Privacy in the digital age often seems far more complicated than it ought to be. If asked whether there exists a case in which one’s personal information should be shared or viewed by a third party or government agency, most people would respond with a resounding, “Hell no!” And rightfully so. However, it’s also common knowledge that if you have a profile up on any social network, or even if you just have a Google account through which you surf the web, your personal information and interests have been, and are currently, undoubtedly being shared with market parties you have no say in, all with such little protest from the public that most of us simply have come to accept it as an unavoidable fact of the technologies we depend on to get by in the modern world. Thus, it is no surprise that there exists a side in the current fight between the Apple corporation and the FBI, which readily wishes to dismiss us worrywarts as being overly paranoid in the debate. Because from their perspective, the idea that allowing the FBI to gain access to one phone, from one customer, connected to an act of terrorism is not equivalent to Big Brother moving in to depose of our civil liberties. In this view, trading a bit of privacy for added security is a no-brainer. If you haven’t caught on yet, I strongly disagree with this viewpoint.
Maybe it bears no need of repeating, but government agencies in the U.S. (and elsewhere) haven’t exactly had the best record when it comes to respecting their citizens’ right to privacy. In fact, it is a callous mode of operation that continues to happen, again and again. So, forgive us, brave protectors of our collective securities if we are not as optimistic about the prospect of allowing a precedent to be set on our privacy rights, to be potentially abused by institutions that have done nothing to earn our trust in their beneficence in upholding this area of the law.
Looking back I remember the indignation with which President Bush scolded those who of us who cared to raise objection to the warrantless wiretapping conducted by the NSA under his orders. I also remember President Obama sternly rejecting calls of hypocrisy on his part when he allowed this same invasion of privacy and liberties to continue under his presidency when he had spent so much time campaigning against such abuses of executive power during his bid for the White House. There is one thing, however, I agree with President Obama about when he was laughably trying to defend himself from critics (especially those who had once supported him) on the onset of the Edward Snowden leaks. I remember the President mention that the conversation of choosing between privacy and security was an important one to have. And this is absolute true! Unfortunately, what the president does not–or will not–understand is that it is a conversation we ought to be having before such breaches of our liberties are undertaken. Discussing it after the fact, and then dismissing our hostility at having our privacy violated as imbecilic, is insulting to our collective intelligence and undignifying, to say the least.
For those who say they are willing to grant institutions like the FBI access to their phones, if it means a possible increase in combating global terrorism and societal security, I wish you well with your optimism. But do not dare speak on my behalf to implement your priorities into our laws. And please don’t condescend to me as if you’re the levelheaded adult in this conversation, and we’re all a bunch of babbling infants, too stupid to understand the bigger picture you are wont of protecting. Because I can see a bigger picture too, and it does not involve overreaching agencies suddenly learning the importance of restraint with next to unlimited power, when all notable evidence points to them never having learned it to begin with.