In the brave new world, it’s privacy that divides the haves and the have nots

In the past, the social divide was often based on belonging to the right family, money, or access to education. Increasingly that division is based on access to the internet and the use of tools to safeguard privacy.

A fascinating paper by British academic Ian Clark explores the question of a society divided between those who are permanently monitored, e.g., who cannot write, read, comment, meet, or go out into the world without being immediately recognized by the authorities, and those who enjoy a certain level of freedom and privacy.

China’s activities in developing a pre-crime big data platform, along with the FBI’s pressure on Apple, coupled with efforts by the UK and France to pass laws allowing the authorities to snoop on people are all very worrying. We seem to be moving toward societies where most people use smartphones and other devices that can be constantly monitored, while an enlightened minority is able to use others that provide a certain level of privacy. Digital privacy is now the new frontier of human rights.

Barely 10 percent of Android terminals in the world are encrypted, compared to 95 percent of iPhones. We already have a situation in which the vast majority of people around the planet who, either because the technology is still relatively complex, or because they simply don’t care, are open to surveillance, while a tiny minority encrypt their mails, their internet use and their digital lives through VPNs, proxies and secure protocols. In this world, privacy is a luxury few enjoy, while the remainder turn their backs on open source software that could make them part of this elite.

Most people who don’t bother to encrypt their digital activities simply say: “I don’t have anything to hide, so I have nothing to fear” A tiny minority insists on defending their privacy not because they have anything to hide, but simply on the basis of a belief that the state has no business knowing their business.

All it has taken us to get to the point where most people seem to believe that they are safer if the state can stick its nose in their private affairs is a supposed terrorist threat, a few attacks, an iPhone, and a climate of fear. When I wrote the prologue to the Spanish language edition of Julian Assange’s Cypherpunks in 2013, even I had no idea that we would be where we are now in such a short space of time.


(En español, aquí)