Surveillance, innovation and user trust

[ Written for Simon Says column on Computer World UK ]

Some times ago I learnt that my long lost friend Jeremie Zimmermann would no longer be a spokesperson for La Quadrature du Net, a French organisation defending citizen rights on internet. I got to know Jeremie in Paris in 2003 while I was writing my Master dissertation on the Copyright Directive (EUCD) and then again further one year later in Brussels, where he greatly supported my work on the Software Patents Directive as I was doing an internship at the European Parliament.

I was wondering towards which horizons he could now possibly be heading to when a video caught my attention : “Nothing to Hide”. In it, we can see Jeremie performing a song together with a French singer around the recurring attempt to justify massive surveillance “if you have nothing to hide, there is nothing you should worry about” – the song demonstrating the opposite.

At first amused by this new eccentricity from my compatriot, I had to admit soon enough that the digital freedoms thematic is still sadly lacking in the musical landscape ; such an initiative can thus only be applauded as an excellent step forward in terms of education, diversified approaches being necessary to a better understanding of the challenges related to our digital environment.

One part of the song then particularly deserves our attention : “Things we want to keep for ourselves belong to our intimacy”, says Jeremie. “This is where we can experiment theories, hypothesis. The place where you can say “what if”… And then change our mind and say no. This is where lies what one could call creativity, and this is what is threatened when we feel under surveillance, when we *are* under surveillance”.

What he refers to here is indeed at the heart of the meshed society’s balance, ie. the relation between privacy and creativity. An ultimate bridge between human rights and market interests. The negative impact of massive surveillance over innovation and user trust is a crucial concern : time for businesses to stand together with civil society and as a sole man, spread their voice for mankind sake.