Privacy and security -- a rock and a hard place

05 Nov 2014

As featured in DisruptiveViews

In the wake of the Snowden disclosures governments and security services are having to ‘legitimize’ the task of national security, and they have nobody to blame but themselves.

After being caught out accessing, collecting and processing personal information of the masses (and, allegedly, not always legally) their attempts at ‘legalizing’ their activities are meeting with considerable resistance.

Australian law enforcers and security agencies, for example, are pushing for network operators to collect and store metadata on all customers so that they can have free and easy access to it so they can do their jobs. They are being backed by the government, for obvious reasons, but the public debate is quite a different matter.

The man in the street has come to believe that he has already lost any hope of having any privacy, period. Nothing, it seems, is out of bounds in the name of national security. Like the agonizing overhead of travel security that has not actually snared any terrorists since 9/11, the arguments for metadata collections are largely emotive, and a gross retraction of hard-fought civil liberties. Of course, there will be arguments that the security measures have deterred any attackers.

Government, it seems, will stop at nothing to get their way, and installing fear in the general population has been a popular ‘marketing’ tactic. Weapons of mass destruction were used as an excuse to start the Iraq war, and we are still feeling the effects of that fallacy.

Al-Qaeda’s audacious and tragic attack of 9/11 has achieved what it set out to do – it has changed all our lives in a negative way with increased security checks everywhere we go and mass surveillance of all of us under the guise of protecting us from further attacks. If that was the objective it has succeeded, will we ever go back to the good old days of seamless travel? Hardly likely.

I am not advocating that we forget about security altogether, that move alone would cause a mini recession with so many airport ‘security experts’ being out of work, but to look at alternatives that do not infringe so dramatically on our daily lives. And that includes the invasion of privacy new laws are targeting. And it’s not just about privacy any more.

We have had to accept that with the wonders of mobile technology and smartphones, social networking and anti-money laundering laws there is virtually nothing private left. So why are governments pushing so hard to get more on us and to give that information freely to law enforcers and security agencies?

Supporting arguments that appeal to our core emotions are no longer working. We have become hardened to the baseless arguments our leaders and their ‘advisers’ have been feeding us for years. Telling us that metadata could have been used to track down a child killer, as happened in Australia, is somewhat pathetic when law enforcers already have access to an extensive amount of data through existing arrangements with network operators.

Expecting network operators to carry the load of collection and storing metadata is one thing, but guaranteeing that same data is not used for commercial purposes quite another. And what if that metadata gets hacked, who will be responsible?

Our leaders may think that the security argument will carry new laws through, but they would be wrong to think we are only hung up on the privacy issue. As already mentioned, we lost that a long time ago. The issue they have to face now is trust, or loss of it. If we can’t trust our governments, banks, telcos, retailers, even the church or anybody for that matter, where does that leave us?

Exposure of ill deeds and then sudden need for transparency may be idealistic motives, but they leave is between a rock and a hard place. Welcome to 2014.

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