Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Surveillance Limitation as a Necessity for Freedom

I've been watching the social debate over the last few weeks regarding the NSA and their scooping up of phone conversation data. This is about the details of what the NSA does that Edward Snowden revealed when he released classified information. I have a number of friends who obviously think Snowden did the right thing and I've said once or twice that I strongly disagree. I've given up trying to convince them for now because they appear to be reacting mostly from fear and there is no way to win them over while that is true. However, I'm going to record thoughts here for later use when they calm down a bit.

  1. The NSA program is much like a CIA program that got shot down a few years ago when it was revealed too, thus this is a whack-a-mole game. IF NSA surveillance of this type is made illegal, I strongly suspect it will go underground again and appear somewhere else run by people who have learned lessons from this experience. Players in this game LEARN and that is especially true of the mole if it doesn't want to get hit. If we continue this way, we will unintentionally train the mole to avoid us while it continues to thrive. This reminds me of a lesson my mother once taught me regarding some behavior of mine she didn't like. She was very careful to use 'Don't let me catch  you doing that.' only in situations where she meant precisely that. Don't let me catch you.
  2. If my freedom relies upon an elite group not knowing details about me, I'm in serious trouble. I won't know if they do or not unless I have access to everything of theirs and KNOW that I do. How could I know what an elite group knows about me otherwise? Making it illegal for them to collect the information doesn't stop them from breaking the law, so I would have to be very trusting not to verify. The problem is that with that power to observe them, I become a member of an elite with awesome powers. I become the very danger I'm worried they might become. What's to limit me, then? I can't give this awesome power to someone else without creating an elite group that knows too much, thus I have to protect my freedom myself, right? Everyone does. Follow the logic on that and we wind up with a requirement for sousveillance and an abandonment of the notion that my freedom relies upon an elite group not knowing much about me. What my freedom REALLY relies upon is ALL of us being able to know what the elites know. We don't have to limit what they know. We have to improve what WE know.
  3. Does it really matter what an elite group knows about me if most everyone else can know it too? Isn't it more important that I focus upon what they can DO with that information? I'm thinking of eating fish for dinner tomorrow night. Now others know. So what?! It doesn't matter until someone tries to do something to change my thoughts or plan.
I found an old image from the Santa Barbara Zoo in one of my albums. I like the black swans as a reminder that sometimes people are simply wrong about something even though they all mostly agree on the correctness of their opinion. Sometimes a surprise happens and one encounters a shocking counter-example. Whether people will be shocked by the dissonance between their desire to protect their freedom and their plan to blind elite groups remains to be seen, though. I'm doubtful. People can suffer dissonance for a long time until forced to confront it and I don't know a way to do it. Besides, forcing people to face this is mildly distasteful to me.

Anonymity has to die as the dodo did.

We simply need to know more if we are to protect our freedom from those we've tasked with protecting us from bad people. Those elites, often as not, serve as our protectors. We'd be fools to blind them.
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