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Friday 11 August 2017

✉ The Glass Bowl: Democracy, Dissent, Privacy, Security - Megan Carney

Today author takes over our blog to tell us about The Glass Bowl: Democracy, Dissent, Privacy, Security.

Her latest novel is Trap and Trace (, Megan Carney, 453 pages), an Adventure Thriller.

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The Glass Bowl: Democracy, Dissent, Privacy, Security

By Megan Carney

Democracy, dissent, privacy, security. I think about these words a lot. They interact in unexpected ways I wanted to explore in ‘Trap and Trace.’

We all want to be secure, to feel safe. And in order to do that society permits law enforcement to violate civil liberties under specific circumstances. If someone is arrested for a crime, the police are allowed to fingerprint the suspect. If there’s evidence to connect a suspect to a crime, a judge will sign a search warrant to allow the police to search the suspect’s home.

Because of tradeoffs like this, the public debate over civil liberties is often framed as a conflict between privacy and security. As in, we limit civil liberties so we can enforce laws.

We borrow that same language in the debate about modern surveillance, and it causes confusion.

For one, modern surveillance capabilities have progressed faster than our conversations about them. Mass collection of data is now the norm for the intelligence agencies in technologically advanced nations. Some of this mass collection is metadata—who talked to whom when and for how long. Some of this mass collection is more personal. In 2015, a Wired article revealed for nearly a decade the NSA had had special equipment installed in ATT’s data centers to siphon traffic away and analyze it. This information is a powerful weapon when used correctly, and a nightmare when abused by unscrupulous authorities.

How much information should the United States government be allowed to collect about its own citizens? How should that information be used? How long should it be kept? What kind of oversight should we have to prevent abuse?

When we talk about surveillance and civil liberties, privacy and security are not always in conflict. I’ve been thinking about democracy, dissent, privacy and security for several years. And I’ve come to believe that in order for dissent to exist in a democracy, a reasonable amount of privacy is necessary.

It comes down to the dynamics of power. If some creep in my neighborhood snooped on everyone’s browsing history, I would feel concerned and violated and a million other things . . . but a private citizen can’t have me arrested. If the government holds my browsing history and finds something they don’t like, I could end up in prison.

A skeptic here might argue that if the government finds something they don’t like, I must have done something wrong. Unfortunately, history has proven that surveillance powers, like any other sort of power, can be (and are) abused. Even by democratic governments.

What keeps a democratic government from becoming an authoritarian one? Checks and balances. Transparency. Dissent. Peacefully organizing with like-minded individuals to make your opinions known.

‘Trap and Trace’ is, in some ways, a thought experiment. If the government wrongly labels a private citizen as an enemy of the state, how could that citizen fight back? If every webpage you visited at home was recorded, if every phone call you made was listened to, if the government had mapped out your entire social network by listing all your Facebook friends, how could you fight back? How could you talk to the people that might be able to help you if the same monitoring tools were being used against them?

Perhaps more importantly, if you knew the government could do all those things, would you feel safe expressing a dissenting opinion? That’s what I mean when I say that privacy is necessary for security. If we want our democracy to function, we need to feel safe expressing dissenting opinions. We need to not live in a glass bowl.

Trap and Trace
Available NOW!

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