I hate getting all worked up about current politics but sometimes (actually more and more often) it happens even to me. Then I have to start reading up on subjects cause I haven’t regularly read the papers and that confronts me with my ignorance and thus makes me even more grumpy. Not a nice situation. What has made me start this blog entry last night was reading the news, reading how after german Verfassungsschutz (as the NSU case has clearly shown) now the BND also seems to act beyond any constitutional limitations, and they seem to do so without even the slightest care about human lives. Leaking german data of mobile communication to the NSA has been ‘common use’ ever since 2003/2004 for the BND. That might have helped to make US drone strikes a bit more… erm… ‘effective’?! So, Germany, ‘we’ aid ‘targetting’ or rather – (as there aren’t enough inverted commas to go on writing like this): killing people now?! I hope no one believed the BND’s weak claims that those data are not exact enough for targetting when the same technical wizardry works pretty good in GPS routing hundreds of stag doers home safely every week-end when they got too drunk to remember their way.
Just enough to make it still look like democracy
The waves of news about the huge NSA-centered surveillance network have reached a level at which a call for neutral authorities to monitor and judge those secret services is not nearly enough anymore. What we know by now is so far beyond a point at which trust could be restored by transparency that I can’t think of a consequence but the elimination of those institutions and big changes in the government. Which of course won’t happen, I’m not that much of a dreamer. All of our ruling parties either couldn’t stop or helped make way for this, the roots go back in time. The arrogance or pretence naivety – and I hope it is pretence as it seems preferrable to actual cluelessness – with which highest-ranking politicians play around with this subject is unbelievable. As this is happening so close to the next elections in Germany it also discloses in which desolate a condition our democracy is. People shrug lethargically in ‘can’t change anything’ poses and indeed there is no eligible party that stands for data security / privacy (yes, I know… Piraten – ach…). Merkel is on holidays, the opposition protested a bit but has pulled back now as they see it doesn’t work as vote-turner. Steinbrück – there’s the pretence naivety again – now already praises Obama‘s “look we haz made you a transparency website and I did the dishes”-speech. I don’t even want to read up on all the single reactions anymore. I’m tired of waiting for real efforts in clarification instead of all this shuffling around, these power games with everyone dripping with pre-electoral saliva. The only thing that they seem to be busy trying to control is the effect those leaks have on their citizens. Let’s keep things stable, motivate people to use their right to vote, but don’t get too political when doing so. Just enough to make it still look like democracy. Funny thing is, that while losing more and more trust in democracy I still feel a much bigger yet unexplainable urge to go and use my vote this time than at the last elections. Guess all this talk about secret files makes me go all Mulder, in a ‘I want to believe’ way.
This is not about a single country though, it is about as international as it gets because after all it is about how our lives are interwoven with our magic interwebz, and smartphones, etc. From pictures of cats (I knew I’d find a reason make embedding a cat picture relevant even for this text!) to random communication with strangers from all over the globe, from music streams (why has nobody told me yet that Airhead‘s ‘For Years’ album is such a good summer soundtrack?) to viral videos, from big news networks to obscure blogs, from Grindr to Geocaching, from silly twitter puns to deep discussions, from skype to snapchat, from shopping and banking to the nostalgia of facepalming over getting farmville request from friends, family, bosses on facebook. Of course you leave a certain level of privacy behind as soon as you click around or post something on the web or even when you just travel with your smartphone in your pocket but you do each of those things in a certain context and decide in that context if you want to put that information there or not. What makes this whole NSA surveillance thing so scary is that someone collects all of those tiny traces and is able to connect them. Geez, I don’t even use payback cards. I have little doubt that there will be or are data collections with which they even can do so years from now. The act of connecting the dots might not be perfect now – *oi, amazon, are you really recommending me dat because I read dis?!* – but algorhythms will get better and this kind of future is getting a bit too dystopic for my taste. I do not care which countries’ governments’ surveillance it is that does so, I don’t want anyone to have that possibility. No one can tell in which hands these data and possibilities will end up years from now. Still, here we go, stripped of fundamental rights and feeling helpless about it.
