I spy, with my little eye

Oh boy. I sure wouldn’t want to be in Obama’s shoes right now. The poor guy must be sweating profusely at the mere thought of the can of worms that’s been opened by Edward Snowden. As well he should, seeing how extensive and intrusive the legal government spying system actually is!

The most interesting aspect, for me, is not so much the fact that the US government – or any other government for that matter – spies on citizens, but the fact that we have double standards when it comes to protecting our privacy.

Let’s be honest, governments have always used the technology at their disposal to gather intelligence on people. Whether to prevent crimes or just to keep an eye on public opinion, every single government out there knows what most people on its territory are up to. That doesn’t mean it’s good, it just means that’s the way it is and all we can do is adapt to such a world.

Singapore, for instance, is full of surveillance cameras that capture everything from road accidents to hospital emergencies and civil offenses. They help authorities respond quickly and efficiently to any case scenario anywhere on the island. Yet none of us have ever been asked if we were OK with that. None of us were consulted on the number of the cameras, their location, or who has access to what they film.

That’s because they have little to no impact on our daily lives. We trust our elected officials to handle data and images responsibly. “Who’s looking at my comings and goings?”. We don’t know. But we trust the government has hired the right professionals for the job.

The same goes for all of our online activity. On the one hand, we’re angry at the fact that someone, somewhere in a government building could find out about some of our online activity, and on the other hand we very willingly share our tastes, private information, photos, and locations with companies such as Facebook and Google.

This discrepancy is even more nonsensical when one considers the fact that the first one is intended to keep us safe while the second one is designed to sell ad space…

Basically we are wary of handing out our private information but at the same time we’re doing exactly that on social platforms.

Just imagine if we had to get angry every single time any of our action was tracked; our EZ Link cards carry data on our daily commutes. Our credit cards carry information on the products we buy and the places we buy them in. Our online purchases allow marketers to better target products and ads. Our smartphones carry all of our most private thoughts everywhere we go. In that case we might as well do without passports or thumb prints, as they allow people to identify us and find out who we are, how tall we are, what colours our eyes are, etc.

I for one feel like I can trust my government more than I can trust a private company. One is elected, the other is not. One has the objective of serving its citizens, the other is after maximum profits. One has a legal and judiciary system in place to limit any abuse, the other answers only to shareholders and investors.

Call me naïve, but that’s what I feel after reading so much on this whole NSA thing.

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Najib A.

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