Isn't the internet great? It's this remarkable and multifaceted one-stop shop for socializing, romance, commerce, and cat videos. But thanks to the revelations of Edward Snowden and other whistleblowers, we've realized that the internet is also something else -- something a lot less exciting.
Brad Templeton, the Track Chair for Computing at Singularity University, explains:
"What has the government done and what has big business done? They've turned [the internet] into the world's greatest surveillance apparatus, a surveillance apparatus that even George Orwell probably wouldn't have dreamed of."
Templeton is very passionate about the invasive nature of widespread internet surveillance because it exists as an affront to the idea of a free society. A free society, in searching for a needle in a haystack, does not opt to tear apart the entire haystack.
"Nobody thinks that we shouldn't have police and intelligence agents whose job it is to find bad guys and stop bad guys. That's not a question. But a free society makes a decision for itself. It makes a decision to limit the power of its police and its intelligence agents. It makes the decision to let some bad things happen, to let some guilty people get away in order to avoid punishing innocent people, [to avoid] doing surveillance on people who are innocent and there's no reason to suspect them. But unfortunately that's not what happens."
So how do we, as citizens of a free society, fight against it? Templeton believes the key is in drawing the line between security and privacy. We need to establish that they're not mutually exclusive, that you don't need to search the entire haystack to feel safe:
"We need to make people think there's not necessarily some trade-off between privacy and security, that it's possible sometimes to keep your rights and gain security at the same time, it's just harder. The easy thing to do is just make everyone give up their rights."
A related challenge to personal liberties exists in the form of invasive and futile anti-privacy measures:
We have a lot of forces pushing for laws and technology to basically lock down your computer so not so that you can trust it but so that movie studios and governments and so on can trust that you can't do things on it. And that is something that computer engineers all know is never going to work and is just going to make things broken.
For more on internet surveillance, as well as a discussion about how to protect free speech on the web, be sure to watch this clip from Brad Templeton's Big Think interview: