Transparency All Around

// Posted by on 05/26/2015 (9:50 PM)

This week’s reading was so interesting. As Americans, and largely thanks to Snowden, we are paranoid that our every move may be watched and every call recorded. While I do not believe this is true, I do wonder- what is the real definition of transparency?

Snowden claims that “harming people isn’t my goal. Transparency is.”

I can understand that he felt a true injustice was going on. Everyone fears Big Brother and being oppressed by an overpowering government. However, do the American people also owe a certain level of transparency to our government? I am not sure what level of privacy we are “entitled” to. Especially when, as citizens, we all submit to a social contract of sorts. We trade in some civil liberties for protection. The hard part about this exposure and Wikileaks is determining where the line is when it comes to privacy and protection.

This is well described by Time as the article reports that “there’s a counterargument, which is that you have to strike a balance between public-spiritedly debugging the world’s software on the one hand, and defending the county on the other”.

Snowden believed the NSA and CIA had crossed that line and in return, he fought fire with fire. The bigger question to me is… would we be mad if we were made aware from the start? Is it the secretive nature of the government that upsets us?

Would Americans sign away their privacy if they were told they had a choice: You can either use the iphone OR have all of the privacy you want.

As important as my privacy is, it would be a hard choice to make. And I truly believe the majority of Americans would subject ourselves to surveillance in order to use the internet, be helped by the police, receive public education, get unemployment and disability benefits when needed, etc.

When the work of the NSA was exposed, people were shocked and outraged. But how easy would it be for the government to gain our permission? Service providers gain our acceptance constantly through service agreements.

Even though I know I should, I cannot remember the last time I truly read the terms and conditions agreements presented when downloading an app or program. If given the choice of losing our internet connection and ease-of-life provided by apps, would most people sign over their right to privacy? Would they even notice they were doing it?

The biggest question, it turns out, is not the definition of “transparency” but what the price of it is. The link below hits my point perfectly:

Terms and Conditions

Is the NSA the problem, or are we? We seem to be more compliant than we like to admit. In regards to a terms and conditions agreement, “Not surprisingly, most of the 2500 users flew past this page.  The median time users spent on the license page was only 6 seconds! Generating a confidence interval around this sample tells us that we can be 95% sure at least 70% of users spend less than 12 seconds on the license page… Assuming it takes a minimum of two minutes to read the License Agreement (which itself is fast) we can be 95% confident no more than 8% of users read the License Agreement in full.” (

Perhaps Snowden wasn’t protecting us from the government. Maybe his leaks will, instead, inspire us to protect us from ourselves. (But I doubt the average American will choose to be excluded from Google, Facebook, or Apple software all in the name of “privacy”.)

After all, the “Leaky Geopolitics” article says it best: “Overreliance on the Internet can undermine other forms of political action”… such as the civil liberties revolution and campaign led by a former NSA and Booze Allen employee.

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Rosatelli said...

Thanks for this thoughtful post, Kindall. You make an interesting point that we should be responsible for understanding the scope of our own privacy in the 21st century. How much of the responsibility should fall on the average citizen and how much should we be educated on? It’s difficult to say, and, as David points out in his post, it’s hard to wrap your head around the enormity of the NSA programs (and the enormity of the data itself!). Even if we were told, could we understand? There is no precedent for the vast amount of data that we are generating today. To collect it seems utterly foolish, but to collect it means creating a map of human movement and motives that is unprecedented. It’s really less about data collection and more about tracking our behaviors. Through behaviors you can begin to close in, and I think that’s what people find creepy–whether it’s Target or the Government.

// 05/27/2015 at 8:29 pm