The 4th and 5th Amendments to the Constitution of my country, Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and numerous statutes and treaties forbid such systems of massive, pervasive surveillance. While the US Constitution marks these programs as illegal, my government argues that secret court rulings, which the world is not permitted to see, somehow legitimize an illegal affair. These rulings simply corrupt the most basic notion of justice – that it must be seen to be done. The immoral cannot be made moral through the use of secret law.
Stasi couldn’t record what newspaper articles you were reading. For how long. And in what order. That, along with pretty much every thought you have ever explored while sitting at a computer, is now part of your permanent record – even if you never told a single human being.
Meanwhile, in the course of this "Terrorist Generation" campaign, for Obama to claim, "you know, I'm really worried about terrorists, so I have to to read -- well, they claim they don't read it -- I have to get information about your email, where you are, who you're talking to, what you have on Facebook; I've gotta put that on my big database"... actually, we're moving into a world which was described, pretty accurately I think, by one of the founders of Google... I don't know if you followed the stories about Google Glass?
Well, Google has some new, ridiculous thing, they're marketing glasses which have a small computer on them. So you can be on the internet 24 hours a day, just what you want. It's a way of destroying people, but quite apart from that, this little device has a camera, and presumably, if it doesn't already it will soon have a recorder, which means that everything that's going on around you, goes up on the internet.
Some reporter asked Erich Schmidt, didn't he think this was an invasion of privacy, and his answer was exactly right, comes right out of the Obama administration, he said: "If you're doing anything that you don't want to be on the internet, you shouldn't be doing it." This is a dream that Orwell couldn't have concocted.
We're moving into it, and it's not the only case. if you read the technical journals, there's more stuff coming along. So, for example, right now there are corporations that are concerned about using computers with components made in China, because it's technically possible to build into the hardware devices which will record what the computer is doing and send it to those bad guys. well, the articles don't point out that if the Chinese can do it, we can do it better, and probably are, so it may end up in Obama's database the next time you hit the computer.
The political divide about surveillance is about whether or not the ends justify the means. I believe they don’t, or rather that those who focus on the immediate benefits of surveillance are myopic to its other effects on society. Those people by the way are well meaning – always keep Hanlon’s Razor in mind : never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. What it means about surveillance is that we don’t need to have intent to create a fascist regime – we can just sleepwalk into it.
The world is not sliding, but galloping into a new transnational dystopia. This development has not been properly recognized outside of national security circles. It has been hidden by secrecy, complexity and scale. The internet, our greatest tool of emancipation, has been transformed into the most dangerous facilitator of totalitarianism we have ever seen. The internet is a threat to human civilization.
These transformations have come about silently, because those who know what is going on work in the global surveillance industry and have no incentives to speak out. Left to its own trajectory, within a few years, global civilization will be a postmodern surveillance dystopia, from which escape for all but the most skilled individuals will be impossible.
The fallacy is to believe that under a dictatorial government you can be free inside. Quite a number of people console themselves with this thought, now that totalitarianism in one form or another is visibly on the up-grade in every part of the world. Out in the street the loudspeakers bellow, the flags flutter from the rooftops, the police with their tommy-guns prowl to and fro, the face of the Leader, four feet wide, glares from every hoarding; but up in the attics the secret enemies of the regime can record their thoughts in perfect freedom — that is the idea, more or less.
"Where's Waldo" is a simple concept that most people can understand and have an opinion about. A country spying on its own citizens is an important thing to deal with, but sufficiently complex that most people would rather just ignore it.
Everyone has an internal eye. It always watching. It has been slowly constructed by society at large and by your friends and family, and it checks you for unacceptable behaviour. If you have had it around for long enough, you actually start to believe that the eye is you, and that you’re “being reasonable” or some other rationalization.
But the eye isn’t you at all. It is a prison, and you have justified its existence by obeying it. It’s strong because you let it be strong.
But the secret, the part that’s amazing, is that it can’t do anything to stop you, even if it wanted to. It’s an eye. It can only watch. The rest of you is free to act as you wish.
[..] once you have prevented a murder, it’s easy to justify that you should be able to use the ubiquitous wiretapping to also prevent, say, rape and aggravated assault. No policymaker will protest that.
Once you are preventing serious violent crimes, it’s easy to justify that the NSA and the Police should use the ubiquitous wiretapping to prevent all violent crimes. People who protest that in the name of civil liberties will be shot down; “it’s a fundamental civil liberty to not be a victim of a violent crime”. And so, surveillance will be Newspeaked into civil liberties in televised debates by Big Brother hawks.
Once the wiretapping is preventing all violent crime, it will be repurposed to prevent all prison-time crime (described as “serious crime”), and from there, to prevent all crime. And those who speak up against this will be accused of “siding with criminals”.
So if someone starts following me on the street and gets close enough to put their hand in one of my pockets and just continues on that way every morning I leave my house, for weeks or longer, I don't say, "Hey stranger, I'd like to make an argument why you should afford me some privacy tomorrow." I'd likely say, "Wtf person, you're being the kind of weird that gets the police called on people. Step back. Or better yet, go away to somewhere that I can't see you." But hey, this is the Internet, so let's just all stop thinking as though this all has anything to do with real life.
My internal battle to fight off the constant fear of not knowing what could happen to me at the hands of the government affects my judgment. I don’t know if this has affected my writing. Intuition tells me it hasn’t, but I have trouble trusting my intuition. It is the breakdown of trust — trust of oneself, trust of others — that is the worst consequence of living a transparent life.
The Chinese government talks about building a “harmonious society.” But how can a society become truly harmonious if surveillance cameras are everywhere and everyone has to live with suspicion and fear? What kind of lives can we lead without trust?
I've heard quite a lot of people that talk about post-privacy, and they talk about it in terms of feeling like, you know, it's too late, we're done for, there's just no possibility for privacy left anymore and we just have to get used to it. And this is a pretty fascinating thing, because it seems to me that you never hear a feminist say that we're post-consent because there is rape. And why is that? The reason is that it's bullshit.
We can't have a post-privacy world until we're post-privilege. So when we cave in our autonomy, then we can sort of say, "well, okay, we don't need privacy anymore, in fact we don't have privacy anymore, and I'm okay with that." Realistically though people are not comfortable with that. Because, if you only look at it from a position of privilege, like, say, white man on a stage, then yeah, maybe post-privacy works out okay for those people. But if you have ever not been, or if you are currently not, a white man with a passport from one of the five good nations in the world, it might not really work out well for you, and in fact it might be designed specifically such that it will continue to not work out well for you, because the structures themselves produce these inequalities.
So when you hear someone talk about post-privacy, I think it's really important to engage them about their own privilege in the system and what it is they are actually arguing for.