Sunday, September 8, 2013

And you don't even know how much we know about you

In terms of communication, we are all Americans. 

Meet Josef K.

Secret laws are applied in secret courts and the decisions are sent in secret letters to people who are not even allowed to talk about it. This much is widely known by now, despite the pervasive secrecy. And the lava of half-concealed revelations has just begun to flow.

The surveillance programs are not necessarily very effective and have lots of unwanted consequences, such as making people think twice before they send an email. (No, they have worse consequences in fact.) Bruce Schneier's analyses of the situation seem to be among the more accurate at the moment. As he points out, we are bad at estimating risks. Protection against extremely rare events with dire consequences (terrorism) is unduly prioritized whereas we care less about dangers that affect us on a much larger scale, such as car accidents. But this cognitive bias is not the only explanation of why we have this situation. It has to be good business for someone.

Although the news this summer has featured one or two brave whistle blowers, it is perhaps timely to recall the disgraceful fate suffered by Susan Lindauer. Her story is well worth a listen. Here it is: part one and part two.

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