I Can’t Discuss Political Work With Colleagues Over The Phone Any More. How Did It Come To This?

Posted on Dec 18, 2013 by Rick Falkvinge
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When I grew up, we knew that the countries east of the Iron Curtain had secret agencies that spied on their own citizens, and we were taught that it was absolutely horrible and terrifying. An integral part of our identity west of the Iron Curtain that we would never behave like that: in the West, we had a right to privacy, we had civil liberties that were inviolable. Today, I can’t discuss ordinary work over the phone with my colleagues. How did it come to this?

As the movie adaptation of The Lord of the Rings opens, Cate Blanchett’s voice is heard: “The world has changed”.

When I grew up, we took for granted that we could communicate in private. There were countries that spied on their own citizens, and they were held in deep contempt. They were the Soviet Union, they were East Germany. KGB and Stasi were names of agencies that we knew spied on their country’s own citizens, and a very strong part our identity west of the Iron Curtain was that we were not Them. In the West, liberties were sacred.

How naive we were. As soon as it became feasible, governments in the West did the exact same thing. How did it come to this?

According to Edward Snowden, the global surveillance machine is not, and was never, intended to catch terrorists. That was just a front, a justification, a false fa├žade. The real reason was always geopolitical dominance: economic and industrial espionage, diplomatic dominance, and the ability to discredit powerful adversaries. (No wonder, as drowning in bathtubs is five times as dangerous as terrorism.)

In a cynical way, it feels better to know that my phone is wiretapped, and that anything I say can and will be used against me, now or at any time in the future. Before, I had a nagging suspicion, which would frequently be shot down by friends and colleagues as paranoia.

“What makes you think you’re important enough to be listened in to?”, some people would ask, unaware of the geopolitical game I play and the strings I pull. Some of them would make me doubt my own rational analysis.

Now, thanks to Snowden, I know that my phone is wiretapped – because every phone is wiretapped. My carefulness had been right all along, and my use – overuse, some would have said before – of cryptography had been the completely correct way to move about.

Somewhere, things went terribly bad, and I’ll be returning to that in next week’s column.

Still, the way the world has changed in the last decade is mind-boggling and devastating at the same time. I can’t talk on the phone any longer, not about anything remotely sensitive. I can’t discuss sensitive matters in my own apartment – and the definition of “sensitive matters” is becoming increasingly wide. Simply put, I don’t want to have it like this. I want to be able to have a private conversation.

Privacy remains your own responsibility.

About Rick Falkvinge

Rick is Head of Privacy at Private Internet Access. He is also the founder of the first Pirate Party and is a political evangelist, traveling around Europe and the world to talk and write about ideas of a sensible information policy. Additionally, he has a tech entrepreneur background and loves good whisky and fast motorcycles.

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  1. dragoonvex

    As long as America is run by Democrats, there won’t be freedom anywhere. Majority of the media is controlled by Democrats indirectly. They talk a lot about human rights but in the end, they just want to dumb down society and control people and destroy the other party and start revolutions in Europe and in Russia in the pretense of human rights. How can there be human rights without the basic right to privacy and decency of living a life?

    7 years ago
    1. Austin Williamson

      It isn’t about a party, it’s about the rules of the game. Change the rules. For one, ban campaign donations by lobbyists, by companies, by corporations. Then, replace the house with a randomly-selected, staggered jury.

      Problem. Solved.

      You’re a complete dumbass if you blame a single party, or a single person. George Bush wasn’t responsible for Iraq. Barack isn’t responsible for the NSA’s expansion.

      7 years ago
      1. Guest

        I just said the current status quo needs to be changed. The current status quo is the Democratic party. I do think promising people transparency and review of the Patriot Act and shut down of the Guantanamo bay before election and breaking all these promises even after nearly 8 years in power, makes the Democrats look worse than Republicans. If you do a body count, there is more innocent people dead with drones than under Bush. At least, when Bush was in power, the media did criticize Bush for his mistakes and they helped remove the Republicans from power.Obama seems to be protected by the media and his government goes after people who criticise or disagree with his government.

        7 years ago
      2. dragoonvex

        “Often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government is an existing government employee committed to public integrity and willing to speak out. Such acts of courage and patriotism, which can sometimes save lives and often save taxpayer dollars, should be encouraged rather than stifled. We need to empower federal employees as watchdogs of wrongdoing and partners in performance. Barack Obama will strengthen whistleblower laws to protect federal workers who expose waste, fraud, and abuse of authority in government. Obama will ensure that federal agencies expedite the process for reviewing whistleblower claims and whistleblowers have full access to courts and due process” – Obama’s promise in 2008

        You are worse than a complete dumbass and a dumbfuck if you are defending this President full of broken promises and lies. Lobbyist, Corporations and money can’t change a honourable man. A honorable President serves the people not lobbyist.

        7 years ago
      3. dragoonvex

        On the campaign trail, President Obama vowed that lobbyists would have no place in his administration. I don’t blame either of the party nor the lobbyist. I just think the party that makes promises and does the opposite and keeps blaming the previous administration even after nearly 8 years deserve to be judged and put out of government. Obama has proved he is no different from Bush and deserve the same level of criticism that Bush got. It is stupid to blame the lobbyist per se. After all, in the end, the lobbyist can only ask, the final decision is with the government, which ever government is in power.

        7 years ago
      4. rv496351

        You both are partially correct.

        7 years ago
  2. qwer

    I think we are at the point where we need to recognize that wiretapping is going to be a part of the internet as much as free file sharing. Instead of doing this like record labels, and just bitching that this is unacceptable, we should concentrate on how we can enforce that agencies and government doing this can’t misuse the information they get,

    After all, if we could make surveillance somehow impossible to abuse/misuse, it would be pretty much fine for all.

    7 years ago
    1. Austin Williamson

      Only way to do that is to ensure surveillance is as difficult as possible. I’m doing my part by encrypting everything.

      7 years ago
      1. qwer

        Yeah, you can do that in personal level. But as tools for surveillance come every day cheaper and better, we can’t think that we somehow could make surveillance go harder and lower state than it currently is in western countries or even stay at this level. That’s like doing things like record labels.

        We need to concentrate on making governments and security agencies more transparent.

        Majority of people won’t be against on better security and because of that and technological advantages we will slowly slide under higher and higher surveillance. Only way to really address this problem is to get also better surveillance on government and all its services by citizens. Because that won’t be opposed by majority.

        7 years ago
  3. tetridae

    You can always respond

    “What does it matter if I am ‘important enough’ to be wiretapped? What really matters is if people who can make a difference in society – start political parties or new companies and compete with the old order are wiretapped, whomever the fuck that may be.”

    7 years ago