Monday, 18 May 2015

What price do you put on your privacy?

My optimism runs just deep enough that, while I realise security agencies can probably get my private information no matter what I do, I think it’s worth the hassle making it as difficult for them as possible.

While drafting this post, I forgot that I had my internet running through a VPN, effectively communicating to outsiders that I was sitting in Tokyo. Not surprisingly, when Google thinks you’re in Japan, it gives you Japanese writing to read, so I had to guess which button was “save”. Unfortunately I hit “publish” and discovered later that the handful of people who may drop in here probably thought I was on drugs or drunk.

No matter.

In the past 12-18 months I have learned to use a VPN, encrypt and store my important files, use a password manager instead of letting Google save my passwords, send encrypted messages from my phone and generally be aware of what I’m leaving out for prying eyes. That’s my choice and I think the effort is worth it. I’m not deluded into thinking that makes me untouchable, but I like to believe it’s something.

It absolutely shits me to tears that a human being can claim that Government’s intrusion into their privacy is OK, because they “don’t have anything to hide”. I don’t have the time or energy to debate Edward Snowden’s actions, but his view on this topic is worth quoting:

“You’re inverting the model of responsibility for how rights work. When you say, ‘I have nothing to hide,’ you’re saying, ‘I don’t care about this right.’ You’re saying, ‘I don’t have this right, because I’ve got to the point where I have to justify it.’ The way rights work is, the government has to justify its intrusion into your rights.”

Here in Australia, not a month or two goes by without some hysterical news article being published about a terrorist plot being foiled.  The cops and the politicians are quick to condemn the people arrested, clearly forgetting that being charged with something doesn't actually mean you are guilty. 

So how big is the threat of being killed by a terrorist in Australia?
Holy shit
Some stats that I picked out of “underlying causes of death” for 2013:

24 people died because their appendix
156 died because of a hernia
856 from alcoholic liver disease
70 people died from “unspecified severe protein-energy malnutrition”
18 from “malaise and fatigue”
222 motor cyclists were killed on the roads
334 died from slipping, tripping and stumbling
17 died falling from ladder
14 drowned in the bath
56 choked to death on food
67 died from accidental alcohol poisoning
4,328 diabetes sufferers died
2,520 committed suicide.

It struck me as very sad that suicide is our leading cause of death for 15-24 year olds (348) and 25-34 yr olds (407) and 35-44 yr olds (508). Suicide was the 4th leading cause of death for 45-54 yr olds, at which point heart disease and cancer started to take over.

Just as sad is the data on domestic violence in this country. According to some reports, it is “the leading cause of death and injury in women under 45, with more than one woman murdered by her current or former partner every week.

Amongst all this sadness, one thing I could not put a number to was:

Hopefully you can see what I’m alluding to; that you don’t have to be a statistician to see what is clearly obvious – we have thousands of people killing themselves intentionally, many more dying from shitty nutrition and alcohol related deaths, but in our very recently published national budget, the herd of Arseclowns that is Australia’s Government chose to spend a shitload of tax payers dollars on:

If you’re reading this post and thinking “yeah, but it’s only a matter of time before someone does set off a bomb here”, you may very well be correct. But with all the text I’ve just made you read, none of these arguments are relevant. What it all boils down to, and the only question you have to ask yourself is, “what price am I willing to put on my privacy?”

What threat to your way of life would be so significant and imminent that you are OK with all your private data, correspondence, movements, contacts and financial transactions being recorded by your Government and then potentially passed on to other Governments?

Granted it is not at that point just yet, but storing your metadata is clearly a sign of things to come. The laws that allowed such bullshit were introduced quickly and with little opposition.

Personally, I’m not sure there is a price. If civil war broke out tomorrow and a considerable proportion of our citizens were devoted to murdering the rest of us, I’m pretty sure “the rest of us” would be more concerned with defending ourselves and our families than giving up and handing our most precious possessions to people who cannot be trusted. Maybe that’s na├»ve and ignorant, but we’re talking about extremely unlikely scenarios here.

The chances of me being blown up today or any day in the future in this country are slim to none. Letting the authorities spy on me in return for some vague promise that they’ll protect me from such an event is like paying half my fortnightly wage for smallpox insurance. The cost is ridiculously out of proportion to the return. 

My privacy is worth a great deal to me. What's it worth to you?