There was once a time when human societies were truly free from mass surveillance — at liberty to say, do, and think as they pleased within mutually-agreed upon, reasonable constraints. And yes, could feel safe doing so in their own homes. Few, if any, of our ancestors could have anticipated how quickly our societies pushed forward in technological and political complexity. Our progressive willpower in these areas has overwhelmed global culture and political infrastructures with exponential innovation in data-driven decisions, Internet plus hardware application, and laws (or lack thereof). Now we enter an era with the ubiquity of connected technologies — in our cars, in our homes, in our pockets, on our bodies. And due to our inexhaustible tenacity to produce data and content, our inherent right to liberty and privacy is under constant siege. At the rate these technologies evolve, paired with the menace of terrorism, international hacking, and the nearly incomprehensible extensiveness of government surveillance, our liberties and privacy have been inextricably compromised.
As citizens, we have the ability and right to understand the repercussions of technology we use or other agents surround us with, and most importantly, the spirit to challenge these conveniences, compromises, and innovations. We should not sit idly while legalese in terms of services obfuscate or bewilder us, surrendering our privacy and data to those who would use it against us or for their own ends. We should not, for want of convenience, ignore modern practices of safe password management, profile protection, and behavioral tracking. We should be concerned with the reckless abandon organizations have built, maintained, and even stagnated on core communications technologies that affect our everyday lives, imperiling privacy in email, messaging, social networks, voice-over-internet, web browsing, and file-syncing services. We should care about the way our data, communications, and media are stored, maintained, and protected. And we also should know where our data is stored -- not all countries share the same privacy and security standards. This isn’t asking much, but it does beckon you and our fellow citizens to pay attention. To be willing to learn. And to be willing to share and educate.
This isn't to say that we can't still enjoy the delights, conveniences, and usefulness of technology. At this point, we're in too deep for any government or corporation to start reversing the saturation of all this technology. So while we should continue to invest in this future, we need to let our concerns be known to leaders, corporations, and peers around the world -- the union of hardware and software can make our lives better, but shouldn't at the expense of inherent human dignities. We have to tread cautiously. And smartly. After all, this progression has made life better for many people and businesses around the world. I am not suggesting we retreat to Internet-free zones, removing ourselves from connectivity, smartphones, and Internet of Things devices. But I am suggesting that we take the considered time and effort to become more informed about the current privacy climate, that we acknowledge that our privacy has been irreversibly compromised, that companies and governments should be held accountable to the tremendous changes in communications in our modern civilization, and that we as a people can do something about it. Democracy and fairness cannot reign unless we are able to speak, act, create, and litigate freely. If everything we say, write, or do is tracked and archived, how else can we possibly feel other than creeping ever closer to a police state, worried about potentially irresponsible or libelous use of that data? As many have said before, would you feel comfortable with an advertising agency or government reading and storing your personal letters, your physical journals, your bank statements, your doctor visits, your bodily functions, your every movement on this planet? The likelihood they have access to most of this is already great. And for those who say they have "nothing to hide" are woefully ignorant of the larger consequences of this movement. As Edward Snowden so astutely declared, "arguing that you don't care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don't care about free speech because you have nothing to say."
Defending our privacy and data will continue to be an important movement as we make progress as a society. The perseverance of surveillance back doors in software and hardware can compromise our financial and personal security, domestically and abroad, if exploited by ill-doers. And the big business of technology, security, and surveillance will continue to slither forward as an ouroboros of corporations and government. And there is no end in sight of the application of algorithms for everything in our lives -- you don't need to turn to an episode of Black Mirror to see this in action because it's already happening all around us (search engines, social media, advertising, economics, wellness, prisons, education, you name it). But if creators and users of these algorithms are not transparent, are not willing to cede to constructive collaboration with others to iteratively improve these action-driving usages of data in meaningful ways for society and civil liberties, we could be in for a very challenging time ahead. And let’s not forget that algorithms are only the first step. The machine-learning era of artificial intelligence will further compound the use of algorithms and could end up instructing us (or bypassing us entirely) on how to apply the insights for efficiencies and actions across the board, all based on the blueprints of an algorithm programmed by a misinformed coder years ago.
As such, the purpose of this site is to inform readers of the large-scale movements in data use, algorithms, advertising technologies, privacy risk, and state surveillance. I hope to make it a trustworthy, if at times facetious (because how can it not be?) resource for methods to safeguard your personal information, secure communications, and productively collaborate without unwarranted intrusions. Together, we can keep a discerning eye on the ever-watchful governments, health organizations, insurance companies, advertising agencies, and technology corporations who continue to benefit society with their inventiveness but simultaneously solicit us to normalize always-on, active Internet products and services that can and are used for self-interest and disingenuous means. Don't get me wrong -- I love technology. My smartphone is a miraculous device that saves me time, provides me nearly unlimited access to information, and allows me to accomplish things I could only dream about in my childhood. I’ve read, watched, written, and captured the most important events in my life through its omnipresent screen, camera lens, and microphone. But I also expect that these moments, this data, this usage is inherently mine. As soon as it does not become mine, I’m likely the product, or the subject, or the variable in some larger scheme. If you're comfortable with that, fine. But I'm not. And I’m not alone.
Instead of leaving you with a reminder of the lofty aims of the Fourth Amendment (of which whose authors at the time couldn’t even have fathomed the technological progress of the modern era), I will leave you with this quote from long-time cryptographer and computer security specialist, Bruce Schneier, who warns on the misappropriation of the debate for privacy:
Too many wrongly characterize the debate as "security versus privacy." The real choice is liberty versus control. Tyranny, whether it arises under threat of foreign physical attack or under constant domestic authoritative scrutiny, is still tyranny. Liberty requires security without intrusion, security plus privacy. Widespread police surveillance is the very definition of a police state. And that's why we should champion privacy even when we have nothing to hide.
Thanks for your time. I hope this is a compelling enough beginning for you to continue reading in the weeks to come, and at the very least, a resource to check in on every once and a while for your own sake.