From the Snowden files, people know for sure. There is mass surveillance.
It is conducted on a global scale by various NSA schemes. In most countries there are national surveillance programmes. And in the EU, data retention means logging all our phone calls, text messages, e-mails, net connections and mobile positions. (This is done in most EU countries, despite the European Court of Justice having invalidated the EU data retention directive for breaching human rights.)
Then we have the things we do not know. Obviously the Russians and the Chinese have their own global mass surveillance systems. And in the western world there are many surveillance programmes still unknown for the public. (Sometimes outsourced to private contractors.)
It’s massive. It’s overwhelming. It’s more or less uncontrollable.
There are some signs of reform of mass surveillance in western democracies. But in essence, it’s just window dressing. Our governments have no intention giving up their instruments of control.
We need reform. We need whistleblowers. We need democratic oversight.
But, basically, mass surveillance seems to be a permanent state.
So, what to do?
People ought to use encryption by default. But they don’t. It’s to complicated for most people. (PGP/GPG encryption is just used by four million people in the world. Ever.)
This is what must change. We need default mode, no hustle, easy to use encryption working in the background when it comes to e-mails, phone calls, text messages and chats. Encryption must be a no-brainer for all.
And on another level we continuously need to protect and strengthen all communications protocols running in the background on the internet and in our telecommunications systems.
For now, this seems to be a never ending armes race between civil society and governments (and other bad guys).
On a political level, the fight for peoples right to privacy will continue. And it will be furious. But we must recognise that this is a two front war — where political and technical activism must go hand in hand. To be successful, the two arms of the privacy movement need more and better platforms to coordinate.