Julian Assange, the Australian computer programmer of WikiLeaks notoriety, gave an interview to the World Ethical Data Forum where he gives chilling details of the world’s future as it relates to personal privacy. His consensus is that global surveillance of individuals is inevitable and completely “unavoidable” (www.rt.com).
The rapid technologization of the world is changing everything. It has revolutionized every aspect of our lives. Grocery shopping, banking, communication, education, entertainment and similar basic activities are completely different than what they were even just a year ago. It’s nearly impossible to consider any area of life that has not been significantly impacted by technology and what is now being called “surveillance capitalism.”
The collection of personal data is a major concern. Who knows who is gathering, storing, researching and analyzing all the interworking of our daily lives. And this is not being done solely en masse (although this is powerful information as well), or in some way where the data are lumped together and not traceable to the individuals themselves. This is much more intense than that. The details of our lives are being recorded in such a way that it is possible for groups, governments, good guys and bad guys to pinpoint each person – their spending habits, eating habits, medical predispositions, likes, dislikes, and so much more.
We have long heard the argument, “Well, if you have nothing to hide, it shouldn’t be a problem!” The optimist in me would like to believe that is true. But, does it really matter whether it causes you a problem? Isn’t there an ethical issue that is much bigger than that?
In the interview, Assange speaks of some of the consequences of our new society. “This generation being born now… is the last free generation. You are born and either immediately or within say a year you are known globally. Your identity in one form or another – coming as a result of your idiotic parents plastering your name and photos all over Facebook or as a result of insurance applications or passport applications– is known to all major world powers,” Assange warns. “A small child now in some sense has to negotiate its relationship with all the major world powers… It puts us in a very different position. Very few technically capable people are able to live apart, to choose to live apart, to choose to go their own way. It smells a bit like totalitarianism – in some way.”
I believe it is our duty to consider the cyber footprint we are creating, not only for ourselves but for our children. In addition, as pastors and church leaders we have the ethical responsibility to consider our church’s relationship to cyber data collection, and work to provide protection of personal data, financial and other information that is entrusted to us. The use of the Internet to promote the Gospel, to simplify church management, and to ease communication is nothing short of miraculous. However, it will come with its own set of challenges. Freedom and privacy are uniquely bound; once severed, I pray the other can survive.