And it isn’t even directly about Donald Trump. Or then again maybe it is.
Across numerous countries, including Australia, Britain, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden and the United States, the percentage of people who say it is “essential” to live in a democracy has plummeted, and it is especially low among younger generations.
“I pledge to give to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance. I pledge to work toward a world where everyone may sit under their own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make them afraid. A world that scatters light and not darkness in our paths, and makes us all in our several vocations useful here, and in due time and way everlastingly happy.”
1. Do not obey in advance. Much of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then start to do it without being asked. You’ve already done this, haven’t you? Stop. Anticipatory obedience teaches authorities what is possible and accelerates unfreedom.
2. Defend an institution. Follow the courts or the media, or a court or a newspaper. Do not speak of “our institutions” unless you are making them yours by acting on their behalf. Institutions don’t protect themselves. They go down like dominoes unless each is defended from the beginning.
3. Recall professional ethics. When the leaders of state set a negative example, professional commitments to just practice become much more important. It is hard to break a rule-of-law state without lawyers, and it is hard to have show trials without judges.
In addition to the good things Edward Snowden did by alerting us to the reality of NSA surveillance, there is one way in which I think his revelations may hurt privacy. This is not to say that on balance his revelations were unjustified, just that there’s a complexity about the long-run consequence of his disclosure that we should keep an eye on.
Before Snowden, the fact of NSA’s collection was a very highly protected secret. Consequently, there was only limited data sharing with law enforcement, and then only on condition that the fact of the NSA’s role never show up in court. Now that the cover is blown, so to speak, we should expect not only covert inter-agency data sharing to increase, but also a prohibition on letting it into court. Maybe not open court, but perhaps in a closed hearing, or secret brief. Likely beneficiaries are the DEA, the FBI, and maybe even some local cops in big target cities like New York or DC?
So, perversely, I expect Snowden’s revelations to have a limited negative consequence for privacy to balance against however we measure the positives.
Note: I could have sworn I posted something about this previously, but EPIC‘s Marc Rotenberg said he hadn’t seen it, and I couldn’t find it, so this one’s for you Marc.
I’m on the (token?) Privacy session for a day-long event organized by a panel of the National Academies of Science on “Improving Federal Statistics for Policy and Social Science Research Using Multiple Data Sources and State-of-the-Art Estimation Methods.” In other words, how to get the government in on the big data bandwagon.