How far will you go to protect your emails? As individuals we can't really answer that question. That's because we're at the whim of our email providers. As Longfellow might say, were he alive today, "I shot an email into the air, it fell to earth, I know not where."
Maybe a better question to ask is one directed at the providers themselves, "How far are you willing to go to protect our privacy?" With large monoliths such as Google and Facebook, we already know the answer: not very far. In their world, data's for sale, your data; mined for profit, their profit. Google says Gmail is not private; Facebook says they own everything you post. Why mess with the math? They've got a great thing going; leaders in their field and backroom buddies with their government.
But what about the little guys? How far will they go? I have a personal stake in this answer which I will address in my next post. Taking myself out of the equation however, I think the answer at large to these questions, based on recent events, seems to be: pretty far.
Maybe you read about email providers Lavabit and Silent Circle. Maybe you didn't. Either way, you should remember their names. You see, these two tiny entities took a poison pill to protect their customer's data. They committed suicide over principle and protection of their user's privacy rights.
In Lavabit's case, the Texas-based service had the misfortune of reportedly being used by Edward Snowden. When the government came calling with a secret search order, owner Ladar Levison bravely chose to shut his service down by destroying its assets. Before the blood could even dry, Maryland-based Silent Circle followed suit. Although the startup hadn't yet received any government requests, chief executive Mike Janke had a vision of the future and he clearly didn't like it.
The right to privacy is claimed by many yet fought for by very few. Why is that? Part of it comes within the message of that Janis Joplin song, "Freedom's just another word, for nothing left to lose." In the big picture, large companies have plenty to lose. Smaller companies do not. They're motivated for change because they see the status quo as an ocean of injustice and inequality.
Look at history. Who starts all the "best" revolutions? You know, the ones we read, write, and build musicals around. It's everyday people, Les Miserables.
What happened with Lavabit and Silent Circle is indicative of what happens with all movements. Someone takes that first step and acts out how many of us feel. Are any of us happy with what the NSA has done under Bush and Obama? Will anyone remember the names of all the little start-ups and non-profits that set us down the road we're currently on? The answer to both questions: probably not. But what we will remember and hopefully join in is the moment in history when people stood up for their right to privacy in the same vein they do for their right to freedom.
Snowden is not the target here. We are. He didn't start the war and he won't end it. He did however, provide a public forum to remind us of our rights and open the debate over what lines our government and companies should be allowed to cross and what we, as individuals, can do to combat any infringements on our rights to privacy.
There's a privacy revolution brewing online. Sgrouples.com leads the way. How I feel it is best supported I will address in my next post. In the meantime, I encourage anyone as an American citizen to stand up and have their voice heard on the matter before it is spoken for you.