I choose to be spied on


— 11:27 AM on July 17, 2013

I choose to trust Google.

I choose to trust Facebook, Microsoft, and Apple. I choose to give those companies access to all my data—every picture I take, every e-mail I send, and every document I save online. They get my vacation photos and birthday wishes, and all the Skype calls I make with family members and coworkers. I could use the phone, but why bother? My phone calls are recorded, too.

I choose to trust the government. Not just the government of Canada, where I live, but also the governments of the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and other western countries that monitor online communications. I know that fighting terrorism is just a pretext; I know there are a million reasons to keep tabs on citizens, because knowledge is power, and power is irresistible. But I choose to trust that that knowledge won't be used to blackmail me, to detain me indefinitely, or to get me to inform on my friends, family, and coworkers. That kind of thing went down in East Germany, but Canada and the U.S. aren't East Germany. Our countries are free and democratic and governed by the rule of law, and free nations never become un-free.

Except sometimes.

The NSA's National Security Operations Center Floor. Source: NSA.

I choose not to hear too much. When I see the latest leak about how my data is harvested, or about how the government coerces businesses into collaborating, I read the headline, sigh, and move on. I know how the rest of it goes. I know things are ugly. But the more I know, the more I hate myself for my own inaction. Each news story is a reminder that I've been robbed of my privacy and that I've done nothing to take it back. I should close my Facebook account, encrypt all my communications, and disable iCloud on my iPhone... but what's the point? They can keep my data forever. And one day, they'll be able to decrypt anything.

Thankfully, there aren't that many stories. There aren't that many reminders. In the news, I mostly hear about Edward Snowden. What was his girlfriend like? Will he seek asylum in Venezuela? I hope they don't catch him. I think he's a good guy. I'd hate to see him rot in prison for the rest of his life.

I choose to go on with my life. I'm a busy man: I have a job, a girlfriend, and hobbies. I have movies to see and cable shows to watch. These flagrant incursions on my privacy don't affect the way I live, because for the most part, I'm still free to say what I want and to do what I want. When you have a job and a home and a flat-screen TV, complacency is always the easiest course of action—even when important ideals need safeguarding.

I choose to leave it up to others. The enormity of it all, the way it's all coming out in the open, makes me hopeful that someone, somewhere will do something. Maybe congressmen and MPs will stand up for my rights. That's what they're supposed to do, isn't it? Or maybe activists will walk down in the street and wave flags, shout slogans, and wash pepper spray out of their eyes until the NSA and its Canadian and British and French counterparts are neutered or dismantled. If enough people started marching, I would probably join them. But I wouldn't go down there all by myself.

I choose to wait. Subtle changes are always subjectively nonthreatening, whether it's the oceans rising or the Internet turning from a wild frontier into a mass surveillance tool. There will be plenty of time to solve it tomorrow. Or next Wednesday. Or next year. I haven't been personally inconvenienced yet, so what's the rush? Wait, hold on... I think Futurama is on tonight.

Finally, when it's late at night and I can't sleep, I choose to feel hopeless. Because I understand technology. I've been using technology, thinking about it, and writing about it for most of my life. I know what it can do and what it shouldn't. I of all people should be getting royally, supremely worked up about all this.

But I'm not.

And if I'm not, then who is?

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