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Arguments Against Surveillance

Sandro Gaycken
Chaos Communication Camp 2007
Indexed on
Mar 27, 2013
File name
File size
491.1 MB

One thing often lacking in discussions around privacy is a clear argument apart from the intuitive “I don’t like to be under surveillance”. This absence fatally leads to the wrong public impression that it is only about a personal taste for privacy against hits on child molesters, credit card fraud and terrorism. My talk thus will give some clear and rock-solid arguments, demonstrating privacy as a protection from injustice and from a new and speculative class society, as the foundation of our abilities to judge independently and ethically, as the breeding ground for personal and societal development, as our impression of freedom and as an important pre-emptive value to prohibit technological infrastructures for dictatorships. One thing often found to be lacking in many discussions on the struggle for privacy is a clear argument in favour of it. Even most activists whom everyone would suppose to have clear reasons mostly argue in strongly subjective terms, stating their personal uneasiness or discomfort with some surveillance problem in terms as “I don’t like to be under surveillance”. And sure enough: who does? But in times where terrorists disguise as civilians, where child molesters and credit card frauds use synonyms and all sorts of electronic communication, also disguised as harmless people, and where surveillance is ubiquitous in the sense that it is disseminated entirely invisible and unpresent – why not feel different? On what grounds can we really charge someone who says: “If surveillance doesn’t really disturb me and if it helps to catch terrorists and child molesters and protect my credit card, I think it’s ok”. In fact, even John Perry Barlow (on the last congress) seemed to be in favour of some sort of intern, panoptical self-surveillance if it does protect his credit card from fraud and his email account from spam. So why bother? Are we only protecting our very own (and probably misplaced) feelings? Of course not. By fighting for privacy, we fight for a most basic, most human need: our space. We need our space and we need it for a whole variety of important reasons: psychological, ethical, political, societal and others. And many scholars have in fact explored and argued in depth for these reasons. They only have to be translated and be made accessible. In my talk, I will thus present these scholarly perspectives in an understandable manner and thus will support the privacy activist with two whole fistfuls of most reasonable and valuable arguments in favour of privacy and in strong opposition to any kind of surveillance. By this, I deeply hope to fill that argumentative gap and clarify the activists intuitions.

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