graohic from the Electronic Frontier Foundation
Edward Snowden is the latest whistleblower making headlines over "leaks" that expose the inner workings of government spy agencies & intelligence contractors. The massive surveillance & data collection activities of these entities are now public knowledge. Most people who know anything about information technology realized this kind of thing was probably going on for many years. The former CIA employee has now single-handedly brought the debate over corporate & government overreach to the forefront.
There were many people during the Bush years who tried to warn about the inevitable bureaucratic & technical nightmare that was being put in place, under the guise of National Security. It was clear that a real danger existed in the emergence of these vast data collection capabilities & also in the unchecked power granted to various unaccountable agencies, in the name of the quixotic "War on Terror"™.
My family often talks about the issue of privacy, & how modern technology erodes certain aspects of that away. We joke about how it's impossible to "stay off the grid" & have a completely private life anymore, with mobile devices like the iPhone that keep you connected continuously. Especially where family & friends are concerned, I actually don't think there's anything inherently wrong with living more open, public lives through social sites or other digital presence.
The human experience is becoming more interconnected, whether we like it or not.
The basic feature of life is connectivity. Online services like Facebook, LinkedIn, Google +, etc are amazing tools that help people to connect to the entire realm of human information & directly to other people.
Despite their positive aspects, these tools are also inherently subject to abuse. The people who are citizens & customers of these services must stay vigilant to prevent policies that are likely to result in negative effects for society.
I personally think "privacy" is one of those nebulous subjects, that only exists as far as people agree it exists in certain circumstances. At this point in the Digital Age, though, most people (including myself) would argue for the need of some degree of privacy in one's personal life. Ideally, it would be up to the individual how much of one's self to make public, & with whom they choose to share the information.
The areas of National Intelligence & Telecommunications are enormous, complicated endeavors. They clearly have capabilities which are beyond the comprehension of the average person. Although Big Brother may not be personally listening to every conversation you have, society needs to debate the use of these systems & how to protect against their abuse. You can never trust any authority or power structure to NOT abuse their power. Unfortunately for privacy advocates, I don't know how the hell you can stuff the massive information genie back into the bottle marked: "PRIVATE!".
This problem was bigger than Dubya himself, even though it was escalated under his administration... & it's bigger than Obama, despite the continuation of these questionable activities. The President probably has little operational control over all this spying madness. I'm sure he doesn't like some of the things going on, but how does anyone even begin to reign in the many out-of-control aspects of the intelligence & security industries- not just in the U.S., but around the globe?
The Internet is being flooded with data, every moment now. We are constantly feeding into the growing virtual hive mind, that is integrating human consciousness into a luminal layer of virtual information & shared experience.
Either 1) we decide to completely eliminate the augmented lifestyle offered by our digital devices & the web, or 2) we need to accept the unavoidable aspects of the situation and strive to make it work with us, & not against us.
These kind of topics always make me think to the future and wonder how these evolving issues will be dealt with as our tech & our minds evolve. Once we have computer brain implants like the Apple iThink, then a telepathy-like messaging system, using thought alone, will likely be possible. We will need to create virtual mechanisms for blocking & allowing certain messages, and also have a way for your status stay hidden from others if you want. Before receiving such a implant, people will probably still demand ways to virtually "unplug", to prevent your signal from connecting to the network, at your will. Hopefully, this kind of future technology won't have to be synonymous with the way the government & telecom companies currently conduct business.
In the meantime, anyone who risks their own freedom to expose the truth about problems within government and corporate operations is doing society a service. The State may give them serious prison time & ruin their lives, but a responsible whistleblower believes in the selfless mission of informing the populace of wrongdoing so that others will benefit from its change.