We’ve lost the battle for privacy. We now must learn to live with the consequences, as governments ramp up surveillance worldwide. This was the message Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, conveyed as he spoke at a panel discussion (part of a conference dedicated to RT’s 10th anniversary).
For the last three years Assange has been trapped in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, and he spoke via live feed.
The topic of the panel discussion was straightforward: Security or Surveillance: Can the right to privacy and effective anti-terror security coexist in the digital age?
Assange’s wasn’t in a good mood.
“In thinking about this issue I want to take quite a different position, perhaps, from what you would expect me to have taken… I think that we should understand that the game for privacy is gone. It’s gone. The mass surveillance is here to stay,” he said.
It’s not just large Western countries that are being taken over either; he believes that small and medium-sized countries are beginning to watch their citizens too.
“The Five Eyes intelligence arrangement [of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the US]… is so evasive in terms of mass surveillance of domestic and international telecommunications that while some experts can achieve practical privacy for themselves for limited number of operations… it’s gone for the rest of the populations,”
Of the few experts with the requisite know-how to be able to stand outside of government surveillance, are the international terrorists- the very organisations which the governments have ostentatiously created blanket surveillance to capture.
Privacy “will not be coming back, short of a very regressive economic collapse, which reduces the technological capacity of civilization,” Assange said.
Why? Assange notes that the cost of surveillance is on the downtrend. He may have discovered why George Orwell was 30 years ahead of his time; it was simply too expensive to deploy those Big Brother monitoring devices back then. It isn’t any more though:
“The reason it will not come back is that the cost of engaging in mass surveillance is decreasing by about 50 per cent every 18 months, because it’s the underlying cost that’s predicated on the cost of telecommunications, moving surveillance intercepts around and computerization and storage – all those costs are decreasing much faster at a geometric rate than the human population is increasing,” he explained.
Unable to defend ourselves from snooping, he notes that we need to understand and predict the downstream consequences for society.
There are already examples all around us:
“If you look at societal behavior in very conformist, small, isolated societies with reduced social spaces – like Sweden, South Korea, Okinawa in Japan and North Korea – then you’ll see that society adapts. Everyone becomes incredibly timid, they start to use code words; use a lot of subtext to try and sneak out your controversial views,” he said.
In essence, he is saying that self-censorship reigns supreme in our collective futures, and that everyone will be forced to conform to the societal “norms” imposed by an authority figure, normally the government.
The modern world is currently moving “towards that kind of a society.”
Privacy is one of the values “that simply are unsustainable… in the face of the reality of technological change; the reality of the deep state with a military-industrial complex and the reality of Islamic terrorism, which is legitimizing that sector in a way that it’s behaving,” he stated.
It is unknown how his prolonged stay in the embassy might have influenced his views; he also encouraged the general public to stop fighting for privacy, and “get on the other side of the debate where it’s going”.
The discussion was part of a larger RT conference titled ‘Information, messages, politics:The shape-shifting powers of today’s world.’
Could Assange be right?