This is just short post as I’m currently swamped by many different tasks here and there. I don’t always post something at the occasion of each new 9/11. Today, after the world has started to realize the growingly pervasive surveillance that our societies seem to tolerate (and not necessarily coming from one specific country) I thought I’d chip in a few thoughts.
I was in the United States during the 9/11. I was in Dallas and had landed on the 9/10th around 7 pm local time there. I will of course remember what happened for a long time. I will remember as well that when I was a kid, I used to cross the same large street in Paris each time I would go to or back from my elementary school. One day the big store selling only books, music and hi-fi equipment completely blew up. Terrorists had bombed the place. Later on as I was in my first year as a student at the university in Paris, I should have come back home using an express train. I didn’t that day because to be honest, I had taken a bus to join a girlfriend. Well the train I should have taken blew up at the university station. Another terrorist’s bombing. My family and my friends got worried, and it was a time when cell phones existed but were out of price range for students. Where am I going with this? Today is the day where we remember the victims of the 9/11 terrorist strike on the U.S. I’d like to pray for them and for their families and friends. I would also like to extend my prayers to all the other victims of terrorism, in the U.S. and everywhere in the world. I’m thinking about the population of Iraq who has to endure terrorists’ strikes on a weekly basis and a stupid war that left their country in utter chaos. These days we talk a lot about Syria too. All this is extremely sad. And it’s a good day to remember it.
It is however not a good day to believe that because of all these tragedies one should relinquish privacy and freedom, nor that whatever governments, especially democratic ones can evesdrop on its citizens and other countries’ citizens. Mass surveillance should never be an excuse to anything; and what’s in fact worse is the kind of debate that has started in the U.S. precisely on this topic. There’s this horrendously wrong equation that some are pushing forth and that could be summarized as “we spy on you for your own safety and you should not even know about it. If we didn’t you could be at risk of, well, anything”. I am afraid it does not work like that. By the way: hundreds of millions of Americans are spied on, but the Boston terrorists went through every checkpoints. Time to reassess the way surveillance works, maybe?
According to some, this topic should not even be on the table for people to discuss – “you don’t know – we know”. I realize that there are things we don’t know and we shouldn’t know; yet certainly the people ought to know what’s going on in general? For instance, not many people realize that China and the U.S. have embarked in a kind of “cold war” involving massive use of cyberattacks. But that’s not really discussed and is never the topic of a public policy debate.
One could say that this example is the best evidence that cyberwarfare exists and that the U.S. should better know how to protect itself . That is indeed a good example, but it’s not about incriminating this or that measure; it’s about wondering why democracies have relinquished control on their own surveillance programes. We ought to fix these flaws by veering our democracies towards societies empowering people to create, use, modify, study and access digital technologies -network, hardware, software, content, science- for their own purpose and for the common good. This requires some clear digital rights and the same care we have for our democracies, our balance of powers and the respect of people’s rights to vote. Today we do not have these; digital human rights are not respected, and they’re not properly phrased, let alone integrated in our legal frameworks. Building our future will require this to happen first and I’m happy to join this conversation.