This whole PRISM debacle has freaked out and enraged a good section of the American population, and with good reason. But if you try talking about the issue with a Chinese citizen, some very interesting themes may emerge.
Here’s an imagined dialog to illustrate the point:
American: Did you hear about this whole PRISM thing going on in the U.S.?
Chinese: No, what is it?
American: The U.S. government seems to have made a deal with a bunch of major internet companies to get all kinds of supposedly “private” information on all kinds of people.
American: Well, it was kept secret until recently, when the truth was revealed.
Chinese: But this was actually surprising to the American people?
American: Well yeah! We have a right to privacy.
Chinese: Sounds like Americans and Chinese have pretty similar rights to privacy.
American: Whoa, whoa… not the same thing! We have rule of law, we have democratically elected leaders, and we can actually speak out against this thing and effect change!
Chinese: Yeah, good luck with that.
So the Chinese person above was depicted as overly cynical for dramatic effect, but seriously, you should have a conversation with your Chinese friends about the topic of privacy (隐私). It’s not just a political issue; it’s also a cultural issue, and it’s really interesting to hear the views of young Chinese people on privacy. I talked with some friends about some of the issues in the article Why Privacy Matters Even if You Have ‘Nothing to Hide’, and it provided a great starting point for this complex topic.