I just finished reading Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow. I read a lot, in the order of a couple of hundred books per year. Many books are promptly forgotten, but this is one I’m going to add to my re-reading pile. I’m also going to buy a few copies and give them to a few people. For those who are into reading e-books, the electronic versions of many of Cory Doctorow’s works are freely available from the author’s website, published under a creative commons license, like my blog. That right there earns my respect, and I’m presently perusing the rest of Cory Doctorow’s catalog.
I’m always having these discussions with my wife about this discomfort I have with the idea of surveillance societies and the loss of privacy (ironically, considering how much information about myself that I voluntarily publish). The book Little Brother is a fictional story about what gives me the willies about the attitude “I have nothing to hide, so why should I care if they video me everywhere, read my email and wiretap my phones?” I think that attitude is based on a logical fallacy, that privacy only has value to people who are hiding something. That’s called a false dichotomy. Privacy is valued by people who are not criminals and do not have a guilty conscience too. Otherwise, why do we have curtains? If you have the “I have nothing to hide” attitude, I suggest you read this paper on the fallacy of that idea, written by George Washington Law School Professor Daniel J. Solove. Click the link and scroll down to find several links to the actual PDF of the paper.
Surveillance societies give up essential freedoms in the name of safety. Unfortunately, the sacrifice of freedoms is generally in vain, because the increased surveillance of citizens does essentially nothing to prevent crime or terrorism. Search with Google. There are many many articles and reports indicating western societies are no safer from terrorism than before September 11. In fact, many think we’re worse off, and now we have the added fear of misuse of all the surveillance information by the authorities.
If, like me, you are Canadian, you might think that there’s not much surveillance going on in our country. If that’s the case, do a little experiment. When you’re out and about, think about every instance during your day when your location or activity is recorded by somebody or some automated system. Do you go into a store? You’re on video. Do you buy something with credit or debit? Somebody knows what you bought. Use cash? If so, what about your Safeway Club card or Save On More card? They still know what you bought. Buying online? Same thing. What about traffic cameras looking at your license plate as you travel around town? Somebody could know everywhere you’ve been, and when. Now read Little Brother, and think about the picture of your life that all those little points of surveillance that could be constructed if a single authority were able to combine all that?
Really, I’m only a little paranoid, and I freely share a lot of info about myself. However, as is famously and often stated, just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.