This Is Data Retention. Would You Give It To Any Future Government?

CrowdFlow

A new visualization of cellphone location data surfaced yesterday on Engadget. While it was hailed as a cool visualization of location, it is something more: it is an insight into the powers taken by European governments by means of the Data Retention Directive.

Would you want the Police to be able to see your movements and the movements of all of your friends like this? Would you want the Police under any future government and set of laws to be able to track and correlate how you and your friends move, in real time and in recorded history, like this?

Many people dismiss Data Retention with the “I have nothing to hide” shrug. That is dangerous, careless and ignorant of everything history has to teach us. If the former East European governments had had this kind of visualization on their dissidents, they would still be around. The governments, that is, not necessarily the dissidents.

It would be easy as mom’s apple pie to see when regime-critical groups would be up to something, as they would gather in a specific spot or spots. For a regime armed with this, Egypt would not have happened. Tunisia would not have happened. The entire Arab Spring would have been a joke told late nights in pubs as a “what-if”.

This is the population-control version of the military’s spy satellites, which are used to track foreign troop movements. Your government is now taking the right to track your and your friends’ movements as part of governing ruling controlling its own territory. 

Most of us are aware of how hostile governments have been to WikiLeaks, so for example, imagine if everybody connected to Julian Assange was tracked this way. Or everybody connected to Jake Appelbaum. Odds are it is already happening, but can’t be used for anything yet.

So there are four of questions you need to ask yourself, right here, right now.

First, you may have lived in a democratic country all your life, and have no reason to believe this will change. History tells us, though, that on a number on occasions, democratic countries have descended into fascism and totalitarian rule. This has happened in many and varied places, from Europe to South America to Asia.

Question 1: What reasons do you have to believe that the people in such locations and times have a radically different DNA from where you live? Rather, such developments are part of human nature and can only be countered with a carefully constructed set of checks and balances against the government.

Second, while it may be true that today’s Police won’t abuse this surveillance data (though I wouldn’t believe that in a heartbeat), it does eliminate the right to privacy to a degree that makes organized protest trivial to stop for a government that rather wouldn’t see it happen.

Question 2: Do you think this kind of tracking weakens the carefully constructed set of checks and balances on a democratic government? Does it strengthen the right to freely form opinions and protest against abuse of power, or does it weaken that right?

Third, if the ability of the people to dissent is systematically weakened like this, and the ability for all governments to uphold and enforce the laws they write are systematically strengthened in the same fashion, it means that lawmakers need not care so much about the morale of the people, but get the ability to shift gradually from governing a nation to social-engineering a nation. If all laws can be upheld, that means no laws are met with friction, and so any laws can be passed and enforced.

Question 3: If any laws can be passed and enforced, do you see this being a development good for the people and the masses, or a development that would strengthen the current elite through the letter of the law and the force of the police? 

Which leads us to —

Question 4: Is the above tracking really a tool that you are prepared to give to any future government where you live?

If not — it is more than time to take a stand for privacy. If you live in Europe, start by fighting the Data Retention Directive.

Rick Falkvinge

Rick is the founder of the first Pirate Party and a low-altitude motorcycle pilot. He works as Head of Privacy at the no-log VPN provider Private Internet Access; with his other 40 hours, he's developing an enterprise grade bitcoin wallet and HR system for activism.

Discussion

  1. Edward

    Zero comments, tells you just how much people give a fuck?

    Im too busy playing Angry Birds…

    1. Rick Falkvinge

      Much water has passed under the bridge since the time when comments were posted only on the article itself. Now, the comments are on Facebook, on G+, anywhere the link is posted in an aggregate forum.

  2. Juha Matias Lehtonen

    If at some point tracking becomes a daily part of governance, it could be then argued that only someone with plans for illegal action might want to go under the radar. I’m thinking: Will leaving your cellphone home be considered an anarchistic act in the future?

  3. Chiaki

    The entire Arab Spring would have been a joke told late nights in pubs as a “what-if”.

    It would not necessarily be told out loud, in case Someone was Listening.

    I recently listened to a radio documentary about the actions of german terrorists during the summer of ’77. In the program was a description of how the counter-terrorist forces used massive and fine-grained surveillance to round up the suspects. Quite a chilling tale, especially since the methods used successfully then are the same that various (swedish) fearmongers now claim are wholly inadequate and urgently need to be beefed up by for instance the Data Retention crap.
    (http://sverigesradio.se/sida/artikel.aspx?programid=2519&artikel=4587288)

    Mr Edward above may not care as long as he has a simple game to keep him amused, but people with a longer attention span should take note, and worry.
    Also, I would urge Mr Edward to not vote. Please leave that to the grownups.

  4. Kriss Andsten

    You (Chiaki) actually summarize one aspect I really don’t appreciate with the pirate movement by and large – the sheer and utter lack of respect for any other POV than your own.
    It’s perfectly possible to claim some moral high ground and on basis of that, try to enlighten ones surroundings.

    If unable to do so in a civilized manner however, please accept that I (for one) will think less of both the message, the person and by proxy, the movement you’re representing. Acting as a condescending ass won’t help much.

    1. Mårten

      This is what they are going to use for screensaver. It’s the tip of the iceberg compared to information you could extract from data like that. This sort of data mining wasn’t possible only a few years ago and I don’t think people fully understand the risks yet. It was fairly evident in the FRA debate here in Sweden. Today several members of parliament say they feel fooled now that they are starting to see the bigger picture. I’m glad there are many pirates fighting the good fight though, I hope it will be enough.

    2. Johan Sundström

      While you do have a point about breaking civil manners and jumping to ad hominem (counter-)attacks, piling in with more (guilt-by-association-)attacks doesn’t improve on-going judgment-flinging epidemics.

      Given that both posters were anonymous I would be hesitant to attribute them any particular affiliation beyond “troll” and “counter-troll”, whereas your post (tastefully, I might add) dropped out of anonymity, giving it at least the weight of a faint sense of accountability of standing for your opinion.

      On this post, so far, Rick, yourself, Dennis Nilsson (and I guess by now myself) are the only posters credibly attributable to any particular affiliation (and I would assume only Rick is trivially circled in as representative of Pirate Party ideals). For a more accurate recount of at least Rick’s policy on trolling and discussion attitude, https://falkvinge.net/troll-policy/ is a good, and brief, read.

  5. Dennis Nilsson

    Remember that my phone isn’t me. :-)

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  13. Concerned Citizen

    You know, in articles like this, I think you should also point out that Adolph Hitler broke no German laws (Not after 1934 at least, he was in jail prior to that, writing Mein Kampf).

    Hence, you could argue that the Holocaust was “the right thing” to do.

    Obviously, I don’t sanction the Holocaust, but apparently the German people did, when their democracy gave the Nazi party free reign…

  14. LK

    I am shutting down my cell phone when there is a low chance of anyone calling me. Not because I think there are people that care so much about me that they would monitor it, but simply because it feels better :)

    It is a nice feeling to know for certain that there is no method for anyone to know where I am. The reason that is a nice feeling is because I do not feel it that often.

  15. […] el autor, Rick Falkvinge, fundador del Partido Pirata Sueco, el control de los movimientos de los ciudadanos, según dicta […]

  16. […] es el planteo de Rick Falkvinge, fundador del Partido Pirata sueco, en su blog. Imaginemos las consecuencias que puede tener esto para las protestas callejeras, o diversas formas […]

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