Thursday, May 22, 2014

Freedom vs. Privacy: An American Dream

Since the birth of Bulletin Board Systems and dial-up modems, the notion of online privacy has been an issue with anyone who utilizes online materials.  Today, of course, we are seeing more and more stories and legislature regarding online privacy.  The NSA is gathering "information" on American communications, including telephone calls and emails.  Thousands of businesses (some legitimate, some not-so-much) have sprouted like weed claiming they can keep American's identities safe from thieves.  Some governments are even going as far as utilizing software to access a user's computer, sort through their files, and even view them through their own built-in webcam.

I understand how all of this can seem pretty scary.  However, I don't understand why.  Why is it happening, and why are people scared?

I know, I know.  I'm sure I could find a million commentators to expound upon how important it is to maintain an individual's level of privacy, or perhaps dictate to me how large and uncontrollable our governments have become.

I don't disagree.

There is a small part of me that doesn't want anyone to know certain things.  I'm a little shy, after all, and having some stranger poke around inside my computer or reading my emails doesn't settle too well for that part of me.

But there's a larger part of me that simply doesn't care.  What does it matter of some dude in a suit two-thousand miles away rummages through the files on my computer?  What will he find?  Probably porn.  A couple of eBooks.  An essay or two still saved on my hard drive from university.  A video game.  Big deal.  What about my emails?  Correspondences between my boss and myself on our next upgrade for the company.  Purchase confirmations and receipts from Amazon, eBay, PayPal and the like for various junk I felt I had to have but don't really need.

Maybe I'm not the normal person though.  What if I were the kind of guy to have all kinds of correspondences with prostitutes from Craigslist, or a guy with a hard drive full of torrent files and pirated material?  Again, I'm going to say, so what?

The issue really isn't about what "they" will find by collecting this data or invading our computers.  "They" might find all kinds of illegal activity.  The likelihood of acting on that illegal activity is probably fairly minimal.  I don't know the statistics, but I guarantee you if there were only a handful of people pirating software over torrent and other peer-to-peer sites (a la the infamous Napster) those sites would have been shut down easily.  This leads me to believe there are so many people using these sites that it doesn't make sense for "them" to go after end users.  Like The War on Drugs, "they" don't really want to arrest the user, they want to arrest the supplier.

That being said, my take on what the real issue here is, is that I didn't give them permission to collect data from me or to access my computer remotely.

Thing is, though, I kind of did.  I gave them permission when I didn't get involved with the government I am supposed to be a part of.  For the people, by the people.  I am part of "the people" and if the government is by the people, that means it is by me.  So what happens when I take a back seat to the way the government is run?  Exactly this.  Only, I haven't been taking a back seat when it comes to our government.  I've been dead.  I haven't done a thing to steer this government one direction or another.

There is still action through inaction.

By not weighing in for or against one thing or another, I am simply allowing decisions to be made for me.  I'm not talking about voting here.  Voting isn't nearly enough, is it?  With a system like the electoral college in place, what good does an individual vote do, anyway?  No, I'm talking about lobbying, petitioning, getting in the face of the oppressors and screaming at the top of my lungs about why I'm upset at everything they are doing.

Today's post comes to you because of Firefox.

I'm a fan of Mozilla's products.  I use both Firefox and Thunderbird for my online activity.  I absolutely love Google and nearly everything they make, but for some reason Google Chrome just didn't work for me.  That isn't important for this post, though.

You see.  I opened my web browser this morning.  I have the default set to take me to the Mozilla Firefox Start Page when I open Firefox.  It's pretty much just a search bar, but often times there are little messages from Mozilla regarding updates, new products, or legislature they want their users to be aware of.

Today's message had to do with "joining a community working toward designing a web we want" or something to that nature.  You get to make a decision about what is most important to you on the web, and then scroll through a series of infographic-like data depicting how others around the world think on the same topic.

Of the 29 million people voting world wide, nearly 40% of these want more privacy in their online interactions (38.6% in the U.S.).  The other options were Opportunity, Accessibility, Freedom, Learning, and User Control.

As I've said, I get the argument for privacy.  But as I've also said, I don't really care if someone learns that I look at porn, or that I have an Amazon Prime account and use it to watch The Americans, Justified, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  I don't think I would even care if someone could use the information on my computer to prove that I was a racist (which I'm not - that has to do with my level of apathy, as I'm sure I'll write about in a later post), or maybe "they" can confirm that I might be Facebook friends with someone from Iraq who might have ties with Al-Qaeda.  It doesn't matter, because if those things are true, then that is who I am, and I should have no reason to hide.

Here's why.  In this Mozilla blurb about what kind of web you want, I voted for freedom.  We live in the free world, in what is supposed to be the freest country in the world.  Don't we?

You see, with absolute freedom, I would never have to worry about privacy.  I would be free to hold my head high and say, "Yes!  This is who I am!  I have every right to be the person I am, and do the things I do because I am that person.  You have no right to judge me, because I am free."

So, while we may believe we live in a free country, in a free world, we all know that isn't the case.  Don't we?  We are anything but free.  We might not be slaves in the traditional sense of the word - you know, the way Cliven Bundy sees the term.  But we are certainly not free.

We are bound by the rules of popular culture.  We idolize entertainers and athletes, and bow down to the wishes of every corporation in the world because they have the money and the rest of us have just enough to purchase the products all of these people produce and endorse.  We destroy the land and kill ourselves because someone somewhere wants to make a profit, and we don't even question why.

You see, absolute true freedom can never happen in a capitalist society.  Too many people searching for money and power will always find a way of crushing out someone else to get to that money and power, and the victor will be applauded and rewarded for his cunning and skill.  The crushed will be forgotten.

The truth is, there can never be absolute freedom anywhere humans exist because humans are terrified little creatures who believe they need someone else to guide and protect them.

The internet is no different.  We have parental controls to guide and protect children.  We have search algorithms designed to guide the user to "appropriate" sites.  We are allowing fear and paranoia to dictate how we live our lives, and corporations are taking great advantage of that and limiting our freedoms even more.

Let me ask a question, and allow you to stew in the pot for a while.  If you could do or say anything without fear of repercussions, why would you ever need privacy?

I made a statement to a friend once, regarding internet privacy, that so totally offended her sense of right and wrong we couldn't speak to one another for a month.  I was making this same argument, that privacy wasn't really that big of an issue.  That governments and corporations were using the argument of privacy to drive fear into the hearts of citizens in the hopes that the citizenry will give up more of their freedoms for the illusion of privacy.

She asked me what I would do if anyone could know everything about me.  My only response could be, "Nothing."

If everyone could learn everything about everyone else at a given moment, I think the world would quickly understand that we are all much more alike than we want to believe (or that we are being told to believe).  Do you believe that Bill Clinton's blow job in the oval office would have been such a big deal if we could learn that practically every man in a position of power has probably received sex in exchange for work-related favors at some point in time?

For years the people have argued that we are all equal.  The civil rights movement, women's liberation, gay marriage, it's all part of a struggle to identify equality between various subcultures within our world.  The problem, as I see it, is that we are still blinded by the emotions that course through us on these particular issues to understand that there is one thing in which we are all the same.

We are controlled by the fear of exposing our secrets because we believe that exposure will prove exactly how different we are from the world around us.

My opinion is that it won't.  It will simply prove how similar we all really are.