Privacy as it existed 100 years ago, or even 10 years ago, is gone. It went so fast we didn’t realize it, but slowly enough that, like a frog slowly being boiled alive, we didn’t even know it was dying.
Between advertisers, hi-tech corporations, and governments, we’re all but hemmed in. There is no way, as there was in the 80s and 90s, to protect your privacy digitally. Phones are completely compromised, according to Snowden. Likewise, PCs are notoriously difficult to secure, and ultimately you never really know if it’s secure at all. Barring a Faraday cage, that is (but then, as soon as you connect to the internet, you’re screwed anyway).
I don’t know what the answer is here. I want to say that decentralized networks and open-source hardware, along with careful watching of the watchers at the three-letter agencies-who-must-not-be-named could potentially get us through this dark age of the internet.
And it is a dark age. If you don’t believe me, download the uBlock Origin and Privacy Badger extensions for your browser, and see how much they block. Look at Facebook’s “privacy” practices. Or Google’s. If you want to get really paranoid, and you have an Android device, try talking about something you don’t usually talk about, something slightly obscure, then google it. Type it slowly, one letter at a time so suggestions show up each time. How fast did the suggestions come up with the exact topic you discussed? Do you see ads on Facebook that are related to what you just talked about, even though you never, ever search that sort of thing?
Even this thread is going to be recorded somewhere by the three-letter agencies, kept in a store for a time when I possibly may be investigated in the future. I’m not saying they’re watching me. I’m saying they’re watching everyone. Ostensibly, it’s to prevent “terrorism”. But how is terrorism defined? Who gets to define it? Does it mean “Muslim extremists”, as we were led to believe in the early days after 9/11? Does it mean anyone who carries out such an attack? Or does it simply boil down to “dissidents”?
If it’s the latter, we’re in for a hellscape, where no one can speak ill of our leaders without fear of reprisal. 10 years ago, this would’ve been considered extreme, a conspiracy theory. Now, with Trump in office, it’s becoming clear to more and more people that freedom of the press, at the very least, is under attack by the very administration sworn to protect it. If journalists can’t speak the truth, what hope do regular folks have of protecting their own speech?
I’m not talking about nazis. Fuck a nazi. They talk enough.
I’m talking about anyone who speaks out against the administration. If this seems paranoid, please bear in mind the case of Jamal Khashoggi, how he was brutally murdered for speaking out against the crown prince of Saudi Arabia. The USA, land of the “free”, just declared a national emergency to do an end-run around congress and sell them weapons. This is the same country that funded the 9/11 attacks, if I recall correctly.
Let that sink in. America is happily doing business with dictators while shunning our allies in NATO and elsewhere around the world.
I’m unconvinced that we’ll be able to bring digital privacy back, or any privacy at all, without a massive shift in how business is done. As much as I rail against the US government, this requires regulation. No, Libertarians, the corporations are not going to regulate themselves out of sheer good will or some nonexistent sense of moral duty. This requires action on the part of the government to preserve our rights, as the US government was founded to do.
Ultimately, it has to come from a grassroots movement if at all, if we want to preserve liberty and privacy at the same time. I don’t trust Senators in Washington to understand everything going on in the tech world, but I do expect them, as our representatives, to talk to people who do. Talk to the working software engineer, not the CEOs of AppGoogMicroBook. Not the people who stand to lose the least. Talk to those who might be out of a job if you regulate their job away.
Even if this happens, it would have to go off without a hitch. We’d have to have well-informed Senators and Representatives with our best interests at heart. And a president who would be willing to sign such regulation into law.
God help us.
Privacy is dead. Long live privacy.