We’re in an age of a technological tsunami. Here in the West, we’re faced with two opposing ideologies: On the left, we believe Big Brother is descending upon us via an oligarchy of faceless corporations. On the right, we believe Big Brother is descending upon us via “snooty academics and faceless bureaucrats.”

The result? A civil war that has completely destroyed our political world. And the only thing that will save us is a fierce militancy that sees the watched becoming the watchers.

That was the message keynote speaker David Brin posed to the sold-out crowd here at the IAPP’s Global Privacy Summit in Washington, DC, yesterday.

The main reason for such political and civil unrest is the notion that privacy is under threat because we’re being watched. But in fact, Brin said, we’ve had more privacy and anonymity than any other generation. And though that sense of privacy is being diminished now, it can be protected still. But not by exercising the collectively reflexive muscle we have been as of late.

We’re going about this all wrong.

The tendency, after breaches such as Target, for example, is to whine. “Don’t look at me!” Brin imitates. The reflex is to aim to pass a law to tell governments and corporations not to look at us. And that’s a natural reflex. But that approach won’t work, Brin said.

David Brin

“I defy you to find one time when any elitists ever allowed themselves to be denied the reflex they think they need, the ability to surveil and look,” he said.

Industry has developed encryption and firewalls to fight back. But those are not the answer either, he said; there are about 50 ways around encryption, and firewalls continue to be dismantled year after year. Walls and barriers will never be the answer; people will just go over them or tear them down.

So what is the answer? Reciprocal accountability.

“It’s not telling (them) do not look,” Brin said. “It’s looking back.”

Brin invoked a nascent term, “sousveillance,” or the ability to look back at the “surveillers” from below their proverbially glaring eyes. After all, that’s how power and freedom have been gained throughout history: “By sicking the mighty against each other,” he said. “By creating an enlightenment system in which the mighty go after each other. I’m talking about a kind of militancy that is just as fierce as those who say, ‘Don’t look at me. Don’t look at us.’”

Instead of telling the NSA to stop, which will never happen, we have to tell the Peeping Toms and voyeurs’ mothers what they’re doing, so to speak.

“Because if you and (the Peeping Toms’) neighbors are as tech-adept as the Peeping Toms, you’ll catch them, and you can tell their moms. And you might have some privacy,” he said. “A world filled with light. A world in which it’s hard for conspiracies to hold together because whistleblowers are protected. Not that there will be no conspiracies at all. But we can constrain them. And that’s more powerful and militant than ‘Don’t look at me.’”

That’s done when individuals pull themselves into nongovernment organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the IAPP, he said.

“Think in terms of how we might reclaim and seize the power to supervise,” Brin said, “to be the aggressive citizenry we were born to be, to be worthy of our ancestors who did this exact thing every time we moved to the next stage, so that we’re the ones who ride upon this tsunami into the future.”

Written By

Angelique Carson, CIPP/US


If you want to comment on this post, you need to login.


Board of Directors

See the esteemed group of leaders shaping the future of the IAPP.

Contact Us

Need someone to talk to? We’re here for you.

IAPP Staff

Looking for someone specific? Visit the staff directory.

Learn more about the IAPP»

Daily Dashboard

The day’s top stories from around the world

Privacy Perspectives

Where the real conversations in privacy happen

The Privacy Advisor

Original reporting and feature articles on the latest privacy developments

Privacy Tracker

Alerts and legal analysis of legislative trends

Privacy Tech

Exploring the technology of privacy

Canada Dashboard Digest

A roundup of the top Canadian privacy news

Europe Data Protection Digest

A roundup of the top European data protection news

Asia-Pacific Dashboard Digest

A roundup of the top privacy news from the Asia-Pacific region

Latin America Dashboard Digest

A roundup of the top privacy news from Latin America

IAPP Westin Research Center

Original works. Groundbreaking research. Emerging scholars.

