PRISM vs Facebook – do we have right to be outraged?
On June the 6th, 2013 Washington Post and The Guardian simultaneously released informations about US surveillance program broader in its scope that anything seen before. Furthermore PRISM as it is called targeted most sensitive data – collecting informations from providers of services that we use so often and for private communication. It is hard to name type of data that was not captured by government. Emails, videos, photos, VoIP and user activity among many more is captured straight from the servers of biggest vendors on the market – Microsoft, Apple and Google to name most significant. Affair become even more movie-like with reveal of man behind the leak. A lone whistleblower who left his family, six figures and comfortable life to reveal abuse of power and had to escape to Hong Kong to conclude in an interview ‘I don’t want to live in a society that does these sort of things’
The only reaction that could result from such a revelation was massive and universal outrage expressed on nomen omen, the internet. First responders were naturally tech savvy users from around the world, at least those whose response wasn’t ‘I told you so.’ But coming back to former group it’s really hard to blame them for their reaction. Is it possible not to feel sick while looking at documents saying that basically any of your emails can be accessed without any oversight?
However pretty soon I was forced to rethink my universal opposition to PRISM and support for any group that protested the program. On 5th of December in Poland, among other countries, million mask march was organized. Among anti-consumerism and anti-elitist, the anti-surveillance message was hard to miss – I’d even go as far to say as that most likely PRISM revelation was a trigger for the march. Then I visited facebook page of Polish march. Among people who declared their participation it was hard to find those who did not posted on their public profiles place of birth, school, job, relationship status and at least handful of photos. As you probably expect by now the obvious question arises – how can you be outraged about government spying on you if you just give away all those informations (beside public profile let’s not forget about another group of details that could be found on private profiles – an that are ready available to facebook employees). Obviously there is a stark contrast in those two bulks of data. People choose to publish on their facebook, contrary to government apparent grab-everything-digital tactics. Also people do not (usually) publish content of their emails and IMs.
However to get full perspective, there is one more thing to consider – is the surveillance really that unpopular, or more bluntly does people give a damn? Polls does not give definite answer. Depending on source numbers range between 51 and even 66 percent among polls that suggests people accept the surveillance and about 53% disapproval ratings in polls suggesting opposition. What is source of such disparities? Mainly question asked. Polls asking in lines of ‘are you ok with government collecting the data to prevent crime?’ tends to produce approval, while questions like ‘are you ok with government capturing every piece of data you leave online?’ – the contrary. Yet the pragmatic approach must present grim suggestion that people don’t care. While ACLU and EFF lawsuits are in progress, did anything that could happened? Did stock values of facebook, gmail or apple fall, or did they userbase shrinked by any significant percent? Do You, honestly, know anybody who stopped using their services? If the answer yes, please go to question number two – was it your dad whose gmail was first email ever or tech savvy friend with rooted smartphone? Finally out of 300 millions people in the United States, 10 thousands turned to Restore the Forth rally. And it would be foolish to look much further than simple convenience as reason for this passive approach. Especially if you’re ordinary citizen somewhere in the democratic European Country would you really care about remote possibility of US government capturing you data if a) it is invisible for you b) there is nothing you can do about it c) it involves changing your email, loosing social media and looking for some obscure, often not very reliable providers.
Yet the vocal minority opposing surveillance have to be right. Would we accept so willingly physical searches approved by rubber stamp court? There is little doubt that if policeman was kicking your door every other day just because NSA feels like it, people would go to courts, perhaps even politicians would provide vocal opposition to build up voting base. And even more important would we stick to gmail if every time we logged in we had to click through numerous alerts asking ‘are you okay with US government snooping around <insert type of content>’? Because actual war of surveillance is not security vs freedom and privacy. It is freedom and privacy vs convienience and comfort. We should be outraged about unwarranted searches (because let’s call it what it is) but as long as PRISM will remain contained in digital world, out of sight of ordinary users there will be little reaction. It is a measure, of how much data we are willing to give away in order to keep our facebook account.
PS my ‘business’ email is still on gmail