I’m not super concerned about the government listening to my phone calls, reading my emails, and tracking which sites I visit. I don’t lose sleep over these things being done to me.
I am however EXTREMELY concerned about the government listening to phone calls of the next Martin Luther King Jr., reading the emails of the next Thomas Jefferson, and tracking the browsing habits of the next underground railroad. These brave souls were all enemies of their governments, they hid people and information from the long arm of the law, but they were right and the government was wrong. With modern technology, the government is able to obliterate such people. It’s them I’m concerned about. Edward Snowden said it best.
History shows that the righting of historical wrongs is often born from acts of unrepentant criminality. Slavery. The protection of persecuted Jews.
But even on less extremist topics, we can find similar examples. How about the prohibition of alcohol? Gay marriage? Marijuana?
Where would we be today if the government, enjoying powers of perfect surveillance and enforcement, had — entirely within the law — rounded up, imprisoned, and shamed all of these lawbreakers?
Ultimately, if people lose their willingness to recognize that there are times in our history when legality becomes distinct from morality, we aren’t just ceding control of our rights to government, but our agency in determing our futures.
The next Oskar Schindler may not have a chance to save lives, the next Mark Felt may never don the nickname Deepthroat and expose government corruption. Why? Because the technological abilities of surveillance today are scary. It is the job of us, the citizens, to preserve the abilities of extraordinarily brave men and women to stand up to injustice.
Not only must we hold our politicians to account for illegal unwarranted bulk surveillance. We must make popular the channels through which such hero’s can communicate. Today, the next Nelson Mandela does exist: they are journalists, whistleblowers, and community organizers. Increasingly they have to hide their communications using encryption. If the only people using encryption are the people who should be targets of government surveillance then it makes these important contributors to our society stand out like a sore thumb. Our job as citizens to help the next Lech Walesa organize Solidarity while hiding among a giant crowd of people using encryption. You and I, all of us, should use encryption regularly in our communication so that the people who need it most, are not unfairly branded for using it. Who knows, maybe that next Alexander Hamilton is you?