How to Talk to Your Children About Mass Surveillance

In my latest Locus column, How to Talk to Your Children About Mass Surveillance, I tell the story of how I explained the Snowden leaks to my six-year-old, and the surprising interest and comprehension she showed during our talk and afterwards. Kids, it seems, intuitively understand what it's like to be constantly monitored by unaccountable, self-appointed authority figures!

So I explained to my daughter that there was a man who was a spy, who discovered that the spies he worked for were breaking the law and spying on everyone, capturing all their e-mails and texts and video-chats and web-clicks. My daughter has figured out how to use a laptop, phone, or tablet to peck out a message to her grandparents (autocomplete and spell-check actually make typing into an educational experience for kids, who can choose their words from drop-down lists that get better as they key in letters); she’s also used to videoconferencing with relatives around the world. So when I told her that the spies were spying on everything, she had some context for it.

Right away, we were off to the races. ‘‘How can they listen to everyone at once?’’ ‘‘How can they read all those messages?’’ ‘‘How many spies are there?’’ I told her about submarine fiber-optic taps, prismatic beam-splitters, and mass databases. Again, she had a surprising amount of context for this, having encountered digital devices whose capacity was full – as when we couldn’t load more videos onto a tablet – and whose capacities could be expanded with additional storage.

How to Talk to Your Children About Mass Surveillance

Notable Replies

  1. LDoBe says:

    That kid has irresponsible parents. They need to teach him proper trigger discipline. The only reason to hold a rifle that way is if he is about to shoot from the hip at something in the rafters to his left. If not, then his finger doesn't belong on the trigger.

  2. Yes, that is what makes the parents irresponsible /snark

  3. LDoBe says:

    I'd like to avoid sparking off the conversation about what kinds of arms should and shouldn't be allowed, or the problems of proliferation of arms in civil society. I have nuanced views on it that are frankly boring and off-topic here.

    But, as long as pretty much everyone in the US has a right to bear arms, and simple and easy access to weaponry, I say the very least we can do is teach children (and adults) firstly: to not touch a firearm if you have no experience or training with them, and secondly: how to properly handle a firearm in a safe way (eg. trigger and range discipline, and how to safely unload and make safe various weapons).

    I don't belong to the NRA, I'm not particularly conservative. If anything I'm liberal. But it's important, from a harm reduction standpoint, to teach everyone how to safely handle dangerous items. There are a hell of a lot of functioning guns in the US, so it makes sense to try to mitigate some of the risk induced by the fact that they even exist.

  4. There is a simple solution: inculcate, in your children, one simple truth:

    Elected Officials are like Diapers, they need to be changed frequently, and for the same reasons.

    And that means switching teams every so often, too. . .

    Furthermore, judge a candidate by what THEY have said and done, not their peers, not their party. There are scumbags and there are unsung heroes on BOTH sides. . . .

  5. I thought children usually learned about unaccountable mass surveillance at an even younger age: Santa, God, dead relatives who watch over them, etc.

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