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So what?

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Jun 6th, 2013
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  1. 84847fd57c0cb89cdd6ac3be723a1cb08750a1c9
  3. It came out today that the US government's signals intelligence agency, the NSA, has been collecting mass call records of US citizens from (at least) Verizon. The order, way broader in scope than many thought could exist, is for call metadata only - things like source and destination phone numbers, cell towers, time, and call duration.
  5. Now, this sounds pretty troubling - it's mass surveillance! However, if you're anything resembling normal, your next thought might be "Well, hey now. What do I care if the NSA knows who I call? I'm not a terrorist and I'm certainly not important. If this can be used to catch bad guys who want to blow people up, why is that a problem?"
  7. This is a normal and logical response. The problem is that it's really, really dangerous. I'll explain why.
  9. Most people, when faced with the spectre of surveillance, immediately point out the fact that their life is effectively unchanged in the face of government surveillance. They'd be totally right. The government doesn't really care about your individual activities- provided you're a median person.
  11. The problem only arises in edge cases, which is probably why this has been allowed to proceed as nauseatingly far as it has.
  13. Imagine you're a member of a group being marginalized on a large scale by society: a black man in 1950, a homosexual in 2010, a staunch communist in 1954. In any reasonable society, we require equal protections and rights from the government for all people who are not engaging in criminal behavior.
  15. Now think about the fact that, in the first steps for change, it is an exceptionally difficult battle. The machinery of society is aligned against you. It seems hopeless to even begin. You may recall that Rosa Parks was immediately arrested for what she did.
  17. To remain strong, you have to prevent society from fighting you directly, at least at first. No individual or small group can stand alone against society - it's too large.
  19. The solution is to operate anonymously, in secret. Spreading a simple message of liberty and equality can be scathingly difficult when society wants things to stay the way they've always been.
  21. The US Supreme Court wrote, in 1995:
  23. > Protections for anonymous speech are vital to democratic discourse.
  24. > Allowing dissenters to shield their identities frees them to express
  25. > critical minority views . . . Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny
  26. > of the majority. . . . It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the
  27. > Bill of Rights and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect
  28. > unpopular individuals from retaliation . . . at the hand of an intolerant society.
  30. (Quote from )
  32. The FBI wrote a letter to Martin Luther King telling him to commit suicide. The Attorney General of the US (Bobby Kennedy) personally authorized the FBI to put him under surveillance. They later threatened him with publicizing his extramarital affair (that they'd found as a result of the surveillance) if he didn't stop his civil rights work.
  34. Anonymity is a prerequisite for large scale positive migration away from inequality, injustice, prejudice, tyranny, and discrimination.
  36. To remain anonymous requires secrecy. You must be able to keep your identity a secret.
  38. Keeping a secret requires privacy. Privacy is a prerequisite for anonymity.
  40. In a condition where everyone is ubiquituously surveilled, you cannot have privacy.
  42. Therefore, in a world where everyone is under surveillance, without privacy, there can be no truly anonymous speech. Without truly anonymous speech, it becomes impossible to move our society forward toward change for the better.
  44. Most people don't change the world. You and I probably won't ever change much of anything. We must, however, ensure safety (via the anonymity that privacy can provide) for those that do. It's a tiny fraction of society, but it serves a vital function for all of us.
  46. You may not have anything to hide, but some do, and for entirely legal and heroic reasons.
  48. If we don't fight to the last to protect our right to privacy, _if only for their sake_, then I daresay our society will then rightfully deserve the state of affairs that will result.
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