Monday, 20 April 2015

John Oliver’s interview with Ed Snowden

I finally got round to watching the interview, which you can find here:

If you’re outside the US, you’ll have to use Tor or something to see it.

The interview seems poorly edited and not exactly relaxed.  I wouldn’t blame Snowden if he thought Oliver was making light of what he did and of his plight.  Perhaps that was it.  I felt at times that Oliver was trying to push a gag rather than making one out of what was actually said as a more skilled and spontaneous interviewer might.  But it makes a good point: the public can’t understand the implications of the leaks because they can’t interpret it in the context of their lives.  So Oliver suggests a context he thinks people can relate to: the government having access to our dick pics.  Snowden seems to relax a bit as he explains how the government could use various NSA programmes to get hold of (pictures of) his junk.

I’ve come across this attitude quite often in privacy research.  We all tend to have a fairly similar sense of what we feel should be private, with significant cultural variations.  It’s part of what has been called the “ick factor”; the feeling that something is too personal to share or to have shared with us.  We can’t always articulate or even rationalise why we want to keep something secret, but it’s important to us anyway.  Most of us feel icky about airport porn scanners, even if they can’t see our genitals.  It feels invasive.  Other privacy violations don’t necessarily feel invasive, even when they are.  Presumably this is because they are more abstract and less closely related to everyday experience. 

I’ve found that when you have to construct hypotheticals to explain why it’s bad for a government to collect some piece of information about us, you’ve lost most of the audience.  Unfortunately, this doesn’t get us much closer to learning how to explain why we should all be outraged at the NSA and its many collaborators.

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