About the end of privacy and an uncertain future

This is the first post on the rather random series Thoughts. The motivation for this category is to catch thoughts on readings and trends and enrich them with background material. In debates it can support various parties or mindsets, but the information provided can only be regarded as an extract of the whole topic.

We’re all interconnected

From voluntary avoidance to inevitable tracking

Many years ago data privacy has been a serious issue for me. It was one of the major reasons I wouldn’t participate in online social networks and refused the use of smartphones. However, as group pressure (facebook groups during my studies) and claim on my musician projects (marketing on facebook) rose and I adapted the advantages of always having an internet connection on the phone for instant searches, maps and so on, I have forsaken more and more my reservations towards exposing personal data. And shortly after it fastened my way of living dramatically as GPS-driven information showed me shortest paths, e-mails and messengers could be read instantly and files could be uploaded and retrieved short to deadlines.

The advantages are huge, but of course there are some drawbacks. With being able to be always online you’re also expected to do so. WhatsApp shows whether messages have been received and read by your communication partner – an insight into someones life without being in direct touch with them like never before. It scans your phone directory and automatically detects people you can directly get in contact with – an insight for a company of your personal information like never before, too. And with the aquisition by Facebook in 2014 two huge realms (social network, messenger) merged into one, leaving nobody not connected to anyone else. At this time, it became incredibly hard to avoid any exposure of data on the internet.

Of course, this has some benefits, too. With being six hops away from any other person in the world you can easily get in contact with people that share your interest. Recommendations and predictions quicken this process further – and businesses not only recommend contacts, but also products that fit you well so you consume more in the end. You can say: a win-win situation.

But there’s a third party in this game. It’s the state or some of its agencies, e. g. the NSA in the USA. The NSA backs up parts of the internet and makes it searchable, e. g. for the content of your public profile as well as your private e-mails. While several sources argue about the capacity and possibilities of the XKeyScore-program for analyzing the gathered data, one thing is certain: there exist technical solutions that allow the real-time tracking of the (internet) communication – and in consequence of you, your friends and all your connections you established in your online personality.

No privacy anymore

While there exist several research about the implications of your online public personality and most deal with the filter bubble that prevents you from being exposed to opinions you disagree with, little is known about the surveillance programs that analyze private data, e. g. e-mails, phone calls or skype sessions.

With the publications of documents revealed by Edward Snowden you might get the feeling that nearly every search query and every website visit find their way into the logs of these programs, making your actions almost completely transparent. And when you are aware that you are being watched you’re more likely to change your behavior, although this depends on where you’re from.

People balance their privacy against security, and if it comes to strangers they are more willing to accept that they should be surveilled, but not themselves. But in the end this thinking habit prevents privacy for all: even if organizations restrict themselves to spy only on foreigners, there are only two entities necessary that, as a consequence, for each person at least one profile about their private data exists. Therefore, people assign on a global level how much privacy and anticipated security exist. Today, privacy is substantially reduced for (the hope of) higher security against treats like terrorism.

Much power for few people

But however people balance the benefits and risks of privacy and advertised security in the global course, if regulations fail to control entities with access to these technical solutions, these organizations are in charge of much power and in a worst-case scenario they’re able to act as a state within a state with having access to anyone’s data. Consequently they know from an early stage who opposes them and are able to counteract (e. g. through compromised hard disks).

Another aspect deals with the history of data in the future. Even if you act compliant today this doesn’t mean it will been seen this way in a future sense. While the usage of laws in cases that occured before the passing of the law¬†(ex post facto laws) is worldwide forbidden or strictly regulated, governments can change these regulations. Cultural and sociological agreements alter in time and today’s legitimate actions can be regarded unpleasant in a prospective understanding. An organization that holds such information has the power to put any person to silence.

In summary, mass surveillance perverts the idea of security in another sense as you can’t be sure that your present lawful actions won’t backfire in the future. Further the organization behind the surveillance has the power to name and shame anyone who’s not compliant with future common understanding.

Update 2017/03/08

Former CIA- and NSA-director Michael Hayden calls the CIA a permanent government.

Further information


Featured Image – By Ramy Raoof, via flickr.com

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