Reactions and condemnations on PRISM and affiliate internet surveillance systems from the representatives from EU nations come up slowly. Too slow. Evil voices in commenting sections of newspapers suggest that politicians already knew about it. The truth however might be the opposite: We need an immigration program to the world of the digital natives.
Close to a month ago, Edward Snowden started leaking information mainly concerning NSA’s PRISM – the surveillance program that could potentially target everything online. Most of the following discussion concerned Edward Snowden himself and only little of what information had exactly been gathered. General impression is that only Facebook and other social media have been investigated – data which have been made public by users themselves. Few know that more has been gathered and that even private email services (generally encrypted) have been collected. These few are known as digital natives and know what the real impact of these surveillance programs are.
That politicians are generally not amongst these few became clear during Obama’s visit the to Berlin, 18th of June, when Angela Merkel demonstrated how bad her understanding of IT systems is by calling the internet “Neuland” for us all. Translated from German, this could either mean the technical term for a plot of land made ready for agriculture or, more likely, an area newly discovered by explorers.
However, this plot of land has already been cultivated for years. And many politicians, including Merkel, do not know this. She made this very clear by stating that it was new to everyone. This caused an uproar and a wave of sarcasm under the digital natives 1.
Obama on the other hand is familiar with these lands. During his 2012 presidential campaign “Big Data was central to his election victory” 2. His computer models could tell whom to target in which way and predict the outcome of the elections in each and every state. These predictions were only off by 1/10ths of percentages. Obama could crush his adversary Romney who still lived in a non-digital world with ease, even though main television media suggested otherwise 3.
And now, Obama is again encountering non-digital natives when PRISM is going to be discussed on top-levels in the upcoming USA-EU relations meetings. It is quite likely that he will have the upper hand in the upcoming debates.
What is needed now is immigration to the land of the digital natives. It would be an understatement to say that IT is not a one-day fly. It would be more fitting to say that it has become as much part of our life as cooking and personal hygiene. Everyone should have at least a basic understanding of IT systems and IT security to be able take good care of oneself. Which is more than just being able to install a virus scanner. That is why IT lessons should a structural part of education to which everyone has a right to attend.