Friday, November 21, 2014

Vice Asks, "Who's Afraid of the Surveillance State?"

Those who hold their freedom cheaply must surely lose it.

Since the turn of this century, many Western countries have become true surveillance states.  Governments, allied with the commercial sector, are relentless on keeping tabs on us, monitoring and analyzing our activities and views, flagging us even for our dissent.  Add foreign state and non-state, criminal hackers to that and it can be really hard to find a place where your privacy is inviolate.

With the complicit silence of the opposition, the Canadian government has established at least one secret police agency - the network of government police, intelligence and surveillance agencies charged with the duty to aid and abet the pipeline industry.  Don't think there aren't others.

I was brought up to understand that we have not one right or freedom that had not been paid for, often more than once, in blood.  There is not one right or freedom that will not be taken from us if we fail to exercise or defend it.  There is not one right or freedom that doesn't have an enormous value to those persons or entities that would deprive us of it.  And, once lost, you can expect to have to fight to recover it - yet again.

So why do we tolerate the Surveillance State?  An report from Vice suggests that today's operatives have achieved such technological prowess that we don't even realize when they're standing behind us.

Fictional surveillance states are thrilling and almost never subtle. Dictators are ubiquitously projected on vast public monitors, "thought criminals" are dragged away screaming from city squares, automaton armies visibly stand watch, and protagonists are tortured according to their deepest fears. Dystopian narratives of totalized surveillance bring its horror to the fore.
Our very real surveillance state contains no fewer dark elements. There is torture, targeting of dissidents, and armed enforcement aplenty. But the supposedly compelling story — that we are inescapably watched by a powerful corporate-government nexus — is, as a lived reality, kinda boring.
 ...for all the initial furor [of the Edward Snowden revelations], the rest of us have accepted disclosures of the NSA's unbounded data hoarding as an everyday matter of fact. Outside of a dedicated cadre of appalled privacy advocates, activists, and journalists, life has seemingly carried on as normal. Faced with a very real surveillance state, most of us have not cast ourselves as protagonists, or even minor characters, in the story of a struggle against it.
...I agree entirely with Greenwald that "the last place one should look to impose limits on the powers of the US government is… the US government." He rightly points out that significant reform will not come through legislative efforts, but through widespread shifts in our individual online behavior and the use of tools that make the work of spies more difficult, ideally to the point where they're simply not worth the effort. 
"Governments don't walk around trying to figure out how to limit their own power," Greenwald writes, "and that's particularly true of empires."
...Of course, the surveillance state does not reside entirely in intelligence office parks. It lives in the online networks and cell phone towers through which our every communication passes, it has purchase in the back doors written into the code of our email services, it lurks in our unencrypted messages. It is everywhere and nearly everywhere unseen — and therein lies the threat of insidious and totalized systems of governmental control.
The importance of privacy cannot be overstated. Subjects who know that they are the targets of state observation are controlled and managed by this knowledge; dissent and creativity are foreclosed by the effect of being observed. Yet this is a creeping control and one that latches, perversely, onto the very freedoms ostensibly provided by contemporary networked communications.
In a democracy, government is supposed to fear the public.  Or maybe that was just a time now long past.


Toby said...

Many people, including those who should know better, are now saying that privacy is a thing of the past and, well, get over it. The lack of concern puzzles me.

The Mound of Sound said...

Unfortunately, Toby, we're not brought up to understand how integral our right to privacy is to almost every other right and freedom we hold. That both government and the corporate sector can invade our privacy extensively without our consent or knowledge is beyond remarkable.

My father was not a particularly deep thinker but he was concerned about how we exercised and defended our rights. He knew that, once lost, getting them back usually entailed a fight.

Purple library guy said...

See, this kind of thing is why I'm a social anarchist. The only way not to have to defend freedoms all the time is if there aren't any bastards in charge trying to figure out ways to take them away. This is true both of bastards in charge politically and bastards in charge economically.