Today we don’t need the Gestapo to force us to give up our personal data, we offer it up voluntarily to social media like Facebook or major US government contractors for the military and intelligence communities like Google. Many people offer their data up to maintain their social presence on the internet or merely for convenience. The standard reply to this is often “I don’t have anything to hide,” but that’s based upon the assumption of a government that respects personal privacy and doesn’t arrest people based on their political opinions, sexual preferences, or lifestyle choices.
If the Nazis had had access to personal data the same way that these corporate conglomerates do today, there would likely have been very few survivors of the persecution of people for their race, political stance, sexual preference or for the fact that they were somehow seen as physically or mentally handicapped. Add CCTV video surveillance and facial recognition software to the mix and there would have been next to no survivors. This isn’t some kind of alternate reality conjecture á la Philip K. Dick’s Man in the High Castle, however. The abuse of data by the NSA has already shown what is possible in a supposedly constitutional democracy, and the slow slide of the US government into new forms of corruption in the last decades, culminating in the 2016 election of Donald Trump as president, leaves a bleak vision of a future that eclipses even the worst fictional visions of dystopia.
One of the main problems is that we don’t expect or receive protection of our personal data by default, and though the EU has already created such laws, as it stands right now you need to take extra steps yourself to reduce the amount of your data that can be exploited: quit Facebook; reduce using Google insofar as it’s possible (ie no email accounts); use browsers like Epic that don’t store your data, automatically delete all cookies and trackers, and hide your geolocation with a built-in VPN. But unless most of the population takes this step, which is very unlikely, or laws are put into place to guarantee personal data privacy by default instead of with a fair amount of extra effort, then most of the population is in the position to be commercially exploited and maybe, depending on how things go in our so-called constitutional democracies, persecuted in ways they can’t yet imagine.