What is liberty worth?

One of these days, I do hope to write a full-fledged article on the topic. Until then, I must simply pose the question in a very concise manner.

From my perspective, it looks like the world we live in values three things above all else: safety, convenience, and celebrity. Between “safe” and “rewarding”, we usually choose ‘safe’. Between “convenient” and “controllable”, we usually choose ‘convenient’. Between “famous” and “altruistic”, we follow the famous.

Is there no value in having full control over what we purchase? If we were, Volkswagen would have been able to fudge the numbers on their emissions tests. Chrysler vehicles wouldn’t have needed a recall over a software hack that would enable the vehicle to be remotely commandeered. Our phones wouldn’t receive ads based on the products we’re standing next to. We wouldn’t be worried about FitBit devices losing data or selling it. Smart TVs wouldn’t require tracking of viewing habits in order for the Netflix and Youtube clients to work.

Presently, my blog has about five readers, if that (aside from the Russian bots who attempt to turn this blog into a malware-serving zombie). None of them have rooted phones, and only one has a rooted tablet (and she hasn’t the foggiest idea how to leverage it). Some argue that giving users complete, low level access to their devices is asking for trouble, and 30+ years of computer viruses are certainly highly compelling evidence to support that claim. Here is my counterargument: Every computing device – every smartphone, every tablet, every laptop, every desktop, every server – every one of them has a root password. Every one of them has a set of credentials that the device will recognize as the signal to unquestioningly obey every command given to that device. Someone, somewhere, has those credentials. If the owner has those credentials, they not only have the ability to use them personally, but to allow a known, trusted person to do so. When a device owner doesn’t have those keys, and somebody else does (be it Google, LG, Apple, Verizon, Chrysler, or whoever else), then it is up to that person, not the device owner, who can and cannot access the device’s software and information. Then again, some argue that the person who has root access is the real owner of the device…and I can’t say I disagree.

I posed the question regarding what liberty is worth. Famously, Patrick Henry and Nathan Hale believed that liberty was more important than life itself. Would we, as a society, be willing to make a choice to avoid devices to which we cannot acquire complete access and ownership? Is liberty worth that? Is liberty worth having to spend a little time ensuring that data lives only on one’s own devices? Is it worth reading privacy policies? Is it worth convenience, or perhaps paying a bit more for our groceries? Is it worth a warranty on your phone? Is it worth an afternoon researching these matters instead of what the Kardashians are up to?

Some days, I feel that I am alone in my concern for these matters.

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