The mantra of the meek of heart: “It doesn’t surprise me” and “I got nothing to hide”
What could make it worse? Yes, of course: People. People peopling. To be more exact: People’s apathy about it. People’s notion that it doesn’t really concern them, people hypnotizingly humming the mantra of the meek of heart: “It doesn’t surprise me” and “I got nothing to hide“. Hey, it should surprise you! Am I the only one that hasn’t been informed when our basic rights got thrown over board? I reject being told I’m the naive one here. I don’t want to type this with the feeling of someone looking over my shoulder. I don’t want the Telekom to track everything I do with my phone. I don’t want to start thinking twice before I type certain words in certain contexts. I don’t want to catch me thinking, ‘oh, well, if I were to chose my artist name today I might not pick ‘eve massacre’ even if it’s just a nod to a chapter in a great Irvine Welsh novel. These are bits of freedom and innocence lost. I also don’t want to learn how to encrypt, Mr. Friedrich and Mr. Applebaum. Oh, and maximum LOLs to the ‘email made in germany’ joke. Good one. Almost as good as the antivirus software ad with the slogan ‘good against secret services’. After the secure email services Lavabit and Silent Circle shut down deleting all their customers mails without warning Lavabit maker, Ladar Levison, said in an interview: “I’m taking a break from email. If you knew what I know about email, you might not use it either” – well, that doesn’t even encourage to start looking for secure alternatives. Phil Zimmermann (Silent Circle, inventor of PGP) also says in an interview for Gigaom: “The surveillance landscape is far worse than it has ever been and I feel like everything we do is now observable. (…) I don’t think any of this can be fixed merely by the application of cryptography.” If you feel like doing so anyways, you might like to check prism-break.org. I thought about it, as well as about listening to friends who said they’d use the web less from now on, but that just feels like hiding or retreating. It somehow feels as an equally wrong move as twitter silence in the face of rape threats. I agree with Friedemann Karig: “What should protect you from spying is laws, not encryption. Else cryptography will soon turn into cryptonite for the idea of informational self-determination – and thus for web freedom.” (clumsy translation by me, full text here). Living in a democracy we should be free to dance with no one watching and not have to act as if no one was.
This is to democractic liberties what that Thicke song is to feminism
The only upside of this whole surveillance nightmare is that it gave me a new trust in at least some journalists’ and bloggers’ integrity and the power of critical journalism and blogging. The Guardian – just last night with a new article – and many others have done and are doing a brilliant job in giving us all the information in bits and pieces and commentary we can understand and which helps us reflect it all. This is why can’t but keep this blog posting brimming of links – yay, journos & bloggers! And of course: yay, leakers!
That The Guardian has not shed all the leaks at once but did and keeps doing so in little doses gave us time inbetween the disclosures to see how people in charge react. No matter if in the USA or Germany or wherever else, it seems to be the same: a) denial of knowing anything, b) when it gets revealed as lie they belittle it and shroud in vague replies, putting real explanations off, c) they claim it is all for our good (Terrorists! They hid under your bed! Stay under your cozy blankets! Oh, and by the way: Be happy you still have blankets! It’s just because of us! Because of our german economagic powers! While other countries economies crumble like this cookie! Look, more cookies for you! So hush now!)… erm… where was I? …. ah, yes: How the responsible people deal with it and how it hopefully won’t end: d) They let the disclosures go on, add vague policital candy-promises here and there to bounce it off their backs until the disclosures get too many or too complex and it drags on for too long to keep people’s attention so finally it all turns into blurred lines and no one cares anymore. “You know you want it”. See, this is to democractic liberties what that Thicke song is to feminism. And there is an awful lot of people humming along to that song this summer, so be afraid.