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Why we should worry about PRISM

This is one of the leaked US government slides from project PRISM that has been making headlines from 'NSA Scandal' to 'Apple, Facebook, Google sending personal user data to government'.

PRISM is allegedly a secret US government initiative through which NSA (National Security Agency) collects data about users of major tech and telephone companies like Apple, Google, Facebook and Verizon. The idea behind this is to prevent terror attacks and provide greater security to its citizens. But, obviously this is happening at a cost.

The main concern that many people have is that of privacy invasion. A lot of people feel uneasy knowing that their every single tweet or photo upload or worse still, search query is recorded by the government for future reference. A Verizon spokesperson claimed that even though a lot of people are creating a ruckus about this issue at the moment, there will be no drop in usage of the Verizon network or drop in the number of Google searches or a drop in the iPhone/iPad sales. While I agree that there is a very good possibility of this being true, there will definitely be a change in the behaviour of people on these networks and devices and services.

True, people will understand that surveillance of their every action will lead to a safer place and go about accepting that what NSA is touted to be currently doing is the norm and behave accordingly. Behaving accordingly is the part that I have a problem with. Not the surveillance itself.

If a person knows that her every action is monitored (and recorded), there is a very good chance that she will turn very cautious and fear making any mistake. People only tend to not worry about making mistakes when they are fairly certain that any inadvertent mistake can come back to haunt them. Only when there is room for error will a person even think of going out of the box. And in this era of constant innovation, we need all the more people to fearlessly step out of the box.

Although the intention of the US government seems to be to nip terror plots in the bud, the cost is a steep one. If everyone is cautious about making mistakes, there will be very few mistakes made. Which means there will be very few lessons learnt. Which means there will be little innovation. This points to a 'Brave New World' as written by Aldous Huxley.

So there is good reason to worry about the revelations in the past few days. Not because our privacy might be compromised. But because this can bring a seachange in the attitudes of people for the worse.

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