Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Private Communications in a Global World

I don't want to be spied on by anyone.  Not by my government, or by any other government, or by anyone anywhere.  I don't want them listening to my phone calls, reading my mail or emails, or intercepting my brain waves.  Not that I have anything to hide, but I think the idea that anyone is allowed to intercept my private communications is simply outrageous.

And so I find it disconcerting, to say the least, that our government finds it acceptable to routinely archive all emails it can get its hands on and openly read any email, as long as it's from a foreigner.  And yes, I don't like them including domestic emails in their sweeping searches of emails, but I don't think they have the right to read anyone's email without a good reason.  

Seriously, do you find it acceptable for the Canadian, Russian, or Iranian government to read your emails?  I certainly don't.  And this is all so archaic.  Because it's not just about your own government reading your communications.  It's about anyone reading it.  And this never came up before modern technology because the Russians or Iranians didn't have the capability to routinely intercept private communications two hundred years ago; just as we couldn't intercept theirs.  And now that we're spreading our communications into a format that can be easily intercepted and scanned, the laws need to reflect this accordingly.

We're All Targets

And so, no, I don't support the right of our government to read foreign emails or listen to foreign phone calls, without good reason that a judge agrees with.  And definitely no blanket authority to archive all emails.  And again, the fact that this isn't in concrete law is simply that it never came up before.  Back when the Constitution was written, foreign governments didn't have the capability to intercept our communications.  And now that they can, there needs to be a blanket prohibition on this sort of thing.  

And definitely, when we're in a world when low-level NSA employees can read the private emails of a former president, we're all in trouble.  Because frankly, that's my bigger worry.  It's not that Uncle Sam or Uncle Putin will learn about my private love life, but that some NSA ideologue will read about it and use it to punish me by exposing my personal info.  Or using it for insider trading, or blackmail, or whatever.  The potential for abuse here is infinite.  

And again, why should any British email we can get our hands on be fair game?  And why should Putin get to read my emails?  I don't care if it's the National Security Agency or the Iranian Security Agency doing it.  My private emails are my private emails, and while it's in our best interests to allow exceptions to the rules of privacy, those need to remain exceptions.  Any blanket authority of any government to read anyone's private email must be rejected.

The Simpson's Called It

Oh, and I really liked the part in The Simpson's Movie in which they showed a vast room of government employees listening in to mundane phone conversations, until one actually overhears an important call and loudly announces that he actually found a good one.  And it's funny because that's not how we do things, as it would be impossible to listen in to all those calls.  Plus, there's almost nothing to hear even if they did.  

And the dumbest thing about all of this is that actual bad guys will use coded messages that you wouldn't find unless you were explicitly looking for them.  So the only messages we'll intercept will be the innocent ones.  And for us to intercept the messages of bad guys would require us to target them explicitly; not have blanket sweeps of random messages.  I mean, if the terrorists we're up against are so dumb as to openly write about their terrorist plots in email, we really don't have much to worry about.

And so either the people pushing for these aggressive blanket searches are delusional in thinking they'll catch baddies, or they're just looking for excuses to do specific searches on domestic targets.  Again, if we have a system that automatically saves Clinton's messages to be read by any low-level grunt, our system is screwed up.  And overall, it should be as easy for them to read my emails as it is to read my snail mail.  We shouldn't allow technological advances to alter our basic right to privacy.

1 comment:

Mike Goldman said...

There's a solution. It's called GnuPG. Use it.