Remember privacy? The quaint notion that someone should be …. how did that go again? …. secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, …. but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. Yeah, that’s obsolete now.
I’ve been flabbergasted by the recent news concerning government spying programs on private citizens. Not so much by the fact that it’s happening, because I am fairly cynical and always did figure the government would be cheating as much as it could get away with. I’ve been flabbergasted by the idea that the public appears to be accepting the idea that this is all okay.
Seriously. You have a secret court issuing secret court orders, pursuant to a secret interpretation of the law. And you claim that despite all this we know enough to have made an informed decision as voters? You have people being forced to do things and not allowed to say they’re doing them. You’re requiring private companies to tell lies to their customers and actively misrepresent their services, and this is somehow not a violation of law? Isn’t that sort of thing usually punishable by hefty jail sentences? And finally, how did the people working for those companies lose the right to …. um, is this another obsolete notion? …. freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. …. ?
Now maybe you’re okay with the idea that every last phone call you’ve made in the last ten years has been duly registered in a database; duration, origin location, origin phone number, destination location, destination phone number. And maybe you’re not. But do you remember being asked if this was even theoretically okay? I sure as heck don’t. Do you remember any public discussion about whether the government had the right to do that? I don’t remember that either. Do you remember any notice of a law that could be interpreted in a way that authorized that? Maybe you’re okay with the idea that the full text of every email you’ve sent or received, and every blog post you’ve read or written, and every web page you’ve written or seen, has been duly recorded and can be called up in an instant if the right prosecutor thinks it would be handy — but hasn’t been known by or available to defense attorneys. How does that constitute “fair trials”, folks? Or is the idea of a fair trial another thing we don’t need anymore?
Oh, wait; I forgot. We have people who’ve been in jail for more than ten years, and whom our own authorities say will never be released, who have not even been charged with a crime and who cannot go to trial due to “security risks”. So, yeah, I guess trials are no longer a right. The fifth amendment made an exception “…in time of war.” But in case you haven’t noticed, the war in which those men were captured is over. We are no longer in time of war. After a war, POWs usually get to go home. This so-called “terrorism” is not war; it is no more nor less than a different word for “crime.” No matter what some deluded Jihadi or corrupt politician thinks, unless people are fighting on behalf of the governments of two or more sovereign nations in conflict, that fighting does not constitute a war. Some deluded jihadi who is not employed by and acting on behalf of a national government is on a par with some yahoo opening up with an automatic weapon in a crowded theater; which is to say, a heinous criminal and possibly a multiple murderer, but not an enemy soldier. He deserves a trial, and if found guilty, imprisonment. He does not deserve torture or indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial. Or was that whole … no cruel and unusual punishment shall be inflicted … thing another obsolete concept?
So, yeah. Your right to a fair trial, your right to privacy, your right to be an informed voter, your right to free speech — all these things are out the window. And if someone calls you a “terrorist” — which can now apparently be done without a trial or conviction, and also apparently without even telling you what the charges against you actually are or letting you talk with an attorney — then your right to have a trial at all and your right to not be tortured, are apparently also out the window. So, apparently, if you have a messy breakup with your girlfriend or boyfriend, and she or he happens to work in the state department or the FBI, then …. hey, no trial, no appeal, no evidence required …. you’re just going to go to jail for the rest of your life. Oh, and while you’re there you can be tortured three times a week, just for the hell of it. Meanwhile, now that you’ve been identified as a terrorist, someone is going to be tracking down anybody you’ve talked to a lot on the phone, and they’ll be implicated in the witch hunt too.
Now, maybe you claim that couldn’t happen. But knowing what we now know about the way our government has been behaving, exactly which part of it can you absolutely rule out? Remember, evidence is apparently optional if you’re an “enemy combatant” or “terrorist.”
So, ladies and gentlemen, I think it is time to acknowledge that in the era of easy information gathering and the capacity to keep and easily search unprecedented volumes of information, there is no reasonable expectation of privacy anymore — not from your service providers, and not from your government. We are all fish in a well-lit aquarium, and the walls are made of glass. People *WILL* gather and keep information on you, because they *CAN* and there’s no way to stop them. So it’s time to stop and consider, given that fact, what rights we actually need and can have to ensure a civil society with human rights.
Human Rights In the Digital Age.
The first important right is the right to know how information about you is distributed. Nobody should be able to legally misrepresent to you what information they are gathering about you, what information they have about you, and whom they are sharing it with. And that particularly includes the government.
The second is that fair trials require fair sharing of information. whatever evidence is available, should be known by and available to both the prosecution *and* the defense, in every trial.
The third is free speech. If we accept now that we are all fish in the aquarium and have no privacy anyway, then let us embrace its lack fully and create a transparent society, rather than creating a system in which there is asymmetric distribution of information. No one should ever be required to withhold their knowledge or recordings of anything which is true from the rest of the public, nor to have their recordings of actual events confiscated from them at the scene, nor be required to stop recording events as they happen. Let the public see as much as anyone sees, and then they can decide for themselves whether justice is being served. And let any information recorded by devices paid for out of public funds become publicly available to everybody, no matter whom it’s about. From the most powerful and the richest, down to the guy who sleeps under the bridge and spends his days spitting tobacco at seagulls. It’s reasonable to lock it up for the duration of an ongoing investigation. But it’s not reasonable for an investigation to proceed in secret, nor to allow an investigation to lock up any information for more than a fixed term of, say, a dozen years.
The fourth is that nothing which is known about you, unless it is knowledge of an actual criminal act which you have committed, should be used to justify harsher treatment of you in case you are convicted of a crime. That means Muslim Jihadist mass murderers ought to be getting the same rights to trial, the same rights to not be tortured, and the same sentencing, as white-collar middle class suburban mass murderers. Prisoners can be stripped of their freedom, but we should not create a system that encourages dehumanization or stripping people of their dignity.
To sum up; if we can’t have privacy, then let us have a fully transparent society. If information is power and power is supposed to flow from the will of the people, then the people must have access to all the information. And if people with power can see everything in the aquarium, then they darn well better live in the aquarium too, because the rights they’ve lost right along with the rest of us are the only rights we’ll ever get them to care about.