The chilling effect of surveillance.

A few weeks after the high-profile closing of secure email service Lavabit (followed by several similar services) in the face of increased US surveillance pressure, the long-running legal blog Groklaw has shut down due to similar unease.

Lavabit was the service used by leaker Edward Snowden, and thus shut down in response to government demands for information. Since then, there has been a definite chilling effect. Beating the US government to the punch, other sites deleted their files and ceased service. Even though Groklaw was unlikely to have data of interest to intelligence agencies, the situation spooked Pamela Jones:

I sound quaint, I suppose. But I always tell you the truth, and that is what I was feeling. So imagine how I feel now, imagining as I must what kind of world we are living in if the governments of the world think total surveillance is an appropriate thing?

I know. It may not even be about that. But what if it is? Do we even know? I don’t know. What I do know is it’s not possible to be fully human if you are being surveilled 24/7.

We are witnessing important sites grinding to a halt due to the increasing evidence that NSA surveillance is far broader than we have been led to believe. The impacts are social and economic. Jones pointed out that without secure email she doesn’t know how to safely conduct business. For jobs that require heavy encryption, the lack of email and storage services puts them in a bind. As with peer-to-peer services in the past decade, some groups will relocate to countries like Switzerland where the laws are more in favor of privacy. But NSA conduct will cost jobs, hinder innovation, and disrupt social ties. This ignores the paranoia and unease that permeates all media users, which is hard to quantify yet very real.

The costs of the War on Terror are massive. People have died by the thousands. Civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, among others, have dealt with the terror of drone warfare. American politicians did not adjust the budget for huge military operations, and the economy is worse for it. Trillions of dollars have been used for destructive purposes rather than renewable energy, infrastructure, education, and healthcare. The NSA scandals are just the latest burden on the public towards a hazy goal we are unlikely to reach.

Author: AJM

Writer, sociologist, Unitarian Universalist.

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