Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The loophole

Germany has some of the toughest privacy protection laws in the world. They forced google to pull its street view images for the entire country and there remains a German-sized hole in the world street view coverage map. In the U.S., at least theoretically, people are protected by the Fourth Amendment against government searches. Of course, each countries' legal protections don't apply to surveillance of people outside their borders.

So if you're an American official and want surveillance data on your own people, what do you do? Call your German counterpart and offer a trade! You get German surveillance of Americans and give them American surveillance of Germans. Everyone gets the spy data they want and everyone abides by the letter of the law.

Which means that if we really want to protect privacy in any meaningful way, we need to deal with it on the international level.  But because in practice international law is more of a general guideline than real law, it's not going to work. Even if there are strong on paper protections, it probably won't be respected by signatory countries with national security on their mind.

Which means I don't see a plausible way to really protect people's privacy in the modern world.