Privacy/Transparency

There is a certain ongoing debate, one unique to the era we currently live in: the dialogue of whether privacy should be the right of all men and women, or should it be considered as an item of low priority when put in the context of national security. I cannot say that I belong to any particular camp in this discourse, as I feel that I a more akin to a somewhat neutral observer who occasionally throws out his opinions. Thus I write this article from such a position, attempting to offer an evaluation of the worths of the arguments proposed by the supporters of privacy and the proponents of transparency.

Of course, we could never avoid bringing up the name of infamous Edward Snowden in discussions involving privacy. The whistleblower and ex-NSA contractor revealed a stunning secret: that the government of the United States of America has been monitoring all sorts of communications channels for years, both domestically and internationally—with targets that range from ordinary citizens, suspected and convicted criminals, politicians, and the list has virtually has no end. Hence, Snowden showed us all that the contents of each and every emails, texts, phone calls, et cetera we have sent and made are highly likely stored within the databanks of the US government. Which, needless to say, are free to peer into by certain US officials whenever they so desire. A revelation of this magnitude of course shocked a great many people.

All across the globe, everyday civilians, government officials, politicians, activists, reacted sporadically. Some accepted that a breach of privacy is desirable if it means an increase in a government’s capacity to safeguard its people. Others yelled in protest as they realized that nearly all of their most private documents, pictures, videos, and much more have actually been visible for an extensive period of time, to people that they would never have granted access to. Hence what might just be one of the greatest debates of the century begun, and humans of all ilk began to choose sides.

It is undeniably easy to swallow the arguments of privacy advocates. Who, after all, wishes to have their most intimate secrets accessible to unknown, prying eyes? All of a sudden, there is always an invisible head over our shoulders whenever we boot up our computers, open up our phones, basically touch any electric communication apparatus. The “Big Brother” of George Orwell’s fiction has now started to breach into the realm of reality, and he is not a figure anyone would long to have in their lives (please read Orwell’s 1984, it might be more relevant than ever now).

Then comes those who disagree with the staunch defenders of privacy. These individuals who feel that if privacy is a price for safety, then it is one very much worth paring. We live in a world of global terrorism, where shootings and bombings can happen at any time and any place (although this is a grandly exaggerated picture painted by the media). If having our digitized items be visible to people who want nothing more than to protect us, in order for them to be able to do their jobs effectively, then what is the problem? The plethora of opposing answers to this question I will have to leave to privacy advocates.

Again I have to say that I am still unable to choose between the two camps of this privacy feud. Not due to apathy, rather due to the many unanswered questions regarding the issue itself. Primarily, the efficacy of mass surveillance systems.

Transparency advocates—the most vocal ones, that is—commonly originate from the sectors of government. More specifically, the branches that deal with national security. Why these departments generate these individuals is most likely because of its primary objective: to protect and ensure the fulfillment of the national interest, which more often than not involve the well-being of the civilian population. The most relevant threat to the lives of innocent citizens, in their eyes, are attacks orchestrated by terrorist groups the likes of ISIS (a fear that is located mainly in first-world, Western countries).

As many of us are aware of, terrorist organizations prefer to operate in the shadows. Being nearly invisible means they could carry out their crimes whenever and wherever they so choose. A few of them are probably competent enough to never have been caught red handed. Thus, how should state security bodies unearth those whose survival rely heavily on unpredictability and invisibility? And by extension, prevent them from committing any further atrocities? By casting a net as large as can feasibly be constructed. In other words, mass surveillance systems.

The government’s goal with the aforementioned net is of course to apprehend terrorist operatives and sympathizers, before the latter parties could fulfill their likely nefarious objectives. A noble purpose, to say the least, but with many notable flaws. Firstly is the previously mentioned impasse with privacy advocates—implying that in the pursuit of safeguarding lives, they have reached a gray moral area. Second, there exists next to no evidence that the established surveillance programs have succeeded in their protective mission, at least in the public’s eye. And I speculate that the second overcoming the second obstacle is key to persuading the members of the public to fall in with transparency proponents.

