Spying on Citizens

Erik M. writes:

"Spying on us" is an analog quantity. A month ago, most people assumed "spying" meant counting calls to Al Qaeda headquarters. Few disagree with that. Now it looks like building a digital dossier bigger than an encyclopedia on every citizen. More disagree. The measurement falls somewhere in between.

A more useful metric is whether citizens know more in total about their government in total, or vice versa. Knowledge is power, says the cliche. If knowledge asymmetry weighs heavily towards the government, it is totalitarian, hopefully benign but possibly lethally dangerous.

In a free and educated society, the asymmetry favors citizens, mostly because the citizens take an interest in how they are being governed and use their knowledge to control their government. In the U.S., most citizens don't make the effort. Indeed, most of the small effort made is spent creating fables about opponents rather than digging out mind-changing facts. We are powerless because we are knowledgeless, enfeebled and en-fabled.

Data-mining of citizens is nothing new. Napoleon's secret police kept dossiers on all citizens. IBM's 1930's subsidiary Deutsche Hollerith-Maschinen Gesellschaft mbH provided the Reich with the tools to efficiently round up and murder millions of Jews and other undesirables. In 2013 we use this history to brand our political opponents as evil, when it is the quest to find evil in others that transformed punch cards into instruments for genocide.

The cure, IMHO, is for citizens to build their own accurate, open, and publically accessable databases on their government and each other. The cops should know where the bad guys are, but so should everyone else, and everyone should know where the cops are, too. Apps like Ushahidi are a good start. If it is in the true public interest, the public can use this shared knowledge to maneuver cops and bad guys into the same place, and observe in detail (from a safe distance) while the cops do their distasteful but necessary work.

If the powerful use public data to our disadvantage, we can use our public knowledge of the powerful to depower them. Exxon goes from the world's richest private corporation to bankrupt auction assets if we decide we hate their methods more than we love their oil. Don't hold your breath - all our whining to the contrary, we really really love their oil. That won't change until the vocal detractors of Exxon are caught red-handed at the gas pump, and we start putting our credit cards where our mouths are, and we quantify that.

I like privacy in the abstract, but I dislike hypocracy more, and I dislike my own hypocracy the most. Perhaps we can help each other root that out, and in the chastened aftermath, grow new friendships out of our shared imperfections.

Spying (last edited 2013-06-12 19:50:59 by KeithLofstrom)