For most the age of privacy is gone

The world of popular fiction is saturated with spy novels.

The vast majority are action films in disguise.

But some are authentic portrayals of the issues absorbing the grey world of international spying.

John le Carre was a spy for MI6, Britain's external spy agency, and brings alive the razor-sharp minds that ran it during the Cold War.

His first novel to feature the enigmatic George Smiley was Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

Smiley's short, tubby exterior and quiet manner hide a precise mind that runs agents into Eastern Europe.

The stakes are very high.

When a colleague walks into a Soviet trap, he is tortured until he reveals details of spy networks.

Why does he do this? Why does he feel obliged to resist torture for as long as possible?

The answer to these questions is ''for the greater good''.

And why did Edward Snowden reveal the widespread surveillance of phone calls and internet activity within the United States and Europe through Prism, XKeyscore and Tempora?

Because he felt the world needed to know, that ''the greater good'' must prevail.

The American Government clearly has a different view of ''the greater good'' as it intends to prosecute him if he returns to his homeland.

It argues Big Brother's spying can prevent terrorist attacks.

So should we not applaud the people who design and run these incredible systems?

The recent passing of the GCSB Bill has upset many New Zealanders.

But I believe that objections to this change are irrational.

We have accepted CCTV cameras in our cities for many years, so why not their open-source equivalent?

The internet is not our private domain - it is an electronic town where we wander the streets at will.

We leave our footprints on every website we visit, every email we send, every program we run on our computers.

And of course, encryption is effective only as long as others lack the will to break the code.

In George Smiley's office is a glass-topped coffee table on which he writes notes, always on single sheets of paper to leave no trace.

Now, anybody who wants to achieve true privacy will have to use the meshnet, an electronic version of Smiley's table.

A recent article in New Scientist (August 13) detailed the way small private groups are rebuilding the internet from scratch.

Members of these groups know each other to be trustworthy and inclusion is by invitation only.

But for most people, the age of privacy has gone.

People need to understand that the internet works both ways - we use it, but it also looks at us.

We must learn to understand its limitations and be aware of the footprints we leave when we use it.

But of course, I also believe that if we do nothing wrong, we have nothing to fear from official scrutiny.


• By Thomas Wilson Year 12, Blue Mountain College

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