If privacy is the opportunity cost of surveillance, however the government wants to spin it, is there an efficient level of government surveillance?
By efficient, I mean, is there a level where MB=MC when it comes to government surveillance? Does investing in more surveillance resources lead to greater societal welfare, up to a point?
I think there is definitely a level of surveillance that balances the costs of surveillance with the benefits of surveillance. And depending on your attitude towards surveillance, the values you assign to either side of the equation will change.
For an NSA official, MB>MC.
For a civil liberties advocate, MB<MC.
For me personally, there are clear benefits to surveillance, but the current level of surveillance exceeds the costs of surveillance, so some disinvestment is warranted in my opinion.
For a person living in a fantasy world, MB=0, implying there are no benefits to surveillance (either legal or illegal) at all.
We have no way of conducting a reasonable cost/benefit analysis of surveillance. What we can infer from the NSA leaks is that the NSA – acting as all bureaucracies do in increasing its power and number of employees over time – considers that the current level of government surveillance is not enough and investing more in government surveillance is beneficial based on their internal calculations.
Of course, there is a massive conflict of interest here because of the differing values people place on their respective privacy. Some people are over-sharers, and surveillance doesn’t bother them, other people are not sharers at all and are terrified of someone seeing their metadata.
For interest, how many people who think the marginal benefit of surveillance is equal to zero also believe that the marginal benefit of a police force is equal to zero? Similar concepts. How is the police database any different to PRISM as far as we know?
The zero marginal benefit of surveillance people have some very good theories, but struggle to reconcile their theories about these things called rights with the fact that we live in a world where some people hate the fact that we have rights and are able to exercise those rights freely.
ZMB proponents might want to hit pause on the criticism of the “surveillance state” – they voted for it, they share a hell of a lot of their private information over the internet anyway. New Zealand is slightly outside the asylum on this, but the GCSB law that was passed recently was always going to be passed no matter what the people think about it.
I’m looking forward to more leaks so that we can move towards a realistic assessment of the costs and benefits of surveillance in the over-sharing era.