This week, new invasive spying bills passed in Canada and in France. Both of them, as usual, go beyond what has been seen before in their audacity. But a private net is just as fundamental a right as freedom of speech.
In Canada, the infamous bill C-51 passed. In France, a bill labeled “far more invasive than the US PATRIOT Act” passed.
The concept of politicians listening to every phonecall, every conversation, every search, every thought was unthinkable just two decades ago. When the Soviet Union collapsed and East Europe was freed from enslavement, the idea was that the citizens of Eastern Europe were supposed to enjoy Western liberty from that point on instead of having their every move monitored by a distrusting government. It was never supposed to be the other way around, that the Western world would copy the governments of Eastern Europe.
The Net isn’t a toy.
Today, we exercise our fundamental rights – freedoms of assembly, speech, opinion, the press, and expression – through the net. Therefore, a free net has itself become as fundamental a right, as all the other rights we exercise through it.
And yet, politicians keep treating the net as some sort of toy you can take away from children when they’ve been misbehaving, even considering the collective punishment of disconnecting entire households on mere accusation of infringing on somebody’s copyright monopoly. This is the equivalent of being sent into exile from modern society: your freedoms of speech, assembly, opinion, the press, and information are summarily taken away, as well as your ability to work, study, and even pay bills.
When the net is not threatened with removal and disconnection, it is instead being increasingly wiretapped, in bulk, without warrant, for no other reason than politicians of today getting away with it.
You cannot trust today’s politicians to defend you against Big Brother, for it is they who are Big Brother.
Part of the explanation lies in the fact that the senior politicians today were born into an offline world. They (literally!) have secretaries printing their e-mails for them. The next generation will be slightly better – those who are in their 35-50s today, and who were just outcast nerds in their teens, at the dawn of computerization of all of society.
The real change will come with time: today, about one-third of children use a tablet before their first birthday. That’s quite a change from when I started to code at age seven (which was still very early by the standards of the 1970s).
The problem lies with bridging the years until these people come into power – for if we continue on today’s vector, the kids growing up today will never have known what freedom of opinion and speech mean, and they will not question living in a surveillance society (the few who are intelligent enough to question it will also have an innate understanding that the mere act of questioning is dangerous).
Therefore, the problem lies not in securing civil liberties long term: that will solve itself, if (and only if) we manage to secure them for the next 30 years. That’s the mission today – the mission for the entire net generation today.
If we don’t, we’re heading into a surveillance society of nightmares, one that historically can take centuries to undo to restore the most basic of liberty.
Privacy remains your own responsibility.