Tin foil hats need to come back in style if we're to save our privacy

Summary:We laughed at the tin foil nutters, called them crazy, but now that it's been found that the US is spying on everyone, of course they're nowhere in sight now that we need them.

Every time another one of Edward Snowden's leaked documents comes out, I'm met with a barrage of "How is this even new? Privacy died ages ago", or "How can they even do this?! Those jerks are taking this too far!". Editorially, I've been just as conflicted. On one hand, my peers (which are typically no stranger to privacy issues) have questioned the validity of covering such news about diplomatic facilities being used to spy on foreign nations given it should be a no-brainer. On the other hand, in news coverage, we've sometimes taken the view of informing readers that the "latest and greatest" controversial leak simply reaffirms what we already knew, but is important to know.

The problem is, none of the people who have the most impact in doing anything about it seem to have any understanding of how rampant the issue is. They either don't want anything to happen because it's to their advantage, or they are unaware. Who am I talking about? Try Australian Ambassador to Indonesia Greg Moriarty, Australian and Indonesian foreign ministers Julie Bishop and Marty Natalegawa, and US and Australian country leaders Barack Obama and Tony Abbott.

In the past week, Australia has been accused of having installed surveillance devices at its embassy in Jakarta with the purpose of spying on Indonesians and possibly sending this information to Australia's allies, including the US.

But consider what each of these key political leaders have said on the issue:

Natalegawa is aware of the ability for nation states to spy on each other. Earlier this week he told journalists that "countries may have capacities, technical capacities, to intercept and to carry out the activity that's been reported, and information may have been gathered." Despite being armed with this knowledge, why has Indonesia allowed the activity to continue unchecked? Trust? That's a naive excuse. I would better reckon that it resigned itself to knowing a certain level of privacy died long ago.

Naturally, on the Australian side, Moriarty and Bishop are keeping their mouths sealed. The Australian embassy in Jakarta has a simple statement saying that Moriarty has taken "careful note of the issues raised", while Bishop took the line that since no one else has ever commented on such issues neither will she.

Obama's office, at least in the Merkel incident, pleads ignorance, stating that the President was not aware of phone tapping allegations.

Perhaps that's a little better than the naivety that Abbott shows when he states "every Australian governmental agency, every Australian official, at home and abroad, operates in accordance with the law."

But whose law?

What this country, and many other countries need, is a healthier supply of tin foil hats, and perhaps an injection of outrage — anything to get us past the apathy. Former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has been quoted as saying "If my phone was intercepted while I was PM, all they would have heard was praise for Obama." That's the approach of laying down and handing over your rights.

The tin foil hat nutters had it right all along, but now they're nowhere in sight. I'm sure it feels great to bask in the I-told-you-so afterglow while they continue on their merry way, but society needs them now more than ever. It's their prime time to gently educate, yet most of our world leaders seem so terribly misinformed, or completely naive.

The level of naivety has gotten to the point where we could do with a little crazy, a little tin foil. If it makes society a little more paranoid, so be it. It's better to be paranoid and maintain privacy than to be completely naive.

Topics: Security, Government, Government : Asia, Government : AU, Government : US, Privacy

About

A Sydney, Australia-based journalist, Michael Lee covers a gamut of news in the technology space including information security, state Government initiatives, and local startups.

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