Trading Privacy For Safety

Aaron Swartz once said, “It’s no longer OK not to understand how the Internet works.”

This quote has surfaced from at least one digital expert in response to British PM Theresa May’s calls for more regulation of the Internet, in hopes of preventing “the spread of extremist and terrorism planning.”

It’s meant to say that 1) She doesn’t know what she’s talking about, since clamping down in the way she suggests is technically impossible, and 2) No person in their right mind would want to destroy the cryptography that protects individual and business privacy.

Using it in this instance is misguided, at best.

To pretend that there’s no connection between terrorism and digital tech is like saying the guns don’t kill people, people do.

Of course, websites and smartphones don’t create insane people, but they make it more likely that they’ll stew in their own nuttiness, find compatriots who share their delusions, and act on their horrific, twisted fantasies.

When an academician unfairly characterizes May’s declaration as a slam against social media, and says it’s “politically convenient but intellectually lazy,” he’s purposefully missing the bigger picture:

Technology changes how we see and understand ourselves, and how we interact with one another. The Internet is a tool that potentially connects everyone with everything, and is agnostic to any of the norms or expectations of civil society.

How societies respond to those changes is the bigger picture.

So far, the argument from technologists is that we should embrace its benefits, while grinning and bearing its negative effects. Blowing up business models is really no different than blowing up nightclubs. It’ll sort itself out over time.

One area in which they give no ground is privacy, though, at least when it comes to the secrets that belong to companies; individual users “pay” for using the Internet by giving up much of their privacy to marketers in exchange for “free” services like email and maps, so the data those businesses collect, and insights and actions they decide based thereupon, must be inviolate.

The argument against Prime Minister May’s suggestion is that if governments can hack people or sites in search of terrorists, it may hack businesses (or others might), so it’ll destroy the financial underpinnings of the Internet. It will also squelch free speech, which would amount to a digital age thoughtcrime.

And it won’t work technically anyway, you dummy.

This pushback is ahistorical, and misunderstands the concept of privacy…

Read the entire essay at Medium