I find it quite difficult to believe that all contemporary surveillance systems have extremely low rates of success. Recall Alan Turing’s success in breaking Nazi Germany’s enigma code during World War II. His triumph in solving one of the most convoluted codes of his generation provided a channel for Allied forces to continuously monitor Germany’s movements. Yet the cracking of code came with certain costs, ones that may be considered immoral even if they were truly necessary.

To prevent the Axis powers from realizing that their code had been deciphered, sacrifices had to be made. Ambushes, destruction along ship routes, bombings of both civilian populations and military personnel, et cetera were permitted to continue to some extent, all so that Enigma’s structure would not be altered; for if it was, the Allies would have to start from scratch, an impossible demand considering the levels of destruction already done during the course of the global conflict. This particular episode of modern history holds a quite substantial like to the present’s debate on privacy.

The Allies allowed preventable assaults to persist, hid Enigma’s decipherment from the public’s eye, all to secure that their advantage would not be lost. Now maybe, just maybe, that is what’s happening today. Perhaps governments with mass surveillance capabilities cloak the successes brought about y their methods, ensure that their opposition’s methods would remain static.

I have to say that I do respect the right for privacy. Certainly, I do not find the idea of someone snooping through the documents I have on my computer at all appealing. However, if there actually have been catastrophes successfully averted by such breaches of privacy, then by all means read, listen, watch all the files I have. After all, what’s a few secrets laid bare compared to the lives of my fellow human beings? Complete transparency is acceptable to myself personally, if and only if it genuinely does allow a great many of us to be protected from harm.

But the quest for transparency will forever remain stagnant if it continues to be unable to leap over its hurdles. The government must provide legitimacy for their surveillance programs, via a showcase of their accomplishments. Even if it does come with the cost of having to revamp their current methods from the ground up. The alternative would be continual distrust, dislike, and disapproval from the citizen to the governing body. A rift which may grow into an uncrossable chasm—and as history has repeatedly shown us, a discontent population is never a good thing for those who rule.

As such the debate of privacy versus transparency is really quite simple. For a government to persuade its people into accepting whatever it is they might loathe, the public must be shown why they must contend with such vexations. Therefore, as a citizen I will wait for these concrete reasons—if there are indeed any—until I pick a side.

For now, it seems hat the privacy advocates are deserving of a cigar. Since the government has as of yet been unable to provide reasonable explanations for their actions, they will continue to lose public support for surveillance programs and may be forced into coercing acceptance from the people. Thus, mass surveillance currently looks to be a massive waste of time, money, as well as being an unquestionable violation of fundamental human rights.

Should the privacy debate stay its present course, then one day perhaps mass surveillance systems will have to be scrapped (save for those in autocratic and dictatorial states). Yet if the breach of privacy approach is in actuality an invaluable tool for the intelligence and security community, then withholding the successes birthed by it, thereby undermining its legitimacy, the government would be making a grave mistake.

I am not asking for state officials to pour out the immeasurable amounts of date they have gathered. But a glimpse into their, for the present, hypothetical achievements could draw in much needed support for their surveillance programs. Until that day comes, then the state must simply lie down and endure the endless criticisms and doubts coming from its own people.

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Two Sides of a Coin

There exists such a thing as a man of no worth; an individual who lies helplessly in the face of danger, who silently stares at the obstacles that stand in his way, and who would never conceive of changing himself to be able to face these hurdles. Instead, he merely contemplates his own miseries and sulk. I know for a fact that people like these live and breathe in the same earth we do. How? Because I am, to a personally terrifying degree, the sort of man I had just described.

Bipolarity is a fascinating mental disorder. For a month or so, we could observe a person entranced by his own work, bathing in the joys of the world, blissfully ignoring all the problems that pass him by. Then, some time after happy days, we would see the same person in a strikingly different state: he would be morose, complete with slumped shoulders, abandoning all responsibilities and dismissive of any opportunity which comes his way. All the while he would ponder on the worth of his existence, doubting that it has value in any shape or form. Perhaps extending his depressing path to the realm of suicide. Such persons are truly “wonders” of nature.