Get more News »

IAPP Communities

Meet locally with privacy pros, dive deep into specialized topics or connect over common interests. Find your Community in KnowledgeNet Chapters, Sections and Affinity Groups.

IAPP Job Board

Looking for a new challenge, or need to hire your next privacy pro? The IAPP Job Board is the answer.

Join the Privacy List

Have ideas? Need advice? Subscribe to the Privacy List. It’s crowdsourcing, with an exceptional crowd.

Find a KnowledgeNet Chapter Near You

Talk privacy and network with local members at IAPP KnowledgeNet Chapter meetings, taking place worldwide.

Find more ways to Connect »

Find a Privacy Training Class

Two-day privacy training classes are held around the world. See the complete schedule now.

The Privacy Core™ Library Has Evolved

Privacy Core™ e-learning essentials just expanded to include seven new units for marketers. Keep your data safe and your staff in the know!

Online Privacy Training

Build your knowledge. The privacy know-how you need is just a click away.

Upcoming Web Conferences

See our list of upcoming web conferences. Just log on, listen in and learn!

Train Your Team

Get your team up to speed on privacy by bringing IAPP training to your organization.

Let’s Get You DPO Ready

There’s no better time to train than right now! We have all the resources you need to meet the challenges of the GDPR.

Learn more »

CIPP Certification

The global standard for the go-to person for privacy laws, regulations and frameworks

CIPM Certification

The first and only privacy certification for professionals who manage day-to-day operations

CIPT Certification

The industry benchmark for IT professionals worldwide to validate their knowledge of privacy requirements

FIP Designation

Recognizing the advanced knowledge and issue-spotting skills a privacy pro must attain in today’s complex world of data privacy.

Certify Your Staff

Find out how you can bring the world’s only globally recognized privacy certification to a group in your organization.


The IAPP’S CIPP/E and CIPM are the ANSI/ISO-accredited, industry-recognized combination for DPO readiness. Learn more today.

Learn more about IAPP certification »

Are You Ready for the GDPR?

Check out the IAPP's EU Data Protection Reform page for all the tools and resources you need.

IAPP-OneTrust PIA Platform

New U.S. Government Agency privacy impact assessments - free to IAPP members!

IAPP Communities

Meet locally with privacy pros, dive deep into specialized topics or connect over common interests. Find your Community in KnowledgeNet Chapters, Sections and Affinity Groups.

Privacy Vendor List

Find a privacy vendor to meet your needs with our filterable list of global service providers.

More Resources »

Europe Data Protection Intensive 2017

The Intensive is sold out! But cancellations do happen—so hurry and get on the wait list in case more seats become available.

Global Privacy Summit 2017

The world’s premier privacy conference returns with the sharpest minds, unparalleled programs and preeminent networking opportunities.

Canada Privacy Symposium 2017

The Symposium returns to Toronto this spring and registration has opened! Take advantage of Early Bird rates and join your fellow privacy pros for another stellar program.

The Privacy Bar Section Forum 2017

The Privacy Bar Section Forum is sold out! But you can still add your name to the wait list, and we'll keep in touch about your status. Good luck!

Asia Privacy Forum 2017

Call for Speakers open! Join the Forum in Singapore for exclusive networking and intensive education on data protection trends and challenges in the Asia Pacific region.

Privacy. Security. Risk. 2017

Call for Speakers open! This year, we're bringing P.S.R. to San Diego. Submit today and be a part of something big! Submission deadline: February 26.

Europe Data Protection Congress 2017

Call for Speakers open! The Congress is your source for European policy debate, multi-level strategic thinking and thought-provoking discussion. Submit a proposal by March 19.

Sponsor an Event

Increase visibility for your organization—check out sponsorship opportunities today.

More Conferences »

Become a Member

Start taking advantage of the many IAPP member benefits today

Corporate Members

See our list of high-profile corporate members—and find out why you should become one, too

Renew Your Membership

Don’t miss out for a minute—continue accessing your benefits

Join the IAPP»