Whatever your take on the recent revelations about government spying on our phone calls and Internet activity, there’s no denying that Big Brother is bigger and less brotherly than we thought. What’s the resulting cost to our privacy — and more so, our democracy? Lawrence Lessig, professor of law and director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University and founder of Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society, discusses the implications of our government’s actions, Edward Snowden’s role in leaking the information, and steps we must take to better protect our privacy.
“Snowden describes agents having the authority to pick and choose who they’re going to be following on the basis of their hunch about what makes sense and what doesn’t make sense. This is the worst of both worlds. We have a technology now that gives them access to everything, but a culture if again it’s true that encourages them to be as wide ranging as they can,” Lessig tells Bill. “The question is — are there protections or controls or counter technologies to make sure that when the government gets access to this information they can’t misuse it in all the ways that, you know, anybody who remembers Nixon believes and fears governments might use?”
Few are as knowledgeable about the impact of the Internet on our public and private lives as Lessig, who argues that government needs to protect American rights with the same determination and technological sophistication it uses to invade our privacy and root out terrorists.
“If we don’t have technical measures in place to protect against misuse, this is just a trove of potential misuse…We’ve got to think about the technology as a protector of liberty too. And the government should be implementing technologies to protect our liberties,” Lessig says. “Because if they don’t, we don’t figure out how to build that protection into the technology, it won’t be there.”
“We should recognize in a world of terrorism the government’s going to be out there trying to protect us. But let’s make sure that they’re using tools or technology that also protects the privacy side of what they should be protecting.”
A former conservative who’s now a liberal, Lessig also knows that the caustic impact of money is another weapon capable of mortally wounding democracy. His recent book, Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress — and a Plan to Stop It, decries a pervasive “dependence corruption” in our government and politics that should sound a desperate alarm for both the Left and the Right. Here, Lessig outlines a radical approach to the problem that uses big money itself to reform big money-powered corruption.