Many people argue that, since they have nothing to hide, they don't care about the NSA capturing all their emails, messages, calls, photos, videos and documents. This Gizmodo post is a good example of that. These arguments are horribly wrong.
Yes, the world doesn't give a shit about you and your antics, your Instagrams and your inane LOL this and LMFAO that posts. Or mine. We are, most of us, irrelevant at an individual level. Until we are not. Until someone decides to use whatever information they have available to do something against someone—individually or as a collective.
Kevin Drum wrote this in Mother Jones today:
At the same time, maybe we should still be surprised to hear Obama say something like this:
"But I know that the people who are involved in these programs... They're professionals. In the abstract you can complain about Big Brother and how this is a program run amok, but when you actually look at the details, I think we've struck the right balance."
Sure. And it's possible, even likely, that these professionals aren't abusing the data they've collected. Yet. But does Obama really think that a government that collects this kind of stuff won't abuse it eventually? That's vanishingly unlikely.
One very clear example of what Kevin says: there was nothing wrong with Germany computerized census of 1933—made with the first IBM perforated card machines, then Hollerith—until the Nazis got to power and started to create lists of Jews complete with address in a matter of minutes. Unchecked access to big data—like NSA's Prism operation—is what enabled the Holocaust.
Millions of people—literally about 70 million—died in a war against those Nazis, believing they represented the antithesis of the rights that the I Don't Care, I Have Nothing to Hide people so easily disregard because, as they argue, nobody gives a shit about them.
But the truth is that there are governments and organizations who give and will give a shit about you. Not about the porn you watch, but about who you are, what your spending habits are, and a million other things. The people can be the government or perhaps some crazy neighbor who, for some reason, doesn't like you and happens to work at the NSA.
So have no doubt: if the information is there, it can be used for less noble purposes than "fighting terrorism." Whatever that means. I didn't see PRISM stopping the Boston bombings, for example.
This is not fearmongering. This is not sensationalizing a potential threat. We just don't know what's going on at the NSA. We don't know what's going in many other organizations that are not accountable and are not held to transparency standards. When some people alerted of what was happening in Germany, some said that it was all fear mongering. Some people argued "oh, that can't never happen. That's fear mongering."
Those people had the excuse that they didn't have any previous experience. They didn't know the ultimate intentions of those collecting the apparently inoffensive data. They didn't know the potential of such technology if it isn't closely controlled by the public. Now we know that potential.
But nothing will happen to us!
Sure, a holocaust happening in America is highly unlikely. But what about the US citizens of Japanese-origin who were send to concentration camps during the World War 2, their rights completely obliterated by a democratic government in the name of national security? Or all those US citizens beloning to the Communist party, well after the war? Or the people fighting for the rights of African-Americans until a few decades ago? All those cases may seem extreme, but they happened just a few years ago here, in the US of A.
So you have to fight for your rights. That's the basis for the progress of society. There has to be ZERO tolerance for a government going unchecked and for its lack of transparency. The threat of terrorism is never an excuse to limit the rights of the individual and society as a whole.
After all this, if you can't see why you should care about this situation, then I will not be sorry if something happens to you or anyone you love when, in the future, the world ends up in a similar situation than in 1939. Hopefully, that will not happen. But, if history has told us something, is that it happened. Many times since then. And it will probably happen again. And I'm not talking about Nazis coming back, but governments and corporations using Big Data unchecked and with no accountability whatsoever.
This post started as a response to Kyle's article here. Image by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.