Explaining why we all should care — and will care — feels very Grade 8 civics, like explaining why freedom is important or why voting is a good idea. It’s hard to not sound pedantic and self-righteous when doing so. Let me stick to practicalities: you should care because the government is always losing data, and eventually they will lose yours. Cory Doctorow provides another good reason to care by illustrating the difference between privacy and secrecy. “I know what you do in the toilet,” he writes, “but that doesn’t mean you don’t want to close the door when you go to the stall.” Here’s another one: You might be the next false positive, your life ruined in an instant because some algorithm flagged you as a terrorist based on a data glitch.
Above all, I care because a perfect record of my whereabouts, Internet searches, emails, and phone calls that I don’t know about and can’t access is of high value to lots of people, but is nothing but a liability to me. Your government, your boss and your would-be identity thief all might desire access to such a database. It’s hard to think of any application that would be anything but harmful to you. It’s similar to how lawyers advise clients to never say anything to police until they show up, whether or not the client has done anything wrong. What you say might be used against you, but it’s sure as hell not going to be used to help you. If you have nothing to hide, you also have nothing gain by being spied on. They’re not looking for people to send money to.
I can go on, but I’m afraid I missed my moment. The public outrage seems to have passed. If the NSA or CSEC have learned anything from this, it might be that they can probably get away with much more than they’re already doing. The only saving grace here is the Internet itself, the same network that makes such sci-fi level surveillance possible. It’s also the technology that makes conspiracies untenable. A program like PRISM requires dozens, if not hundreds, of complicit agents. Among this crowd, there will, we hope, always be an Edward Snowden or a Bradley Manning, a free-thinking individual whose ethics simply do not allow them to stay silent and complicit, no matter the personal cost. These souls will always be one click away from telling us the truth.
Whatever comes next, we can never say they didn’t warn us.