By: James Sherrod. He can be reached at soccersherrod86@protonmail.
Whenever I ask someone how they feel about the government monitoring communications of every American their first response is disbelief. Not because they have evidence that this does not happen, but simply because it seems too…unbelievable. After I convey to them the undeniable evidence of the surveillance state we live in, the next reply is almost always, “I don’t care, I don’t have anything to hide”.
“YOU HAVE NOTHING TO FEAR IF YOU HAVE NOTHING TO HIDE”
– Joseph Goebbels
Reich Minister of Propaganda of Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945
Many of us share this view of surveillance. Some of take this stance because government really isn’t one of our interests. Many of us would prefer to pursue our own interests and fly under the radar. In my ideal world, we would all be able to hold this view! Unfortunately at some point our interests, thoughts, and expressions will conflict with what the government finds acceptable. This results in censorship in one form or another. Censorship is the obvious problem with living in a surveillance state.
There are also less obvious and more sinister problems with living in surveillance states. One of these is self regulating behavior. This is when we decide not to do something because we don’t want to get in trouble or rock the boat. We all do this to a certain degree in our daily lives. For example, maybe you decide not to criticize your boss at work, because it just isn’t worth the battle. Choosing our battles is just part of being human and getting along with one another, but it can go too far. When we keep adjusting our behavior to avoid confrontation we train ourselves to behave a certain way. Over time, in an effort to avoid confrontation with a person or even a government, we let them change us into the person they want us to be.
This has always been a cost of living in a surveillance state, but now that we live in the digital era our thoughts and behavior can be influenced more collectively. By consenting to mass surveillance we have given the government access to how we access, absorb, and communicate information. This information can be used to subtly steer public opinion in and out of favor of political policy.
Another danger of the surveillance state is more specific to the situation in the United States. The technical abilities our government obtained for surveillance purposes also gives them the power to delete. They can now have access to all of our digital lives. By getting the power of complete access, they also have the power to delete. This opens the door for the government to erase our digital lives from existence. At first glance it seems mildly harmless. How bad would it be if everything we wrote on Facebook got deleted? To be honest some of us would probably pay for that service! But think about it more critically. We store the vast majority of our ideas and communication in digital form. What if the government chose to delete every idea it disagreed with so that future generation would not be influenced by it?
Since everyone loves to compare things to Nazi Germany, imagine that the US government decided they never wanted another Hitler to exist. In order to help prevent anyone from thinking like Hitler they simply deleted all records of Nazi Germany so that no one would be influenced by it. Sounds ok? Actually it sounds terrible. Imagine a world where governments erased the ideas they disagreed with! A world without the influence of famous philosophers like Socrates, without scientists like Einstein, or without civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr.
Thomas Jefferson said it best:
“For I have sworn upon the altar of god eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”