Forget Black Helicopters, Meet the Ultimate Helicopter Mom: the NSA

If privacy is obsolete, then so too must be secrecy. That's an absolute. Sticking with absolutes for a minute, consider; is it possible for a government to keep its people safe if it is not allowed to keep any secrets?

In a word, yes. Where there are no secrets and no privacy, security can just about be guaranteed. In such a world, if you're a terrorist and you are making a bomb, I know it; the government knows it; and your prospective victims know it. And unless they are suicidal, your victims will probably decline to show up to get blasted to smithereens when you're ready to place your bomb (remember, there's no way for you to conceal it in this fictional, nowhere-to-hide world).

Furthermore, because the FBI is not allowed keep secrets, you learn that agents know exactly what you are up to long before your bomb is ready to kill anyone. Obviously, terrorism is a tough job in a privacy-free and secretless world. Stick with me, there's a point.

This would all be moot if it were not even possible to create a world with no secrets and zero privacy. But in fact, it may not only be possible to do so; we may already be creating that world now.

Ironically, "big data," the keystone component of the intelligence industrial complex, is only a crude example of the foundational technology required to eliminate privacy once and for all. Actually, parents can already download far more refined technology to meet the "need" of putting the kibosh on their children's (not to mention their houseguests') privacy.

Home-security companies offer apps for their customers' smartphones that allow them to remotely access cameras in every room inside their homes from anywhere in the world -- anytime they want. Parents can even DVR Johnny's and Janie's comings and goings for playback later.

There's something ominous about the commercial featuring a traveling homeowner using her home-automation and security system to turn on lamps in her home and view her living room using her phone while at an airport terminal. Just replace this ad's every-mom actress with someone who looks like your employer or an NSA analyst and, voila: an Orwellian scene that's way too close for comfort.

If you think this helicopter-parent-meets-Big-Brother scenario is stretching the threat to privacy a little, don't forget that security cameras and even microphones are already ubiquitous in urban enviornments. Make no mistake; whether organic, inadvertant or intentional, construction of the infrastructure that could make privacy obsolete has been well underway for a long time.

However, as privacy has been moving toward unplanned obsolesence, something else unexpected has been happening: Governments have had great trouble keeping their secrets safe from easy, online public access. Julian Assange, Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden represent three of the highest-profile cases of a new and growing paradigm that demonstrates how vulnerable state secrecy is in a democracy.

The easy question is, whether or not trading privacy for government (and corporate) transparency make society physically safer. Of course it would. The difficult and infinitely more important question is, can democracy still thrive without personal privacy and institutional secrecy?