https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/C93WJT8 ^ A quick little survey I made about the topic just to spark your interest. Feel free to discuss questions or broad circumstances, as this is one of those issues that nobody seems willing to discuss.
Personally, I think that the internet is not a medium that can be censored and does not deserve to be used as a tool for eavesdropping with malicious intent. Public information is public, but when you look at my email, this just got personal.
Anyway, I hope people wouldn't mind talking about this issue.
Light can be just as blinding as Darkness. Bring some Sunglasses.
One core question is whether governments have the justified power to supersede our "rights" or "liberties" and act without our consent to do so. Note first that this isn't a really uncommon thing: nearly anything a government does is necessarily in conflict with what you could call fundamental rights/liberties. Nobody really wants to be taxed. Nobody really wants the police to stop your loud music because of noise pollution. But, if you look at it carefully, you just might consent to these things because you realise the value of an ordered society.
And that consent is one of the major building blocks of what's called "social contract theory" in political philosophy. It goes something like this: imagine we've got a whole set of people and no government. Each person is interested in their own selves and maybe their family or friends. By and large, though, people are interested in their own things. But then these people run into conflicts of interest given that people tend to be interested in the same, limited resources (food, shelter, water etc). And these people have the rights to self-defence—which translates to violence, preemptive or otherwise, against others—and to obtain resources endlessly. Obviously this state is undesirable—therefore, we might want to justify something that orders these resources and people in order to maximise the wellbeing of the people. So these people consent to each other to give away their rights to certain things: to violence, to endless utilisation of resources, and so forth (i.e. all the things that laws prevent us from doing today).
But we don't give away all our rights. We have certain rights that are untampered and, according to each nation's constitution/legislation, cannot be touched by a government. I presume that we all have certain rights to control our private information. There's certainly precedent for it in the postal system—though there is room for governments to interfere with the post, but this was never done on as massive, continual, and undiscriminating scale as it has nowadays. The NSA, for example, literally parses through everyone's data. Nobody used to go through every letter.
Of course, that's an awful example, since one of the major recent scandals has focussed on the metadata issue. This is something that is on far greyer territory. If we apply the postal example, we'll see that governments always had access to that data: nationalised post systems have to know where the post is going and to whom, by definition. It perhaps wasn't utilised to induce various facts about people. But the access is there, and it doesn't seem controversial to me for a government to know this piece of information—whether or not the organisation is public or private.
So, on the topic of metadata, I have no real objection against a government having access to it. Besides, this kind of analysis is statistical. Nobody looks at you personally. I have no problem with being a straw in a pile of hay, especially since the targets are needles. This kind of data is boring. I have no desire to protect it.
How about the actual content of electronic transmissions? Well, here, I would suggest that good warrant is required. You can't look at anyone anytime anyplace for any old reason. Either I have to consent, or one of the democratic institutions has to consent, with all the usual checks and balances. Preferably a court, since that's the traditional places for warrants to appear.
So there's some unedited thoughts of mine. These are tentative views with relatively flimsy arguments.
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