When Everything You Say Can And Will Be Used Against You, Do You Really Have Freedom Of Speech?
By Rick Falkvinge
What you’re saying unencrypted today can and will come back to hunt you in twenty years by a different government with different values. Once you realize this, do you really still have freedom of speech?
The U.S. police, when they arrest someone, is supposed to read somebody their rights in a trained phrase that includes the passage “anything you say can and will be used against you”. This phrase has gained worldwide knowledge through the dissemination of Hollywood culture, so I’ll be using it for the sake of argument.
The book and movie 1984 were seminal in that they portrayed – or tried to portray – the effects of being under constant surveillance, where anything you said in your daily life could and would be used against you. What happens when you may be watched at any time, maybe you are, maybe you’re not, and there’s no way to tell.
The telescreen received and transmitted simultaneously. Any sound that Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it; moreover, so long as he remained within the field of vision which the metal plate commanded, he could be seen as well as heard. There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate, they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You have to live – did live, from habit that became instinct – in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.
However, Orwell made an important assumption of his time: only people were watching other people, and if they didn’t catch something happening at the time it happened, that action was never observed. This means that it took one person to watch one person (or a few at most). Today, surveillance is performed by machines capable of watching millions of conversations at a time. Also, actions could not be observed in retrospect; Orwell didn’t have a time machine where you could rewind somebody’s life and see everything they said for the past year, were you so inclined.
Well, we have that now.
First of all, everything is wiretapped, all the time. Even encrypted communications, but even if they can’t be decrypted, they’re still tapped.
It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time.
It is kind of depressing how not-new this is. It started with the ECHELON program in the 1970s (!!) and has only been refined since. Today, we should expect an automatic wiretap transcription of all phonecalls to be a reality for all major languages, with certain keywords calling attention to the conversation if and when they’re spoken. But more importantly, we should expect all wiretaps to be stored indefinitely.
This is a major deviation from Orwell’s plot line – and a major worsening of it, that not even Orwell could foresee. It means that if you raise a red flag twenty years down the line, surveillance agencies will have the ability to go back and look at everything you’ve done retroactively between now and then, even if it didn’t attract attention at the time.
For can you realistically predict how values will change five years into the future? Ten? Twenty?
If somebody reviewed your private conversations from twenty years ago, is it likely they contained values (reflective of then-contemporary society) that could be used against you today? Yes; yes, of course that’s likely, if not even absolutely certain. In the same vein, if somebody twenty years from today reviews the conversations you’re having right now, is it likely you’re expressing thoughts and values that will seem abhorrent twenty years from today, and which will then be used against you?
When authorities have the mere ability to hold you accountable for what you’re saying in private today, taken out of context and viewed from a completely different set of values at any time in the future, do you really have freedom of speech?
Privacy remains your own responsibility. Encrypt everything.
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January 10, 2016 at 02:48PM
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