You know when something big happens, and you go through stages of acceptance? I’ve been going through different stages since early November, considering that the United States is now being run by a budding fascist regime, but today, I had a moment when it really hit me.
I’m an analyst by trade, and have access to sensitive data about vulnerable populations. Today, we had a meeting about how to protect our data, as we foresee a time when the government will request access to it, or will ask us to identify certain people, and we want to be ready. Because basically, we’re going to refuse. I’ve known this since last week.
But sitting in that meeting today, that’s when it really hit me that…holy shit, this is real. This is really happening. I’m sitting here talking about how to protect people from a fascist government that’s made it clear that they intend to openly persecute a lot of people. The hatred is real, and it’s no longer simmering under the surface or disguised in clever rhetoric – it’s sitting in our conference room with us. It’s in the looks of concern on my colleagues’ faces, it’s in our words and in our thoughts, in the heavy feeling that hangs over us whenever we discuss our data protection plans. Our utmost priority has always been the protection and integrity of our data, but that just took on a whole new level of responsibility. And I’m one of the people shouldering it.
This isn’t just people’s personal information we’re protecting. We’re protecting their lives.
If you think I’m being dramatic, I’m not. If the government starts soliciting data with the intention of making people register, or deporting them, or limiting their rights and freedom, or – and yes, this could really happen – rounding them up and putting them into some sort of internment camp, then I’m not just protect their information, am I?
Because I think the day will come when they’ll come for the universities, and threaten us with all sorts of sanctions and punishments if we continue to protect certain populations. And we, as educators, as disseminators of information and facts and learning and knowledge, will close ranks and protect our own. A lot of colleges and universities have stood up and said, We will protect our employees and our students.
And since educators are often the shit-starters, I expect that many of us will stand behind that. I sure as hell will.
I will never hand over information about anyone to any government official or authority that intends to use that data to discriminate against or persecute a group of people.
What is profoundly frightening is that three months ago, my biggest concern was hackers and identity thieves. Now I realize that, as someone who does data, there’s a chance that a day may come when I’ll have to say no to a fascist. It’s people like me – the introverts, the quiet, unseen gatekeepers of all the things about you that you trust us to protect – who will be on the front lines of this resistance.
The question becomes, how do we do what we do and still protect people? Or do we need to sacrifice some of the knowledge we glean from our data, sacrifice parts of our own narratives, in the name of protecting people?
Today, I went to the head of my unit, and asked the question I didn’t want to ask during the meeting. I said, “If the worst case scenario plays out, will we be willing to purge our databases rather than turn over any identifying information?”
First he shrugged, then glanced around, and when he saw that we were completely alone, he just looked at me and smiled.