The doctrine for authorities collecting sensitive, private data on citizens right now appears to be “your private data may be useful to us, and therefore, we shall take it by force”. From general wiretapping to data retention to face recognition to mass tracking of individuals, the same pattern is evident: people demanding their right to privacy are treated as criminals who are obstructing justice just for the sake of it.
From experience, we know that all data leaks. Seriously, if the United States of America can’t protect its most dirty laundry from leaking through Wikileaks, you can bet that no governmental authority in the world will be able to – or care to – protect the data they are collecting about you this very minute.
Whom you talk to, and how often. How you move around the city. Where you rest, where you work, where you sleep. Your dating preferences and habits. Political opinions. What newspapers you read. What articles in those newspapers, in what order, and for how long.
Never in history have authorities been so carelessly curious about the people they are supposed to work for, and taken so much information from them by force. The doctrine is evident: “Your private data may be useful to us, therefore, we shall take it by force; who cares if you are inconvenienced by us digging through about your habits in depth”.
Let me illustrate the level of “inconvenienced” that history teaches us is the sharp end-of-the-day reality:
The Netherlands used to keep track of people’s religion as part of the public records. The intent was noble as always: by keeping track of how many Jews, Catholics, and Protestants there were in a city and its different parts, you would be able to plan for an appropriate amount of synagogues, Protestant churches, and Catholic churches, their proportion to one another, and so on.
Then, World War II came around.
There were almost no Jews at all in the Netherlands after World War II. According to Wikipedia, less than 10% survived (14,346, compared to an earlier population of 154,887). As it turns out, it was very convenient for the… new administration… to have access to the collected data, and it was indeed used against the citizens, as it always is in the end.
I heard a new term in my political discussions this week: genocide-resistant identity card. It was in my discussions with @leashless about defense policies, and how the worst genocides are always based off of public records. The genocide in Rwanda is another example of this. If people can do this just from details about your identity, how precisely can you be targeted in the future?
Imagine that the authorities have access to your daily movements, everything you’ve said and everybody you’ve talked to for the past couple of years. (They do, or are seeking to have that access.) How would a hypothetical future… administration… be able to use this against you? Could they conceivably see any patterns?
You know, it doesn’t matter if you haven’t broken a single law. What matters is how your data is interpreted.
Perhaps you’ve managed to keep that lover or mistress a secret from everybody. Well, everybody except the authorities who know, of course. What happens next?
Perhaps you’ve discovered the world’s most delicious reindeer meatballs in a small pub on your way home from work. What happens when the Department of Transportation discovers that you frequently stop by a pub on your way home from work, then drive the rest of the way home?
Perhaps you’re helping your grandmother with her weekly groceries every Friday evening. What happens when the social authorities see you stopping for hours on the main prostitution street every Friday night – and they don’t know (or care) that your grandmother lives there?
Mathematically, we make the following observation: No citizen data is thrown away, nor is there ever less data collected, and there is a nonzero chance that it is horribly abused against the citizens by authorities who are supposed to work for them. Since there is a nonzero and non-decreasing chance, it will eventually happen, with mathematical certainty.
This data collection doctrine focused on usefulness has to change, of course. Urgently so. It needs to change to something like this:
“Any data collected must be assumed to leak and be used against the citizen in the worst conceivable way. If this worst conceivable way is not acceptable in a democratic society, then the data may not be collected in the first place.”
After all, it is only prudent that we demand our seven privacies: those of body, correspondence, data, economy, identity, location, and territory.
The next week, the Swedish parliament votes whether to introduce the violatory Data Retention Directive in Sweden. Today, there were rallies all over Sweden demanding our right to privacy. It is a more than reasonable demand.