On stage for the frank conversation on privacy, is Frank Rieger, spokesperson for the German Chaos Computer Club. The hacker, activist and author sits next to Jeff Jarvis, author and straight-talker in his own right.
"Privacy is a fundamental human right," Rieger says. He describes it as one of the few tools citizens have to defend themselves against larger bodies. Without privacy, there is no revolution, because dissent can only grow underground. "If everything is public and predictable, there can be no revolt," he says.
Modern citizens should be able to trust technology according to the activist, and trust can be established in two ways. It can be fostered over time (which is not really applicable to the Internet) or it can be fostered by aligning incentives.
Here, Rieger identifies a problem. "The NSA affair has shown that the government has no incentive to return that trust". Since Snowden's revelations, all discussions have focused on security. Few, if any, have involved a discussion of privacy.
"We are being told we are paying for security with our privacy, but where is the proof?" asks Rieger. A lot of data is being collected. Yet evidence that security has improved is remains lacking. "So what we are actually paying for is only a promise of better security," says Rieger. Considering this imbalance, he believes it is high time citizens return to rationality and demand transparency from governments.
Jeff Jarvis jumps in to say he believes the US government is actually the greatest threat to privacy, "even though it itself says its the great protector of privacy".
Both speakers agree that both governments and company need to be more transparent about the data they gather, what they gather it for and what advantage that brings user. The discussion also reveals that many questions remain in this complex topic – and that the speakers too are unsure of how important different aspects are.
When Rieger says users need anonymity again, Jarvis tempers the statement by saying we should not move toward paranoia nor abandon the incredible advantages that the Internet – "a Guttenberg press in your hand" as he puts it – has brought us. When Jarvis says that the Net should always remain global, Rieger says this is not realistic, naming China, Russia and Iran to back his point.
"I'm surprised you seem such an optimist," Jarvis says as the conversation rolls to a close. "Well, I'm not a pessimist regarding these issues. We now know what we don't know," Rieger says, referring to the Snowden revelations. That means people can begin defending themselves. According to Rieger, it also means that we need more time for the political process needed to change the status quo to occur.