Privatisation of Security and the Loss of Liberty
In the last few days several people have given their view about the mass-spying scandal revealed by whistle-blower and former ‘Booz Allen Hamilton’ employee Edward Snowden. Although his true motive can be questioned, the fact is that Snowden’s actions revealed the existence of a government and corporation spy apparatus operating on a global scale, only envisioned in dystopian near-future movies and literature until recently. This is something that Pirate Parties and other digital rights and freedom activists have been warning about for years. Governments and corporations now have more personal information about us freely available than ever before in history. In fact, the amount of information is so overwhelming that the NSA is currently building a massive new $2 billion data centre in the state of Utah, capable of intercepting, processing, deciphering and analysing a large swath of the world’s data flow.
But ultimately, governments and their spy agencies are accountable to the public, the Constitution, the People and their representatives. The whole principle of representative democracy rests on the foundations of individual rights and freedoms, accountability, transparency checks and balances that can limit the abuse of power. Even if it often seems like wishful thinking, those principles are what’s keeping democratic governments in line.
On the other hand, corporations are only accountable to their stakeholders. That is a legitimate principle, but completely contrary to those of representative democracy. There is a constant trend of upgrading and widening of “national security” systems, especially since the “War on Terror” was declared all over the world. Among these trends is also the outsourcing of security services to private corporations who almost exclusively depend on government contracts, one of them is Booz Allen Hamilton. On their web page it is stated they are “a leading provider of management and technology consulting services to the US government in defence intelligence and civil markets”. In other words, they are a privately owned spy agency with access to top secret government intelligence, which from what we have seen from the latest revelations includes swathes of personal information about US and other citizens across the world. They are not the only ones by far, but are currently in the focus of the public eye due to Edward Snowden being their employee.
As Pirates have been warning for years, these kind of actions ultimately lead to the erosion of democracy and a steady path of complete loss of liberty and total surveillance. They also completely negate the principle of the openness of the Internet and Network Neutrality, as well as the loss of public trust. As The Guardian’s Jeff Jarvis says:
“If governments use this event as an excuse to exercise more oversight and control over the net, will that not then, in turn, reduce citizens’ trust in the net and their freedom using it? Governments present themselves as the protector of our privacy, but as the NSA story demonstrates, governments present the greatest threat to our privacy as they have the means both to monitor us and to use our information against us.”
When combining the government’s capability to easily intrude upon your basic rights as a citizen and the profit seeking corporate “intelligence consulting” sector, you get a deadly combination that is out of the public’s reach and control. It also negates the basic principles of representative democracy; individual rights and freedoms, accountability, transparency checks and balances that limit the abuse of power. That’s why there is a need to extend those constitutional rights and freedoms to the digital realm which is getting more and more intertwined with reality every day. Without the Free and Open Internet there can not be a true participatory democracy, “we Pirates will therefore defend the freedom of the internet with fierce determination at the European level as well as on a global scale.” (The European Manifesto of the German Pirate Party)
Featured picture: CC-BY-NC, Steve Rhodes
About Luka Dujmovic
I'm a supporter of the Pirate, Open Source and Open Government movements, I hold a bachelor and master degree in political science and in 2012 I've written and defended a thesis called "Open source democracy - the internet, social networks and representative democracy". Also my main research interests consist of subjects from the field of political theory and European studies such as deliberative democracy, open government, liquid democracy, The Pirate Movement, privacy, European federalisation and policy, etc. Apart from my mother tongue I speak English fluently and I have a moderate knowledge of Spanish.