Camp 2007 - 1.01

Chaos Communication Camp 2007
To infinity and beyond

Sandro Gaycken
Day 1
Room Shelter Foo
Start time 12:30
Duration 01:00
ID 2021
Event type Lecture
Track Society
Language English

Arguments Against Surveillance

'Cos "I Don't Like It" Is Not Enough!

One thing often lacking in discussions around privacy is a clear argument apart from the intuitive “I don’t like to be under surveillance”.

This absence fatally leads to the wrong public impression that it is only about a personal taste for privacy against hits on child molesters, credit card fraud and terrorism. My talk thus will give some clear and rock-solid arguments, demonstrating privacy as a protection from injustice and from a new and speculative class society, as the foundation of our abilities to judge independently and ethically, as the breeding ground for personal and societal development, as our impression of freedom and as an important pre-emptive value to prohibit technological infrastructures for dictatorships.

One thing often found to be lacking in many discussions on the struggle for privacy is a clear argument in favour of it. Even most activists whom everyone would suppose to have clear reasons mostly argue in strongly subjective terms, stating their personal uneasiness or discomfort with some surveillance problem in terms as “I don’t like to be under surveillance”. And sure enough: who does? But in times where terrorists disguise as civilians, where child molesters and credit card frauds use synonyms and all sorts of electronic communication, also disguised as harmless people, and where surveillance is ubiquitous in the sense that it is disseminated entirely invisible and unpresent – why not feel different? On what grounds can we really charge someone who says: “If surveillance doesn’t really disturb me and if it helps to catch terrorists and child molesters and protect my credit card, I think it’s ok”. In fact, even John Perry Barlow (on the last congress) seemed to be in favour of some sort of intern, panoptical self-surveillance if it does protect his credit card from fraud and his email account from spam. So why bother? Are we only protecting our very own (and probably misplaced) feelings?

Of course not. By fighting for privacy, we fight for a most basic, most human need: our space. We need our space and we need it for a whole variety of important reasons: psychological, ethical, political, societal and others. And many scholars have in fact explored and argued in depth for these reasons. They only have to be translated and be made accessible. In my talk, I will thus present these scholarly perspectives in an understandable manner and thus will support the privacy activist with two whole fistfuls of most reasonable and valuable arguments in favour of privacy and in strong opposition to any kind of surveillance. By this, I deeply hope to fill that argumentative gap and clarify the activists intuitions.

The arguments which I will present in more detail are the following:

  • Technological surveillance unfoundedly creates individual injustice and a new class society: As one subroutine of full-scale technological surveillance, profiling sorts people by their techno-informational behaviour. This behaviour however is not in any way truly representative for a person. It shows only a surface, but no reasons or backgrounds for any action chosen, but yet the resulting and entirely unfounded profiles are made a basis for many life-determining economical and political decisions, both on the macro-scale of society and its diversity of groups and on the micro-scale of the individual. This is not only in strong opposition to any understanding of reasonable judgement, thus instantiating injustice per definition with every single profile. No judge in no reasonable court would judge a person without any information on reasons or backgrounds whatsoever. It also results in the formation of a whole new class society as people are grouped into certain profile classes.

  • Privacy is the space for autonomous decisions: As privacy creates a space within which we can act autonomously without expecting judgement from others (as they don’t see us), the private space is the main location for autonomous judgement. Only there it is that we are independent of the influence of the more powerful or the otherwise influential and that we can decide the decision to shape our own lifes and our society. And as a democracy thrives on the ability of the individual to decide autonomously, it needs this ability as a necessary prerequisite. Surveillance however would inevitably let this ability shrivel as it can not be used anymore without having thoughts of someone else’s interests. And what is not being used, shrivels.

  • Privacy is the foundation for ethical decisions: Another ability doomed to shrivel will be that of ethical decision-making. In an environment which inhibits autonomy mainly in situations which involve value-judgements by constantly controlling conformity with laws and rules, all these value-judgments are made and materialised already and an ability to judge ethically in person is substituted by the mere need to conform.

  • Privacy is the space for personal development: As privacy is the space for autonomy, it is also the main location for personal development. In our personal own space, where we don’t have to fear judgement or failure, we can experiment, create, design and be the way we want to be. Thus we can explore our own borders. We can test and try ourselves without fear and accordingly find our place in the universe as a person. This would not be the case when we would be under constant surveillance. Borders would be definite and the universe of possibilities would be severely finite and one-dimensional, the limits of personality preset.

  • Privacy is the space for societal development: As some personal developments also carry a potential for societal impact, privacy can also be seen as the space in which new societal forms are being tried and established. This is a good thing since every society needs those “non-conservative” elements and outgrowths to develop and evolve into ever new forms on grounds of an ever changing environment. Full conservative rigidity can never be good for a society since no society can ever be considered perfect. It needs those little holes in the wall. However, surveillance would inhibit such border-crossing societal forms as they would fear to form themselves. Thus, also, revolutionary (or: non-conservative) thinking as a basic and very important human ability will shrivel, as it too will not be used anymore in a society under surveillance. And frankly, without that ability, we would still live in a caveman, slaveholder, patriarchal, aristocratic society with constant war, random torture and all that.

  • Privacy underlies the impression of freedom: Freedom is not only a political value. It is also a feeling, a personal impression. One feels free if and only if one has her or his very own space to act and think, to explore, to freely do things, to plan and talk, in short: only if the autonomous space exists. Surveillance now is still largely invisible and ubiquitous, but once it becomes more commonplace and commonplace knowledge, it will certainly inhibit that feeling as well as the impression of “own-ness” emerges only from the enclosure of the private.

  • A surveillance infrastructure can not pre-emptively be protected from grave misuse: A last grim argument then concerns the sheer technological infrastructure which is presently being built for surveillance. It’s basically technologically able to fully surveil and control any individual at any given time: thoughts, plans, ideas, social nets, locations – you name it. The only thing prohibiting this at present is the societal regulation of the use the technical system. But this societal regulation can change. The next dictator will come and boy, will he have fun with that infrastructure. So can it really be wise to build that infrastructure now, make it solid and impenetrable?

All these arguments will now certainly be able to turn the tide. Privacy vs surveillance is not only about “a little privacy which I don’t even feel” against an additionally in its effectiveness very doubtful use for occasional hits on child molesters, credit card fraud and terrorism. As we could see, privacy protects us from injustice in life-determining decision and from the formation of a new and merely speculative class society. It is the foundation of our autonomy and consequentially of our abilities to judge independently and ethically. It is the breeding ground for personal and societal development which should always be protected since those are the basics of our personal and societal abilities to evolve and to adapt to changes. It gives us our impression of freedom and no one likes to be caged, however golden that cage might be. And at last, any technological infrastructure for surveillance can always be misused by a dictator – with very bad consequences.

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