Political Solutions Versus Technical Solutions

When discussing pervasive surveillance I focus exclusively on technical solutions. People involved in political activism often ask me why I don’t also involve myself in political solutions. My reason is that I don’t like investing effort into worth that is unlikely to pay off when I can invest it in work that will pay off.

Consider the political solution. Say, in spite of everything we know about the state, Congress decides to ban the National Security Agency (NSA) from spying on American citizens and actually enforces that ban. What then? You’re still vulnerable to spying from the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) as well as the intelligence agency of every other major world government. In addition to that your Internet service provider (ISP) can still spy on you and inject malicious code into websites you visit. Political solutions are also temporary. Once the Congress that voted to prohibit the NSA from spying is replaced with a new Congress that ban could be reversed.

Technical solutions avoid those limitations. When you use security forms of communication that the NSA, GCHQ, and other intelligence agencies can’t crack then they are unable to spy on regardless of where the political winds blow. Furthermore ISPs are unable to surveil your traffic or inject malicious code into websites you visit. Technical solutions fix the holes needed to spy on you and therefore defends you against all surveillance and not only for temporary stretches of time (assuming the secure communication tools continue to be maintained so any discovered vulnerabilities are fixed).

I, like everybody else, only have a limited amount of time. Why would I invest some of that precious time into something that is, at best, temporary and only guards against a select few bad actors when I can focus on something that is more permanent and works against all bad actors? It just doesn’t make sense.