Does climate change and the fear of public unrest explain why Western governments have sharply ramped up domestic surveillance of our digital communications? According to The Guardian, that's precisely what's going on.
Since the 2008 economic crash, security agencies have increasingly spied on political activists, especially environmental groups, on behalf of corporate interests. This activity is linked to the last decade of US defence planning, which has been increasingly concerned by the risk of civil unrest at home triggered by catastrophic events linked to climate change, energy shocks or economic crisis - or all three.
Just last month, unilateral changes to US military laws formally granted the Pentagon extraordinary powers to intervene in a domestic "emergency" or "civil disturbance":
"Federal military commanders have the authority, in extraordinary emergency circumstances where prior authorization by the President is impossible and duly constituted local authorities are unable to control the situation, to engage temporarily in activities that are necessary to quell large-scale, unexpected civil disturbances."Other documents show that the "extraordinary emergencies" the Pentagon is worried about include a range of environmental and related disasters.
[In 2008], the Department of Defense's (DoD) Army Modernisation Strategy described the arrival of a new "era of persistent conflict" due to competition for "depleting natural resources and overseas markets" fuelling "future resource wars over water, food and energy." The report predicted a resurgence of:
"... anti-government and radical ideologies that potentially threaten government stability."In the same year, a report by the US Army's Strategic Studies Institute warned that a series of domestic crises could provoke large-scale civil unrest. The path to "disruptive domestic shock" could include traditional threats such as deployment of WMDs, alongside "catastrophic natural and human disasters" or "pervasive public health emergencies" coinciding with "unforeseen economic collapse." Such crises could lead to "loss of functioning political and legal order" leading to "purposeful domestic resistance or insurgency...
"DoD might be forced by circumstances to put its broad resources at the disposal of civil authorities to contain and reverse violent threats to domestic tranquility. Under the most extreme circumstances, this might include use of military force against hostile groups inside the United States. Further, DoD would be, by necessity, an essential enabling hub for the continuity of political authority in a multi-state or nationwide civil conflict or disturbance."That year, the Pentagon had begun developing a 20,000 strong troop force who would be on-hand to respond to "domestic catastrophes" and civil unrest - the programme was reportedly based on a 2005 homeland security strategy which emphasised "preparing for multiple, simultaneous mass casualty incidents."
The following year, a US Army-funded RAND Corp study called for a US force presence specifically to deal with civil unrest.
Are dissenters to be seen as "enemies of the state"? Is protest now deemed subversion, terrorism? Well if it has anything to do with bitumen pipelines, the answer is a big, honkin' YES. The Harper regime has made no secret of the fact that they consider opponents of the Northern Gateway pipeline to be eco-terrorists. They have even established a secret police force comprising officers from the Calgary and Edmonton police, the RCMP and the national spy agency, CSIS, to keep watch over pipeline opponents and who knows what else?
Meanwhile, in the U.S., Trans-Canada, the company that will operate the Keystone XL pipeline has been indoctrinating federal and local police officers on how to crack down on environmental activists, even how to arrest them under anti-terrorism laws.
What's perhaps most disturbing in the bitumen battles is the apparently seamless melding of governmental and corporate powers. It becomes difficult to spot where one leaves off and the other picks up. Perhaps there is no dividing line any longer. They've teamed up and we, the public, are, in their approach, the opposition, the threat, the adversary.
This echoes of a recent analysis of this metadata harvesting that has rocked the United States and we now discover is being done in many other countries, including Canada. It is said that this mass intrusion into our privacy shatters the bond of fidelity between government and the people, digitally transforms us all into suspects, and reduces us to foreigners in our own homelands.
Colleague Troy Thomas linked to a comment from "Badtux" who believably claims to work in the "big data" area in Silicon Valley. This is his assessment of metadata mining and what it's really for. It's chilling and you need to know this:
"We’re working on the sort of technological pipe dream that would be able to detect something as nebulous as “terrorist patterns”. But here’s the thing: WE CAN’T DO IT. And if we, with billions more in R&D dollars and hundreds of thousands more smart people than the NSA could ever dream of having, can’t do it, and if the NSA is *still* coming to us hat in hand to buy our technology even though it won’t do much of what they want to do, what does that say for the claims by President Obama that this massive data dragnet is about “catching terrorists”?
It’s not. It can’t be. We just don’t have the technology to churn through that massive pile of data for something as nebulous as “terrorist patterns”. The technology we do have is impressive, and frightening in its implications, but those implications will play out over the next ten year cycle of security technology upgrades. Right now, we aren’t there.
But one thing we *can* do, and can do quite easily, is associate pieces of data with *specific* people. That’s what Google does, after all — shards and indexes massive quantities of data so that you can find out everything related to a specific person, place, or thing. In short, this data pile is useless for the purpose of catching unknown terrorists, but extremely useful for the purpose of surveillance of known dissidents. Because once you know who you’re wanting to track, it’s just an index lookup (a massively distributed one across piles of data, but still, just an index lookup) to pull in everything about that person that you’d ever want to know.
How many of you have things that you’d prefer not to see the light of day, even if they’re not illegal? The impact of this on democracy cannot be understated. Potential opponents of the Hegemons must stop and think about what facts about their life that might be spun to be embarrassing or humiliating before they step forward to oppose the Hegemons, and for all but the most pure, that exercise will lead to them slinking away in humiliation rather than stepping forward in opposition.
So this isn’t about terrorists. This is about dissidents. That’s all we have the technology to do today — and you can’t convince me that the NSA is going to build a massive system that is useful today only for surveillance of dissidents only on the future promise that it might some day, somehow, be possibly capable of identifying “terrorists”. While government boondoggles of that sort aren’t unknown — remember “Star Wars”, which never had a chance of actually working to shoot down Soviet missiles? — those were clear crony capitalism with no use outside of enriching crony capitalists.
But if a system has been built with one clear *current* use that actually works, then it makes sense to assume that it will be used for that use. Which is surveillance of dissidents.
Welcome to 1984, citizens. Please salute Big Brother as you pass the nearest video camera. Thank you."