Dear Dr K,
With increasing proliferation of technology and so much of our personal information being stored on computers these days, it would seem that it is quite easy for our government to keep a close watch on all our activities. How do we protect ourselves from the government’s surveillance?
There are two kinds of people in the world: those who cling to the idea of privacy as a personal right, and those who have understood that the only place where you still have privacy is inside the confines of your own head (and soon enough, with improvements in brain imaging technologies, even that will be a thing of the past). The sooner you move to the latter group and accept that it is foolish to try and preserve your privacy while in the modern world, the easier it will be for you to adapt.
We know now that the US government has been collecting and monitoring phone calls and emails of its citizens, and it would be quite easy for our government to do the same. They are already setting up a nationwide ID system to keep tabs on citizens. Of course our government is the most reliable and responsible entity to have access to all our personal information. Why else would we let them have it?
If you find it tough, despite my urging, to come to terms with your loss of privacy, you have two options: your first option is to cut yourself off from all information networks, move to the Himalayas and build yourself a hut where you can remain isolated from the society and the government. The problem with this option is that there will be some practical difficulties to living as a hermit: first, in a country as crowded as ours, it will be quite difficult to find a spot for yourself that is truly isolated and yet still hospitable. Second, they are going to find you anyway, eventually. There is no stopping the spread of the government’s surveillance net, and no matter how far on the edge you live, it will catch you one day.
Your second option, then, is to find yourself a position in the government. You see, if there is one place where information is guarded most secretly, it is within the government itself. This is why the government is public (because its functioning is opaque to the public) and citizens are private (their private information is for the government to see). When you are part of the government, you will receive a lot of demands for information from the public, but you can respond to those RTI queries with whatever nonsense you feel like, and it is well known that when you hold public office and are asked to disclose your assets, it is enough to cook up a random number and no one will be any the wiser. When you are in a position of power within the government, not only are your secrets safe, but you have access to the secrets of citizens as well.
I am sure that if you are motivated enough about protecting your privacy, you will find this option rather attractive, and not too difficult to achieve. I, on the other hand, have nothing to hide.