Why a book about mass surveillance and privacy?
Many people ask why I chose to write about privacy and mass surveillance. Even my editor, Alan Rinzler, wanted to know why I'd taken on such an ambitious endeavor during our first meeting.
The truth is, I didn't choose to write such a book at all. In Absence of Fear began simply with Marus Winde's character, The Hat, and the café. I had no idea that Marus would work for the government or with algorithms. I had no clue that the book would involve predictive policing. These themes and details, grew organically out of the foundation of Marus's character and the feeling that he had lost something.
After a lot of free writing and the discovery that mass surveillance and this kind of pervasive State technology were recurring themes, it dawned on me that the novel was set within a society, much like our own, that possessed conflicting values and priorities. Privacy vs. protection. Convenience vs. liberty. This was just before Edward Snowden leaked classified information from the NSA, prompting a global debate about privacy and national security.
To be honest, though I knew I valued my privacy, I didn't exactly know why. In the years before Snowden leaked the files and even thereafter, many bought into the argument that "If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear." I'll admit, that I'd entertained this type of thinking. Would it matter if the government was listening in on my phone calls? Did I care if they saw my heated debates about women's rights on Gchat, or knew that I'd watched Sergei Polunin dance to Hozier's Take Me to Church roughly 25 times? Not really.
But the issue of privacy encompasses so much more than whether a third party is watching what we do or listening to what we say. More than concern about creating a modern-day 1984 or the rise of Big Brother, it's about creativity, authenticity, exploration and innovation. It's about preserving the essence of human freedom and fighting for the future and the tenets this country was founded upon.
As Glenn Greenwald explains in his gripping TED Talk, mass surveillance goes beyond societal control, to create a prison in the mind which breeds conformity, obedience and submission.
By definition, mass surveillance not only threatens our freedom, but it threatens our progress as a society.