NSA, Privacy, and Star Trek.

Well the latest up roar seems to be that the NSA and other government agencies are snooping into private citizen’s e-mail, web browsing, phone calls, etc… Honestly is this a surprise to anyone? According to Hollywood this is perfectly acceptable and expected. I think we would have been disappointed if our government didn’t snoop around and peek into keyholes. We just don’t want to know about it.

This makes me think about Star Trek and how privacy is portrayed in the fictional future. In the Star Trek universe, surveillance is everywhere. The crew could play back just about any moment in time anywhere on the ship just by asking the computer. There seemed to be zero privacy on the Enterprise, with the exception, hopefully, of the holodeck. This is probably a good idea, what happens on the holodeck should stay on the holodeck. I just hope that the place is self-cleaning. I personally do not think that zero privacy was the actual goal when creating the Star Trek universe; it was simply a consequence of the technology. When computer memory is nearly free and cameras are everywhere, it would be really easy to record everything. I believe that we are going down the same road, but without the holodeck.

There are two ways of thinking about privacy. The first is “If you are doing nothing wrong, then there is nothing to fear”. The second is that feeling you get when you happen to notice a police car following you. Even if you’re not doing anything wrong you still feel the power of the police following you. This always creeps me out.

When laws are objective and rational, the courts are public, and the police are your neighbors and friends, you feel more at ease. What concerns me about the NSA and other government agencies gathering and recording information about its citizens is just the opposite. The laws are arbitrary and complicated (tax code) the police are remote and hidden (NSA, TSA, FBI, ETC), justice is secret and reviewed behind closed doors, you always feel like you’re being followed. “I’m not doing anything wrong; I think…. I hope…. ”

People are surprised by the news of the NSA snooping around and collecting data for the same reason that they feel nervous when they are followed by a cop. Sure police are all over the place, looking for people who break the law, and that doesn’t bother us. But when one is behind us we feel a little anxiety. We start to think about whether or not the tail light is out, or when was the last time I renewed the registration?, do I have my insurance card in the glove box?, what is the damn speed limit?, I think I missed the sign…

It is the difference between knowing that anyone can see you walking around doing your business, and being watched. It’s the difference between being looked at and being stared at.
The reason people are upset is that the government creeps us out, which is barely tolerable when they keep their distance, but now we know they are following us around. Like in Star Trek, people seem to tolerate being videoed while working, but stay out of the damn holodeck.

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One thought on “NSA, Privacy, and Star Trek.

  1. S. Le says:

    The World Powers have been spying on one another for as long as it’s been possible. Nothing new.

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