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John McAfee: Americans must prioritize privacy to thrive as tech booms

John McAfee is one of the most influential commentators on cybersecurity anywhere in the world. His new venture — Future Tense Central — focuses on security and personal privacy-related products. McAfee provides regular insight on global hacking scandals and internet surveillance, and has become a hugely controversial figure following his time in Belize, where he claims to have exposed corruption at the highest level before fleeing the country amid accusations of murder (the Belize government is currently not pursuing any accusations against him).

Since I announced my candidacy for the highest office in the land, the message that I have shared on the topic of privacy has resonated with many, who have also shared their concerns. People care about privacy and it matters more than much of what we see in news cycles today. It has become clearer to me than ever before that many issues must take a backseat to privacy.

The conditions surrounding technology that we are currently witnessing do not present a pretty picture, especially as our society becomes increasingly digital. Trust is a major issue, and we are looking at a recipe for disaster. The status quo and the future of privacy present a major threat to both the individual today and for generations that lie ahead.

What we are doing now is not security, it is a state of oppression.

It has become clear that in the face of increasing threats to both the Internet and the individual, we must fight to maintain an Internet that is free and private. An open Internet means the individual has a voice; it means that thoughts can be exchanged freely, and it means that industry can thrive.

What we are doing now is not security, it is a state of oppression. No person should live in fear of using the Internet, using technology, or having a conversation.  The Internet is inseparable from freedom of speech, the first right that is guaranteed to us. Preserving freedom on the Internet, freedom from surveillance, and the right to privacy supersede all other activities that the government has to offer.

Related link: John McAfee explains why he’s running for President

Look at the variety of ways this privacy can be a problem. We’ve already had our smartphones invaded. It’s not so much that the government cares about the conversations of everyone in the country. That would be ludicrous. The issue is that it has the ability to find targeted conversations and listen in to these conversations, forever. Everything we do on the Web, on computers, on networks, through Internet providers, and so on is privy to information you may not want to necessarily share with the world.

Soon, the Internet of Things (IoT) will escalate this situation in a very real way. Already, according to Gartner, there are close to 5 billion IoT devices already connected to the Internet. That is a number that is expected to explode to 25 billion by the year 2020. That’s 25 billion points to extract information from objects all around us.

If billions of devices are fallible to surveillance back doors, then imagine what that looks like for outsiders. It’s a gold mine of information about every one of us, just waiting to be exploited. From the individual, this scales to the next level, to groups and companies. When the government petitions for privileged access from services providers and social-media companies, it’s not even hiding the desire to have access to everything and its disrespect for its own citizens.

Fixing this problem starts with our own conduct and how we treat our citizens. Privacy is a prime issue that deserves our full attention and it has to be made right. We must build a technology culture that is aware of the threats that lies before it and arm the people with knowledge. At the root of all that is the matter of privacy, because once that has been irrevocably eroded, the road back is infinitely longer when you’re sitting in the backseat.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.