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Blame Silicon Valley for the NSA's data slurp... and what to do about it

Hive mind gloop and legal sophistry paved the way

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Why any Silicon Valley 'bill of rights' will guarantee you never have any

Well, you can adopt DIY crypto tools, and try to teach your neighbour to use them. But most will give up long before they're proficient in them - which means affordable powerful legal tools for the individual to exercise against government and corporations are vital. Laws and procedures that recognise the individual as sovereign, the supreme owner of the data, of digital objects or things. The individual would then have contractual relationships with companies and governments, as need be. In other words, property rights that allow every individual to assert where their property is used and for how long. This has a name: habeas data.

And the very good news is these powerful individual legal rights to assert ownership and usage over stuff we create are already here. They're called intellectual property laws. And now you can begin to see why technology companies have lobbied so hard and furiously to weaken them, particularly by weakening copyright. This is a classic misdirection. Invent a bogeyman, and divert the people's attention to fighting it, while you quietly steal their rights. Try and persuade people they're not rights at all, but restrictions on freedom. Lobby governments to make those rights ineffective. And if that fails, weaken the ability of the individual to get access to justice in enforcing those rights.

Alas, I expect lots of windy rhetoric about a "bill of rights", in which web giants would promise to never, ever abuse your privacy… unless you allowed them to in a 94-page click-through contract. A government-blessed privacy right would be little more use, particularly as these things contain acres of exceptions that render the rights meaningless. (Example: ECHR Article 10, supposedly guaranteeing freedom of speech. Except when the shit hits the fan - and you don't have any.)

Because the web industry has spent 20 years fighting the application of individual property rights to digital things, like data, we can expect it to fight very hard for a meaningless set of "rights" that don't protect your privacy. Through campaigns branded with the over-used phrase "open data", the web industry has even persuaded governments to give away potentially lucrative data for nothing, without a penny being returned to the investor: the taxpayer. Yet without being able to assert property-ish rights (rights that exclude others), you'll never have any privacy.

The way forward should not be as complicated as you might fear. First we need to recognise the web industry with its "siren servers" isn't our friend, or any defender of the individual - and that's already happening, I think. It's apparent with every feature on Google Glass. Then we can begin to assert that we own everything we produce, extending copyright rights and practice to our own data. Only then will the giant web companies - who have lots of positive things to contribute - realise that they need to show respect to the individual, too. The "collective externalised mind" is its own form of tyranny.

Is it too much to ask? We've seen a concerted effort to grant legal rights to trees and rivers - with lawyers ventriloquising on their behalf. If trees can gain rights, why must we lose ours? ®

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