The Guardian newspaper, quite rightly and judiciously, reports on plans by the British security agency GCHQ to introduce a “ghost protocol”. Effectively this means any encrypted conversation you may have with someone else will be automatically CC-ed to the British authorities – and one presumes, in practice, the allies they are comfortable with.
I don’t know the technical details of the plan, but I assume the content would always be filtered by machines before specific data of greater interest was to ever be seen by human beings.
Apple, and Facebook’s WhatsApp, have signed an open letter about the proposed “ghost protocol”, alongside real stalwarts of privacy issues – all of which deserve serious discussion – such as Liberty and Privacy International. They ask the government to abandon the idea.
I don’t know if Google has also put pen to digital paper on this, or indeed any of the other big US tech corporations, but whilst Apple continues to give the impression it thinks privacy is worth fighting for, even if only as a business Unique Selling Point, there is no way that the intrusive activities and long-term business models of WhatsApp’s owner Facebook could ever not be Silicon Valley’s very own ghost protocol, from way back when, and since forever.
Both Google and Facebook are the biggest and worst examples of how business models reserve the right to read all our emails, comments whether written or unwritten, and other things we dish out online and behind the scenes with friends, family, perhaps even more significantly our business connections, in order that this content might be tied into our profiles and make us much easier for their paying customers – the advertisers and marketers of big and small organisations alike – to drill down into our inner desires and close that important sale.
I have totally no sympathy for the hypocrisy on privacy these large tech corporations demonstrate. If they care at all these days, it’s because they begin to fear that their income streams might contract as people search out, however painfully, alternatives to their otherwise marvellous products and services.
Privacy deserves a serious debate, as I have already alluded to above and discussed in other posts: for there is a real difference between rightful privacy and maybe wrongful secrecy. That governments of a supposedly democratic bent have acted like the Stasi on this distinction is neither here nor there: not for the moment. Suffice to say I am always going to be sympathetic to organisations like Privacy International and Liberty, where they coherently sustain their philosophical and intellectual positions.
But even Apple, for me, fails to convince entirely.
Apple is part of the most vengeful, destructive and self-enriching place on earth: Silicon Valley has forever been the paradigm and definer of ghost protocols as applied to the business of attracting advertising.
As far as the British government and GCHQ is concerned, and from my position as a recent postgraduate in International Criminal Justice, with a dissertation on this very subject of the interface between surveillance and citizenship, I would like to suggest a different approach, and reaction, altogether.
Part of my dissertation touches on the importance of sousveillance, not in its traditional mode where it watches and reports on bad Big Brother but, rather, as a completer of the incomplete circle that traditional top-down-only surveillance has suffered from. In a recent submission to government, I have suggested that we change how we deliver on surveillance: we change how we win hearts and minds.
You win hearts and minds by achieving two things: first, by showing you want to for the right reasons; second, by not just convincing for these reasons but properly enthusing those people and organisations whose minds and hearts you need on your side.
My submission to government suggested we do just this: instead of delivering evermore fearsome messages of terror, in order that the civil liberties and essential privacies of democratic subjects and citizens be given up wholesale, and quite under duress, it would – it is my assumption and presumption – be much wiser for us to encourage people not to forget reluctantly, as if the drawing of a treasured tooth, about privacy but start much more preferably to think about the needs of community.
Rather than continue to walk the other way, rather than focus on ever-decreasing circles of engagement with fellow human beings, rather than allow the big tech corporations of a morally bankrupt Valley to continue to self-enrich obscenely out of invading the very intimacies democracy was supposed to defend, let’s give up some of those intimacies for a much better goal than making money out of advertisers: let’s give up some of those intimacies so we can, once again, as times of yore, truly want to deliver on being our brother, sister, genders-all’s keepers.
GCHQ is wrong with respect to the suggested ghost protocol. Not necessarily wrong in the technology itself: I don’t have the data to hand to take a position. No. Where it – and the British government which pays for its functioning – is utterly mistaken is in thinking that more of the same “fuck privacy, whatever you think” subtext is the right way, the best way, and the only way.
You tell me I must be spied on to live in peace: I see you as the Stasi.
You tell me you will be looking out for me by accompanying me in a dialogue of equals, where my sousveillance will have as much weight, validity and utility as your surveillance – that is to say, where we shall be peers of community safety and thrive, and growth and economic liberty till the end of time – and my response will be radically different.
If we have allowed Silicon Valley to fuck our privacy for the benefit of its shareholders, why not reconsider our positions with respect to security? Why not say, loud and proud, as proud as proud could be, that we value every human being we meet, and it is every human being we want to protect, and it is every human being we want to encourage, and it is every human being we want to include in our frames of work and pleasure.
If we must give up on intimacies, let it be so that we can live and love and thrive each other more.
And if we must protect ourselves from invaders of privacy, let it be so that Silicon Valley’s hypocritical and rapacious abuse of communities everywhere, from supply lines to end-users, and from communities of online to neo-terrorised individuals offline, be one day placed back in their rightful positions of cool.
As the sovereign individuals of their bodies personal, political, democratic, cultural and social that particularly security agency personnel of honour must surely, deep down, wish to treasure … above all.