But are either states—the blissful and miserable—of our hypothetical subject permanent? To this question I can contentedly declare that no, that neither of the polarities are forever there to stay. They are, in a manner of speaking, ever-present fluctuations of a human’s psyche. That is to say that although a bipolar individual will undoubtably switch his modes of thought, outlook on life, et cetera repeatedly, said alterations do not reflect a concrete picture of his personality. His happiness, anger, sadness are all as fleeting as any other man’s, albeit somewhat more chaotically.

The bipolar is simply another anomaly in an endless spectrum of oddities. His case is not as debilitating as the schizophrenic’s, the psychopathic’s, or most of his compatriots in psychological aberrations. Rather he is someone who can—and should—be treated as any other functional human. Yet why should it be so? Because his disorder could very well be a blessing disguise.

A bipolar man is the two sides of the coin. The head exuding brilliance, tirelessness, joy, amongst other positive attributes. Whilst the tail illustrates a painting of seemingly inescapable sorrows, apathy, and at times even rage. Every while or so (we could not yet determine concretely when, why, or how) the coin is flipped and his persona will be that of the face looking up. Though it may sound as if the bipolar’s characteristics are decided by fifty-fifty odds, this does not necessarily mean that he has to be content with the aforementioned probability. In a manner of speaking, we can ‘tip’ the weight of the coin, thanks to the advances made by psychologists, psychiatrists, researchers, and all those involved in finding a method for controlling bipolarity.

Then how could we readjust the weight of the coin? There are a multitude of ways to do so. Therapy first comes to mind. Hours spent at the therapist’s office may just sufficiently illuminate when and why the coin is flipped, and therefore how to affect the flip itself. Medicine is of course another method, and possibly a much more effective approach for those plagued by more severe variations of bipolarity. I personally favor serotonin boosters (happy pills, for simplicity’s sake) as well as mood regulators. They are not the most “presentable” of tools, yet they have managed to carry me out of my darkest pits—and prevent me from falling into most of them. After all, psychological disorders are more often than not caused by abnormalities in our brain structure, and the most direct way to “correct them would be by playing on their turf. I.e. fight chemistry with chemistry.

But so far, to my knowledge anyways, it remains impossible to completely cure one’s self of bipolarity. It is a quirk which people like myself must simply contend with. Though if I said that I want to be “cured,” then I would be lying. It is not that I particularly enjoy the occasional torrents of depressions, rather that I have luckily discovered bipolarity to be quite the delightful surprise.

We have talked about the two sides of the bipolarity coin, and how we can adjust its weight to benefit the bipolar. This means that we can control the brighter perks of bipolarity. And these benefits come in various, pleasant shapes. For some, it pours into them a sense of unending bliss. For myself, it allows energy and focus I thought I did not have to course through my veins—not that I suddenly transform into a superhero mind you, but a thoroughly enhanced version of my “normal” self.

When the coin lands with its head pointing skyward, I turn into a kind of machine; one which produces endlessly what it is required to. I would write, read, stay on the futsal pitch until I have to be dragged away from it. These things are mere glimpses into what the ‘head’ can do to a bipolar. I cannot speak for others, but I’ll be damned if I have to relinquish this doubled-edged sword of a gift.

For the bipolar man, the solution to his problems likely lies not in a cure, but in an effective control mechanism. With it, he can silence the voices who scream that he is nothing. As such turning up the empowering hymns that thrust him into action, productivity, and ultimately, self-fulfillment.

Bipolarity is not plainly a curse nor a blessing. It is simultaneously both. And as with any other object that can be used for harm or aid, it can be employed for the latter purpose. Not completely of course, though to an extent unavailable to those without the necessary control mechanisms. And perhaps, when one can control this tumultuous gift, he can surpass the abilities of those unburdened with mental illnesses of any kind.