Friction and mass surveillance

2016-10-09 2 min read

    One of the best arguments I’ve heard against mass surveillance is that the marginal cost has dropped to nearly zero which warps the system. Since so much of our world is digital it costs the government nothing extra to collect each additional data point. Given these incentives it’s no surprise that the government was able to get the major companies to provide a dedicated feed of the data they were collecting - modern technology has enabled both the collection and analysis of massive amounts of data.

    This infrastructure is something we’ve never had before. In the past surveillance carried a sizable cost - beyond the warrant one would need to either install wiretaps, manually intercept mail, have people followed, and generally hire people to do both the data collection as well as the analysis. These constraints necessitated making tradeoffs and prioritized those that carried the largest risk.

    It’s impossible to undo the technological advances and we wouldn’t want to. At the same time we need to do more to introduce friction back to surveillance. The goal isn’t to achieve 100% privacy but to make it costly enough that governments need to think about who and what they’re tracking. The obvious way is to start using end to end encryption - I’m sure isolated cases can be cracked but cracking it at scale would be a monumental task.