Cory Doctorow portrait by Jonathan Worth
Shape of things to come

How to talk to your children about mass surveillance

Cory Doctorow:

So I explained to my daughter that there was a man who was a spy, who discovered that the spies he worked for were breaking the law and spying on everyone, capturing all their e-mails and texts and video-chats and web-clicks. My daughter has figured out how to use a laptop, phone, or tablet to peck out a message to her grandparents (autocomplete and spell-check actually make typing into an educational experience for kids, who can choose their words from drop-down lists that get better as they key in letters); she’s also used to videoconferencing with relatives around the world. So when I told her that the spies were spying on everything, she had some context for it.

“How can they listen to everyone at once?” “How can they read all those messages?” “How many spies are there?”

Then I talked about not reading everything in realtime, and using text-search to pick potentially significant messages out of the stream. When I explained the spies were looking for “bad words” in the flow, she wanted to know if I meant swear words (she’s very interested in this subject). No, I said, I mean words like “bank robbery’’ (we haven’t really talked about terrorism yet – maybe next time).

And immediately she shot back, “That silly! What if I just wrote ‘I played bank robbery this afternoon’ in a message. Why should a spy get to read it?”

Locus Online: How to Talk to Your Children About Mass Surveillance

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