I went to the Congress on Privacy and Surveillance at the EPFL last week. The day-long conference was a rare opportunity to listen to some of the most renowned technical and legal experts in the field.
When Pamela Jones closed up shop at Groklaw in August, I was shaken.
There is now no shield from forced exposure. Nothing in that parenthetical thought list is terrorism-related, but no one can feel protected enough from forced exposure any more to say anything the least bit like that to anyone in an email, particularly from the US out or to the US in, but really anywhere. You don’t expect a stranger to read your private communications to a friend. And once you know they can, what is there to say? Constricted and distracted. That’s it exactly. That’s how I feel.
Or as Bruce Schneier put it, the whole world is starting to feel like being at a giant airport security gate: no jokes allowed.
I’ve been joking for years in emails and phone calls to my friends in the States. “Hello Echelon guys” we used to say, especially if we were talking about our travels or how we felt about current events, things we thought might interest them.
Then, little by little, I noticed that I was censoring myself. There were subjects I stopped talking about in emails, to avoid using what I thought might be “trigger words.” Later, I realized I was doing this on Twitter and in my blogging too. I’m just a normal person, talking about normal things people talk about, but I was choosing my words carefully and making a conscious decision not to write about certain things.
Since last June, none of this seems so paranoid anymore. I find the idea that authorities may be listening to everything I say to my friends and family unsettling.
I think I was hoping to find some relief for this discomfort at the EPFL Congress.