Public indifference is the real enemy in the NSA affair

At one point I thought that the level of public complacency about the revelations was a reflection simply of ignorance. After all, most people who use the internet and mobile phones have no idea about how any of this stuff works and so may be naive about the implications of state agencies being able to scoop up everybody’s email metadata, call logs, click streams, friendship networks and so on.

But what is, in a way, more alarming is how relaxed many of my professional peers seem to be about it. Many of them are people who do understand how the stuff works. To them, Snowden’s revelations probably just confirm what they had kind of suspected all along. And yet the discovery that in less than three decades our societies have achieved Orwellian levels of surveillance provokes, at most, a wry smile or a resigned shrug. And it is this level of passive acceptance that I find really scary.

What’s even more alarming is that the one group of professionals who really ought to be alert to the danger are journalists. After all, these are the people who define news as “something that someone powerful does not want published”, who pride themselves on “holding government to account” or sometimes, when they’ve had a few drinks, on “speaking truth to power”. And yet, in their reactions to the rolling scoops published by the Guardian, the Washington Post, the New York Times and Der Spiegel, many of them seem to have succumbed either to a weird kind of spiteful envy, or to a desire to act as the unpaid stenographers to the security services and their political masters.

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