A steady stream of revelations by WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden seems to have sensitised the media, twitterati and conference goers globally to the 'the privacy issue'.
The confirmation of 24/7 snooping by the NSA and other agencies has packed a punch for sure, but is it realistic to expect privacy in a connected and unstable world?
Most debaters seem to address privacy, freedom and security as if they were mutually exclusive. Simultaneously, they seem to think that all the methods employed, and the information gathered, by governments should be made openly available.
Well, these cherished aspects of our lives are definitely connected and strongly coupled, and if you want to sleep and live in a safe society, then some freedoms and privacy has to be traded. There really is no free lunch. Combating today's threats is on a scale and at a technological pace we have never witnessed before.
And as for freedom of information and 100% operational openness by security agencies, that would be as good as writing a cheque for The Dark Side! Perhaps the best parallel would be a war where you tell the enemy all you know about them, plus all the details of your forces, armaments and deployment. Would that work for you? I think not. It would see a rapid defeat.
So is there any chance that the two sides of this 'openness and freedom of information' argument will find some common ground? I think not! Their perceptions, and frames of reference are literally poles apart as indicated by this success/failure matrix:
- For society at large: success is public and failure is concealed.
- For security and intelligence: success is concealed and failure is public.
As obvious as all this might be, many of those on the side of 'freedom' seem to believe that they will be safer if their governments have a security open house and information garage sale. But that really cannot be if a society is to be reasonably safe!
In the end it comes down to trust and pedigree. How well do governments and their departments perform and how many attacks do they thwart, and at what cost, will have to remain a secret they control. Unfortunately the can't tell us much, but should they have a failure it will all over the media within minutes.
The only tool or sanction we, the public, have is the ballot box.
We have to choose the best men and women to both protect us and our society, whilst not turning these resources inwardly toward the society itself.
So far, it seems to be working despite all the paranoia and media hype to the contrary. The number of visible attacks is very small, whilst the incidence of information and/or freedom violation is minimal.
Could it be better? No one knows!