Tools of oppression

Today is January the 27:th, Holocaust Memorial Day. A day of remembrance. But also, a day to ask ourselves what we have learned from history.

One example is that records set up with the very best of intentions can be misused. From Wikipedia…

In the Netherlands, the Germans managed to exterminate a relatively large proportion of the Jews. The main reason they were found so easily was that before the war, the Dutch authorities had required citizens to register their religion so that church taxes could be distributed among the various religious organizations.

Unintended consequences, indeed. But this is exactly the kind of risks we must consider when handling personal data or rolling out mass surveillance. You never know why, how and by whom these tools will be used.

Can we trust that all future political leaders and bureaucrats will be decent people? Of course not. Can we be sure that we will live in a democracy 25, 50 or some 100 years from now? No, we can’t. Can we even take our national sovereignty for granted in the future? Sadly, no.

The only thing we can be certain of is that bad things will happen, sooner or later. So it is thoughtless to give the government tools that can be used to harm and oppress the people. And if we still do, we must make sure that we can disable them if there is a risk that they will be abused or fall into the wrong hands. Even when the change to the worse is gradual.

But that’s not what’s happening, is it? Evidently, today’s political leaders have learned nothing from history.


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