the receiver as though this is some kind of natural human right bestowed upon them by some god like entity.   Like they never heard of copy/paste, forward, etc..

I think it’s time for people to stop externalising this debate onto the NSA and surveillance, and start to internalise it onto themselves and why they demand this complete privacy that has never existed in the first place.

I was born in a British Army hospital, i grew up in British Army housing in small British Army communities, and later served in the British Army.   I was also in a children’s home as a teenager and also lived in small communities as an adult.   With these parts of my life there was no privacy.   For the most part of my childhood i shared a room with my brother, and when i wasn’t sharing a room my mother would continuously be snooping through my things.

In a children’s home, once again, there was no privacy.   I shared a bedroom with 3 other boys and the other 6 boys that lived there would be in and out of our room whenever they felt like it.   We had no concept of privacy.   Everyone knew everyone else’s business, everyone knew why everyone else was in that children’s home.   There was a real feeling of honesty to it all, where nothing could be hidden from anyone.   Even if something was deemed private enough to be kept between a child and the staff, it wasn’t long before someone overheard a conversation and the whole place knew what was going on.

Then later i joined the army.   Many times i had to share a room with lots of other men with many others just walking in and out whenever they felt like — including NCO’s and officers going through all your cupboards and drawers during inspections: the intent to kill any idea of privacy that might have arisen.   There was no privacy, anything that anyone was going through was public knowledge and you just got on with that and accepted it as part of your life.

So for me, privacy isn’t something that i find to be a normal thing.   I’m used to having my life laid open for everyone to see.

So why is it that others seem to be so against this?   Maybe it’s because if you’ve lived the opposite life to mine, where all you’ve known is privacy, the idea that others would know the minutiae of your life must seem horrendous.

I fully accept that my upbringing built into my character an openness that few have.   It also built into my character a fucking good sense of humour and the ability to laugh at myself.   But i think, most importantly, that it also built into my character an awareness that we’re all different and that we all have our kinks and odd ways of doing things and that these oddnesses are what makes people interesting and should be accepted and celebrated, not dissed and shamed.

But for someone who has grown up within a private environment, in an oversized community like a city, then i would presume that the opposite would take effect.

There are way too many people these days who completely lack the ability to laugh at themselves, who lack a fundamental sense of humility, who lack openness, and who walk around judging anyone that displays the slightest hint of difference.   They, along with their friends, get their kicks out of watching reality TV shows, ridiculing and laughing at the weaknesses and quirks of others to distract attention away from their own weaknesses and quirks.   I would say that voyeurism is a fetish that is fuelled by privacy, and that it’s an unhealthy fetish.

If we look back over the centuries, back to when we used to live in tiny little hamlets, you will understand that people didn’t have any idea of the concept of privacy.   I’ve even heard it said, and experienced it myself in our current century, that within small communities everyone knows everyone else’s business, and that’s a perfectly normal thing and everyone is fine with that.   It’s only in the modern age of cities of millions where people become essentially anonymous — even to their immediate neighbour — that the idea of privacy has crept in.   Yet this privacy has not been a desire that has become the driving cause here, it’s been an effect that has been driven.   It’s been something that has come upon people through this anonymous lifestyle that big city living forces upon them.   Because, in the city, you cannot know the other million people and they cannot know you, so privacy is something that has become an effect of this, not a cause of it.

Which means that what we should be asking is, ‘Is privacy healthy for our societies?’   Is it healthy for us as individuals?   I would say, no, it isn’t.

Anything that leads to reclusive, secretive, ashamed behaviour is not good for any individual, and that is exactly where privacy leads.   And if millions of individuals are being cast into anonymity and privacy by a city lifestyle then that society is going to suffer as the individuals who make it also suffer.

I lived in London for 12 years, and i have to say that it was the loneliest time of my life.   It was unhealthy for me, and for everyone else there.   To live in an environment where the strangers around you simply become objects that you’re not able to communicate with is totally messed up.   It leads to stuff like paranoia and depression, and you can see this written on so many faces in big cities.

So back to the NSA… essentially governments are incredibly secretive.   Anyone who seeks to rule you is not going to be honest to you — that is a fact!   Those in power have just one goal, to retain that power.   And the desire to retain power is no different than the fear of losing power.   And the fear of losing power leads to all kinds of aberrant behaviour and thoughts — which must be kept secret in order to retain the power.   This inevitably leads to paranoia, which then inevitably leads to the voyeurism towards those you wish to control.

Essentially, the NSA is nothing but the biggest bunch of screwed up, paranoid voyeurs the world has ever know.   The fear that must lie at the heart of the US Government to be so utterly paranoid to resort to the level of voyeurism that the NSA is resorting to is unhealthy.   But the voyeurism isn’t what should be being tackled as that’s only a symptom, and the fear that lies at the heart of the US Government isn’t what needs to be tackled, because that’s only a symptom also.   What needs to be tackled is privacy itself.

Only in a world where there is no privacy, are there no secrets.   Only in a world with no secrets will there truly be an opportunity for peace.   Until then, privacy will create fear, and fear will create paranoia, and paranoia will create conflict.

I’m not saying we can change the whole world.   But each of us can change our little bit of it.   Really, give up worrying that some screwed up, paranoid voyeurs, like the NSA staff, are listening to your phone calls, or looking through your emails.   Give up privacy, give up fear, find peace in openness and humility.

Until next time…

And the next time thought is “Cafe Culture”

#5t4n5 #edwardsnowden #government #politics #privacy #thoughts