Should the NSA send you a check when they wiretap you?

A new National Security Agency (NSA) data center is seen June 10, 2013 in Bluffdale, Utah.

The saga of Edward Snowden and the NSA’s data collecting program, PRISM continues. Snowden did a live chat today with the Guardian newspaper in which he defended his leaking of those NSA documents a week or so ago.

Jaron Lanier is a computer scientist, author of "Who Owns the Future?" and a researcher at Microsoft though he’s quick to say he does not represent the company. “The details are tremendously surprising to me,” he says. “On the other hand, what we have heard has not been entirely consistent and it’s very hard for people to articulate what software does so it might be that the impression we’re getting about what’s been leaked is not quite accurate.”

He has a suggestion for those worried the U.S. government has gone a step too far. If “information costs money,” the government might be more judicious.

“We should have a market for information where prices are set by market forces and the government has to pay the market rate,” Lanier explains.  So for example, you make a phone call and the NSA listens in. The NSA will send you a check for that information they gathered.

The wealthy become those who create more useful data. Take for example, someone who likes walking -- the government could track their movement to study the safety of sidewalks. “It’s information that wouldn’t exist if the people didn’t exist.”

And this solution -- turning data generated by the technology people use every day and the personal information it generates -- also helps solve another problem, that of technological inequality.

Lanier points out how the wealthy can profit because they have access to better and faster computers. But under his solution, it’s not about speed but the quality of data you produce.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.


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