I want to tell you a secret: I don’t really care about privacy. Now, that might be because I never get asked about myself, or I am a narcissist. But when it comes to personal data beyond bank details, I do not care if you know things like my blood type or browsing history.
In fact I’m quite happy for the likes of Google to know all my details, even if it indicates someone who is utterly inept outside his day job.
After all, the search firm provides me with an easy way to trawl the world’s collective online knowledge for free. Now imagine if search engines charged per query. There would be outrage.
Google’s growing profits suggests that I am not alone in harbouring such feelings. Yet privacy is an ever more prevalent topic discussed regularly on V3’s hallowed web pages and even in your local branch of tax-avoiding coffee brand.
Yet the sheer amount of personal data shared by the average smartphone user or Facebook fan presents an oddly hypocritical dichotomy in the technology world: we hate snoopers yet share data online that can easily identify us with a few arbitrary searches.
Of course, I am all for people’s personal privacy; too often am I bombarded by someone’s intimate or compromising secrets which I have to carry around tight lipped before I can blurt: ‘Don’t tell me that.’ Nor am I one for spying on people online or in the flesh, except on very quiet Sunday evenings.
However, the evolving revelations of the communications monitoring and snooping carried out by the NSA and GCHQ have seen Edward Snowden enshrined as a hero in some people’s minds and a traitor in others'.
The vitriol that surrounds government snooping is palpable, and there are cries of George Orwell’s Big Brother society being made increasingly real. I, however, am left oddly unmoved by the whole thing.
After all, how much has really changed? Walk around any UK city and you’ll be under near-constant private and public surveillance; the man is watching you and always has.
Of course, monitoring internet activity carried out in the privacy of your own home, and allowing intelligence services clandestinely to shuffle through your browser history if they so desire, is a tad more disturbing.
And proposals to ban encrypted messaging are absurd and would basically involve trying to monitor all the traffic coming into the nation. I don’t welcome that latency added to my connection, thanks very much. At the same time, I don’t care if Agent Jones knows that I‘ve Googled ‘how to boil an egg’.
Still, this may bother others who want proper privacy, and Snowden’s whistleblowing has taken the lid off the security services' creepy activities.
I agree that the government needs to be held accountable for its actions if they infringe on people’s perceived freedoms, but Snowden has come to the table with a disruptive problem and offered no solution.
The internet is spreading its web over the world, and we are all becoming more connected. This allows communications that can empower the powerless and even overturn dictatorships, yet we must also accept that it has a dark side.
Given the ease with which online messaging services facilitate secure communication, it takes little imagination to see the potential for terrorists to use them to plot horrific acts.
I'm therefore not surprised that intelligence agencies want to monitor the channels of communication facilitated by the internet, and that the government is empowering them through the Snoopers' Charter.
Snowden has said that mass surveillance is not effective, but the clandestine nature of intelligence agencies, and the Official Secrets Act, mean that it may be decades before we find out whether internet surveillance has thwarted terror threats.
Nor will we be able to find out whether his whistleblowing damaged the ability of the intelligence agencies to catch terrorists, who may have taken their plotting offline, severing leads that the NSA and GCHQ might have had.
I agree with Snowden that mass monitoring hardly seems efficient, but I see no clear alternative way of thwarting the potential of the online world to aid terrorism.
And that’s the problem: no one seems to have offered an effective third option to accepting internet monitoring or railing against any form of surveillance whatsoever. Without some form of middle ground for the security services, snooping seems to be the only option.
This may make some of you uneasy, but it is worth noting that the intelligence agencies appear to be relatively sensible with the data they collect, and are kept in check in the UK by stringent rules.
GCHQ has not, for instance, farmed out personal data to third-party organisations or marketing firms to make money for the government, even though such an income could certainly go some way to mitigating public sector cuts.
If fact, if I cared enough, I’d be more concerned about data sharing in the private sector. Imagine going for a job at a Google subsidiary only for the interview to reveal that your preference for cat rather than dog videos on YouTube makes you an unsuitable candidate.
That’s where privacy really matters, not the fact that a GCHQ data analyst might know you checked into a London hotel near an official function.
Perhaps we need to be savvier on the type of surveillance that is being carried out rather than the existence of watchers behind the internet’s scenes.
Of course, trivialising government surveillance may smooth over the problem of a mix of mass data and potential for incorrect analysis seeing someone picked up by MI5 for searching ‘how to bake’ not ‘how to bomb’.
But until the technology world offers a viable alternative to blanket surveillance in the online fight against terror, I’m happy for GCHQ to watch my emails and web browsing, as I think a small sacrifice in privacy is worth it if lives are saved by foiling a terror plot.
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