In case you've been wondering, of course I've been following the NSA story since the first Snowden leaks. I have simply chosen not to make a career of it as some blogs have done. For wall to wall coverage on everything related to the NSA, let me suggest theverge.com. It is my intention to keep this piece concise, with only a handful of points for you to consider.
Trust me, I have a lot to say about the NSA spying on you through your own cell phone. Most of it will have to go unsaid. I will reduce my grievance to the fact that, without your knowledge or permission, the NSA has assimilated American businesses into stealth agencies of the NSA. It has completely bastardized the relationship between you and the companies with which you choose to do business. Thanks to the NSA, the business arrangement you think you are entering is not the one you actually enter upon signing the dotted line.
You are not buying an iPhone from Apple, or service from AT&T, or broadband from charter. You are purchasing surveillance equipment that has already been secretly modified by a shadowy agency that is accountable to no one, certainly not you. The NSA has forced us to question the relationships we thought we had with our favorite companies and services. I thought I paid AT&T for personal communications technology that allowed me to privately communicate with friends and associates via text and voice. As it happens, I am paying AT&T to funnel all of my "private" communications through a government agency. Regardless of what I thought I was paying for, I have no private communications. My relationship is not with AT&T, but the NSA.
The same is true for every communications based product or service. You bought an Android phone knowing full well that Google was going to be monitoring everything you do on it, from checking your calendar, to sending an email. You accepted that because the phone was cheap and the services were free. But what you didn't know was that Google was passing that information on the the NSA as fast as they could collect it. You said "yes" to Google, not to the NSA. You went with an iPhone because Apple respects your privacy, and encrypts iMessage end to end. The idea that the NSA has inserted itself into that relationship is even more offensive.
This is pretty much true for all technology you purchase from the big tech companies. You can no longer be sure if you are dealing with them, or with a subsidiary of the NSA. We can no longer do business in a country when we can no longer be sure with whom we are dealing. This has to end!
Privacy: never surrender
It has become hip among certain members of the technorati to claim to have no secrets, or need for privacy whatsoever. They claim to live their lives in public, and trust Google with all of their personal data. They are liars and hypocrites! Don't believe them! They have an agenda that has nothing to do with you. First, as fans of Google, generally speaking, what else could they say? Google and their advertisers believe that they have a right to capture, share, and monetize your every keystroke. They believe that because they give you free email, they have a right to read your email, and sell the important bits to the highest bidder.
Yet everyone of these people are secretive about much of their private information. They are happy for you to have their business address, digital and physical, but would scream bloody murder if someone leaked their personal information. They are not forthright about their intimate relationships, finances, or eccentricities. You see them on camera, hear them on podcasts, and read their blogs, but you don't know anything of substance about them. And that is exactly how they intend to keep it.
Everyone is trying way too hard to convince you that whatever privacy you had has already been lost, and that there is no point in fighting to hang on to it. But it is not just the fatalism that I find troubling. It is the insinuation that privacy is a thing not worth fighting for. It has no value, and you should be happy to give it up. You are almost treated as some sort of shady character for daring to want to keep your personal information close to your vest.
There is also the assumption that everyone has a right to your personal information. People who were once just happy to accept your money at the register are now demanding you give them your zip code before you can pay for your charging cable at the big box retailer. If you've surrendered, you just tell them anything they want to know. Did you even know you could refuse to give any information, and still purchase your item? You can. Try it.
I have yet to encounter an application of any kind in the last couple of years, that didn't demand at least a half a page of information that was completely irrelevant to the thing for which I was applying. Even doctor's offices are guilty of this invasion of privacy. They have no medical reason for much of the information. Like every other business, they want free information for marketing and demographics. I routinely leave blank lines on applications. Sometimes I am compelled to ask why they need a particular bit of information. If I am not convinced by their answer, they don't get it. Your privacy is worth a lot, and it is absolutely worth fighting for.
Human Dignity: a casualty of the privacy wars
Sell your privacy cheap, and you throw in your dignity for free. Without privacy, secrets, and personal space, you are little more than a child to the person or company that gets to monitor your every word and movement. My partner has her own smartphone, computer, and iPad. I do not read her mail or go through her contacts. Her life on Facebook is her own. She could plan an affair right under my nose and I would never know a thing about it. She is an adult, and has the freedom to use her tools anyway she pleases, without my approval. That is a basic necessity for human dignity. I have to give her that space, and trust her with her freedom and dignity to not act against my interests.
The government sees things differently. To them, you are little more than a child that needs to be constantly monitored, lest you do or say something they don't like. When such monitoring is applied, you have about as much human dignity as an inmate in an asylum. That is what your wire-tapped smartphone does for you. That is also what unfettered use of Google and Facebook products do for you. You think you're in control of this relationship? You're not even in control of your own identity!
There is more to this than brand loyalty and political idealism. Your privacy is not just a few facts you sell for a free, online calendar. It is an essential part of who you are. And without it, you lose a little of your humanity, a rare commodity that should not be for sale at any price.