[Wired] Stallman: How Much Surveillance Can Democracy Withstand?

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Editor’s Note: Given Richard Stallman’s longtime role in promoting software that respects user freedom (including GNU, which just turned 30), his suggested “remedies” for all the ways technology can be re-designed to provide benefits while avoiding surveillance — like the smart meters example he shares below — seem particularly relevant.

The current level of general surveillance in society is incompatible with human rights. To recover our freedom and restore democracy, we must reduce surveillance to the point where it is possible for whistleblowers of all kinds to talk with journalists without being spotted. To do this reliably, we must reduce the surveillance capacity of the systems we use. […]

We need to reduce the level of general surveillance, but how far? Where exactly is the maximum tolerable level of surveillance, beyond which it becomes oppressive? That happens when surveillance interferes with the functioning of democracy: when whistleblowers (such as Snowden) are likely to be caught. […]

Unless we believe that our free countries previously suffered from a grave surveillance deficit, and ought to be surveilled more than the Soviet Union and East Germany were, we must reverse this increase. That requires stopping the accumulation of big data about people.